Two years ago, I would not have thought that my life would take me where I am now. I am nursing, not as a career, but as a volunteer, writing professionally and creatively, living in Honduras, speaking in Spanish more than English, and all together, living a more fulfilling and enjoyable life. Want to learn how to quit your own job and travel the world for a year while pursuing your dreams? Check out the first of a series of my articles on traveling the world for a year without a job at Endless Trek Magazine.
I recently was discussing with a friend in Copan the word culture and how we both thought it was often misused to make excuses for unacceptable treatment of women and children. Until she had brought it up, I didn’t realize that I myself had used it as an excuse in my writing and conversation. The word “machismo” could very easily be exchanged for the American idiom “boys will be boys,” both placing the unacceptable acts of men in the category of “culture.” When these words are used, somehow rape, domestic violence, and cheating become more acceptable because they are part of the “culture.”
I am frequently asked by friends and family, how can you live in Honduras where men treat women like they do? This question makes me upset when people ask it, and for some time, I did not understand why. I now see that the root of my irritation is that not so long ago America’s “culture” was one of female oppression, and the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was used frequently to ignore the voices of the innocent.
It was strong people, that’s right, PEOPLE, not just women, who helped make the freedoms of women and children possible in the U.S. Americans seem to forget that this change only really happened in the last 100 years, and we lived in a similar world as women and children do here. While the unacceptable behaviours of men in Honduras are ignored on a regular basis, and that is termed machismo, I believe that way of thinking is changing, not just here, but in the world.
I see strong children and females all around me. I am reminded, that while many battles have been won, it is an on-going war to change the mindset of a world that has been primarily patriarchal, with women and children seen as possessions, not human beings of equal standing, for most of its history.
I look at the male children around me, and I ask myself where and how can they learn to be different than their fathers? How will they learn to be champions of women and children and call themselves feminists too? So often, I see men pushed to the side in the feminist movement, but they can be just as much a part of it and are necessary to it’s progress. They can show what true culture is.
By definition, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” True culture is when people come together with all their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and history to create a statement of who they are as a people and what they have achieved together. As a cultural statement of the world, I hope someday at the base of all our achievements will be equality and respect.
It never fails to amaze me how the perfect people appear in my life to help me grow and expand myself. I think they have always been there throughout the years, but I perceived them in a different way, clinging to the “good ones” and letting go of the “bad ones.” Now people seem to me just passing lessons, some staying longer than others, neither bad nor good, perfect in that they help me transition to new phases in my life in unexpected but beautiful ways.
When I quit my job this past year, I decided to let the wind carry me wherever I was meant to go, but had a couple goals in mind for my new found freedom: Go to Europe to see old friends, work on my writing, and publish something; go to Honduras to learn Spanish and work as a nurse. I am proud to say I have completed both and had many wonderful experiences along the way.
While in Europe, I worked with another photographer to tell the story of families building Earthships in the Netherlands. I hope the article will bring them more volunteers to complete their homes. Visiting their community was one of the best parts of my travels, and I would love to return in the future. You can see my article here: http://www.satellitemagazine.ca/2013/01/earthships-rise-in-the-netherlands/
The month has gone by quickly here in Copán. Some days are better than others when speaking Spanish, more up and down than a steady climb to fluency. I am amazed at how far I have come in only a month and overwhelmed by how much I need to learn. I spend my weekends dancing merengue and salsa, learning punta as well, which involves a lot of butt shaking. I have found soul sisters here with dreams as big as my own and discovered love and family in this little town. Working in the clinic, I use my nursing differently cutting out folders for record keeping, improving documentation, and giving vaccinations to babies. Yet, I feel like I am being more of a nurse here than I ever was in the United States. I don’t have well-hydrated patients screaming for their water because I didn’t bring it back to them in two minutes even though several of my patients here could be clinically diagnosed as dehydrated. Nor do I have patients asking why the whirlpool jets in the hospital aren’t strong enough; in fact, I am pretty sure none of these patients would ever think to ask such a thing and are just glad when they have running water. When I think of the ridiculous extravagance of hospitals in the US and then see the extreme opposite here, I am ashamed. A $10,000 optional surgery in the US would vastly improve the clinic here for a whole community, making necessary vaccinations and basic health care more available. I have spent the last four years as a nurse popping pills and pushing treatments instead of addressing the base problems, more afraid of getting sued and making money which is termed “patient satisfaction” than actually being honest with patients and empowering them to take control of their lives…more concerned with keeping people alive at any cost even when we should be helping them prepare to die. People in America want to live forever, and they expect to always have everything quicker, faster, NOW! The word death is something that happens to other people. Here death happens every day, and it has its place. For the first time, I feel like a nurse, and I can’t imagine returning to American medicine. Here people need me. And I need them. They remind me that true joy comes from simple pleasures, not filling a house full of things. That having fun doesn’t have to cost money, that it is playing Con Quien in the street. I eat pretty much the same thing every day, but it is wholesome and healthy, and I don’t tire of it…eggs, beans, fruits, vegetables, and corn tortillas…occasionally meat. I work out frequently, not in a gym, but watching the sun rise as I run along the path towards ancient ruins with a dear friend. I feel healthy and at peace here, and I have decided to call this place my home, to lay down roots. I no longer feel a restless need to leave, go somewhere else, do something else, be someone else; I am exactly where and who I should be at this time.
In the Netherlands, my original plan was to visit Amsterdam only, but due to the generosity of many lovely people, I ended up getting to know this tiny little country quite well. Amsterdam is where my journey started with its intricate spiral of canals, inviting lights, and unshaded windows. The warm glow from within homes and businesses invites people to peer in and observe as though those within are not ashamed to show the way they live. I spent most of my time wrapped in a warm blanket drinking tea and having late breakfasts outside of Greenwoods, an English tea room and shop. The spot was right by the canal and perfect for observing the goings-on of this quaint city. Bicyclists rule the road, and the ding ding of their bells as they whir past adds a little dance to the step of those walking ahead. Streets are lined with lovely cafes, restaurants, historical buildings, “coffee shops” (places where marijuana is sold), art and music venues, and unique hole-in-the-wall places. The red light district is full of sex shops and lit rooms with scantily clad women inside. Boats occasionally drift by with families or tourists along the canals. There was an Andy Warhol exhibit of The Last Supper (Pink) in the De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam, a church turned art gallery. As I stared at Leonardo da Vinci’s copied work shaded in pink and duplicated, it seemed to me there was no deeper meaning, that really all Warhol did was copy a famous painting that took three years to complete and shade it in pink. I can’t help but think Warhol’s art is really just making fun of how humans are so easily swayed by advertisements and public opinion without thinking for themselves. With that said, he is one of my favorite artists for this reason. He could look at himself and all the rest of us silly human beings and find humor. The highlight of my time in Amsterdam was enjoying some good Chinese food, a scenic walk, and heart-centered conversation with a past wanderer, now laying down some roots here. It is an interesting exchange to see one in the other person’s shoes less than a year later from our first meeting. Ideas discussed then are our current realities which gives us both a certain amount of comfort and satisfaction in our opposite states of being.
Thanks to the suggestion of a man I met at the Irish Buddhist retreat center, Dzogchen Beara, I next went to Olst where I learned a lot about pounding tires and found a new respect for dirt. Here, I helped build earthships, which are environmentally friendly homes made out of wood, dirt-filled tires, hay, and various other materials, mostly locally sourced and/or reused. Eventually, there will be 23 homes filled with families from around the area who want to build a strong community centered in an awareness of the environment. They aim to be stewards of the land by living in energy efficient homes and growing gardens and trees that will help provide food for those living there and green areas for children to play. The people in this community were inspiring and humorous, and I found I learned a lot from each individual I met. It was great to see kids running and playing in the dirt, waving at trains, and spending time with friends using their imaginations in nature. I look forward to seeing the finished product and encourage travelers, especially those who are interested in eco-friendly building, to stop in Olst and help these wonderful people build their community. You will learn a lot more than just how to build a house. Check out their project at http://www.aardehuis.nl/en.html.
While at Olst, two people asked me to come to Den Haag to visit them. Here I got to see the sea by bicycle and learn more about permaculture and other ways to built eco-friendly homes. I also discovered hagel slag, which are chocolate sprinkles, and speculaas, which are cinnamon-ginger cookies, all of which you eat in the morning on buttered bread. My first reaction was dismay then delight at having an excuse to eat chocolate in the morning. I think you can put anything on buttered bread here and call it good.
Next was Breda, where I met up with a woman I had met at Dzogchen Beara. We biked about the city and walked through the forest there discussing many interesting and healing topics. One night we went to a Vipassana meditation where I found myself remembering the beauty in sitting still, which I don’t do enough of during my travels. My friend was a lovely host, and I felt quite cozy sleeping in and savouring coffee in the mornings with her. She suggested I stop in Eindhoven on my way to Germany for the Glow festival, and this led to me staying with some hilarious guys, two from Lithuania and one from the Netherlands, who had me in stitches pretty much the whole time I was there.
On my train ride to Eindhoven, I sent out some last minute couch surfing requests, not expecting replies, and was rather stoked when I immediately got a reply that I had a place to stay. My couch surfer met me at the station and proceeded to bike me and my massive backpack on one bicycle back to his student house. My mouth hurt from smiling by the time we got to his place; I was quite impressed that we arrived each in one piece. That night I was taken to an international student night where I got to eat homemade food from around the world. After the feast, we sipped Prosecco from a bottle while admiring light displays about the city. Next day, we all slept in quite late to have chocolate sprinkle creations in the morning and an authentic Dutch meal before I left for Germany by carpool. I spent the afternoon getting a few dreadlocks in my hair, swapping idioms, and debunking American myths created by television. As my host rode me back to the train station by bike, my backpack precariously teetering on the front and me on the back, I felt this was the way to leave the Netherlands in style.
Windows framing snapshots
Snapshots of silhouettes
Silhouettes are shadows
Shadows that dance
Dance in alleyways
Alleyways to entice
Entice the curious
Curious to discover
Discover sexual satisfaction
Satisfaction of self
Desire to be loved
Loved without judgement
Judgement of lust
Lust of what?
What is love?
Love to ease loneliness
Loneliness is fear
Fear of quiet
Quiet holding answers
Answers of empathy
Empathy leading to understanding
Understanding of lonely men
Men who look into windows
Windows framing snapshots
Snapshots of silhouettes.
Vapor trails dance on table tops
Into invisible salt
Roses in windows
Watch and wilt
Lights reveal stories
Not hidden by shades
Bicycles wave “Goodbye my love!”
Kisses come in threes
Cats have all the answers
Follow them to find home
A delicate neck remedies loneliness
Amongst the warmth of white feathers
Take a boat to nowhere
Only to find yourself at the beginning
Smile at a stranger
To catch glimpses of yourself.
Cat eyes call suffering souls
Follow so you can see
Calm comes when you acknowledge its presence
Peace is acceptance
Love is letting go
What you desire is already there
Stop searching and you will find.
Sleeping swans summon suffering souls
Follow so you can see
Rest is found in stillness
Beauty is being
Freedom is knowledge of self
Frantic is the mind that controls.
Circles, always circles
How long will she travel
Only to return to the same place
Amusing is the girl who runs away
Only to circle the globe
And find herself at the very beginning.