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When I came to Honduras in January, my intention was not to stay here. I was supposed to leave in March after studying Spanish for a month in Copán Ruinas and working in Catacamus with a Healing the Children orthopedic surgery medical brigade . I almost did not come at all. The truth is I was so terrified to travel to this small Central American country because of all the negative articles people sent me about it being “the murder capital of the world” that the day I was supposed to leave I was pale, shaking, and near vomiting. People had convinced me that going to Honduras would be my death sentence. It was the first time after going all over the world that I was nervous to travel somewhere. I was near panic attack, especially by the time I was on my second flight, which they almost kicked me off of because I was so ill upon boarding. All of this seems humorous now that I am living here.

At the beginning of this year, I found a journal in Powell’s Books in Portland, OR called The Happiness Project: One Sentence Journal-A Five-Year Record. Although a simple idea, the concept is a beautiful: To every day think of something, sum it up in a sentence (or in my case two or three), and write it down. Looking back at what I wrote before, during, and after my journey to Honduras, I remember the importance of me writing those words down. They gave me the conviction to do what I set out to do without fear and to come to this special place that I now call home.

1/24/2013: “I want to get at the root of human suffering, not to ‘heal’ or stop it, but to change our perspective of it so that we can understand and learn from it.”

1/25/2013: “‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself.’ There is no better time for me to go than now. If not now, when? I must go where the universe leads me so I can learn what it has to teach me.”

1/26/2013: “Follow through with what you set out to do; if you face your fears, you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.”

1/27/2013: “Today, I woke up to the music of tropical birds singing from the mountain forest tops lit up with the fiery pink sun rising.”

In Honduras, I have learned to appreciate what I have so much more. Even the simple life I am living here is really not all that simple in comparison to most people. My old life in the United States just seems extravagant, unnecessary, and completely disconnected from the rest of the world now. Of course, at times, I miss going to plays and musicals, dancing like crazy throughout the whole week, eating out at the latest foodie find, and going second hand shopping, not because I need something, but because I want something new and hip. Looking back on this lifestyle, I feel like all this was the static in my life. The noise. The desire to keep busy busy because sitting still was so completely undesirable. I was always moving on to the next thing, one after the other. Really, it was exhausting…wonderfully fun and crazy exhilarating, but exhausting, and I always felt so restless. I would not trade any of those days in the states; they were a blast, but I enjoy the contentment I find here. I could live a similar life here as a tourist if I wanted to, but the truth is I feel a greater sense of self embracing the locals and their slow pace.

I am no longer part of the money making bureaucracy that is the medical system in America which morally and ethically was killing my soul and spirit. My paid work now consists of writing, a dream I have had for years. I volunteer as a nurse with some of the spunkiest and inspiring bad ass nurses I have ever met and take care of patients who treat me with respect and appreciate my services. Their problems are not primarily caused by self induced obesity, but instead a lack of nutrition and resources they desperately need. I see how important it is for people to share and to let people help you, not because you need help but because people feel good when they can help someone, when they have something worthwhile to offer as well. It is funny I have learned this lesson in a place where it seems my help is so necessary, but in the end I find people are really helping me, helping me to see what is most important in life, and perhaps, I am the most needy of all. People who have hardly anything give me more than I have ever been willing to give to others even when I was at my richest financially. They will give you their best food and drink even if that means they have none. They may not be able to afford a gift, but whatever form of work they have they will offer to do for free as thank you. At first, Hondurans saw me as a tourist with money, but now they see me as a friend and their neighbor, and that is where the roots of a good relationship lie.

I found my home here, not in the house I am living in, but in a little house for children. Casita Copán is what has given me roots for the first time. There is something about this place that helps me see the world more clearly. The children are constant reminders of what it means to live in the present. Their smiling faces that light up when they see me make my heart glow. Their little arms surrounding me with endless supply of love and devotion is more than I could ever think to ask for in this life. My day is instantly brightened when I see them outside of their day care in the street walking with their mothers. The first sign they are near is a loud cry of “Betty!” and then the pitter-patter of little feet on pavement running towards me ready to jump into my arms. I love these children as my own. They plug a hole in my heart and then fill me up until I am bursting with an energy for life I did not previously have. Every day is one spent thinking of what I can do for them because they give me so much, and not just the children, but the wonderful women who work with them as well. They remind me of a feminine power and strength I often forget within myself.

The In Her Shoes Challenge is coming up on October 6th which is to help support this loving home for children, and I would love your support in fundraising for Casita Copán. If you want to know a little more about them, here is a brief snapshot of the wonderful things they do. Casita Copán is an organization in Copán Ruinas, Honduras that provides day car services for single mothers who are living in poverty and are working usually 6 days out of the week only to make about $21 for that week to support their whole family. In Honduras, which is already one of the poorest countries, this is a below poverty wage, meaning without the help of Casita, these children most likely would not be attending school and would have very unbalanced diets leading to malnourishment and poor development. I will be eating with only $21 for one week to join in solidarity with others to raise funds for the families of Casita Copán. Casita Copán makes sure the children receive meals, follow good hygiene, have clothes/shoes/school supplies and get to school, finish their homework, and have a loving and caring environment to be at while their mothers are working. Instructors provide extra classes for children to advance literacy and also do various excursions/activities with the children. Also, mothers of the children, most of whom cannot read or write, are receiving free literacy classes. Casita also pays for medical needs of the mothers and children. The In Her Shoes Challenge donations which can be made online here are to help fund all these services. Casita Copán is a non-profit and relies on continuous donations and grants to function. Future programs that these funds will help with are domestic violence support groups, business skills classes, cooking classes, and health education classes for the mothers. Casita’s main goal is to keep children with their mothers while providing them with the support they need so that they can be healthy loving families and have positive futures.

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I am coming to the end of The Artist’s Way, a creative self help book by Julia Cameron. There is a part of me that does not want to finish it. I get that way with books, feeling attached to them like a person, not wanting the relationship to be over. I remember reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a child wanting so badly to know the end, but not quite ready to say good-bye to the characters. Those last pages go so fast, and before you know it, the story is finished. The Artist’s Way is not a novel but a book to help you explore and embrace your creative potential, and while there are no characters to say good-bye to, ending this book is kind of like saying good-bye to myself as it is the story of my creative journey that will soon be coming to an end. I started reading this book after my travels in Europe, the recommendation of a young Irish woman about my age that I met at Dzogchen Beara Buddhist retreat center. Each week, the book contains reflections and tasks to be done to help you on “a spiritual path to higher creativity.” My weeks looked more like months, and I adapted the exercises to my own schedule pulling away from the book and returning to it as I felt drawn, but it always seemed that when I did come back to The Artist’s Way I found myself in a section that fit my current experiences perfectly giving me new insights. Reading this book was a spiritual journey for me of looking at my life and experiences honestly so that I could learn from them and get rid of the road blocks I had placed around me. I tapped into an unknown creative resource, drawing, and found that my writing opportunities blossomed as well. Most importantly though I realized that “discovering and recovering” my “creative self” was more than just an artistic experience but a spiritual path to healing and self love, an opportunity to forgive myself and those who had hurt me and let all the bitterness seep away. Part of the process towards the end of the book is rereading the daily “morning pages,” stream of consciousness writings done every day upon waking. Looking back on them, I am forced to come to terms with feelings and thoughts easily forgotten or left behind when traveling, but in reading them, I also come to realize how my travels have transformed me and helped me along the way as well helping me see things clearer and faster. I find myself wanting to return to Dzogchen Beara to send a thank you to this magical place and the people who inspired me there, especially the one who introduced such a wonderful source of growth and inspiration into my life. The Artist’s Way has become my daily companion, and I do not think ending the book will be the end of our relationship. I am sure this book will continue to encourage and shape me as I refer back to it and write my morning pages in the years to come.

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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.

http://endlesstrek.com/how-to-travel-the-world-for-a-year-without-a-job-expectations/

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Well I am back in Honduras and adjusting to life in my home again. I was so thrilled to see the little garden we planted before I left is already taking off. I ate some delicious cilantro from it today with my tamale. Can’t wait until all the other vegetables are ready. I have started eating daily flax seed in an attempt to make my hair grow. More than a half a year after chopping it all off, it seems to have only grown an inch at most. One of these days I will have long luscious locks again. We have adopted another dog, but ours is a unique relationship. Eduardo Piñera is a street dog like Diego, and is well known in Copán because of his sweet nature. For some reason, he has especially taken a liking to Kristen and I, and he sometimes will follow us back home to grab a bite to eat and lounge around or cuddle with us. He is truly a sweetheart, and one of the most loving dogs I have met. That said, he has been in the streets for some time, and his preference is to come and go walking with us in the streets when we leave and often times getting distracted by the lovely lady dogs. He is not permanently with us, but he is a new addition to our little family.

It always takes me about a week to settle back into my somewhat routine. I say somewhat because I don’t really have anyone holding me accountable to a routine. That said, I feel like I am going crazy without making one for myself as I end up feeling rather unproductive. I realize being productive has a lot to do with happiness. Feeling a sense of purpose and accomplishment helps push people to the next life lesson, and I need to be always learning and changing to feel truly satisfied in my own life.

I am not sure what the upcoming year will hold for me. This past one has been such an adventure and growing process. So many people have passed into and out of my life, some have stuck around and all have taught me things. I feel a confidence and pride in who I am and what I do, and I think when it all comes down to it, that is really what I was looking for. So what do I do next? I suppose the primary thing I have learned is that what brings me more happiness than anything is feeling free and that freedom is where my willow tree roots lie. For the longest time, I thought I had to lay down roots in the ground, I had to be still and stay in one spot to truly find happiness. But that has not been the case, and I think I will always be a wanderer, and that is okay although it doesn’t fit the social norm. It may feel lonely occasionally without those roots, but the truth is birds of a feather flock together. And while we may not have roots, I think that those of us who wander are never alone because we find each other. Thanks to technology, I can also keep in touch with those I love and take them wherever I go.

Being here in Honduras, I have given myself more titles than just nurse. So often people get stuck in their job roles, and I really don’t think it is healthy, at least not for me. I enjoy doing different types of work, paid or unpaid, and in the end, using all my talents creatively makes me a better nurse. I find it funny that I went to school to be a nurse, a job that makes quadruple what I make as a writer per hour, but I find more satisfaction volunteering as a nurse and getting paid hardly anything to write. To some it may sound bizarre, but for me, happiness trumps any pay check I made working as a nurse in an American health-care system. A beautiful gift is realizing that I don’t have to give up nursing to be a writer or vice-versa, and actually that the two seem to go quite nicely hand in hand. The truth is life is going very well, and while I have many ideas and goals for the future, I am pretty sure when the time comes to make any kind of decision it will all be rather clear so why not just enjoy the ride?

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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.

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