Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Anti-Bucket List

Some people see it as a challenge, others find it to be an entertaining conversation starter. It's all over my Facebook feed, people talking about their Bucket List. Travel websites endlessly list places to visit and things that we must do before kicking the proverbial bucket. Because otherwise you just haven't lived. That's too much pressure! Today I offer you a different perspective. Don't wait. How about a "do now" list or a "living list." Or what if, dare I say it? No list at all.

Pick your jaw up off the floor. Clean up all the coffee you spilled all over your desk. It's ok I'll wait.

Seriously, I don't have one. No Bucket List here. Sure there are places I want to see, things I want to do, but I don't keep a list. I do this for a couple of reasons. The first and probably the one that rules my life is that I just never buckled down to plot it out, and if I did, I can no longer find the napkin or scrap of paper it was written on. It's not my fault great ideas find me when all I have is a golf pencil and a bar napkin. The other more eloquent reason for my lack of list deals with spontaneity and freedom. By not having a list I am not ruled by checking things off when I do them. Instead, if someone tells me about an awesome place, I just go. If I happen to stumble upon a new place while wandering aimlessly in a city, then I can just be present in the moment. Plans are meant to be changed, and travel is meant to be malleable in both what we decide to do and how we allow it to impact our mental and spiritual selves.

Small church in Znojmo
One of the unexpected benefits of this way of operating was revealed to me on a recent trip to the Czech Republic. My original plan included hopping all over the place. I had about ten days to work with, and my first thought was to pack in as much as possible. How many countries could I set foot on in that time frame? I drove myself crazy trying to determine the best itinerary. At one point, my plans included stomping through five different countries in a two week period. It just doesn't make sense. Eventually I went with my gut and a series of recommendations to spend the bulk of my time in Prague and four days in Mikulov in the south. It was simple; it made sense. But it didn't stop the bucket lister to creep back in. "Vienna is only 2 1/2 hours away," it whispered, "why don't you do a day trip?" I tossed aside the idea of listening to Mozart while eating Viennese pastries and hopped on a train in the opposite direction. What I found was a stunningly beautiful place that I had all to myself: the town of Znojmo. It was completely off my radar, and it never would have made it to a Bucket List. But it has catapulted to the top of my best travel memories list. A list that I think is infinitely more important than a list taunting me about all the things I haven't yet done.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Hiking Philosophies

Maybe I'm just making this all up, but I really think that there are two schools of thought when it comes to hiking. The first group trudges through the terrain with astounding displays of physical fitness. Somehow they are able to see every rock and navigate hanging branches without looking like a swarm of bees is attacking them. They move quickly like gazelles, able to take in their surroundings with eyes darting in every direction. Somehow they reach the destination whether it be mountain top or waterfall with energy to spare to play a round of ultimate frisbee or splash carelessly at the base of the falls.

This group is not me. I belong to the other hiking philosophy. I am all tortoise exhibiting no physical prowess, and instead I do my best to focus on not falling to my death. I like to break frequently for water and to admire large leaves or strange looking bugs. I listen for new sounds and wonder if I'm hearing monkeys or frogs in the trees. While walking, my head stays focused squarely on the ground for fear that I will trip, which I often do even if my gaze never leaves the earth. My energy comes and goes in spurts as does my breath, and when the destination is reached, I plop lazily on the nearest flat rock to admire the fruits of my labor. I have a snack and reach a meditative state as I watch birds with blue wings swoop overhead and a butterfly the size of my head flutter past. I like the alone time.

It's hard when these two types of hikers converge as they did today at Pico Bonito National Park in Honduras. The former want to go, explore, and play, while I want to think, reflect, and absorb. I feel as though I'm not going fast enough, and they feel like they are constantly waiting. And in an effort to keep up, I hit a slippery rock the wrong way and careen to the ground. Don't worry, I'm ok. I got right up and continued onward until I was comfortably sitting in the taxi taking pleasure in watching the pineapple fields on both sides of the road.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Spending My Thoughts with Positive Currency

"Compassionate people are geniuses in the art of living, more necessary to the dignity, security, and joy of humanity than the discoverers of knowledge." Albert Einstein 

Sometimes you can go days upon days hearing about nothing but violence and the terrible things that are happing all over the world. Today, on September 21, it might be no different. People are fleeing Syria in search of a safe place to live only to be denied by government after government because their countries are "full." Others are being sold into slavery. Still others are ignoring it all not because they don't care, but perhaps because it is just too much to deal with. It is too much to deal with. The world can be a scary place.

But today is different. Today is the International Day of Peace. While, in many cases, it is a symbolic expression of what we wish would happen in the world, it is a call to action for ourselves. It is a way for us to remember that the world can be a good place, and we can work together to achieve positive goals. It reminds me to continue my work with children around the world even though it doesn't provide a paycheck, and most people don't understand why I do it. Most importantly, it's a way to look at ourselves and think about how we spend our days, how we spend our thoughts.

Today I will spend my thoughts with positive currency. And I'll wake up tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and try to do the same.

What can you do today for peace?
 In the words of Mother Theresa, "peace begins with a smile."
Why not start there?

Find your happy place, take a deep breath, and smile. Have a peaceful day!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reaching Silver Status Part 2: A United Fail

When I wrote my last post about frequent flyer miles I was inches away from being awarded the illustrious silver status from United Airlines. I was so taken in with the idea of gaining more travel benefits that I even opted to pay more for my flights to reach the next level. I had visions of being upgraded on all of my flights, earning tons more miles, and easily being able to keep these benefits for a very long time.

That was about a year ago, and I have been upgraded once. And even though I was flying first class from Seattle to Washington D.C. on a red eye, I was not given a meal or provided with in flight entertainment on my cross country flight, nor did I have one of those seats that reclines into a bed. I did, however, get a drink in a real glass. Woo Hoo! I was infinitely happy that I did not pay any extra money to be sitting there. The service wasn't any better, and I have seen a sharp decline lately in United service in general. I'm hoping that the new CEO will be an improvement.

While it was a bonus to be able to choose a seat in economy plus (extra legroom) upon checkin for my other United flights, there wasn't really any additional benefit of the silver status I had worked so hard to earn. The free checked bag and early boarding were already perks with my United Mastercard.

So was it worth it? I would say no. Unless you are a business traveler or spend beaucoup bucks using your flight-linked credit card and can reach gold, average gals like me will continue to peek through the mesh curtain wishing the kid behind me would stop kicking my seat, pining for the good life in the front of the plane, and paying the lowest fares possible. Because the travel is much more important than the transit.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Travel vs. Transit

Penn Station, NYC
Travel and transit, while they may sound similar, they are, to me, polar opposites but inextricably tied together. As I write this I sit on the floor of gate C75 at Newark International Airport. There are no seats to be found because, as is always true in the summer, flights become delayed, gates change at rapid rates, and a great deal of people who never travel suddenly show up. So I sit on the floor contemplating for the millionth time why I continue to put myself through all of this. I determined that my reasons stemmed from my ever-growing love of travel and my ability to grin and bear the transit. 

Sikkal Train Station, India
It’s a delicate balance that I strike each time I throw my possessions in a suitcase and schlep through yet another crowded city. Right now, my love of travel outweighs my loathing of transit, so I press on. What’s the difference you ask? Travel is full of new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences. It is discovering a place for the first time, or like visiting an old friend. Transit is moving from one place to another, switching planes, trains, buses, boats, or anything in between. Most of it, however, involves a barrage of inconveniences. One after another like whack-a-mole, the difficulties pop up: getting to the airport, checking in, making sure my bag isn't too big or too heavy. Don’t get me started on security. The gate will probably change a couple times without notification, and a sorry looking turkey sandwich is $25! It’s painful, just like sitting in economy, knees squished up to neck-level. Some flights are smooth, and some are not. As Forest Gump would say, it’s a box of chocolates. Arrival includes bloodshot eyes and a disoriented expression while faced with the task of reuniting with luggage and navigating the cacophony of taxi drivers, buses, limo drivers, and many many cars driven by people who appear to be behind the wheel for the first time. If we’re lucky, someone is there waiting, and if we're like everyone else, it may just be the beginning. 

Andes Mountains from Above
And still we soldier on through nauseating bus rides and missed train connections, cancellations and hassle. Maintaining sanity is a real challenge, but attitude is everything. So as I begin my next round of transit which will involve an overnight flight and a 5 hour stretch waiting for a Greyhound bus, I must remember that there is a new city, new friends, and new adventures ahead. For now, the transit is still worth it. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Kafka Effect

After being in Prague, it's hard not to notice Franz Kafka's influence. Restaurants, cafes, and a multitude of other sites in the city are dedicated to his memory. He's is one of the most well known and talented authors of the 20th century, but this acclaim happened after his life ended.

The more I learned about this celebrated author, the more I realized that his life can be a great lesson to each of us. One of the reasons why Kafka did not become famous until after he died is because he didn't think his writing was good enough to be published. For most of his life Kafka was employed by Workman's Accident Insurance when all he really wanted to do was write. He did write when he wasn't working, but all of his work ended up locked in a trunk until his death. In his will, he asked his friend to burn it all, but his friend decided to publish it instead. He lived with the pervasive idea, as many of us do, that we are not good enough. I call this the Kafka Effect. The more you tell yourself something, the more you begin to believe it. What you tell yourself matters. You can't wait for someone else to recognize your greatness. It must come from within.

The lesson for today is simple, you are good enough, and you can do it.

Would you rather live a safe life that you don't love or take a risk for your passion?

"So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being." ~Franz Kafka

Quote from Brainy Quote

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What is Experteering?

Beyond being a fancy new word, Experteering is a new way of thinking about pro bono international work. The word volunteer used to be the umbrella word for anyone who spends his/ her time helping someone or something else. Now we have words like voluntourist and experteer to describe very different things. In the international world, the mere mention of the word voluntourism can incite heated debates on issues of sustainability and dependence in host communities as well as causing damage to the communities that these volunteers are trying to help. It’s a sticky situation because every year, well meaning people fly to all areas of the world hoping to make a difference while on vacation. The problem is that all the good intentions in the world won’t end poverty, stop human trafficking, or educate a population. The need for volunteers has not gone away, rather the need for skilled volunteers has increased. This is where the beauty of experteering comes in. 

More and more, people are becoming dissatisfied with their jobs, and they are doing something about it. When I left teaching it was a huge step into a black hole. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew I had to go. What I found was that there were lots of people like me who had left lucrative careers in search of a more fulfilling life. Some of them had a plan, but most just wanted to follow their passion wherever it took them. They were the lucky ones. I had no plan and I was lacking in passion, feeling defeated and confused about the next step. I started traveling more, but it wasn’t enough. Then I found Moving Worlds, the matchmakers of the experteer world where organizations around the world are able to find skilled professionals to help them with everything from fashion design to permaculture and everything in between. It’s a great way to find a new passion while still being able to use the skills you have or shake up your life a little bit without ditching your regular paycheck. 

Teacher workshop at Vanavil
Through Moving Worlds I found Vanavil, a small school in southern India. While they were looking for an English teacher, I quickly learned that it was only the tip of the iceberg. I was able to assess the needs of the school and look for ways to meet those needs on the ground. Not only did I teach English, I conducted teacher training workshops, helped to make a computer lab operational, assessed students, and lots of other little things along the way that were very similar to what I did when I was a teacher in the states. Now that I'm back home, I will continue working with the school by writing curriculum and helping with Vanavil's mission of  keeping kids off the streets and in school.Through this work I reignited my love of curriculum development, and I can't wait to explore all of the thoughts and ideas that have resulted from having a meaningful experience in a place that needed me.  Experteering has allowed me to stay fresh in my field while expanding my skills in a completely new and challenging context. 

Take a look at my recent interview with Moving Worlds about my experiences in India. 

If you have questions about experteering or where to start, I would love to hear from you. Post a comment below or message me on twitter @eedowd27.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why I Won't Write About India

I’m miles, and what feels like, years away from India, the place in which I struggled both physically and mentally to adjust, but can’t seem to stop thinking about. It almost doesn’t seem real, my time in a small village in Tamil Nadu, trying desperately to help the children to learn English letter sounds.

How do I begin to write about a period of my life that turned truth on its head and made me question every thought I had ever had?
How do I write about the intense highs and lows that would happen within minutes of each other? How do I write about all of the strong and beautiful people who became friends?
How do I return to a life of comfort and hot showers, cappuccinos and complexity? 
How do I write about it in a way that others will understand?

The answer is, I don't. At least I don't do it right now. I wouldn't do it justice. If you have been there yourself you know what I mean. If you haven't been yet, go and find your own India. 

I learned how to push through the challenges to find what I considered ‘my India.’ I found it in the quiet moments, the moments when India didn’t know I was watching. It’s easy to find the difficulty. It’s easy to find reasons not to do things. In the village, my survival depended on me pushing past what was hard, on seeing the beauty in the ordinary. I will continue to breathe a sigh of relief and smile when I see toilet paper in a bathroom. And I will stop and listen a little bit more to who and what is around me, finding the quiet simplicity in each day. I won't write blogs about weekend trips and local poverty. There's much more to the story than that. 

What this all boils down to is that I love India too much and want her all to myself.  So few places exist in this world that aren't touched by western tourism, but I was lucky enough to be invited into one. And that, my friends, is why I won't write about India. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Travel Vaccinations: Do you need them?

This is a common question among travelers to countries in Africa, South America, and South East Asia, and it's easy to just ignore it and hope for the best. But these diseases are the real deal, many of which can have a deadly outcome. First and foremost, you must visit your doctor for general health and a travel clinic for country specific recommendations.

Here are some things I have learned along the way regarding health abroad:

1. Where can I get vaccinated?

There are lots of travel clinics in the US and abroad. The US tends to have them separate from doctors' offices while in the UK it's possible to go to your registered surgery. In the Netherlands, KLM runs some of the travel clinics. You can find the nearest one to you by calling the local health department, asking your doctor, or doing a simple internet search. The one I went to in the states is called Passport Health, and they operate all over the country.

2. How do I know what vaccines I need?

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the US State Department websites are a good place to start. They will list recommended vaccinations and other pertinent health information. There's a good chance you will already have some of the recommended vaccines and just need a booster.

Also visit the website for the country you are planning to visit to see if there are any entry requirements. While the country may not have any entry requirements, that doesn't mean you are out of the woods. Visit a travel clinic for region- specific information. If possible, it is also a great help to bring your vaccination record to show what you have received, what you need a booster for, and new ones like yellow fever.

3. What can I expect at a travel clinic?

When you book your appointment you will need to let them know where you will be going and for how long. If you are visiting more than one country, be sure to tell them. When you arrive, the nurse (it's always been a nurse for me) will review your trip information, let you know about general health and safety advice, and provide you with printed information about the country, vaccine recommendations, and medication information. Then you will get any necessary vaccines right away all at the same time. You will be in and out in no time at all with a yellow card to prove your new vaccination history.

Even though you will be provided with printed information, you should also take some notes while you are there. Make sure you understand all of the information provided and ask questions if you don't. You control the appointment. If you need something explained again, just ask. It's their job. You may also be given prescriptions for things like anti-malaria pills and pills for travelers diarrhea. If you have insurance, they should be covered.

You will also find out about bug spray. Yes, it needs it's own paragraph because it is that important. So many nasty diseases are contracted by tiny mosquitos like dengue fever and malaria. The best way to protect yourself is to get a good bug spray or cream and use it like your life depends on it. Because sometimes it just may. All it takes is one bite, so you can't be too cautious.

4. What is it going to cost? 

Brace yourself, the price tag on these appointments can be very high, and it may not be something you have factored into your overall budget. An office visit alone can cost from $0 to upwards of $100 which includes the information packet and consultation. Then, each vaccine carries it's own price tag. Travel clinics in the US don't usually take insurance, so if you are concerned about cost, visit your primary physician first to see what's covered. When all was said and done, the clinic visit for my trip to Tanzania was around $800 for six vaccines, and my recent visit for my trip to India was about $600. All I'm saying is be prepared.

5. What else do I need to know?

Give yourself at least six weeks to get all your doctor appointments and vaccines. Some of shots (or jabs if you are in the UK) require two courses and need a couple weeks in between doses. Plan for that. And if you have everything sorted with weeks to spare, then you will have nothing to worry about except what to pack.

The longer you are on the road, the more protection you may need. For example, a short trip to major cities in India won't require the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine, but I needed it. Why? I'm going to a rural area for more than a month. Time and region matter which is why it's so important to see a specialist before your next great adventure.

Ultimately, you make the final decisions as to what vaccines to get and medications to take. The travel clinic will make recommendations, but you are the final say. Travel is risky enough without having to worry about contracting a deadly disease, so take the advice seriously.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Applying for an Indian Visa

I recently read an article about the elusive Indian visa where the author was providing a shameless plug for a passport service without providing accurate information. It got me thinking about all of the faulty information on the internet due to people trying to make money off of their websites. Well rest assured, if you are reading this, I make absolutely no money on this website. The information you read here is based on my own experiences. Here's my take on applying for a visa to India.

When I first started looking at the visa process in India I was overwhelmed. It was enough to make me not want to go. The process has since changed, outsourced to private companies. A tourist visa on arrival was also added for US citizens (and some other countries too). All you have to do is fill out an online application at least 4 days before your departure date, pay the fee, print the confirmation page, and take it with you on your trip with your passport and any other necessary documentation. All the information you need is on the application page. So easy!

If your travel plans exceed 30 days, you will need to apply through the embassy's company of choice. In the US it is Cox & Kings Global Services. What this means is that this company handles all of the paperwork and provides middle man service to the Indian embassy or consulate. Extra costs are involved, but it allows the whole process to be much more efficient. Their website provides very clear instructions for all of the paperwork involved. Follow that, and you are all set. If you have questions along the way, they are very prompt in responding over email as well.

The tourist visa application asks for basic personal information. You will also need to know your parents birthplace, birthdate, and citizenship. Also note, the application asks for an address and contact in India. It's also best to apply for the minimum amount of time necessary. If you are going on one trip, don't apply for the 10 year multiple entry visa even if there is a chance you will return in the future. Other than that, it's a standard application that can be filled out and paid for online.  Then just print it and the other necessary forms listed on the Cox & Kings website, and you're all set.

If you live close to the nearest global services office, you can personally drop off your application. If you don't, you can pay for door to door courier service.

If you opt for the personal approach, it goes something like this:

1. Make online appointment a couple days prior
2. Find the office (for me it was taking a train trip to New York City)
3. Hand the person at the desk your paperwork (already filled out with your passport)
4. Person takes your paperwork, sifting out the unnecessary pages
5. She enters your information into the system while chatting to other employees.
6. Less than 5 minutes later you are getting an email update and are out of the building wondering what to do with the rest of your day
7. Three days later, visa arrives to your house if you paid for courier service (or you go back and pick it up)

Maybe I showed up on a good day, or maybe it's always like that. Either way, I was in and out in less than 5 minutes. The process couldn't have been easier, and I received email updates at each stage of the process. I caused myself all sorts of stress for no reason. The important thing is to allow yourself plenty of time before you are set to go on your trip, and you'll be fine.

**Disclaimer: I am an American citizen with parents and grandparents who are also American citizens. This made the process easier. If you have parents or grandparents with Pakistani citizenship, the process can be much more difficult. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lose the Map

Planning is not my thing, and my capacity for directional intelligence is severely lacking. Yet I still travel. In fact, I think that having those shortcomings has enabled me to be a more in- tune traveler. Not having a plan means that I don't have anywhere to be at any given time, and knowing that I will undoubtedly get lost at some point during a day means that I am free to wander without fear. It takes a lot of pressure off. 

Tossing plans to the wind and deciding not to take a day trip to Vienna, instead I took a train to Znojmo. It is the last stop on the local train line in this area. Instead of the hassle of changing trains and traveling for hours only to get to a city just for the sake of it being Vienna, I opted for a direct route that clickety-clacked through vineyards still bare from the winter. I watched rabbits hop away from the tracks at breakneck speeds. And I watched as the tiny train pulled into one of the most picturesque towns I have ever seen and never heard of. 

Without a map I found my way through the empty streets of the town, past a tiny Easter market in the main square selling flowers. I followed the signs to St. Nicholas Church and a deserted castle. Walking through the castle walls with no one to stop me, I emerged alone to stare at the river and the miniature multi-colored houses dotting the hillside. 

I continued to wander without a map, without a plan. I passed signs, some of which were in English informing me of trails into the forest and to the top of the mountain straight ahead. Again I wandered, guided by myself and the colored boxes painted on the trees leading the way somewhere. The somewhere never mattered much; it was all about the walk itself. The whole day spent in the moment, unsure of what was around each bend in the trail. Even though from far away the destination could be seen very clearly. 

Life is like that. Sometimes we are so focused on the map and the destination that we forget to wander, to explore, to look up. The best moments happen when there is no map, no plan. When we are guided by ourselves, there is no wrong, only different options. 

So lose the map, get lost, and enjoy the walk. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Choosing a Path

This weekend I found myself in Amsterdam again after being away for over a year and a half. I have been here since Saturday, and I have not done any of the normal tourist route. Instead, I have caught up with friends, shared meals, and felt the love from my international community surrounded by a beautiful city. It also helped that the sun was out.

Some themes emerged over the past couple of days that have resonated with my decisions over the past couple of years and most recently planing my trip to India...

Being honest with myself (even if it's not what I want to hear)

Following the path of my passion (figuring out what that passion is)

Determining what it is that I want most in life (and then finding a way to fulfill it)

And some hard questions...

Does postponing the next step in life assist in cementing the decision itself?

Is it better to jump first and ask questions later?

How much of what we choose to do is motivated by fear?

Are we allowing others to make our decisions for us?

                                                                               ...questions with no easy answers.

Our choices define who we are. So even if it's the more arduous path, one that is not paved and well lit, I'm going to take it because I would rather fail forward than never move forward at all.

Friday, March 13, 2015

This Blog has an Identity Crisis

It's true! This little blog of mine has been through so many changes since I started writing it about six years ago. It started out as a way to communicate and share my love of travel with my students while I was in Australia. Since then it has morphed into a vessel for story telling, recommendations, life updates, and various other ways to comment on the where and when of my life. One thing has stayed constant, however, and that is travel.

Keeping with that idea and the roller coaster like history of this communication tool, I am changing it again. This time, I will be sharing the ups and downs, ins and outs of my experteer** trip to India.

What's the big change? I'm not sure yet. In the immediate future I'll be sharing my journey to get to India including things like vaccinations, visas, and the project planning process. When I get there I hope to share successes, challenges, and local life. If nothing else, it will be a way to document a process in progress.

And that process begins now... join me!

**Experteer is a word used by Moving Worlds to go beyond volunteering or in many cases voluntourism. Experteer is a combination of expert and volunteer. I will be pairing my knowledge and experience in education as a volunteer. It's so simple, and yet it has the potential to be a very powerful thing. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Auburn Football From an Outsider

View of the field from my seat.
Now that the college football season is coming to a close with the final championship ahead, I felt it was a good time to share my experience of attending an Auburn University football game. Even if you have no interest in football, you have probably heard of the Auburn tigers, and I was no exception. I, however, am one who has very little interest in football, college or otherwise, but I was interested in experiencing the pomp involved at a school with so much football clout.

A couple friends were in town, so it was the perfect weekend to throw ourselves into the local culture of waking up early after a late return home the previous night, watching people park their cars creatively around town, and even drink an early afternoon margarita while walking downtown. Auburn fans did not disappoint on this weekend despite playing a no name team from a state that I no longer remember. They went all out with their orange and blue adorned vehicles driving circles around the blocks blaring marching band music screaming "WAR EAGLE!" at every turn.

Tailgating is an event at Auburn. It is here where the men dress in navy blue suits and bright orange ties and the women sport elaborate dresses of the same colors one trying to out-do the next. No ladies and gentlemen, this is not just any old sporting event, it is a place to find your mate, and it's serious business. You must have the right outfit, be invited into the right tailgating tents with no less than three large screen televisions and a catered spread that would feed the hungry people of a small nation, and you must live and breathe Auburn football. Anything less is blasphemy, and I was teetering on the edge in my not quite orange striped tank, black jersey skirt, and flip flops wandering around slack-jawed wondering how much money was involved in one brief afternoon.

Taken just after the eagle flew past
The 90,000 seat stadium was a sea of orange and blue, full to the brim on this cloudy day in October. We slowly trudged up the ramp in spirals to get to the top to our seats. Just when I was beginning to think that I would be in heaven before I got to the top, I looked to my left as an enormous eagle (the famous war eagle) was leaping from the concrete edge in front of me. All football aside, it was amazing to see this giant bird fly around, mind focused, despite the deafening cheers of tens of thousands of people as he launched himself toward the rubber prey in the middle of the field.

We squeezed past fans to our small space on a metal bench at one of the highest points in the stadium. As I settled in for a long afternoon of clanking helmets and a whole lot of stop and start that made little sense to me, I was immediately distracted by the fans. These southerners breathed new life into the meaning of fanatic. As I mentioned earlier, this game was an easy win for the tigers, but that didn't stop the fans from treating it like a championship playoff. The other team managed to get a touchdown. I thought, wow, good for them as angry men on all sides clad in tiger stripes spewed expletives as they upbraided the young men on the field who were doing the best they could to run and catch and tackle for our enjoyment.

They are still boys after all.

And just when I thought my new friends and I were having a private conversation on what on earth the Iron Bowl was (just like any of the other bowl games right?), a middle aged lady sitting in front of us turned around and in perfect southern drawl said the following:

Lady: "You do know what the Civil War is right?"

Us: "Umm yes."

Lady: "The Iron Bowl is just like that."

A controversial tradition
And the conversation went on in that fashion comparing the football rivalry with the University of Alabama to an actual war where people died. Respect was lost on my end, and I continued to take in my surroundings as an anthropologist instead of a fan. It was much more interesting that way.

The game was easily won, and the Auburn gods were satisfied. People poured from the stadium to all of the local watering holes and proceeded to toilet paper the trees in front of the university. It's tradition they say, but I could never quite figure out how defacing their own campus and causing a lot of extra work for university staff on Sunday equated to celebration. I guess that's why I'll always be an outsider.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014- Looking Back to Forge Ahead

Last year around this time I wrote a year in review. I had visited many new places and done a lot of new things, and I had the photos to prove it. This year, this review post is a bit different because I am a bit different. 2014 for me has been a year for learning, about myself, about what I want in my life, and about how the world works. So for those who know me and for those who stumbled upon this blog here's a bit about what happened this year.

I'm a bad blogger. I realized this fact this year. This year has marked a lot of changes both personally and geographically, and while I have had tons to write about, I just haven't . It's not because I haven't wanted to, but because I realized that it wasn't something I wanted to make a life out of. Some people do, and they are good at it. They write all the time, publishing ebooks and going on press trips. It's just not me, and I'm ok with it.

I spent the beginning of 2014 carving out a career in travel writing. I wrote for some excellent websites and a couple questionable ones. I reached a point where I was blogging twice a week, and travel writing was becoming something that I could have made a living doing. People even started finding me and asking me to write for their sites. And they paid me! But every time I sat down to write an article, a little voice in the back of my head was telling me that this wasn't what I was supposed to be doing. I ignored it for a while because I was living the dream- working in my PJ's and able to pick up and go whenever and wherever I wanted.

I lived in Washington state, Auburn, Alabama, and I visited family and friends all over the country including Hawaii. I went to Thailand for the first time, and I wrote about some of it. I even went back to the novel I started the previous November. But I soon realized that all of that wasn't enough. While I enjoy travel and writing about my experiences, and I love the freedom to be able to work on a novel for an entire day if I want, it wasn't enough. It wasn't making me jump out of bed in the morning; it wasn't my passion.

When I got to Alabama, I was itching to do something. I didn't know what it was though. And I don't even remember what prompted me to jump head first into this next step, but I did. I decided to apply to grad. school, to go back and get my PhD in education. It was that little voice again telling me that I had to get back in. While it causes me stress, it is that stress that allows me to make a difference. In order for that to happen, I knew a couple things: I needed to get a full ride, and I wanted an excellent program. I set my sights on schools that may be a bit out of reach, but "faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase." I went for it.

So that's where I am as I kiss another year goodbye and usher in a new one, waiting to hear my fate and putting the finishing touches on my novel before I send it out to publishers. I'm not a travel writer, but I will continue to write. I will always continue to write, but it will be on my terms. Whatever may happen in the coming months, I'm ready for it, and that in and of itself is a grand accomplishment.

A giant thank you to all of the people who follow this blog and who have been so supportive in my journey to follow the road less traveled. It's been a rough ride and a great adventure, and I'm looking forward to what lies ahead. I enjoy writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it. All the best for a happy, healthy 2015. Cheers!