What were you doing on this exact date 7 years ago? I was zipping up my backpack to load up before my mom dropped me off at the Sacramento airport for the first day of an unpredictable journey around the world. I can recall having no fear or at least no hesitation in the adventure I was about to embark on. Just excitement and a new found enthusiasm for life!
As each year unfolded and my passport filled to the rim (with about 80 stamps!) I encountered new friends, adopted cultural traditions and continued to allow my mind to expand. Sometimes it’s surreal when I look back on the photos as it usually feels like I’m talking about someone else from a book I read or movie I saw. If you want to see a clear layout with links of my first exciting year on the road, take a look at the 2012 archives!
I was going to make this post about some of my favorites from around the world, cuisine, music, architecture, etc. but as I began to write I felt more drawn to explore what kind of lessons I gathered from a variety of places. Could be that I’m 9 months pregnant and my sensitive hormones are on high, or simply because I’ve never really stopped to ask myself such a question.
So Erika, where did you learn some significant lessons and how did you walk away from it a better person?
PERU – Although I visited several different cities throughout the country, a little village has always stood out to me. I rarely go back to a place I’ve been, but the magnetic pull was too strong for me to ignore in Huambutio. I was invited to volunteer there in a variety of things from teaching English to painting walls, cooking and even to coach gymnastics.
The lesson here was simple, appreciation for the simple things.
Sounds obvious or cliche, but there were a few events that triggered this conscious thought. First was the toothpaste. We taught the kids how to make their own toothpaste (that they got to take home) and the importance of dental health. The enthusiasm and gratitude they showed was outstanding! Something we may all take for granted or even see as a thoughtless item we look for on sale at Target, but these children guarded their portion like it was gold. Makes me wonder if they had ever used any… ever. Next was meal time. The children’s breakfast everyday was 1/2 of a hard boiled egg with a scoop of plain oatmeal (not your Starbucks brown sugar, toasted nut and cranberry shenanigans, but warm oats and water). We would divide an apple into 1/8 slices in order for everyone to get a bite as a snack and occasionally got to accompany it with a few pieces of toasted corn. Lunch and dinner was whatever we picked that day from the garden. A clear memory I have was the evening they said we were goin to make corn bread. Now, I was aware enough to not aimlessly look for a box of ready make Betty Crocker, but I was on the scout for cornmeal and the rest of the ingredients. I can’t remember how long they let me look before informing me that we actually have to go pick the corn to start the process. After I was done blushing, off to the garden we went! An experience that made every bite of that bread savored as if we had spent hours preparing it… because we did!
I suppose all of this hit me harder than I was expecting when I flew out of Peru into the states to visit family. My first stop was Dallas, Texas… home of everything huge! I had my apple bits, a few nuts and some cash to get me buy as I plopped down in the food court during my layover at the airport. A family sat next to me who didn’t go out of their way to be discreet. The children were clearly mad at the toy they got in the happy meal, a meal that they didn’t want to finish for whatever reason. After fits and French fries on the floor, the meals went into the garbage. I’m not claiming that we need to starve to appreciate fullness, or go without toothpaste to love a good sale at Target. I will admit however, that I may have judged this situation in the moment, but looking back now it was an opportunity that invited me to reflect on my own behavior. Had I carelessly disposed of food that could of been leftovers or compost? How many times did I complain, especially as a child, about the items in front of me with no gratitude that I even had options!?
Moving from food to activity, we ventured to the outdoor area and I was pleasantly surprised at the creative use of items that would typically land in the trash. Used plastic containers, snack wrappers, laundry bottles, juice boxes, warm out shoes and more. I loved it!
This experience as a whole opened a new part of my character to this day (even ask those close to me), it’s left me very aware of waste, unnecessary abundance and a love for keeping things simple. I am that weirdo that has 1/4 of an apple in my fridge with full intentions of eating it. I order a to-go box with my meal whenever we enjoy the luxury of eating out. I choose not to go to Costco and buy a village sized pack of paper plates on sale because I “might” need them someday. By no means am I claiming some sort of award winning lifestyle, just sharing the lesson that 7 years later still sticks in my everyday existence. And now with a little girl due any day, I hope to carry this in our family and raise a grateful human that appreciates her surroundings and has gratitude for our simple luxuries.