Sunday, July 20, 2014

"You'll need coffee shops and sunsets and road trips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living breathing screaming invitation to believe better things."

-Jamie Tworkowski

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Comes the Dawn

After a while you learn, the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul, and you learn that love doesn't mean leaning, and company doesn't always mean security. And you begin to learn, that kisses aren't contracts, and presents aren't promises, and you begin to accept your defeats, with your head up and your eyes ahead, with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child, and you learn, to build all your roads on today, because tomorrow's ground is, too uncertain for plans, and futures have a way of falling down in mid flight, after a while you learn, that even sunshine burns if you get too much, so plant your own garden, and

decorate your own soul,

instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers, and you learn, that you really can endure, that you are really strong, and that you really do have worth, and you learn, and you learn, with every good bye you learn.

Realizations from the past month as told by Veronica.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lessons Learned: Coming Home

The first thing that I do after I pick a place to travel to is run to the nearest book store and snag a copy of the respective Lonely Planet book. From there I highlight, make marginal notes and make lists based off of the findings within the bounded spine. The one thing that it doesn't tell you is how to come home.

I would like to think that there isn't a set way to come home and that is why you can't find a trust worthy travel guide on how to come home, because it looks and feels different for everyone. The emotions are so drastic that one could not possibly put it simply into a book. Even as I write this post, I know that I will never get down the frustration, sadness and restlessness that has plagued me.

This is what I am finding out to be true on coming home-

1. You are going to want to cleanse yourself of everything that reminds you of the person you were before you left. This might include getting rid of piles of clothes at a time, because you just witnessed half of a country's population to be in mere rags. Before you left, doing what seems to be endless piles of laundry, use to be a daunting task. Now you just feel guilty for changing your outfit for dinner.

2. The smallest thing can set off the biggest emotional break down. Just the other day, I tried to fix myself a little breaky and ended up throwing a cereal bowl away as I cried on my kitchen floor. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I had choices for breakfast. It seemed ridiculous that there were six different types of cereal, five types of fruit, eggs, waffles and breakfast sandwiches to choose from. Some people only know rice porridge to be breakfast.

Oh and the next day, you'll just avoid the kitchen in general until your stomach starts screaming at you how hungry it is. And the day after that you still won't have eaten breakfast. But then soon, you will. The moral of this situation is that readjusting back to does in fact require baby steps, and that is okay.

 3. The first trip to the grocery store will be the catalyst for anxiety and another break down resulting in you running out of the store before you can finish purchasing your items. I was privileged enough to experience life on different terms than I ever knew existed, it was only a distorted reality until I was there. Coming home soon becomes a series of depicting people's actions and selfish motivations. Stores, restaurants and social gatherings are very difficult to partake in because the isles and tables are consumed with selfishness, rude, self entitled people. Of course these different behaviors may seem like social norms in a Common Wealth society, but in the larger picture, I have come to realize how miserable Common Wealth citizens truly are.

4. It is going to seem as if you are traveling back in time. My biggest fear before I left was everyone was going to move on with their lives without me, and that I wouldn't have a place when I came back. Realistically though, not much is going to have changed. But there has been a larger, more impactful evolution within yourself. This isn't a testament to say that those who travel are better than those who don't venture off. But the truth is, when you travel you change at a more rapid pace. It appears that things back at home need a reason for a revolution, however, when you travel you are force to revolutionize your life because the world says so.

5. On that note, you won't be coming home the same person. I remember going to Africa for the first time and sobbing my eyes out because I knew that the girl who was boarding the plane at JFK airport was no longer going to return. To be honest, I did not expect this much change. I figured, I have seen suffering countries, I'm there to witness and hear stories ... but I never knew what would make of it. Little did I know my entire sense of self was in question. I would like to think that I will never properly or fully be the person I am meant to be. Which sounds scary, but my explanation for this is that I want to always work on bettering myself. I never want to be a completed project.

My priorities have radically changed, until Common Wealth living sucks me back into it. I listen to frustrated voicemails because "yet again," I didn't pick up my phone. Or too often do I go to make a phone call while I am out on errands to realize I have left it somewhere. I care more about talking slower and expressing thoughtful, genuine thoughts instead of surface level conversations. I've been fighting for kindness more and more. Kindness in the words I choose, the strangers I see and the amount of kindness presumed towards others. Mostly I allow myself to feel, without apologizing.

6. When changing and creating space for this new life, you will realize that some people from the past just don't fit. You no longer have energy to fight for friendships that don't continuously evolve you and make you a better person.


7. Anytime the mention of travel comes up in conversation, you will cry.

8. It doesn't make you a bad person for not wanting to be home.

Coming home is tough. It isn't a myth when people say you will experience more culture shock coming home than you do exploring uncharted territories. I had a couple of months given to me to live in a different country. There are things I witnessed and felt that most people will never begin to comprehend, and that is okay. It is difficult to explain the circumstances and events that weren't all picturesque although they are probably most important to my travels. Everyday has been a constant battle on who I was and who I have turned into. I am in frequent question of my surroundings, the people I associate myself with and the idea of what next.

Coming home isn't a photo oped homecoming.

It's lonely. It's discouraging to see the lack of ambition, when you once surrounded yourself with the most ambitious people. Looking back on older posts I laugh at the thought that I once missed home. Because 'that' home that I missed, isn't the one that I am in now.

At the end of the day, I just chuckle and say, "little naive girl, this is exactly what travel is all about. You wanted to be revolutionized, so you left. And now you are changed."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pioneer Heart

"Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes. Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has to vision to recgonise it as such." -Henry Miller

Ever since I could remember my biggest dream, aside from being Miss USA, was to work for a non-profit. A non-profit that made change to those who were lesser off than I was. A non-profit with dignity and poise that didn't need to make face, in order to validate it's existence.

At the ripe, young and naive age of twenty I landed my dream job working for Reach Out Volunteers. The first time ever going overseas was with them and it was enchanting. I would be lying if I didn't admit to questioning this amazing opportunity that had been given to me without much effort on my part. It was meant to be. So I did what most reckless individuals would do: quit university, signed away my own non-profit work, sublet my apartment and packed a duffel bag trusting it would get me through.

I took the plunge and decided to make the commitment of marrying the world, for better or for worse. The only safety net I would have was my work, my heart, and a map that led home. Naturally, skeptics were critical of this decision. They knew you [the world] had too much history and I was too naive. But I boarded the plane, for better or worse, not asking for anything in return. Like all relationships we have had our ups and downs. A few bumps that landed four stitches on my chin, financial issues when a friend cheated me because they were more desperate for money, and days of illness that would make a grown man want to crawl into his mum's lap.

The only expectation of this commitment is to continuously give my heart away. And so I do.

And oh do I get burned for it.

It is a reality that I never wanted to face. In a way, I always made sure that I was under prepared to face it, as if, if I were prepared then someone that meant I was a cynic. I should have taken closer notes in history and English classes as each book has a preamble explaining that there are two kind of people in the world: the good and the bad.

I guess going into the non-profit sector you never suspect that it would be with those people. The missions that they are so dedicated to, that is scribbled on their websites are some of the most inspiring pieces of literature you can come across. Taking on this job, I never suspected I would become exposed to the selfish, and putting on face aspect of the business in such a raw manner.

"You will have three grand loves in your lifetime," I was once told. I'll reserve one for my last boyfriend and one for the world. And oh does the world break your heart more brutally than any human can imagine.

I didn't write at all in the month of June because I needed a break.

I needed to breathe.

There was this urgent need in not knowing how to feel what I was feeling, because I was afraid it would kill me. I didn't want to think about it. It was survival.

Then selfishly I didn't want to write about it because I wanted to internalize it and allow myself to experience it for myself. We live in this marvelous world where we over share, and share instantaneously. It can be a great feature to our lives, but it can also be suffocating. Lately, I have found it to be the latter.

That is where I have been the past month. Trying to figure it all out.

What do you do when you realize that you "dream job," falls short on all basis? In the past month I found out that one of my heroes Somaly Mam wasn't who she said she was. Does that make her a bad person? Truthfully I don't know. There is a huge part of me that wants to believe she saw a horrific issue in her country and took the most desperate of measures to try and find a way to raise awareness about it. Then, shortly after do I witness at hand that my family, Reach Out Volunteers, sadly fell into that ugly disguise of putting on a facade in the wake of turbulence, opposed to doing the right and most dignified thing.

Considerably young and thousands of miles away from home did I literally feel my world unravel around me.

With a note from the doctor requesting my bed rest, I am at home with two ruptured ear drums, a viral infection (have yet to beat it), and server exhaustion/dehydration.

Oh and a broken heart.

I have a few weeks to figure out the next big move.

But if I know one thing is for certain, I won't be home for long.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Welcome to the Boys Club

This will probably be one of my favorite pictures that I will take while here in Cambodia. I have come to realize that I am better off as a secondary teacher opposed to a primary one because I like to play a little too much. I will never out grow my eight year old heart.

I am lucky to have such spirited neighbors. Every time they hear my heavy apartment door open, they scream running over for high fives.

This is happiness.

Oh Maya

I am curious to know if I am the only one who feels the burden of writing weighing down on their shoulders every time they take pen to paper or finger to key pad. Since arriving in Cambodia, every time I have faced a blank word document or empty page in my journal I have felt a devastating amount of stress in trying to get all of my thoughts down because it feelings as if I have a million and fourteen thoughts in once second. Then when I go to write, I am preoccupied trying to get everything down, I go to miss the empowering sense of reflecting and fulfillment within the words I am writing down.

Anyway, tonight I am doing something that I would never be doing at home. I am sitting on my front porch (which probably makes me sound super weird or uncool- what can I say, I like my reflections to happen while snuggled in bed watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns).  I don’t know. My time here in South East Asia is limited to a plane ticket marked for August 3rd and I don’t want to regret spending more time inside than I did outside I guess.

I just found out a couple hours ago that Maya Angelou passed away. As a human being who shared the world as her I am affected. As someone who studies English I am affected. As a woman I am affected. But as a young girl, who first sought comfort in her words at the ripe age of fourteen I am devastated.

When I found out I stopped feeling and thinking everything that occupied my mind. After reading those words, “Maya Angelou Dies at Age 86,” I felt every cell in my body tremble. My heart started pounding and my knees became weak. How could it be true that Maya Angelou dies? She was my hero and heroes aren’t supposed to die.

I didn’t even know her and I right now all I want to do is hide under blankets and feel safe, because right now the world doesn’t feel safe, because now I feel alone. And this all sounds ridiculous because I didn’t know her but she had such a profound impact on me. Not only as a writer but as a woman and more importantly as a human being.

I remember I was 16 years old when I read her quote, “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” And it was stupid, my high school boyfriend and I had just broken up (for good this time, maybe not, I can never remember anymore) and I was pretty sure it was the end of the world as I laid in bed for four days, having my mother worry about me because I couldn’t bare to even eat a meal. Now I have come to realize that it wasn’t the end of the world. And those words made me realize that even if it wasn’t with Josh E. the god of Silver Valley during the time that one day my heart would be open again.

I find it ironic that that quote has resurfaced a number of times tonight as many pay tribute to her life because earlier today I opened up a word document, that contained a piece that I have been writing for over a year now. I haven’t touched the story in about seven months and harder than a freight training going 60 MPH I opened it up and the first page was the dedication that read: “For Nic, When it comes to love, you should love as if you are on borrowed time,” and that just goes back to Maya’s quote that pierced my heart so many years ago. Here I was at 18 years old falling flat on my face in love again just like I did when I was 14 and na├»ve enough to share my life with someone for three years thinking love could be measurable. And here I am not almost 21 years old thinking I am out of love just because I don’t have a boyfriend. Instead I am in this third world country and I keep raving about how I am in this love affair with this country and not a man and how liberating it is.

And I just wonder about a boy back at home because I wonder if being in love is  wanting to share every moment and reflection compulsively like a drug addict. Because if that’s true, if that is what love is maybe I am in love. And maybe I had to live half way across the world to know that.

That upsets me though because it goes against what I want and why I want to be here because I told everyone, “I will not be in love for a year,” after I broke up with my last boyfriend. Which is challenging during the summer season because even as a younger girl I always dreamt of this grand summer romance and admittedly I have always looked for it. Call it fools lucky but I would say that the past three summers I found it within Matt and then Nic twice and it was just sweeter and more refreshing than any amount of southern sweet iced tea. I was almost sad coming here because I knew this summer I wouldn’t be able to fall in love, like the previous years. And I just wonder tonight as I sit on my front porch if I would have had the courage to open myself up to love if it wasn’t for Maya Angelou. And now that I have, I cannot help but think how amazing it is. And I am hungry to 
keep exploring love no matter how difficult it gets.

Love is almost like traveling the world. There is such innocence about both. When it comes to traveling and love nothing about the two are easy and nothing about them should be easy because if they were easy we would all be doing it. Just like love, love isn’t supposed to be easy because it turns your heart upside down and inside out just to make you feel these butterflies at the pit of your stomach that are the size of King Kong himself. And you begin to discover, just like an archaeologist who has been working tirelessly in the direct sunlight for hours and hours that you have all of these walls and valleys and magnificent trenches within your hear that are all capable of things I could never begin to write about.

If everyone was in love at the same moment, there wouldn’t be war or disagreements. Without the war and disagreements we wouldn’t have any compassion or happiness because it is only when we are in the absence of compassion and happiness that we then appreciate them so much more than when we have it.

I guess tonight I am just in awe of the rifts and waves that Maya Angelou has been able to fold within my heart, my soul, my life. While at the same time be terribly sad that we lost Maya Angelou.

I wonder if it is selfish to ask that she can somehow find me down here on Earth while she is in Heaven so she can continue to shine her light within me and make me strong and courageous in the face of adversity and always open to love.

I think tonight I am just going to sit on my front porch and reflect on the three questions I packed with me from the very beginning of my journey:  What do I want to do? Who do I want to be? How do I want to love?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cheers to a New Love Affair

Family members, mentors and faculty of Colorado State are looking at this picture and rolling their eyes saying, "Why can't she post more pictures of Cambodia and the real cause? Why does she have to be super American and post pictures of her being able to purchase alcohol?" Now I promise you, I will be posting more pictures of Cambodia and the lovely people that make up my community, but tonight is a very special night.

If nothing else, this post is for me too look back on as a source of encouragement on the days when I miss home a little more than expected.

Settling into Cambodia was more difficult than I would have ever thought. This terrifies me to write down, because once it is written it is permanent and I fear that this reality discredits my ability to be a free spirit or world traveler that many people have confessed to being impressed by. But at the end of the day, I don't mind being one hundred percent honest.

It could have been a mix of things- from rushing to get to Cambodia, literally had two weeks to sublease my apartment, get a plane ticket, take my final exams, pack and say my goodbyes, or it could have been being miserably sick for the first three weeks here, but I woke up every day with the motivation that once these 24 hours were done with, I would be closer to getting home.

Instead of spending my days enjoying myself like I desperately wanted to, I spent my time thinking stories I could email to my boss to get me home sooner and messaged friends on Facebook debating if this is where I belonged. Every single day I woke up, I broke my own heart. While my heart broke, I encouraged myself to bring comforts of home into the mix to help me miss things a bit less. Trying to accomplish this was more frustrating that it should have been. I quickly found that the comforts of home in a third world country were going to cost you, $8 for a jar of peanut butter to be exact and $3 for a cup of coffee that didn't taste like gasoline.

I also noticed that I started allowing myself to set comfort zones (if you know anything about me, you know I don't have a comfort zone what so ever, so this was odd). I spent my first four hours of the day at My Little Cafe with Thom and his family. Then I would go to the same restaurant, Five Sons for dinner. In between I played with neighborhood kids and held my own English lessons for those who wanted it. My days were not extraordinary. I even shied away from writing because I didn't want to look back on my experience and realize that I was so pitiful at the beginning.

Then these past 24 hours happened.

I finally got fed up with my attitude. I talked to a handful of people all expressing that they would kill for my position and hey, I think if roles were reversed I would too! And I started to realize through these conversations I am one very lucky lady. Instead of taking it for granted I needed to put a quick pep in my step immediately.

When I woke up this morning I told myself, "Today is the day you will get lost in Siem Reap. And on purpose." Theory of thought: what better way to feel apart of something larger than yourself than by getting lost? During breakfast this morning, I made a list of five shops and cafes that I wanted to find in Siem Reap as little check points of figuring out my way.

And in the midst of getting lost, I found exactly what I was looking for.

Right across from my point C was a used book store.

I don't think I ever crossed a street so quickly in my entire life. Elated, I was overwhelmed by the books on the shelves even though there were weren't many, probably less than 150. I spent about two hours poking my hand through cobb webs just to read the backs of every single book, even the French books. And in that instant, I knew I was meant to be here.

Happier than I had been since arriving, I made it back to my apartment only to message an old friend of mine on Facebook. I had been thinking of him a lot and I've started to realize I would never be here, chasing this dream of giving my heart to small corners of the world, if it weren't for the people back home. Just like old times, we found ourselves wrapped up in conversation for a few hours.

Feeling excited for carrying around such a happy heart, I ventured out to treat myself to some good ol' Western chain cafe coffee pending no regrets. After bringing my order to me Ouim, played "Boom Shake," by Pitbull and Flo Rida. Immediately I jumped out of my seat and dragged her to our temporary dance floor. She laughed at my absurd dance moves but I refused to slow down.

After our dance session and enjoying my post dinner treat I retreated back to my apartment feeling satisfied and eager to jump into bed with the books I just bought.

On my walk home, it hit me ... none of this is supposed to be easy. If it was easy, everyone would pack up at 20 years old and decide to live in a third world country for a summer. And the best part of that realization is I realized, it is okay that it is challenging and difficult! After all, when have I not loved a good challenge?

Ladies from the massage parlor that I have visited and the waitress from Five Sons all gave me warm hugs as I walked by. Sign number two of the day that this is where I belonged.

Instead of heading home, I changed my route to pick up a bottle of champagne.

As someone once said, things come in threes. In this instance knowing that I was in love.

Walking out of the market with my celebration supplies for all of one guest, myself, it started down pouring on me. I read somewhere once that rain was a sign of new beginnings because it was able to wash away the bad and purify a town.

Sign number three.

Cheers to my new love affair xx