What Comes First…Courage or Faith… (aka the Chicken or the Egg)? (Written sometime in May 2013)

So I’m on the road again, but this time I’ve traveled from SC to VA to help care for and support my nephew Ahmed as he battles a particularly aggressive cancer that has manifested in his brain. Ahmed’s story is a long one, but it is a story that is a full testimonial of both courage and faith…As I’ve experienced being with him these past several days I have begun to think about courage and faith…or is it faith first and then courage? That’s what brings me to the focus of this posting. It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg analogy…which comes first? Is it courage that is born of faith or is it faith that comes forth from and is manifest out of one’s courage? Perhaps it is a tandem scenario…perhaps courage and faith go hand in hand and the act of faith in and of itself is an act of courage, just as a courageous act is born out of one’s faith. I am not really sure which one I think comes first or that it even matters. However, Ahmed has been an example to me of both courage and faith and his life journey has helped develop my faith and continuously encourages me to be courageous… An interesting play on words for “en-courage” literally means “to inspire with courage”…

Ahmed was first diagnosed with cancer when he was 16 years old. It was a frightening and stressful time for all of his immediate family, extended family, and the community that he has been such an integral part of since he was a baby. The cancer went into remission at one point, but returned even more aggressively within an 18-month period. In fact the cancer moved from his nasal passage up into his brain. The doctors gave him 6 months to live and told us no one had survived the type of cancer he had past a five-year mark. Well Ahmed became a medical miracle and survived for 20 years cancer free…Recently, just as he approached his 41st birthday, a cancerous tumor emerged in his brain. This new cancer is a result of the radiation treatments he received during his first bout with cancer over 20 years ago. His battle this time has waged with even more fierceness than the first battle 20+ years ago.

Ahmed’s name means “Leader in the holy war”. I’ve thought continuously about the meaning of his name as I’ve meditated and prayed asking God/dess for understanding…I think one of the most natural first questions that arises in the minds and hearts of people who love someone who is so sick …is “Why?” So I’ve asked, “Why God/dess has this awful thing happened again to Ahmed? … This cancer???” I’ve been thinking a lot about cancer lately because so many people I know have been plagued with or touched by this disease and it truly does seem like on many levels we are waging “a holy war” with/against cancer. So it’s come to me that perhaps Ahmed is a leader in this holy war called “Cancer”. He is such a fighter and he’s been such a blessed miracle, overcoming battle after battle with death. It has not yet been his time…I believe God/dess still has something important for him to do in this life, and I believe he will continue to be both a warrior and leader. He has touched so many lives and healed so many people’s hearts. The doctors and nurses, many of whom would not believe he would survive the recent traumas he has experienced, have been awe struck and amazed to see him pushing forward, fighting, and coming back from the many near death crises that have tried to take him out over the past sixty days. Ahmed is a leader in this holy war! And even in his suffering he has the power to change people’s hearts and minds.

I think back to 1992…We had a prayer retreat one weekend gathering at Paige Academy, the school his parents, several other folks, and I started and opened back in 1975. That weekend a large part of the Paige Academy family and community came together to pray, meditate, and work on healing Ahmed from the cancer that was moving aggressively up into his brain. … During one period of meditation I remember receiving a very strong revelation… I heard God/dess’ voice loud and clear telling me that Ahmed was going to be alright; that he was not going to die; that he would be healed from that cancer and live well into his adulthood. From that moment on, I experienced a sense of calm and peace. I had unshakable faith and knew that Ahmed was going to come through that battle with cancer. He underwent brain surgery, myriad chemo and radiation treatments, and years of regular visits and checkups with the doctors, but eventually his tests came back cancer free. As a youngster, his parents, Angela and Joe Cook, acted as his emissaries with the doctors and the medical establishment. Joe took Ahmed to Mexico to an alternative cancer clinic for a holistic treatment; his parents helped him change his diet; and cooked for and cared for him round the clock, all while raising three other younger children and running the school, Paige Academy. Their steadfastness, faith, and tenacity helped secure Ahmed’s recovery. They’ve always fought on Ahmed’s behalf with a medical establishment that does not generally understand God/dess’ mercies and power.

As I’ve journeyed here to be with him and his parents in Virginia, the place he has had to come to receive proton beam radiation, a newer form of radiation treatment, which has been the only treatment that can aid in saving his life, I have been struck with so many thoughts…memories…affirmations of God/dess’ blessings…and I have had a particular humbleness engulf my being…I feel as if my own faith and courage are challenged yet ensured by Ahmed’s steadfast spirit. I have been blessed to have him be a part of my life since he was born. I fell in love with him when he was two weeks old and have thought of him as one of “my sons” throughout his life. We cannot know God/dess’ Will, but we can remain faithful in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Ahmed is a testament to both courage and faith…and he has taught me that it does not really matter which comes first – as long as we act on faith courage will come and if we take courageous actions faith will increase…

I continue to grapple with these concepts on a daily basis but I give tremendous thanks to my nephew/son Ahmed for the example he has set for me!

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Depression (Written Wednesday, September 25, 2013)

So I woke up this morning early, early… 5 am after having gone to sleep after midnight… a typical experience these days of waking up and not being able to go back to sleep. It’s rather maddening, especially when I am getting ready for the long drive to Atlanta. Call it my excitement of being on the road again and traveling to spend time with some of my most beloved friends and family members, or perhaps it’s just another case of what’s been happening a lot lately…fitful sleep!

Depression is a ‘MoFo’ (as the colloquial expression goes)… sleep patterns are interrupted, waking, eating, physical activity, mind-thoughts, energy levels, sleeping, all of these things are grossly affected by the chemical imbalance set off by the emotional disturbance taking place in one’s soul/spirit…

I’ve been writing things in my head for months now, but they have not made it to the page, because Depression has engulfed me with her/his sinister embrace. My thirst for expressing myself in the written form has been hijacked and dried up by Depression’s unyielding presence. I’ve berated myself, talked to myself endlessly, tried to muster up self-encouragement and motivation, but until this very moment – as I lay here tossing and turning and trying to decide whether or not I could/would actually go back to sleep for the two extra hours I was giving myself before having to rise and prepare to depart on my journey to Atlanta – I have not been physically inspired to get these millennia of thoughts down on paper! So hurray for this moment…

My dear friends, Rhina and Brian, who I like to think of as more than just friends…for they are a significant part of my extended family… have inspired me with their blogs – “The Truth of Who I am” and “428 (Days See Beautiful)”… Every time I read one of their posts I am reminded that I have to write… They inspire me to no end! I have even spoken with Rhina about co-authoring a book capturing our blog entries. But Depression in her/his inimitable fashion has managed to take over the better parts of myself keeping me from entering the myriad of thoughts I have each day onto the paper/screen… Well no more I say — “Depression get the heck away from me! I’ve got places to go and things to do!” This space of time in my life I am calling my “Period of Solitude and Reflection” is the Universe’s gift to me, I know. It is a period where I have been given the opportunity to do some of the creative things I’ve been wanting to do forever, but have not had the time, nor energy because of the heavy demands my jobs have placed on me. So it’s high time Depression got the hell away from me and stopped causing me to squander my time and this precious space of solitude and reflection.

It is so easy to be lulled into Depression’s seductive embrace. S/he is like being in a lover’s trance laced with a narcotic that puts one to sleep. One wakes up each day with that heavy heady feeling that lies somewhere between a hangover and being drugged…Listless and sleep deprived, it becomes difficult to face even the most glorious sunshiny days. Life seems to have no meaning and even the taking in of the simplest of breaths becomes a monotonous and arduous chore. One’s insides feel grey and the mind begins to unravel into a senseless abyss of nothingness… Depression is a “MoFo” alright! But I am done with her/his wickedness. No it’s time I got back into living my life, each moment to its fullest!

No matter how difficult this period in my life is – unemployment and financial strain – professional regrets – physical separation/long distance from my beloved husband – I know I am blessed with these moments. I believe God/dess is ever actively present in my life and so these moments have been given to me as a gift of time to reflect on and consider what it is I truly desire for my life. Albeit, it sure would be easier if I did not have the added stress of finances looming over me; perhaps then I could be more at ease with these moments of solitude, and my reflections would be making their way onto the printed page more regularly and more fluidly…Perhaps then I could/would have kept Depression at bay and been more productive in this year of Solitude and Reflection. However, it is what it is…So let me just say I am moving on up and out of Depression’s grasp… So many writing and other creative projects to get accomplished in this brief period of time… I’m going for it!

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Lapses in Time

So…

I started writing this blog first as a record of my travels when I embarked on a year’s adventure in Barbados and the Caribbean (2011-2012). Life and work demands took over during the second half of my year in Barbados and I ended up not writing as much as I wanted to… I attempted to pick up on my travel adventures in the spring of this year (2013) as I journeyed back to Barbados and Belize in April. Since that time I have come to realize this blog is not just about my physical travels in the world, but perhaps more importantly it is about my travels/journeys within. I’ve written several pieces which I have yet to post on the blog; pieces that reflect the inner travels I have been experiencing. This past year (2012/2013) has been what I’ve taken to calling my period of “solitude and reflection”. I’ve been unemployed and spent an inordinate amount of time in solitude in the pleasant, peaceful, yet sometimes too subdued surroundings of my Summerville, South Carolina home. While this time has been quite a challenge in many ways, I also realize it has been one of the Universe’s gifts… I’ve been given an opportunity to search within my soul and get really clear about the direction I want my life to take from this point forward; I’ve  gained clear insight and become quite solid about the convictions I have for what I want to do professionally and where I want to live and work in the world. In essence I have gotten very clear about the contribution and legacy I wish to leave behind on this earth. In fact, I have given a lot of thought lately to life and death; about how short a lifetime is, whether one lives into ripe old age (whatever that is) or passes over early in life. Not to sound morbid, but I suppose a lot of these thoughts have come from my musings on the number of people I’ve known personally or who have been close to people I know, who have died this year, become gravely ill, and/or who are struggling with real serious health issues. There seems to be a lot of that going on around me… And then I think about my own mortality as I am in the age range of my own parents when they became deceased. I realize how much more there is for me to do in this lifetime, and yet how little time I have to get it all in, regardless of when my moment comes and the UNIVERSE decides my time in this physical body is up! Again, not to sound morbid, but I am realizing more and more each day how truly short life is… Children I bathed , diapered, and cared for as babies are now giving birth to their own babies… The myriad of children I taught and took care of in my  20s and 30s  are now in their 20s, 30s, and 40s!!! Time waits for no one, and although so many of the major happenings in my life feel like they just happened yesterday, I am realizing many of them happened more than a decade ago. So this moment in my life… this time, which at some moments has me totally immobilized, I am realizing is a gifted moment. A time to try to get in some of those many things I keep saying I want to do/plan to do, but never have time to do… like writing for example…writing books and children’s stories and family histories and research compilations and creating art and other inspired Goddess Creations… I’ve wasted some of this time…squandered it feeling sorry for myself and allowing the overwhelmingness of unemployment to supersede the gift of the moment… Nonetheless, this has been a time to travel deep within the confines of my very soul – to seek out my greatest desires and visions for myself and my place in this world. I am learning to accept my shortcomings and move onward…forward…and  to embrace the moments as they come.

I am seeing myself living and working in Africa, Asia — Ethiopia, Ghana, India to be more specific… I am claiming this! Obviously for those of you reading this who know me most closely, I am envisioning the next transition to be one that allows and brings into reality a comfortable, financially stable place, so that my beloved husband and I can finally live together on a daily basis. Seven years of long distance is quite sufficient. It is time now for us to be together in physical space and time! I also know and have been reminded recently, that  

“If not this, something better; [I] am only as good as [my] last performance: [I must] Choose the life [I] want, live fully the life [I] choose, be open to what the universe      wants to gift [me] and know that what [I] pray for, which is in line with [my] purpose, is only a fraction of what [my] Creator wants to give [me]” Dwana Smallwood

This year of traveling, mostly within, has brought me to both some high and low places. It is not always as easy as one would like it to be to remain positive and to always keep the “big picture” in one’s immediate sights. However, I remind myself, even in my lowest moments, that my journey has been a blessed one and that God/Goddess always leads me to the place I am supposed to be. Faith carries me forward and so I continue to journey within… to try to understand what I’m supposed to be doing in the time given me… and to move myself into taking full advantage of this period of “solitude and reflection” so that I might be as productive as I can be with this gift of time…

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the inspiration I have received from friends who are also blogging… Their blogs remind me that writing about one’s experiences can be an enriching gift to others…and so I am propelled to continue writing this travel blog – doctorkimmy travels – in the hope that not only is it a method of expressing my own soul’s journey and fulfillment, but that it will in some way provide those of you who care to read it with some enlightenment, fulfillment, inspiration, and enjoyment.

I  can’t promise that I will write as often or as frequently as I might wish, but what follows are a couple of month’s entries for you to catch up on…

Enjoy the journey!

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Independence (Written 04/23/2013)

Independence is a sleepy little village town… a relatively larger village compared to the surrounding communities as it has a population of about 2000 residents. Not a lot goes on here, especially on a Sunday afternoon. The biggest event that happened this past Sunday was football (aka soccer) in the stadium…from what I was told both women’s and men’s games were played; great excitement for a Sunday.  The only restaurants and shops open here on Sundays are owned by the myriad of Chinese folk who seem to have a handle on capitalism throughout Belize (just as they seem to the world over ). Here in Belize all the shops seem to be owned by Chinese…So I walked to get Chinese food in the burning heat of a Sunday afternoon in Independence.

Today, Tuesday, feels like a quintessential Independence day …hot and sticky, dusty and dry. The teachers, Fel (my colleague who assists me), and I all lacked energy this afternoon as we were knocked out of our regular meeting space at the high school for the second day in a row, which is nicely air conditioned. We had to suffice and work in a very hot, crowded classroom. I definitely feel for the high school students who sit crowded in rows in these hot cement classrooms all day.
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Teaching and learning here for the most part is very rote and regimented. The typical “talk and chalk” instruction starts with even the little ones. Fel and I observed in several  preschool and early primary level classrooms this morning where children 4-8 years old sit in rows and often have very little space to move around.

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I am challenged on so many levels to find the best ways to impart creative, developmentally appropriate teaching and learning information to teachers who have really only experienced the kill and drill types of traditional school settings. IMG_20130423_105847_151 IMG_20130423_110356_684 IMG_20130423_115448_015 IMG_20130423_115457_619

Additionally, these teachers are hampered by government regulations and standards that primarily call for teachers to prepare children even at the youngest ages to pass rigorous standardized examinations. So even when they really want to integrate more active, child-centred learning, they feel constrained by their circumstances. Standardized exams were the reason we had to give up our air conditioned space for the past two days – the high school students were being given oral CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) exams in the space where we usually meet. It was a hot and sticky afternoon and pretty uncomfortable in the small confined space of the classroom we occupied… And just when it seemed it could get no worse, the power went out! Fortunately, we were at the end of our session so it did not interrupt us too much. In spite of the discomfort the teachers produced some incredible and creative materials to use for literacy instruction in their classrooms. P1040591

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I was confronted even more harshly with the reality of life here in Belize when I returned to my hotel room, pretty exhausted, sweating profusely, and looking forward to relaxing in the coolness of my air conditioned room…only to find the power outage that hit us at the high school also taking place here, and not only that but I have no running water, so even a cold shower is out of the question. Okay so as I sit here outside my room trying to catch a cool breeze, I’m inspired by my friend Rhina’s blog… “The Truth of Who I am”… so I will share with you some truths about myself that this journey/time here in Belize has brought home to me:

Truth: I love the type of work I am doing here…working with teachers who have so little in terms of resources and facilities, yet who have so much in terms of passion and desire, makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile, and while minuscule  it feels like I am making some sort of a difference in the world…

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Truth: While I love living and working in developing countries, I really do want to have some creature comforts like regular electricity, running water, and a clean, comfortable, bug/critter-free living space. I can deal with periodic interruptions, but I know I need to have these creature comforts most of the time

Truth: Working/being among people who have so much less than I do in a material sense, makes me really stop and think daily about how very blessed I am. In spite of any challenges and struggles I have and/or face in my life, I have been blessed with a lot of material wealth when compared to so many others who live on this planet. However, in spite of having material wealth what I am learning most from the people here is that many of them live life with a carefree spirit and even though it may seem to those of us who live quite privileged lives that they don’t have much, their lives are rich. I continue to learn over and over again that people the world over are quite resilient and make their lives rich and full without the trappings of so many material things.people_-_caye_caulker

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Truth: I believe traveling can and should increase one’s awareness of the world and cause those privileged enough to travel to appreciate the unity of humanity instead of reinforcing an isolated, bubble-like view of the world or a life style that seems superior to those who seem to have less in terms of material things… Every time I travel outside of the United States I’m deeply struck by the lack of awareness so many U.S. Americans have of the rest of the world and how egocentric they are about their place on the planet.

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Truth: I believe if we took our lead from little children in terms of how we treat one another, the world would be a much better place. This has been a reoccurring theme for me on this journey. Over and over again I have seen numerous examples of  little people/children  demonstrating the pure love we come into the world with. If only we could maintain and grow this wonderful example.P1040063P1040693

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Birthday Reflections Part 2 (written 04/20/2013)

I really wanted to write a follow-up to my Birthday Reflections post last Sunday or Monday, but sketchy internet and exhaustion have impeded my writing. I’ve been providing professional development to early childhood teachers in the Banana Belt region since last Monday afternoon…I’ll get to that in the next post. But I thought I’d share part 2 of my birthday reflections first. So to pick up where I left off:

There is something utterly magical about swimming/snorkeling out in the depths of the ocean on a reef! Last Sunday, as I celebrated my 57th birthday, I had the ultimate pleasure of going out on a sailing/snorkeling excursion from Placencia, Belize.
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We sailed out to some of the surrounding Cayes (pronounced Keys…which are small islands off of the mainland).  P1040549P1040559

Belize has more than 200 cayes off its eastern coastline…many of which are mangrove cayes, which are normally unsuitable for humans. However the mangroves do provide a superior habitat for birds and marine life. Many birds, fish, shellfish, and marine organisms begin their lives within the protection of the mangroves. 

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I have been fascinated by how the mangroves grow so thickly together in the middle of the ocean. Belize’s barrier reef is 185 miles long and is the longest in the Western hemisphere.

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I’ve snorkeled in several other parts of the Caribbean and Hawaii, but each time I have the opportunity to do so, I am utterly amazed at the diversity of the ocean. In Hawaii, I snorkeled at Hanauma Bay, which is a coral reef and offers an incredible view of all manner of neon colored tropical fish. The reef there is very shallow and close to the shore line. Snorkeling there was amazing, but there is something even more magical about swimming/snorkeling here in the open ocean; it feels like swimming in a wide open, endless aquarium. The diversity of the reef here is like swimming in an underwater garden. There were so many types of plant and animal life…huge red and yellow striped starfish…I saw angel fish, parrot fish, a cow fish, millions of little guppies, and needle fish, which skim the surface of the water almost as if they are flying…there were many other fish and sea life that had never seen before and could not name. I could have stayed there for hours and hours just lost in the magnificence of the sea!

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I met some really great folks, including a couple from Nevada, Patty and Jeff…Patty is also an Aries and was getting ready to celebrate her birthday on Thursday of this week. So they took me out for drinks after we got back on shore. We really connected on a deep level, which reminded me how much my path always includes meeting wonderful people when I travel. I wound up my day at this wonderful Spanish Tapas restaurant…where the proprietress, Angela, sings accompanied by a guitarist. The restaurant was relatively empty…I sat there for over an hour before anyone else came. This just meant that we were treated to a semi-private concert, and I was serenaded personally! All in all I had a pretty incredible birthday. One I will treasure and remember for years to come.P1040587 P1040569 P1040581

The natural beauty of the area around Placencia and the simplicity and authenticity of the lifestyle is overshadowed by the drive to increase tourism. I am dismayed to see a slip for cruise ships being constructed in the small port area. There is something about the idea of cruise ship tourists docking here that makes me think the quaintness of this small fishing village will be tarnished. Most people certainly do not have a lot of money, so one would think increasing tourism is likely to help boost the local economy. It is a dichotomy; on the one hand the money tourists can bring to the small business here could be helpful, but the way of life and the environment will undoubtedly be changed not necessarily for the better. Many locals believe bringing in cruise ships will not really uplift the local economy of Placencia, but will only increase trampling on the environment and infuse not so positive changes to the culture, as cruise ship companies undoubtedly will arrange with other big tour agencies to set up tours from the cruise ship port to the interior. Cruise ship tourists will more than likely spend little time or money in Placencia.

I wish governments and local communities in developing countries would require some sort of cultural sensitivity training for people “touristing” their countries…Something like the kind of preparation one gets when doing a wilderness course. Participants who do wilderness courses with organizations like Outward Bound are briefed to “leave no trace”, in effect to respect the environment as is, and to do little to nothing to change/alter it. Perhaps the so called “developed” world needs something like the Star Trek Primary Directive, but with the stipulation that when people visit a country they have to do something to uplift and honor the local communities upon which they tread, pass through, or spend time in. Tourism does not have to be such a bad thing… if only we could/would honor and respect the lives of the people in the places we visit, perhaps we would see how much more we are alike than different, and maybe, just maybe the world would have less conflict among human beings from different places, cultures, and national borders.

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Birthday Reflections

I woke up this morning rather early; I’m still getting used to the 2-hour time difference — Belize is 2 hours behind Eastern Standard time…It took me a while to remember that today is the 57th anniversary of my birth. Wow, I remember when 50 seemed so old…let alone 57! My mother used to always say, “You’re only as old as you feel!” In so  many ways I still feel like I am 19-25- or even 30 (LOL), but in others, well my body sure does feel it’s age…My husband asked me yesterday if I felt achy after not having ridden a bicycle in such a long time…and I told him I was great, did not feel it…Well after the second day of riding, I woke up feeling it this morning. I guess that is just a gentle reminder that while the spirit may not age the body certainly does…got to keep active in order to maintain…I’ve been working on that for a while now. I can say that the aging process does bring with it both highs and lows…I certainly am thankful that I am a bit wiser than I was in my youth, and that my time on this earth has been colored with so many opportunities like this one here in Belize. On the down side, these days I think more about getting old, death and dying, especially as I watch/have watched so many of my elders getting older and passing on…and of late have born witness to so many of my friends and loved ones, and their friends and loved ones deal with terminal and other serious illnesses. It makes one pause and contemplate how much we take for granted in our youth…for life passes quickly and we really must cherish each moment.

Birthdays are kind of funny when you get older…in some ways they feel like just another day…they don’t quite have the same excitement that they have when one is little…but none the less, they do still feel special, or at least they should any way. I think this is the first birthday that I’ve ever spent without someone close, i.e. family member or friend…So I decided I need to celebrate my life in one of the ways I most cherish. For those of you who know me well, you know I love the Caribbean Sea and fancy myself a tropical Mermaid…(Smile); so I decided going snorkeling will be the best way to treat myself to the wonders and magic of this side of the Caribbean Sea…especially because the beaches here in Placencia are full of sea weed and are not the most scenic of beaches the Caribbean has to offer. While the water is wonderfully warm, you have to wade through a lot of sea weed before you reach a clear spot for swimming. I’ve longed to go out further into the Cayes (pronounced Keys) and experience some of Belize’s Great Barrier Reef…second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef…So this morning I’m booked on a sail boat snorkeling trip…should be fun, adventuresome, and exciting…Which will help me recapture some of that youthful excitement I remember from my childhood.

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Belize

Belmopan

There is something so calming and soothing about being in a country where children still play outside and make up games…like hiding/crawling into the alcove of a cement drain opening…or kicking an empty plastic bottle as if it were a soccer ball…where men sit under trees in the heat of the late afternoon sun to catch a much needed shade break after working hard outside all day…or where people ride almost as many bicycles as there are cars…Yes that’s how it is here in Belmopan, the capital of Belize.   “It was established following the massive damage that occurred when Hurricane Hattie struck Belize City in 1961; an inland location was deemed a safer location for the national government than the low-lying seaside metropolis of Belize City” (http://wikitravel.org/en/Belmopan). It’s a hot 90 degrees in the shade…and I am settling in here at the Bull Frog Inn for just one night before going on to Placencia and Independence.

Placencia

Placencia is on the southern coast of Belize’s Caribbean Sea. Although Placencia is home to around 800 permanent residents and primarily used to be a fishing village,  it is currently a popular tourist spot that is frequented by many foreign travelers as well Belizeans on holiday or weekend getaways from Belize City and other parts of the country. I spent a little time here last year over Palm Sunday weekend. The Easter season is an especially busy time and so the weekend before was pretty crowded. I am spending my birthday weekend here this year. So far mid-April does not seem quite as crowded as last year’s pre-Easter weekend, but there are still quite a bit of tourists strolling the lazy main street. I am staying at Ally’s Guest House (http://www.allysguesthousebelize.com/),  whose owners are from the States. Ally is African American, from Boston no less! This little guest house is situated on the outskirts of Placencia Village, on the lagoon side of the sea. It’s a bit of a long walk into the center of town so they provide bicycles for their guests’ use. I bicycled into town yesterday evening for dinner. It’s been years since I rode a bicycle, but found the exercise exhilarating even though it was quite hot. Life is pretty simple here. People stroll up and down the one main street, children play in the sand. People’s livelihoods are primarily supported through the tourist industry, although some fishermen continue to provide the area with their daily catches. There are any number of small guest houses along the beach and lagoon sides of the road and many different kinds of eating places, from more upscale restaurants to local roadside stalls that sell tamales and tacos. Last year we found a woman who bakes the most wonderful “Creole Bread” on the weekends…I’ll be looking for her today for sure! Most of the grocery/everything you can find shops  are owned by Chinese. Smaller gift shops sell wares from local crafts people as well as Mayan   clothing, hammocks, and other textiles. A number of U.S. expatriates have settled here and make their livings running guest houses, small businesses from small gift shops and boutiques to restaurants. As it seems in most parts of Belize, on the surface everyone seems to get along well. It’s definitely easy living.

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I am always struck by the building and development that one passes on the way to Placencia. Between Seine Bight, a small historically Garifuna village,  and Placencia there are a number of palatial beach homes and  huge new developments being constructed. There is something so disturbing to me about such wealth in the midst of the simplicity and economic deprivation of the local communities. The local folk often are forced to sell their generationally owned beach front property to survive.  The wealthy expatriates purchasing and developing property here seem to do little to nothing to help the local communities as they build their dream lifestyles in this quiet Caribbean landscape. Their houses sit like imposing medieval castles surrounded by the simple dwellings of serfs.

The following excerpt and photos from Nick Foster’s article Seine Bight: a village of richness (http://www.belizeanjourneys.com/features/seine_bight/newsletter.html), illustrates why I get that disgusting feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I pass through those areas with opulent, ostentatious homes being built by affluent Americans:

A middle-aged, relatively affluent American couple walks the main street corridor of the seaside village of Seine Bight. With raised eyebrows, the woman says: “Look, they live in shacks.”

Most of the homes in Seine Bight do resemble shacks. Many are crudely constructed out of salvaged lumber and rusty, corrugated zinc.

Out of these small houses, children appear everywhere, seemingly overflowing from the cracks in the makeshift siding.The woman’s eyebrows rise higher at the sight of the youth, and the corners of her mouth widen into a smile. “Hi!” she waves, responding to the barefoot toddlers who pause from running around a sandlot to wave first.

The woman’s smile sticks. The man also grins.  The tourists’ opinion of this small community on the Placencia Peninsula of Southern Belize changes during their walk through the heart of town. Their first reaction is sorrow – pity for what they call the “poor” people of the village. But a few minutes and half a mile later, they agree that “poor” is a relative word, purely subjective. “They’ve really got all they need,” the woman says. “I could live here,” the man says, nodding his head in agreement.

And yes this is easy living and I too envision one day retiring in a slow-paced Caribbean community. Many of us have dreams of living in a tropical paradise…but some how to me the idea of bringing all of those American trappings and values and superimposing them over the natural landscapes of the environs we “invade” feels a lot to me like the age old machinations of the Conquistadors and European settlers who first invaded the indigenous communities in this part of the world in the name of some crown. I would think history would have taught us more than this by now…

The world is an amazing place full of beautiful, rich landscapes, cultures and people, wild life, and mystery. Belize is one of those places…but it is a developing country and the people who live here deserve the respect and honor that one would give to any community and people in the so called developed world. Tourism, while a necessary part of the economic development of countries like Belize, also promotes an insensitivity on the part of the tourist who often imposes her/his view of the world and how they should be treated in a foreign country. The tourist often has a sort of blindness towards the indigenous people…Some how when we travel as “Tourists” we overlook the daily lives of the inhabitants of the places we visit…we come for the sun and the sea, or to explore the rain forests,  jungles, and savannas. We come to see the animals as if we are viewing them in the circus or a zoo…and sometimes that’s how we view the people…as if they are on display for our viewing pleasure. We don’t “SEE” the people…if you get what I mean by “SEE”! I know this is a harsh judgement, because there are always people who travel to places around the world who walk with humility and deference to the people and places they visit. I’d like to think I am one of those types of travelers… But far too often I’ve seen how tourism actually creates a situation between the visitors and the local people that is colored by the contradictions and dynamics of the served and the servant…I’ve watched local people cow-tail to tourists, those with money and Whites in particular, and then treat their own people with disrespect and disdain…I saw this a lot in Barbados… Tourism is in a way the new colonialism, and as human beings we still have not figured out how to travel and appreciate the broader world without subjecting our sisters and brothers to such degrading humiliations. Why is it that we can’t travel in and see the world as we would treat guests in our home…with graciousness, gratitude, and humility? After all we are guests in the homes of the countries we visit, and we should treat our  hosts the same way we would treat guests in our homes. Why can’t our curiosities be truly about learning and respecting diversity instead of looking at difference as some strange, exotic creature? And most of all, why don’t we leave our marks on a place by helping to support, sustain, and give service to the communities and environments upon which we tread — not in a paternalistic way, but rather deferring to and honoring the people who host our visits ? I keep thinking about how wonderful it is that so many people get to move around the world more freely, myself included… but I am always struck by what a privilege it is to travel… Most of the people in the places one visits in the world don’t get to move about in their own countries, let alone travel to other parts of the world. Traveling is truly a privilege and a blessing. I only hope that in my journeying and traveling around this world, I move about not as a “Tourist” but as a fellow human being who offers my gifts in service in some way to the communities I have the privilege of visiting.

So I’m spending this weekend in Placencia as a visitor and doing some of those touristy things like going to the beach and snorkeling…but I walk with a desire to learn from the people and appreciate their daily lives. I hope the gift of working with the teachers next week provides some small measure of gratitude for being able to share in the beauty of this land and its people!

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Traveling Again…Revelations

Finally, finally I get back to writing this blog…it’s been a long time coming. I have written in my head for over a year now, but somehow the words have not found their way onto the page. Life can take over with its overwhelmingness at times and lead us away from the expression of our creativity…but it’s all a part of the journey I suppose, and sometimes we have to live in and mull over our thoughts before they make their way onto a page. There have been so many things to capture in this travel journal of mine over the past year and a bit…but I am back now, inspired to write by my dear friends Rhina and Millie whose own blogs on WordPress have pushed me forward into the writing mode once again! Thanks sister girls for your inspirations!

So where to begin…hmmm, well I’ll start by saying…

I am a traveler, a journeyer, a nomad of sorts. I am at my best when I am moving around the world, basking in a diversity of languages, cultures, scenic arrays, and sharing my gifts. My heart is lightest and I am most in tune with my spirit when I can fully be in the World…but I have learned that journeying is not always about globe trotting…sometimes our journeys take us on inward travels deep into our souls. The Universe blesses us with opportunities to sit and reflect, ponder if you will, where we’ve been, where we are, and where we have yet to travel. My journey of late has been just that. I am in a life transition, experiencing the struggle and challenges that color my path and provide opportunities for tremendous growth and movement. And I am learning all the more how much of a blessing these difficult periods can be…and how truly blessed my life is! At the end of every twist and turn I am showered with gifts and there are always Angels in my life who help me take the steps I need to move forward.

So here I am again in Barbados! It’s a long story with lots of complicated details, but the pleasure and blessing of drinking in and breathing this healing sunshine and aqua, turquoise sea again has brought me back to claiming my ultimate reality…life in the Caribbean is absolutely for me! But my journey takes me to other places in the mean while…living back in South Carolina…unemployed…playing the waiting game for just the right job to come into being…wondering where the next place will be…envisioning it will be a place where my beloved and I can finally live together as husband and wife…receiving a salary and benefits that alleviate the stress of not having enough income…knowing that my path is guided by God/dess’ Will and I am blessed, truly blessed…and that my faith is the most powerful tool I have to see me through…these are all a part of the revelations I have been receiving. I’ve been gifted in so many ways…and I am learning to accept openly the myriad of gifts that come my way as I seek to be able to continue to freely give my strengths and talents to the world in the best way possible to truly make a difference.

We all have our special gifts and talents…mine have always been a deep connection to children. Last year in Barbados I reclaimed my passion for working in early childhood. My passion was reignited most by the work I did for UWI Cave Hill in St. Vincent, Grenada and Belize.

Love these faces

Little one in GrenadaBelizean Children

Seeing and working with other educators, who are so passionate about preparing excellent practitioners and working with teachers and soon-to-be teachers who have so few material things, but have such great desires to learn and give all they can to the children and families they work with, has reinforced for me that this is the work I most want to do in the world. I’ve always had a strong desire to work with children, and the littlest people have always been the greatest attraction for me…So you can say I’ve come full circle and found my way back to my roots…I started out many years ago as an infant/toddler teacher and worked my way up the developmental ladder. But once again, I am drawn to working with young children and their care givers. I see myself doing this in the neediest grass roots communities in the developing world…Africa, Asia, the Caribbean…P1040102

So my journey here to Barbados  at this time is a gift from the Universe; a five-day hiatus before returning to complete work I

Belize Early Childhood Teacher

started last year with early childhood teachers in Belize. They are an amazing group, many of whom have only had the opportunity to receive a high school diploma, but whose thirst for knowledge, information, and skills far-surpasses most of the university students I’ve taught in the past 10 years! I just love working with these teachers and am so looking forward to 10-days of professional development facilitation with them. Belize is such a rainbow nation…a mix and blend of interesting cultures, history, and natural beauty…more to come as I grace those shores!

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So then there is my vision for the future…Ghana is potentially on the horizon…working on an education project there with World Education is what I am claiming and foreseeing as the next chapter in my globe trotting life story…keeping the faith for this to be, while at the same time embracing God/dess’ Will for my life…Wherever my path leads, I know the next leg of this life journey of mine will take me exactly where I am supposed to be…

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Happy 2012! Habari Gani? It’s all about Imani – Faith!

So today is the first day of this new year, 2012! Once upon a time…that seemed as if it were so far in the future that I could not imagine it! But time passes and we all grow older. I’ve spent this holiday season in contemplation, reflection, and thanks giving!!! It’s been a wonderful time here in the States…and the weather has not even been that bad so far. I think I brought some of the Caribbean warmth with me in my suitcase (LOL). We spent a joyous Christmas in MD with family celebrating Jamaican stylee…with all the accouterments … Jamaican food for days! New Year’s Eve was a lovely, quiet evening at home with my sweetie! We had a candlelit picnic on the living room floor. I think the best part of this time together is knowing that this year will be our year to finally be together all di time!

Yes, that’s right I am claiming it! After all isn’t that what Imani – Faith is all about?! We have to claim our realities and imagine the greatest possibilities for our lives. I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey and how my path has sometimes been fraught with untold challenges, and then I look around and realize how much the challenges have added to my cache of blessings. I have been graced with an incredible life…I may not have material riches untold, but I have wealth from the love of family and friends worth eons of gold! (Hahaha…my little rhyme for this new year reflection)…Anyway, I just want to shout out to all of you my loved ones around the world to say I give limitless thanks for all you are and all you do in my life. Without you, I could not, would not be where I am.

So yes, I’m solidifying my Imani -Faith as I jump off into this New Year! No resolutions made that won’t be kept…just recommittment to life, love, and happiness…doing God/dess’ Will, and living each moment to its fullest. I wish the same for all of you out there. Life can be hard, and I know 2011 was difficult for many people on a lot of levels, but I believe the more we can count on one another the more we can all live life to its fullest. Let’s continue to live in Umoja – Unity, exercise our Kujichagulia -Self Determination for the betterment of all as we practice Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility and Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics; let’s make our Nia – Purpose about spreading Kuumba -Creativity as we walk, and talk, and live our Imani -Faith. Harambee (Togetherness) and Happy New Year to All?

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U.S. Bound

It’s 3:15 in the morning and I woke up with a headache that won’t allow me to go back to sleep…perhaps it is all the food and festivities from yesterday (Friday, December 16, 2011) celebrating the holiday season and the end of the semester. We had a big Christmas bash in my department…lots of food, dancing, laughter and fun Bajan style…then in the late afternoon I had an invigorating sea bath on the West Coast with Jennifer (my friend/boss/colleague) and her family before going for a Christmas concert on a grassy slope overlooking the university in the evening. The Christmas season here in Barbados is a festive, warm, and jubilant time of year. A part of me hates I will miss Christmas and New Year here…But the comforting thought is I will be in the U.S. with my beloved and family celebrating Christmas Jamaican stylee…and I will get to see several of you between NY-SC-and-Boston between December and early January!!! So Happy Holidays to all as I am U.S.-bound come Monday, December 19, 2011!!!

This has been an amazing and awesome semester. I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by, but I have relished in and appreciated every moment. I’ve made new friends, worked with an amazing group of colleagues, and truly been inspired on both a personal and professional level. I’ve gotten back in touch with my passions and can really see myself and my beloved husband making a life for ourselves here in this region of the world. So here’s to all of the blessings and possibilities 2012 will bring.

This may be my last blog from this part of the world for 2011, so I just wanted to send a message out to all of you wishing you a Happy Holiday Season:

In this season of giving and receiving, I want to take time out to thank you for your love, support, and friendship. May your holidays be merry and bright…and may all the peace and joy of the season be with you throughout the coming year.

Many Blessings and Happy Holidays! See you in 2012 (if not before)!

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