Ungranted Christmas Wishes

The twins had already drifted off to sleep while my wife cuddled with them on the couch, still watching the classic black and white Christmas movie that I not all that interested in. I was basically going through the motions, as I had been all Christmas Day.  I tried to put on a merry face but inside, I felt like a failure as a father and as a husband.  We had hoped that this year would be when we finally celebrated Christmas in our own house. With a yard, and maybe a puppy for the kids. But instead, we were still stuck all together in this tiny one-bedroom apartment.  And worse, I was not sure we would even be able to afford this place much longer.  Once again, despite my best efforts, I was not able to grant a Christmas wish for my family.

“I’m going to get some air,” I told my wife as I got up and walked out the door.  Walking down the street, I absent-mindedly tossed a few coins into a kettle where a man dressed as Santa Claus stood, ringing a bell.  I did not give it much thought, but I did think it slightly odd.   Didn’t they usually do the bell ringing before Christmas?  I did not remember them ever doing the bell-ringing on Christmas Day or after.

“So, it seems that once again, you need the gift of perspective,” I heard a voice behind me say.

I turned and looked and realized it was my old friend, Santa Claus, the real one.

“You seem to be focused on the wishes that did not come true for you. Without realizing the bigger picture and maybe even being grateful for such disappointments. Let’s take another one of our little trips, shall we?”

And in a flash, we were back in my childhood home. I watched a Christmas that had been scarring as a child, or at least in the overdramatic mindset of a young child. There had been a gift I wanted more than anything. Now, I can no longer recall what the specific gift even was. All I remember was the crushing disappointment when I did not receive it. Santa and I arrived just in time to see my tantrum when I realized I would not be receiving the toy. I refused to listen to my parents’ explanations that the particular toy I had wanted was extremely dangerous.

“They were always overly cautious, ” I muttered to Santa.

“Maybe, “Santa said, “but in this case, they were definitely right. That toy you wanted was recalled a couple of years later because of how many serious injuries it caused. And suddenly, we were standing in in a hospital room in a vision of what might have been, where my young body was fighting for Lite, while any parents kept vigil. Perhaps not getting that toy was for the best.

As I came to that realization, we were suddenly in a different place and time from my past. We were transported to my old high school at the annual Christmas dance.

*Oh, this one is painful, n I winced as the scene kindled a memory.

“There you are in the corner,” Santa pointed to my younger self talking with a pretty girl. “A good friend of yours, right?”

“You know full well the answer to that question,” I huffed. The pain came back to me. She had been, and to this day, still is, one of my best friends. But that year in school, I had wanted to be more than friends. We went to the Christmas dance together and I confessed my feelings. They were not reciprocated, and teenaged heart was broken. it was a miserable Christmas as I sulked for the next month. However, over time, we got past the awkwardness and resumed our close friendship that spring.

“Now, let’s see what would have happened had she agreed to your request.” We then witnessed another Christmas, two years later, one that thankfully never actually happened. She was home from college for Christmas break, and the distance and jealousy had taken their toll on our relationship. Tears and insults flew and our relationship, as well as our friendship, ended forever.

“If you had gotten your wish, you would have permanently lost one of the greatest friends in your life.” Santa had gentle sympathy in his voice while making the observation, and I silently nodded.

The next Christmas from my life that we visited found me waiting by the phone. As I saw the nervous excitement on my face, looking at the phone every two minutes, the memory of this Christmas was yet another gut punch. I was waiting to hear back about my dream job. I had interviewed for it a few weeks prior, and they said they would let me know before their Christmas break. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and I still had not heard from them.

Even though I knew how the call would go, when the phone rang, I felt myself getting a twinge of excitement.  The look on my younger self’s face upon receiving the bad news reminded me of just how painful that rejection had been. It was yet another Christmas wish I had prayed for that did not come true.

“I had wanted that job so badly, ” I whined to Santa.

“I know,” he said. “But can I ask you, when would you have started that job if you had gotten it?”

“Well, I was going to have to move, but I think they said the start date would have been the beginning of February.”

“And what were you doing that first weekend in February instead?”

“I don’t remember. That was ten years ago.” I snapped.

“Well, let’s check it out, shall we?” And soon I saw myself at a party, the party where I first met my wife. “If you had gotten that job and moved, do you think you would have met your wife and had the twins?”

I did not answer, instead, my eyes were fixed on the beautiful woman at that party, who for some mysterious reason, would later agree to spend me rest of her life with me.  She faded from view and soon Santa and I were outside the apartment I shared with this incredib1e woman and our two children.

“Sometimes,” Santa softly told me, “The things we wish for the most would be the things that prevent us from the those that would actually give us the truest joy. We need to be grateful for those wishes that didn’t come true, and in turn, allowed even greater wishes to be fulfilled. Merry Christmas my friend!”

And with that, Santa disappeared, and I entered the apartment that was somehow big enough to hold everything my heart could ever want. They were all asleep now, so I gently kissed them each on the top of their heads. I thanked God for blessing me with something far greater than anything I could have ever wished for. And I also gave thanks for all the ungranted wishes in life that let me to this very Merry Christmas.

Planning a Trip Around the World – Part 3 – What to Expect

Taking a break from the political posts that have been my focus the past couple of months, I wanted to finally finish my 3-part series for those interested in a trip around the world, or at least a long-term trip abroad.

To recap the first two installments:

Part 1: The First Steps (Start research; Formulate the big picture of the trip; Look for specific opportunities; Begin making necessary arrangements)

Part 2: What to Bring (including tech items, non-tech items, and clothing)

This installment is focused on what to expect when you actually prepare to leave and then during and after the trip.

Let’s be honest.  The most exciting part of any big vacation or adventure is the anticipation leading up to it. Once you’ve made all the necessary arrangements, and you have all your gear ready, those last few days and weeks, you will likely be a bundle of different emotions, both positive, such as enthusiasm and hope, and negative such as anxiety and nervousness.  Perhaps you might want to schedule some fun events and activities with your friends and families that you won’t be seeing for a long time.

Obviously, the specific mental, physical, and emotional aspects that you will encounter will depend upon the circumstances of your trip.  There will be vast differences between if you are doing this trip alone or with a friend, a significant other, or a group for the majority of the time.  Your goals on the trip will have an impact.  Depending on the places you visit, your language, culture, religion, gender, sexual identity, and race can all have an impact on your mental, physical, and emotional welfare during this adventure.  I will be writing from my perspective of a long term trip as a white, straight, American male going through many different countries and cultures on my own through the majority of the journey.

In those last few weeks and days before you leave, try to get yourself in as good health as possible.  Get plenty of rest and take care of yourself, you don’t want to spend the first couple of weeks struggling with jet lag, exhaustion, and/or an illness.  I actually ended up with bad cold & flu symptoms only a few weeks before my trip, and it caused additional stress while I was trying to take care of those final preparations.

Before and throughout the trip, getting as much rest is going to be critical for a few reasons.  Depending on your travel budget, lodgings, and transportation plans, sleep can be a precious commodity.  The only time in my life I have ever thoroughly fantasized about murder was a snorer with horrible sleep apnea in a hostel dorm room; the thought of smothering him with a pillow was a consistent companion throughout the sleepless night. Taking advantage of overnight busses and trains can be wonderfully efficient, giving you a chance to sleep while you travel to your next destination.  However, be aware that it will not be quality sleep.  So prepare yourself for the fact that you might need to take it easy when you first arrive at that destination, and might need a good night’s rest in a real bed before doing major activities there.

Here is one such example from my trip. I started out leaving the small Moroccan city I was staying at late one night to go to the airport in Agadir, to catch an early morning flight to Munich. I then spent the day walking around Munich.  That evening, I had a short flight to Amsterdam, and then went out on the town that night into the early morning.  Then had another early flight from Amsterdam, through Kiev, to Beijing, arriving at 2 AM local time.  I then went through customs and arrived at my hotel at around 5 AM, and had scheduled a full day tour of Beijing, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall, starting at about 8 AM.  (I was only in Beijing for one day and was going to be heading to Zhengzhou the next day.) When I got back to the hotel that evening, I had every intention of going out somewhere in Beijing that night, but my body had had enough. It had been more than 72 hours since I had slept in a bed, and I was feeling pretty rough.  It wasn’t just tiredness, I was worried I might be getting a little sick.  The comfortable king-sized bed had me in a tight grasp from early evening through the morning.

As part of the packing list in my last post, I mentioned a travel first aid kit.  You should make sure this includes some basic medications for colds, headaches, and stomach bugs.  Given the constantly changing climates you’ll be passing through, sitting in cramped quarters on planes and busses, eating different foods, and possible differences in hygiene where you are, it is almost a certainty that you will get sick in one way or another during your trip.  Consider yourself lucky if it’s only a minor cold or food poisoning that only lasts a few days.  When this happens, just accept it and get as much rest as possible to recover.  Don’t try to force yourself to do something you’re not actually up to doing, just because you want to do as much as possible.  Unless it’s an absolute can’t miss, like your assigned time to go up to Machu Picchu or something like that, you should just skip it and try to do it another day.  There will be other times to check out that market or take that day trip. If you don’t rest, it will take you even longer to recover, ruining even more of your travels and that’s assuming the illness doesn’t turn into something worse.  It’s best just to let it run its course, and then get on with your adventure.

As I said, for the vast majority of my trip I was on my own.  I am sure there are going to be some different stressors if you are traveling with one or more other people.  Personality quirks, different ideas for plans and activities, and general disagreements always come up in personal relationships.  In a travelling situation, with additional influences and being less likely to have a comfortable area to retreat to and calm down, these can become more intense.  Therefore, it is important to make sure you and your travelling companion(s) have already done some fairly long trips together and have good conflict-resolution skills.

One situation to be aware of that is probably more applicable to solo travelers, but can still affect someone with travelling companion(s), is a lot of short-term intense-feeling friendships.  Perhaps when you stay in a place for an extended time or go on a multi-day activity with a group of new people, at times you will make strong connections with some people.  This is similar to when you were a kid and would go to a sleepaway camp or something similar for a few days or maybe longer.  Often, you would connect with one or more of the other children and form a fast friendship.  Then at the end of your time together, it would feel like you have known each other for a long time and spent so much time together, but it also went by way too fast, and now you have to say goodbye.  Throughout a long journey like this, it is likely you find yourself in those positions fairly regularly.  The intensity of those emotions can take a toll, and there were definitely a few times during my travels where I would become melancholy for a couple of days after having to say farewell to a kindred spirit that shared part of this journey with me.

Relatedly, for solo travelers, loneliness can be an issue.  If you are considering doing this trip solo, you better have already done some solo travel of shorter duration.  For many years, I have often gone out camping by myself.  I remember once telling someone about doing so, and she replied that she felt she would go crazy if she had to be almost completely alone like that for an extended period of time.  Therefore, if you would like to do such a journey solo, work yourself up to it with short excursions of a few days completely by yourself.  Just like so much else, mental preparation will be key.

Throughout the trip, there will be numerous setbacks and things that don’t go according to plan.  It is critical that you learn to roll with it, even if you need a few minutes, hours, or a day to have a slight melt-down first.  One of the critical steps to helping with this is having a backup plan in mind. This includes, having critical spare items, as I mentioned in an earlier post.  That way if your phone or wallet is lost or stolen (or an ATM eats your debit card) while you are in transit, you won’t be completely in a lurch, and can still function with your spares while taking care of getting replacements.  Bad things are going to happen, accept that and prepare yourself.  That way, when they do happen, they are easier to bounce back from.  And remember, many of those setbacks and inconveniences, end up becoming fun travel stories eventually, like not being able to board a plane because you misread the visa requirements and need to spend 18 hours in the airport for the next flight or losing a sandal in Antarctica while doing a polar plunge or having to rearrange your travel to stay in Kenya for two additional weeks while getting a new passport.

As I mentioned earlier, the most exciting and happiest part of a trip is before you even leave.  And this will be true for each new destination along your continuing journey.  Each new city or country will have it’s own pleasures that you can’t wait to discover.

However, reality rarely measures up to what we’ve built up in our hands.  Sometimes it does, and sometimes the experience even surpasses the expectations.  But in all honesty, we usually don’t even realize that until after the fact.  It is easy to be a little disappointed and become bogged down in the frustration of mundane struggles, losing sight of the adventure you are having.  There isn’t much you can do to prevent this, it is just part of human nature.  The best you can do is be aware of it and try to enjoy the moment as best you can.

Ideally, as you go through an experience like this, it will broaden your experiences and perspectives.  Engage with locals and try to learn from them.  Accept the fact that you might discover some uncomfortable truths about yourself or your prior worldview.  It is all part of growth.  These different perspectives, along with the flexibility and problem-solving skills you will need to utilize through the struggles of travelling, will serve you well in future endeavors.  So try to view all positive and negative interactions and all successes and setbacks as unique learning experiences that you can benefit from for the rest of your life.

I was fortunate in that due to my reading up on long-term travel before my trip, I was already somewhat prepared for this next part.

At the end of the trip, whether it be as it is nearing the end or after it is complete and you are back home, it is very common to experience some emotional turmoil. It might be a bit of depression or just a wistful melancholy.  This can happen for a few different reasons.  It is likely that throughout the trip, the next step of the trip was your primary focus in life.  Now, suddenly, that’s over and you have to find a new focus.  It could be because you’ve just gone through an intense experience that probably few of your family and friends every have, so you’re trying to process what you did and you’re doing that alone.  It might simply be a matter of all good things come to an end.  My tumult hit me about a week or so after I finished my trip, and it lasted about two or three days where I really didn’t want to get out of bed.  I think my feelings were mostly because of the first reason I mentioned, needing to find a new focus.

This is yet another part of the adventure that you should just accept and be ready to deal with.  It would be good to perhaps identify some kind of a support network, maybe some friends and family have done something similar, and you can talk about the struggle of reacclimating with them.  Or else, since it is common and temporary, just give yourself some time to feel these emotions and let them run their course while you readjust.

At the end of the day, a long-term adventure like this, whether it be around the world, or hiking the Appalachian Trail, or backpacking through Europe, is going to be a life shaping experience.  As such, there are going to be many different impacts on you, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Know they are coming, and just like the rest of your journey, enjoy the ride!


Planning a Trip Around the World – Part 2 – What to Bring

Here’s the second of my three anticipated posts on planning a trip around the world.  The first post was about the initial planning stages and the long-lead items you need to get ready.

These are the items that I think you should plan on bringing with you.  I spent the two months before my trip consistently ordering and returning things on Amazon, (as well including necessary items on my Christmas wish list)

Tech Items

Two Phones: One of the first items you’ll need to take care of is a phone with international service. Like the credit and ATM cards, I recommend having a spare phone in case your primary phone is lost or stolen.  In my case, I had a cheap dual SIM phone as my primary phone.  I had a KnowRoaming global sim card in one of the slots.  This was my regular and consistent phone number.  It would be the one I used when I was in a country for a short while, or when first arriving in a new country. This was the number I used for my WhatsApp account on that phone, and was therefore my regular contact info throughout my journey.  If I was in a country for a few weeks or more, I would usually get a local SIM card for the other slot.  Then I could use it to make calls if necessary, but more often it was more for data.  These rates would be much cheaper than KnowRoaming, but I would use the data for my WhatsApp with the KnowRoaming number.  In addition to this phone, I had my old US phone unlocked and had an additional KnowRoaming card in it.  This was for emergencies, which did happen, when I was pickpocketed in Bogota.  Having the spare phone made things much easier, especially since it happened the day before I was going to the coast for two weeks.

Currently, my primary phone is a Google Fi phone, which while there are some annoyances about the service, the cost and data plans are great, and it works in almost any country at almost the same cost as in the US.  After my world trip, when I went to Mexico, I had my Google Fi as my primary phone and the old dual-sim phone with the KnowRoaming card as my backup.

Important note: make sure you set up automatic cloud backup on your phone for pictures and video.  I started to set mine up one day and didn’t finish.  Then, when my phone was stolen, I lost many of the pictures from my first few months in Colombia as well as almost all of the pictures and video I had from my trip to Brazil for Carnival.

Hybrid Tablet/Laptop: For my trip I had a Microsoft Surface 3 (not the larger Pro model).  This was perfect.  It had enough power for me to do normal work with the type cover, was good for streaming movies, worked as an e-reader with the Kindle app., and it was small and light enough for me to bring on day trips occasionally. For long-term travel a regular tablet will likely be too small and not able to perform some tasks you need (especially if you’re trying to do any work) and a full laptop will likely be large and heavy when trying to travel.  A hybrid tablet/laptop is the Goldilocks.

Other tech items:

  • This Anker small power bank was great to have in my pocket when out on a day trip or out for the night in case my batter ran low. You don’t want to be out at 3 AM in a strange city with a dead phone.
  • I also brought a portable solar cell and a solar cell power bank. I used them a couple of times, mostly on long (>16 hour) bus rides where there was nowhere to plug in my phone.  So these types of items can be useful, but it really depends on your particular situation.  Now I would probably look at this combination instead.
  • This outlet adapter was extremely useful and light
  • Have two charging cables for your phone
  • Active noise cancelling ear buds. The over the ear variety are obviously much better but can be bulky.  Ear buds with noise cancelling technology do a good enough job on an airplane when you’re trying to watch a movie or listen to music or a podcast, and they take up much less space and weight.

Important apps:

  • Google translate (download any languages you might need in case you don’t have internet when you need it)
  • Google maps or maps.me so you can download local maps (again if you don’t have internet)
  • WhatsApp – the most common messaging app outside of the USA
  • FB/IG/SC – whatever social media you prefer
  • Party or social game apps – I’d often play games like “Heads Up” with fellow travelers on a bus


Non-tech Items

  • Hybrid backpack: A lot of travel blogs do not like hybrid backpacks (ones that can be used as rolling luggage) due to the added weight. I can not imagine my journey without this amazing hybrid backpack from Osprey.  Yes, a regular backpack of the same size would have been a little lighter and have a little more room.  However, I had done the standard backpack through Europe for a few weeks previously and it was such a pain to carry and get off and on.  Being able to just roll this behind me at the dozens of airports I travelled through and down city streets made life so much easier.   And similarly, a standard rolling suitcase would not have been feasible in certain situations.  Many hybrid backpacks are really just suitcases with some straps attached to them.  But the Osprey model I had was a true backpack with a supportive hip belt and solid construction.  It is a little expensive, but worth it.
  • Water filter – I actually had two filters, but I never used the LED UV one. Instead, this compact model was all I needed.
  • This collapsible water bottle can be a little bit of a pain to clean, and it can be punctured. But the fact that it can easily be folded and stored, as well as has a clip in its design made it a great asset.
  • This is one of those items that you likely won’t use but you’ll be glad if you have it: a thin sleeping bag liner for those times you find yourself in some bedding you’re just not too sure about
  • I forgot to bring my field glasses, and wish I had, especially when I was whale watching or on safari in Africa. A small pair would not have taken up much space and weight at all.
  • These detergent sheets are amazing. You can use them with regular laundry machines or if you have to do sink laundry.  Additionally, have some dryer sheets in a Ziploc bag.  They help to keep your bag from getting too funky.
  • A quick dry travel towel is also a great thing to have whether for the beach or when you’re staying in a hostel that doesn’t have towels available
  • Some other items that don’t need much explanation
    • Head lamp (better than just a regular flashlight)
    • Waterproof covers for your backpack
    • Thin rope or accessory cord (can be used for a variety of things)
    • Buckle strap wedding (multiple uses, even as a impromptu seatbelt if needed)
    • Travel first aid kit
    • Ear plugs
    • Day bag or smaller backpack
    • Travel duct tape
    • Travel sewing kit
    • Mesh laundry bag
    • Bandana(s)
    • Deck of card
    • Pens & notepad
    • Carabiners
    • Travel locks
    • Strap for your sunglasses
    • Your standard toiletries


There are many theories on clothing.  Much of it depends on what you will be doing and how long you will be staying in an area.  In my case, since I was travelling to a variety of climates and doing a variety of activities, I needed to have a rather versatile wardrobe.  The key to this for me was layers.  This was my travel clothing list, it will obviously be different for your particular needs.  Also, function over fashion should be your priority here.

  • 5 each of underwear, socks, t-shirts. These were all travel material (merino wool, or bamboo, or synthetic) to help with quick and easy cleaning and also to avoid smelling bad if I had to repeat wear them a second time between laundry days
  • Convertible hiking/travel pants– Not very fashionable, but very useful.  Preferably a khaki color to avoid showing dirt
  • Swim shorts that can easily be used as regular walking around shorts
  • Light athletic shorts for sleeping, lounging, laundry day, etc
  • A second set of “nicer” travel pants (really only for going out or when the other pants are dirty.  Great if you can find wrinkle-free ones)
  • Button down travel shirt
  • A pullover or fleece
  • Base layers (long underwear) if you will be going to a colder climate. Tops and bottoms.  I had a thin layer and a thick layer.  They packed nicely, and then I even could double up when necessary.  The tops were also good enough to wear as regular shirts on occasion.
  • A compressible down jacket
  • A waterproof outer shell jacket (a parka is also a good added layer of protection)
  • Hat(s) – something for the sun and something for the cold
  • Thin base layer type gloves. (If you are in a truly winter environment, you can buy thicker gloves when you need them)
  • Trail shoes – I found these to be extremely versatile. They are light/athletic enough that I could use them for running.   They are sturdy enough for hiking.  They have are not obviously sporty, so you can wear them out.
  • Athletic sandals. While they are not stylish (shout out to Jen), athletic sandals like these Tevas are also versatile footwear.  They can be used as casual sandals; and are also good for light hikes and water activities like rafting.  Also, if you happen to ever be off the coast of Antarctica, you might happen to see a penguin using one as a surfboard after an unfortunate loss during a polar plunge….


That pretty much constitutes everything I carried with me.  I was able to get all of these items into my wheeled 45 Liter backpack and my 15 Liter day pack.  And (as long as weight wasn’t an issue) I would be able to carry them both on to flights.  I even had plenty of room to pick up mementos throughout the trip and carry them along the way.

My third installment will discuss some of what to expect during your journey, especially from a mental, physical, and emotional standpoint.

Planning a Trip Around the World – Part 1 – First Steps

I’ve been meaning to do this blog post for a year and a half now, and have finally gotten around to it.  With the world at a standstill right now, perhaps people are fantasizing about the day when they can travel once again.  Maybe you are thinking of taking an even bigger leap and taking an extended period of time to travel to different parts of the globe.

If you are considering such an adventure, this series of posts is meant to be an introduction and give some lessons I learned and that I wish I had known before I embarked upon my adventure.  It is by no means an all-inclusive guide.  It is simply some general ideas and tips.

Step 1: Start reading about trips around the world and similar long term travel. 

This is the learning and dreaming stage.  You’ll be taking this from abstract idea a bit closer to concrete reality.

The research can be in the form of books, articles, or online.  One book I read early in my thought process of this was By Men or By the Earth by Tyler Coulson.  It was about a young man who decided to walk across America.  I had come across a free electronic version of the book, and it was OK, but nothing special.  Yet it did help give me some insight into the emotional toll of such a journey.

About a year and a half before my trip as I began to get serious about it, I bought The Rough Guide to First Time Around the World.  This book was extremely helpful on a lot of the practical aspects of planning such a trip.

As I got closer to my journey, I found that www.nomadicmatt.com was a great resource.  The creator of the site, Matthew Kepnes, has been consistently travelling for about ten years.  It also has a much more inclusive guides and detailed articles on the subjects I just briefly touch upon here like finances and medical insurance among many others.

Maybe at some point, I’ll finally finish my own book on my journey, then you might be able to add that one to the list … you never know.  Or you can always go back and look at my past blog posts….

Step 2: Begin formulating some big picture ideas of your journey

This doesn’t have to be any detailed planning, just some slightly more specific idea of what you envision your specific journey being.

How long will you travel?  Will it be one long trip of a few months to a year or so?  Or will it be an open-ended lifestyle where you spend months on the road and then return home for a short while at a time?

What kind of a budget will you have on your trip?  Will you try to work as you go?  Will you work locally where you visit or will you be a digital nomad, working remotely or freelancing?

Will you not work at all and simply travel?  Or maybe you’ll study?  Or perhaps volunteer like I did?

It will likely be some mixture of all these possibilities that is unique to you.

Step 3:  Start looking for specific opportunities that fit into your idea and begin making arrangements

For me, this was the stage where I found the YMCA Prints of Hope program in Colombia (now called YMCA COLead3rs).  I knew I wanted something where I could work and earn a little bit of money, and I was in the process of my nonprofit management program through UCLA-Extension, so I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. This program was the original building block for my trip.

From there, there were certain aspects of the journey that I also wanted to include.  I wanted to hit all seven continents; I wanted to do an ocean crossing on a sail boat; I wanted to volunteer in a variety of sectors; I wanted to take some unique classes, like Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple in China.  These general ideas helped me to begin to formulate some ideas and plans regarding my plan of travel.

However, it is important not to over plan and have a tight and rigid schedule.  Because things will go wrong and change.  So being flexible is critical.  You might misread the visa requirements for your connecting flights through Venezuela, and be stuck in an airport trying to rearrange flights at the last minute.  (cough)  Or realize that your passport if filling up and you have to get a new one and then need to extend your stay in a country while it is getting processed (cough, cough).

As you travel, you’ll also learn about new activities that you want to try.  Or you’ll learn that as you plan your travels, you’ll be in a location around the time as a big festival, so you’ll want to arrange your travel to hit that.  Maybe you’ll already be in Europe in the fall, so why not hit Oktoberfest or something.  In my case, I realized my travels would have me in Asia in the January and February timeframe, so I arranged my travel so I would be in China for Chinese New Year and in India for Holi a few weeks later.

Here are some programs that can help you find different work and volunteer programs.  Going through a professional program can help with paperwork and visas, while going through a matching program like Workaway is cheaper.

International Exchange of North America


International Volunteer HQ



Step 3: Classes and Workshops for Needed Skills

This is something I really didn’t do, but I wish I had.  This might be done far in advance, or just in the last few weeks before you leave (or even during the course of your trip).  However, depending on the type of trip you want to take and what you want to do, it might be beneficial to start taking some classes or attending some workshops well in advance.

For example, if you are going to be spending a significant amount of time somewhere that speaks a language you aren’t fluent in, it would be good to at least take a beginner’s course.  In my case, the majority of my time was spent in South America.  Luckily, I’d already studied Spanish, but in the last few weeks before I left, I was watching Spanish-speaking shows, listening to music, and going thru Duolingo.

I wish I had done an introductory photography workshop prior to leaving.  I didn’t think at all about photography until my trip to Antarctica, halfway through my journey, when there were a couple of workshops on the ship.  That opened up my eyes, and I think there is a definite improvement in my photos and videos after that trip.  A simple one day workshop before I started my journey would have likely meant far better pictures and videos from my time in South America.

If you are considering blogging or travel writing or trying to get followers on Instagram, you really need to do some research and look into the details.  I had it in the back of my mind that I might try blogging for a wider audience, other than family & friends. But after meeting people during my trip that actually did do that kind of thing, I realized how involved it really is.  So if you’re considering it, make sure you do the front-end work and prepare yourself.

It also would be a good idea to look into a basic self-defense or personal safety class, especially if you can find one geared towards travelers.  If nothing else, at least research some tips and tactics online (which is what I did).  This is one of those skills you hope you never have to use, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How early or late you do these classes and workshops will vary based on your specific needs and your starting point.  And some of them can wait until the trip itself.  I wanted to learn to SCUBA dive, but I decided it would be pretty awesome for my first time to be on the Great Barrier Reef.  Which it was!

Step 4: Begin making work and financial arrangements

Eventually you will need to figure out what you will do regarding work, assuming you already have a job.  Will you take a leave of absence or sabbatical?  Will you be able to work remote?  Or will you just quit?  (I quit mainly because they would only give me a three month leave of absence and I kind of wanted to be open-ended.)  However, I also delayed my trip by six months because I knew I had a promotion and raise coming soon, and I wanted to take advantage of that for both financial and career reasons.

Financially, there are a lot of arrangements that should be made well in advance.  I started about 2-3 months before I left, but I should have done so long before that.

One recommendation I would make is to get a travel credit card as soon as possible, if you don’t have one already.  I got the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and the bonus points for signing up as well as the general rewards points were an incredible help on my trip.  My flights from South America to Australia (with a layover in New Zealand), and then from Australia to Greece (with a layover in Dubai) were all paid for with those reward points.  Additionally, a card like that will also cover Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check, so if you’ll be coming in and out of the USA, that is a great perk to have.  An even better perk was the Priority Pass lounge access.  This gets you into thousands of airport lounges around the globe.  Over my year and a half of travel, the amount of food, drinks, and WIFI I received in these lounges likely covered the annual fee of the credit card.

Other rewards programs (like hotel and airlines) are something else to get set-up.  I parlayed my Marriott points into occasional “luxury” nights during layovers.  So look for ways to take advantage of travel programs. When considering travel credit cards and travel rewards programs, The Points Guy is a valuable resource.

Another financial consideration will be to open a checking account with an ATM card that has no foreign transaction fees and no ATM fees at all.  I use the Schwab Investor Checking Account.  Trust me, it is such a relaxing feeling when you don’t have to worry about insane fees.

One related financial/legal consideration that I did, and am extremely glad I did since I knew I wanted to be out of the country exclusively, was working out an arrangement with my dad to grant him Power of Attorney.  This is something that I don’t remember reading in any guide, and I don’t remember how exactly how we came up with the idea to do it, but assuming you have someone you trust almost completely, I think it is a wise decision.  If something bad would have happened to me, it would have granted my father more power in dealing with authorities and with my personal affairs than he would have simply as a parent.  He would have been able to file my taxes for me if I wasn’t able to.  The one aspect where we did utilize it was when I needed him to complete a significant financial transaction for me while I was in Peruvian village, with no way to submit legal paperwork.

As part of this deal, we also set-up a joint checking account.  This way, we could easily transfer money in and out of that account, and to each other without dealing with wire transfers and the like.

(Along with the power of attorney, if you want to be truly prepared, even if you don’t want to think about this, a last will and similar planning would be smart as well.)

A final note on the aspect of financial items, it is also critical to have spare cards and accounts to be safe.  This was one where I was extremely glad to have done this.  I was pick-pocketed in Bogota the day before I was supposed to go on a trip to the coast.  It was going to take a few days to get the replacements.  But luckily, I had spare cards.  So other than putting me in a bad mood for a couple of days, it didn’t really affect my trip to the coast.

Step 5: Other long-lead logistical items

Aside from work and finances, there are some other tasks you need to take care of long before your trip.

Get the 52-page passport.  Regular passports are 28 pages, and you can no longer order extra pages after the fact.  This oversight led to me not being able to go to Victoria Falls, and instead had to scramble to find a new project to stay in Kenya for four weeks instead of the originally planned two.

Similarly, make sure you check on any visa requirements for countries you want to visit.  The timing of these can be tricky.  Some visas you can only apply for in a certain window before your trip.  Other visas can only be applied for in your home country.  These can cause bureaucratic headaches, so you want to have a handle on this in advance.

Vaccinations are critical.  Some vaccinations are spread out over a period of months and if you don’t start early enough, you might end up trying to find your second Hepatitis booster in a country that doesn’t have it (cough). That being said, it can be cheaper to do some vaccinations in other countries.  I got my yellow fever and rabies vaccinations done in Colombia because they were significantly cheaper than doing them in the USA.

Similarly, medical insurance is another critical need.  There are many options for global health insurance for travelers and many resources to find out information.  A couple of important points though.  First, your credit card might have travel insurance, and it might cover some very specific medical expenses, but it is not the same as regular medical insurance.  Secondly, these travel medical plans are not as comprehensive as your standard medical insurance, with a large list of exemptions.  These are mostly geared to cover you for sudden sickness and/or accidents, not regular medical care.  Although the plan I had through IMG Global did include some preventative care, such as a routine physical, AFTER I had been covered for a full year.  But they only covered some of my tests.  So you need to be careful and read the fine print of these plans.  The process of getting insurance may take a while, as you might need to get approval and give them medical records.  Therefore, get started on this rather far in advance.

Next in Part 2: What to Bring

In the second part of this “guide”, I’ll go through a packing list.  This will be as your trip is getting closer, within the next couple of months, and you need to start gathering your gear for your adventure.


When I decided to go abroad, I knew I wanted to do more than just travel and be a tourist. I wanted to interact with the community and do something productive and, hopefully, meaningful.  I was in the process of completing a program in Nonprofit Management through UCLA-Extension, so I thought this journey could be an opportunity to gain some experience in the nonprofit sector.  I then began researching options and before long, I was accepted into a YMCA program in Colombia, and then also had some ideas for other volunteer options in other countries.  My worldwide foray into voluntourism was about to begin.

Volunteering with wallabies in Australia through Oceans 2 Earth Volunteers

“Voluntourism” has risen in popularity over the past decade, as people want to make a positive impact while exploring new countries.  Having spent over a year travelling the world as a voluntourist, I recommend this incredible way of traveling, albeit with some caveats that I will discuss later.  I have found that in the places where I volunteered, I have lived a more authentic experience with the people and culture.  If voluntourism appeals to you, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned to help you make the most of it.

To begin, here are the main options for voluntourism that I am familiar with.  If you can commit to an extended period (usually six months or more) and/or have a needed skill set, you can find programs that will cover most, if not all, of your expenses, and maybe even pay you a small stipend.  This was what I did with the YMCA in Colombia, but the most common version of this is teaching English, which may need TEFL or similar certification.  And, although not really considered “voluntourism”, there are also the even longer term programs such as the Peace Corps.

Doing an English program with YMCA-Colombia

If long-term programs aren’t viable for you, and you are looking for something more on the timeframe of a few weeks, you basically have two options: going through a fee-based organization or trying to find a local volunteering opportunity on your own.  A fee-based organization will have local partners overseeing the volunteer programs, while the larger organization acts in a support role, especially as you plan for your trip.  Your fees will usually cover your lodging and most, if not all, of your meals, as well as administrative costs and funding for your local project.  Finding a program on your own can result in a variety of opportunities.  You may find a volunteer opportunity but must cover all expenses yourself.  Other times, you may find an opportunity that will offer lodging and food in exchange for your services and a commitment of at least 2 or 3 weeks, but no fees required.

Helping out at a medical visit day in the village of Papuso, Chile, with EFTG Taltal

The next step, and possibly the most important one, is to research the organization, program, and community.  Some fee-based organizations are not much more than tourist agencies, with little or none of your fees and efforts really helping the community.  Also, be careful of programs that may actually be counter-productive.  For example, I am wary of orphan programs.  There have been scandals in India and Cambodia where “orphans” were being rented so that unsuspecting fee-paying volunteers could work with them.  Additionally, a revolving door of short-term care-giving volunteers can lead to further abandonment issues for the children.    This is not to scare you away from these programs completely.  Just items for consideration so that you can find the best placement for you.  It is extremely important that you investigate to make sure that the organization is truly working to benefit the community or cause you wish to help. Otherwise, everyone would be better off if you just took a regular vacation.

This is also one of the benefits of using a larger, well-regarded placement organization.  Usually, they will ensure that their partner organizations are actually beneficial for the local community or cause they are supposed to serve.

Finally, we need to set expectations.  You are not going to change the world, or even the local community, in only a couple of weeks.  It is important to remember that your role should be supporting those on the front lines.  This may mean that you won’t always get the Instagram worthy pictures with smiling children or cute baby animals. Instead, you may be doing the much more helpful behind the scenes work of cleaning and repairs that have been neglected because there haven’t been the funds or time to do such work.   But know that these unpublicized tasks are greatly welcomed, beneficial, and appreciated.

Trying to make the transition refugee camp on the north shore of Lesvos, Greece a little more welcoming, with Refugee Rescue

Along those lines, in all honesty, sometimes, the most important assistance you will offer is the fee that you pay.  Some local nonprofits in these voluntourism hotspots are beginning to see it as a revenue stream; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Even if the work you do isn’t all that critical, but the money is being used to further a cause you support, and you gain appreciation and experience in the process, it is a win for everyone involved.

Gaining cultural and travel experience; and spending your time and energy in service to someone or something are incredible aspects of life that should be encouraged.  Voluntourism, for all its positive and negative attributes, is a way to combine those aspects.  If it is done correctly, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience, both for you and those you wish to help.


Here are some resources to help you on your voluntourism adventure.  The first four links are websites/organizations I used on my journey.  The others links have more information, including discussion of voluntourism with more eloquence than I can muster.

If you would like to discuss voluntourism with me, feel free to reach out to me directly!

IENA (www.iena.org): The organization where I found my YMCA-Colombia placement.  They have a variety of long-term programs.

IVHQ (www.volunteerhq.org): Respected organization with many fee-based volunteer programs around the world.

Workaway (www.workaway.info): A website where travelers can find lodging and food in return for working part-time, usually at farms & hostels, but some nonprofits as well.

GivingWay (www.givingway.com): Similar to Workaway but focused on nonprofits.

How Stuff Works Entry on Voluntourism: A good in-depth overview of voluntourism. https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/voluntourism.htm

http://www.voluntourism.org/ : A good resource website full of information, tips, links, blogs, webcasts and other resources regarding voluntourism.

Some articles about voluntourism, including the pitfalls, things to consider, and how it can be improved:




A Christmas Journey

Many years have passed

Since my last Christmas tale

Due to my holiday spirit

Continuing to fail


Christmases came and went

An annual time marker

Each year, my views became

Increasingly darker


Such evil in the world

With no rhyme or reason

How could I enjoy

The Christmas season?


One night I was brooding

With my cynical gloom

When a visitor suddenly

Appeared in my room


It had been many years

Since we had last met

But Santa was back

Not done with me yet


“Your mood has been noticed”

He did solemnly declare

As he led me out

Into the winter night air


“You need more perspective

So come with me

On a trip around the world

With much you should see”


My hopes were small

A pitiful microbe

Yet I joined Santa

On this journey of the globe


I climbed into his sleigh

And we then did depart

But grim feelings stayed

Within my cold heart


We travelled far and wide

North, South, East, and West

But to me, everything seen

Was just as bad as the rest


In Colombia, we saw

Families and friends cry

For to a young man

They were saying goodbye


In the wrong place

And at the wrong time

An innocent victim

Of a drug-fueled crime


Deep in the Amazon

The river flows with refuse

For the natives, lives and culture

They continue to lose


We visited Munich

And its boisterous beer halls

Where years ago, the world

First heard Nazi calls


To more and more nations

We continued to travel

And mankind it seemed

Continued to unravel


Chain linked camps we see

Holding many a family

From much brutality

They so desperately flee


Around South Africa

Reminders of apartheid

Separating humanity

Across a racial divide


We walked the streets of India

Poverty filled the air

Beggars constantly asking

What people could spare


Many people I met

With deep struggles within

Some hoping to die

Just so their pain would end


Throughout the world

Greed and exploitation

Men, women, and children

Living in desperation


Drugs and bodies for sale

Filling a depraved appetite

With hardly any semblance

Of a sense of wrong or of right


We take what we want

Caring not for suffering

For we have come to view

Each person as a thing


As it seemed our trip

Was coming to a close

Nothing was better

And my anger then rose


“Why show me this?

To show the world’s not fair?

Or simply to prove

That God does not care?”


Santa looked at me

Slowly shook his head

Then sighed deeply

And finally said


“For as intelligent as you

Think yourself to be

You have missed the point

Of this entirely”


“Let’s try again”

With frustration on his lip

“But pay attention

On this second trip”


“Focus not on problems

Or those that complain

For they do nothing

To ease the world’s pain”


“Pay attention to those

Who make it their charge

To make any difference

Be it small or be it large”


To many of those places

We then did return

But now I witnessed

Faith and hope burn


In a country that suffered

Decades of war and strife

Young and old worked together

Towards peace and a better life


I met people who in the past

Had lost a close friend

And in his honor now

Help their community to mend


Volunteers keep watch

Over cold, treacherous seas

In case rescue is needed

Of scared and desperate refugees


In sight of Kilimanjaro

And in the land down under

Humans dedicated to animals

Their work I watched in wonder


I walked through cells

Of men that risked all

To fight oppression

Answering history’s call


We sailed on a ship

Crossing the rolling sea

The crew working together

Overcoming any disability


Across the world were many

Who have made their vocation

Giving children in need

Both health and education


For a year and a half,

Santa took me everywhere

To witness shining examples

Of heroes that care


At last we completed

That journey so indirect

Santa then gave me something

On which to reflect


“You dwell on the world’s ills

Wondering what God will do

But He’s already begun

He has created you”


“Yes, the world has problems

Across a great range

But He’s given each the power

To bring about change”


It’s time for me to end

Wishing Merry Christmas

But before I go

I leave you with this


Always remember

Every action has worth

So what is the Christmas gift

You will give to the Earth?

Tenaciously Crossing the Ocean

After my week exploring Cape Town, I was ready for the part of my journey I had been most looking forward to. When I first began planning this trip around the world, I knew I wanted to sail across an ocean on a tall ship as part of the journey. For those of you that don’t, the term “tall ship” refers to the historic type of sailing, think Pirates of the Caribbean. So early on, I began researching possible ocean crossings, I eventually found one that seemed to work in to my schedule. And, as luck would have it, this particular ship fit perfectly into my trip’s overall theme of volunteering.

SV Tenacious from my vantage point, out on the bowsprit

S.V. Tenacious is operated by an organization called the Jubilee Sailing Trust, a non-profit based out of Southampton in the UK. They operate two tall ships, Tenacious and the Lord Nelson. These are the only two tall ships in the world that are built specifically to accommodate equal opportunity sailing. The ships are wheel chair accessible. They have special a “speaking compass” and similar adaptations for people that may be blind, so they can still helm the ship. They have special alarm systems for deaf people. Additionally, any crewmember that happens to have such a disability is paired with a “buddy” that can help them as needed throughout the journey. They offer both short term voyages of a few days and longer ocean crossings of a few weeks.

Tenacious in Cape Town, with Table Mountain in the background

On an early April afternoon, I boarded Tenacious in Cape Town to begin my Trans-Atlantic adventure. I brought my bags up the gangway, and was greeted by Ally, the first mate. She called for Lee who would be my watch leader for the next six weeks. Lee then showed me around the ship and brought me to my cabin to drop off my bags and to meet Ian, my cabinmate and “buddy”. Ian was in a wheelchair, so that is why we were in one of the cabins, as opposed to the bunks in the bow of the ship where many of the voyage crew would be sleeping. During those first few days, including a night out in Cape Town, I realized that Ian’s dry and irreverent British humor would get along well with my smart-ass sarcasm.

I found myself in a strange mindset as I met the others on board. Given the nature of Tenacious and JST, instead of just meeting people as in a normal situation, I was trying to observe others that may have a disability of one kind or another. It was a rather disappointing thought process as I reflected back upon it. Almost the exact opposite of what the entire idea of the organization is supposed to be about: moving past disabilities. Even with my good intentions, it was still easy to fall into thinking about labels rather than just getting to know a person.

Former logo of JST

As it so happened, there was no one else in a wheel chair, and other than one person who had been partially deaf when a young child, but now was enabled with a hearing aid, no one else had any real disabilities, although some of the crew were older and did have issues with mobility or sight or were a little hard of hearing.

Before setting sail from Cape Town, we had a couple of days of training to get better acquainted with the ship and its operations. This included learning how to climb the rigging. I am not a big fan of heights, so I took advantage of this time alongside the dock to practice rather than when we were on the sea rolling around. This was yet another one of the accommodations that the ship had. They had special rigging to help people in wheelchairs go up to one of the platforms on the fore mast, mostly under their own power. After our training, a small group of us helped get Ian set up so he could pull himself up the mast. It was one of the first examples of how people in the crew would work together as a team to help one another throughout the voyage.

Up the mast with some crewmates

Soon enough, we were away from the dock and, after going through immigration at the cruise terminal, we made our way out to sea under power that night. The next day, we set some of the sails, while keeping the engines on, and did some “motor sailing”. But the first few days were still focused on getting used to the ship and the routine. A few people battled with sea-sickness and getting their sea-legs. But after a bit, things became more settled, and we spent more time with the sails set and making our way through the deep blue see stretching out to the horizon.

Sunset with the moon and Venus

Sailing the vast expanse of the ocean on a tall ship, a barque, to be exact, was every bit as fun as I hoped it would be. The rolling of the ship, the vast distance from civilization, the sunrises and sunsets and clear night skies, all rekindled my interest in sailing. By far, my favorite place to be was the bowsprit, out at the very front of the ship, where I could enjoy the rise and fall of the ship as it made its way through the ocean swell. Additionally, we were able to anchor or come alongside and explore beautiful and out of the way islands such as St. Helena (the final place of exile for Napoleon) and Fernando de Noronha (which limits the numbers of visitors because of its undeveloped beaches). As wonderful as the pure experience of sailing and exploring these islands were, that is not the purpose of this blog.

Steering the ship

Throughout the journey, as we learned more, and became more adept at whatever needed to be done, whether it be cleaning the ship, or galley (kitchen) duty, or setting/handing sails, we needed to work together as a team. This also meant being able to fill in and make adjustments. It may be figuring out the best place on the line for someone that may has limited mobility when we are setting a sail. Or if someone is sick, covering them when they have galley duty, or giving them a slightly different job. This is important to the ethos of the ship that everyone is a contributing member of the crew. This teamwork also manifested itself in fun times such as shore excursions or when we went swimming off the ship while at anchor, when we may have needed a group of people to help hoist Ian out of the water, or onto a boat. This teamwork was facilitated by the many days spent at sea, getting to know one another over meals or during the hours on watch.

Egg toss champions: Forward Starboard Watch!

Given the nature of sailing across the ocean, the possibility for tedium and boredom are high. Luckily, aside from the variety of tasks needed to keep the ship running smoothly, there were activities to keep us entertained, such as quiz nights, an egg toss competition, and the requisite Neptune ceremony upon crossing the equator, among other activities.

Cleaning up during the Neptune ceremony

One recurring activity were talks by members of both the permanent (official) crew and the voyage crew. The talks from the permanent crew would usually be on topics related to sailing: types of ships and sails, navigation, weather patterns and currents, identifying and avoiding crossing ships, and the like. The voyage crew would give talks about their daily lives. These talks were interesting and wide ranging given the diverse jobs of the people travelling. The topics of these talks included raising soft fruit (raspberries, strawberries, etc.), the basics of dark matter, the psychology of language learning, among many others.

As the nature of my journey, and this blog, was discovering people and organizations that are doing amazing work on behalf of a cause. Therefore, I was especially interested to hear talks related to these topics.

Tenacious at anchor in St. Helena

One woman spoke about the work she’s done with different organizations dealing with wildlife. She especially focused on Antarctic wildlife and whales. She gave in-depth perspective to the variety of threats and work being done to protect these animals. Another talk was given by the voyage’s ship doctor. He and his wife had gone on a medical trip to Nepal last year as part of an organization called “Show You Care” which was founded, and is run, by a former monk. He described the various issues facing this remote part of Nepal. But also how the efforts of the organization providing education and proper medical care to the people.

Out on the bowsprit

Later in the voyage, after he became more comfortable with the idea of it, Ian gave a talk about spinal cord injuries and how people, and their families, cope when they occur. He also spoke about his work at the National Spinal Injuries Centre in the UK where he works with people that have relatively recently suffered a spinal cord injury. Hearing his talk helped bring so much more into focus, such as the immediate despair that victims suffer and the timeline of about 3 years on average for them to “settle” into their situation. But he also pointed out how effective disabled employees are in the workforce, that they often take less sick days and are found to be amongst the most productive in their teams. Yet so many people, only see the disability and not their capability.

Tenacious at sunset

But one important lesson that he imparted, that everyone should take away, is how true growth occurs when you push out of your comfort zone. He said that he had been giving that advice to his clients for years, and when he heard about JST and the possibility to sail across the ocean while in a wheelchair, he decided to take his own advice and push himself to do something that scared him. Towards the end of the journey, during one of our many conversations while on watch, he told me that despite the struggles he had at the beginning, this had been one of those deep life experiences that he will always be able to look back upon and say “I did that.”

On the Caribbean island of Bequia, part of the Grenadines

After six weeks, and almost 6000 miles, an equator crossing, and stops at three different islands along the way, we arrived in Antigua. We had some end-of-voyage celebrations to top off an incredible journey. Then the day came when we had to disembark the ship which had been our home for a month and a half. There were the hugs and goodbyes and promises to keep in touch as crew members made their way to the airport or to their accommodations. Eventually, it was my turn to grab my bags and leave as well. Walking away, the sight of the ship was still as impressive as it was when I first saw it in Cape Town. But I now I could look at it and say, “I did that.”


More Information

Jubilee Sailing Trust: The UK-based charity that operates SV Tenacious and her sister ship SV Lord Nelson, the only two tall-ships in the world designed for equal opportunity sailing. The website shows their upcoming voyages, ranging from a few days to a few weeks.

United Nations Environment Programs: During the talk about Antarctic wildlife and whales. This oversees many specific programs

International Whaling Commission: Organization that oversees studies, conservation, and management of the world’s whale species

Show You Care: Organization in Nepal that our ship’s doctor joined for a medical volunteer trip last year

National Spinal Injuries Centre: UK center offering support for spinal injury victims, where my sailing buddy, Ian, works.

A list of resources in the USA for spinal cord injuries.

Sunrise at sea

The Dark Secret of My Journey

Over the past year, I have been sharing stories of my travels and the amazing work I have witnessed being done around the world. I have shared pictures of gorgeous vistas and incredible people that I have been fortunate enough to experience. Yet there is much that I haven’t shared. I didn’t write about hiding in my room in Bogota for entire weekends; wishing that my roommates would leave the apartment so that I could let the dark and silence envelop me. I didn’t write about sitting by myself in a bar in Australia, rapidly gulping down a pitcher of beer, trying to drown the anxiety and frustration. I didn’t write about being surrounded by a group of people that I felt had finally seen through my projected image and had realized how bad of a person I really am. I didn’t write about walking through a museum in Africa, on the verge of a breakdown for no reason other than that I was convinced I am an absolute failure.

May has been Mental Health Awareness Month, and I have been struggling for weeks about whether or not to write this blog entry. I finally decided that if by some chance, it may help someone, anyone, then however painful it might be to share this, it would be worth it. I am not going to write about the specifics of my struggles. Rather I just want to make it clear that I have had, and continue to have, them. One of the main themes of the month is fighting the stigma of people dealing with mental issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has focused on “CureStigma”. This is why I am writing this blog post.

The dark secret of this entire journey is that it is actually rooted in one of my lowest points. After a combination of multiple personal and professional failures a few years ago, I began to think to myself that if I could get together enough money, I would just disappear. I would leave my old life behind and roam the world aimlessly, never to return, living out the rest of my life in a nomadic existence on the fringes. Over time, this idea took more and more of a hold and I began to take it seriously and started to make efforts towards it.

Luckily, at some point, I was able to find more of a purpose, and decided to make the journey about volunteering to help others, rather than focusing on my own issues. It has helped, but that has not led to a sudden “cure” or anything, as I have continued to have my bad days, as I mentioned above.

Throughout my journey, I have come across many people who have had their own struggles with mental health in one way or another, whether it be themselves or a family member. I’ve met a veteran that struggled with PTSD, many people with numerous family struggles, others with addiction issues, young people that have dealt with bullying. I once had a long conservation with a fellow traveler that had left home with the intent of committing suicide. None of these people should be shamed or pitied. Rather, others should recognize the incredible strength in each of them.   The strength that allows them to regularly fight demons that others can only imagine. The last thing they need in addition to that struggle is to fight another battle against the stigma that too many people may place upon them.

Too often, that stigma and fear of judgment keeps people from seeking the support they need. A cultural shift must occur in order to better help our friends and families facing these issues, whether they may be long-term or temporary. I have been to therapy and I have been on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. I absolutely have the desire to keep that kind of information secret. But I also realize that is part of and feeds the stigma.

For those of you fortunate enough to have not ever had to face any such issues or had a friend or family member deal with it, I recommend you to still read about it and prepare. You never know when someone close to you may suddenly need help. And there are definitely wrong things you can say in such a moment.

I wish I had some words of wisdom to better help anyone reading this that is facing their own struggle. However, I’ve learned that each person’s struggle is unique. I can only say two things. One is to plead you not to try and fight alone. I understand that temptation and have often struggled alone myself, but please take advantage of any support and resources you can. The other thing I have to say is that you have an ally in me. What that may specifically entail for you, I have no idea. But I am ready and willing to support you in any way I can.

As a start here are some resources dealing with Mental Health and Mental Health Awareness Month:


I highly recommend this website for everyone. It is a resource website both for people struggling with some issue and for friends & family of people struggling. At a minimum, you can read up on how to talk to a friend or family member that is facing a mental issue in case such a scenario ever arises.


The Mental Health Awareness Month website from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It has a large amount of different resources.


The Cure Stigma campaign from NAMI, which is focused on removing the stigma our society has about mental health issues.


This gives many tips on general well-being for both mind and body as they are intertwined.

Around and Out of Africa

Barnabas picked me up from the Marafiki house on a Monday evening, after I had picked up my new passport from the Nairobi embassy. Barnabas was the local coordinator for Global Crossroad with whom I had booked my next volunteer excursion. I was fortunate to have found them. My original plan had been to do a program at Victoria Falls, but due to my passport uncertainty, I had decided a few weeks before to stay in Kenya longer in case there were any issues with it.

Specifically, I was looking for a program that would allow me to be involved in African wildlife, and this Elephant and Wildlife Program fit the bill. I would be working near the Tsavo National Parks in southeastern Kenya. For those of you near Chicago, the Tsavo “man-eating” lions that terrorized railroad workers in this region over 100 years ago are on display at the Field Museum.

That first evening, Barnabas and his associate Jackson took me to Barnabas’s apartment where I had dinner with his family, along with two other volunteers from Portugal, Phillippe and Inesh. They had started out on a medical placement, but it had not worked out, so they were going to be working at a school that Barnabas supported in his home village.

The Agape Academy in Barnabas’s village

Early the next morning, all of us piled into the car and drove out to the school, about an hour and a half out of Nairobi. Around mid-morning, we arrived at the small compound. The ruins of an old car sat out in front and the building was an “L” block around the yard, with a toilet building set on the corner opposite the school building.   Barnabas introduced us to the principal, a few staff, and a couple of the other volunteers. Then, we were taken around to the classrooms.

The rooms were small and simple, as well as rather dark, only lit by light from the window. The walls were only decorated by hand-made posters, and the students sat at simple wooden desks and chairs. After we were introduced, the students were prompted to sing a song to welcome us, often softly and shyly. A bit later, during their lunch break, as we were preparing to leave, many of the students would wave at a distance, feeling more confident playing in a large group of their friends far away from us, than they were in the confines of their classroom. We stopped at Barnabas’s home in this village, where the girls would be staying while volunteering, to drop off their bags and have some food and tea. Then we dropped the girls back off at the school, and the rest of us returned to Nairobi.

Early the next morning, I packed up my things and Jackson took me to the bus station. I was going to take the bus towards Mombasa, but getting off at Voi, which is the main city near the Tsavo National Park. Later that afternoon, I had arrived at the Lumo Wildlife Conservancy, just outside of Tsavo West National Park (Tsavo is divided into East and West sections about an hour or so away from each other).

At Lion’s Rock in the Lumo Wildlife Sanctuary

Upon arriving, I met some of the staff and other volunteers. As it turned out, some of them were planning on going out camping in the bush that night. I hadn’t really had a chance to get settled, but I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. I did some quick transferring of stuff in and out of my small backpack, and soon I was in the back of a pickup driving down the dirt roads of the wildlife sanctuary in the fading twilight. Then, only a few hours after arriving in this part of Kenya, I was building a campfire in the middle of nowhere, under a dark sky.

When I woke up the next morning and walked out of the tent, I saw that there was just savannah as far as the eye could see, with no other sign of human life. As I became familiar with the area over the next couple of weeks, I learned that there were actually a few lodges not too far away, but they just happened to be out of sight from where we had camped.

On foot patrol

Upon returning to the ranger and volunteer housing, we got ready to go on foot patrol with some of the rangers. Lumo is a wildlife sanctuary that was began and is run by the local community. While they work with Tsavo national park and the Kenya Wildlife Service, they do not get much financial assistance from them. As such, money is a scarce commodity, and they have limited resources. My first few days there were only foot patrols, because their only 4×4 vehicle was being repaired.

In my time at the conservancy, there were 3 rangers and a few trainees. During the patrols that us volunteers accompanied, we would be looking for any snares or other signs of poaching and any animals in distress. Additionally, the trainees would be recording animal sightings and locations, and we would pick up litter that visitors may have left along the trails.   The normal routine was to go on two patrols each day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon, avoiding the heat of midday.

Some of the wildlife while out on patrol

The patrols were an amazing experience, especially once we got the 4×4 back and could drive along the safari trails throughout the sanctuary instead of being limited to where we were able to reach on foot. But even the foot patrols were amazing, knowing that you were in the open along with elephants, African buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, impalas, and hartebeests at a distance but still with no barriers between us except for a few hundred meters or more of savannah.

Helping out some visitors to the conservancy

While I was there, we never found any poaching or snares, although Elvis, the head ranger, had received word of poaching one day so we went to a specific area to look. Instead, we found a small illegal mine that someone had dug on their own. Another day, we came across some visitors that needed a hand. Their tire had gone flat, and when they had gotten the tire off, the jack had given out.   Luckily, this was after we had gotten the 4×4 back and had the necessary tools to help them.

A small illegal mine

One bit of excitement during our patrol was when the rangers spotted hippo tracks. Hippos don’t live in the conservancy as there is not a good enough water hole for them to stay long term. So, it must have come out of Tsavo. We spent the next day looking around different water holes to try and find the hippo. The next morning, the rangers found fresh tracks around a water hole. They walked around the hole and were about to leave when Hanna, the other volunteer with us, noticed a little bit of movement in the water. We waited a bit longer and sure enough, we again saw just the tip of a hippo nose come out for air. The rangers then notified KWS and plans were made to hopefully tranquilize the hippo at the next opportunity to move it back to the park. Unfortunately, this did not occur. That night, the hippo moved again, and then came across and was aggressive towards some people, so the hippo had to be euthanized.


As mentioned earlier, Lumo is a community run organization. There are a couple of lodges and campgrounds in the area that work together with the rangers and the community. This has also helped to establish a local school. Previously, children in the area had to travel much further, usually almost an hour’s walk to go to school. We were able to meet the wife of one of the rangers, (he happened to be away at training while a I was there), and their two children who were extremely sweet. One afternoon, a couple of the volunteers and I went for a walk, and the family joined us. She led us to the school, about a 15-minute walk away, and told us a little bit more about the school and the community. The lodges also help to provide food for the children at the school. The school was like the other schools I had seen in Kenya, a simple building with simple classrooms and handmade décor. There was an outhouse for the toilets, and another out-building that served as a “kitchen, really not much more than a space for some pots and pans and a cooking fire. It is humbling to see children strive for an education in such basic conditions, while in the western world we too often take for granted all the technology and educational opportunities available.

Soon enough, my time was up at the conservancy. I took a bus back to Nairobi and spent my last day there doing some sight-seeing. While walking around a park, an older man and then a child came up to me to beg. Not that different from many other places around the world. But what made this different was that in both these cases, other locals chased them off. A similar thing had happened my first week in Kenya, but I hadn’t given it much thought. This time though, combined with other experiences from my time there, I realized how much pride the Kenyans have. They did not like seeing someone begging from a mzungu (someone of European descent) because it obviously looks bad on the nation. One night during dinner at Lumo, Dennis, one of the rangers, was passionate about Kenya’s stance against poaching and the ivory trade. He mentioned how some have criticized Kenya’s annual ivory burn as a waste. But he was adamant that it was the right thing to do, and that Kenya would lead the way. The conviction was clear in his words as he spoke, and it was inspiring to hear him say such things, with the sounds of the African savannah in the background.

After Kenya, I travelled to Cape Town, South Africa. I had hoped to do some short-term volunteering there, but it did not work out, and I was only there for a week. While I was unable to work there, it was still a humbling experience to be in Cape Town and visit places that have an almost sacredness to them because of their role in the struggle against the inhumanity of slavery and apartheid. It was moving to be in the District Six museum, the district where persons of color were forcibly removed in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for new development by the white government. It was surreal to be in a jazz club beneath St. George’s, the home church of Desmond Tutu, with a small apartheid gallery as you walk into the club, and then listening to a multi-racial band sing an incredible cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. And, of course, the historic weight of visiting Robbin Island, where Nelson Mandela spent the majority of his imprisonment, along with so many political prisoners, including seeing a small cave in the limestone mine which was used as the bathroom by the prisoners, and do to the heat and the smell was never visited by guards, so it was the only place these future national leaders could speak freely.

Racial classifications at the District Six Museum

Of course, even though apartheid ended almost 30 years ago, there is still a staggering amount of economic inequality in the country. While going out a couple of nights in Cape Town, I realized that it was eerily similar to my nights out in Los Angeles. I went to “First Thursday” where many art galleries were free and open, and many bars displayed art and had live music all within walking distance, very similar to LA’s Downtown Art Walk. But beyond that, it was mostly a bunch of well-to-do white people, with attractive and well-dressed mostly white bartenders making craft cocktails, while the other serving work was done by native Africans. Substitute the native Africans with Latinos, and you basically have a night out in LA. Obviously, that is a far from perfect comparison, and I know there are vast amount of differences in both situations, but it was still another surreal experience.

Even though I didn’t do any work myself, learning more about South Africa personally, including some organizations still working to help the many people struggling economically, was an incredible experience. Between the inspiration of the incredible leaders of South Africa’s struggles and the proud self-reliant people of Kenya, I came away from Africa with such a heightened respect and role models that we could all be well-served to learn from.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu


Lumo Wildlife Conservancy The community wildlife sanctuary where I volunteered.

Global Crossroad The company I used to book my service trip

Agape Academy The school that I visited in Barnabas’s village.

The foundations of the two most famous leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, continuing to advocate for social justice and reconciliation:

Mandela Foundation

Tutu Foundation

Into Africa – Part 1

From India, I flew to Africa to begin the next part of my journey. My African travels had to be changed around due to a rather fortunate problem to have: my passport was rapidly filling up with stamps and running out of space. My original itinerary was to begin in Kenya, then go to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, and finally to South Africa. For those of you that don’t know this, the USA no longer adds pages to passports, so a new passport is needed. Luckily, I noticed the passport issue before leaving India, and I was already going to be working on a project in Nairobi. So, I made an appointment at the US embassy in Nairobi, and found another program in Kenya so I could stay there for some additional time. Unfortunately, it meant that I had to cancel my Victoria Falls plans. That just gives me something to return for.

Looking towards Nairobi from the Marafiki house

I arrived in the evening at the Nairobi airport and was met by a young man with a broad smile (which over the next few weeks I never saw leave his face) named Bonaey. He drove me to the Marafiki house on the outskirts of Nairobi. I booked my travel through Agape Volunteers, but Marafiki was the local partner organization that would oversee my placement. Marafiki means “friendship” in Swahili and they are involved in a variety of activities around Nairobi and elsewhere in Kenya. That night and the next morning, I met other volunteers staying in the house and from a variety of countries. There were a few Americans and Brits, as well as others from Canada, Chile, Bolivia, Australia, and Spain.

Volunteers socializing at the Marafiki house

These fellow travelers and volunteers were working in a variety of projects that Marafiki was involved in or connected to. Many were involved in health care (doctors, nurses, and EMTs in their home countries) and served in some of the clinics in the area. Other volunteers served at childcare centers, helping as teachers or in the direct care of children, as some of these centers also serve as homes. One young woman from the US was teaching women computer skills at a local community center. Others were helping at a camp for Internally Displaced Persons outside of Nairobi. In the aftermath of the disputed 2007 election in Kenya, there was violence around the country and many people fled to other parts of the country and are still living in these camps.

As usual, it was inspiring to meet all of these people who are willing to spend their precious vacation time helping others, and learning about the work they are doing and the struggles and triumphs they are experiencing, ranging from the limited education that a group of children are facing to the empowerment and new found confidence of a woman that has mastered a new computer skill.

The HIV counseling office at Kivuli center

As for myself, I worked on a few different projects with Marafiki. Originally, I was going to be working with an HIV/AIDS program in Nairobi. However, I was rather limited in that realm since I was only going to be there for a couple of weeks. Ideally, I would have volunteered with them for a month or more. Then I could have been trained and certified to do HIV testing and counseling independently. Instead, I spent just a few days at the clinic at the Kivuli Center. I sat in on the testing and counseling sessions, listening to Judy, the counselor, talk with the patients that came in and recording information in the log book. It was a humbling experience to be in the room with these people who were at such a vulnerable moment in their lives. People came in for a variety of reasons: routine testing (which has been strongly promoted in recent years), finding out that a partner had cheated on them, or exposure in some other way. For example, one young man had recently been involved in a fight and was bitten. People reacted to the test, and the counseling discussions, in a variety of ways. Some were calm and matter-of-fact about everything. Others, would avoid eye-contact and laugh nervously to personal questions, and their leg would be shaking throughout the session, especially while waiting for the results of the test strip.

Health services offered at the Kivuli Center

Fortunately, due to medical advancements, as well as government efforts, HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence that it was 20 years ago. That being said, Kenya (along with Nigeria, South Africa, and many other African nations) are still dealing with the devastating effects of the spread of the disease and trying to stem the tide. All the tests performed during the 3 days I was at the clinic were negative. However, Judy told me that positive results have a range of reactions: calm acceptance, anger, denial. She told me that many people have become physically ill at the news. But part of her job is to help them with the transition and acceptance of this new reality.

Judy was one more example of the best of humanity. She is currently studying public health and wants to serve these communities because she has seen the pain and suffering that many go through, and how often HIV-positive patients can be ostracized, even within the healthcare community.

Judy carrying some necessities for an elderly woman in need

Unfortunately, I didn’t make the best impression on Judy. My first day at the clinic happened to be the same day as my morning appointment at the US embassy. I awoke early that morning to go to the embassy, grabbing a piece of toast on my way out and taking my malaria medication. I then went straight to the clinic after my embassy appointment and sat in the small office with Judy and the first consultation of the day. The day began to heat up, and the office started to feel stuffy. Then, I believe the malaria medication started to have a negative effect on my near-empty stomach, and I started to become light headed. I excused myself to go get some fresh air. I pulled the door shut behind me, and the next thing I knew, I was half-laying on the ground outside the door, with a woman yelling “Judy! Judy!” as she pounded on the door. As I came around, I made my way to a chair, telling the woman and Judy that I would be fine, I just needed to eat something. Judy fetched me a snack cake and a drink, and I sat in my shame, realizing that on my first day, I had been more of a burden than any kind of a help.

While at Kivuli, there were a couple of other experiences aside from the HIV testing. The center runs multiple programs to support the community. There is a school for boys, a workshop for refugees to create and sell handicrafts, even a small radio station that broadcasts news in some of the various tribal languages. I met a man named Genesis who overcame living as an adolescent in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa and is now involved with Kivuli as well as other programs, including in his home village.

Children playing in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa

As it happened, a couple of days after meeting Genesis, I visited Kibera with the Marafiki group. We walked through the refuse-filled streets following our guide Benta. When viewed from a distance, the slum, of about 1 million people, seems to almost have been built by placing a countless number of tin shacks upon a giant landfill.   Benta took us to a few workshops, similar to that at Kivuli, where people make trinkets to sell when they can. But more importantly, she took us to her organization in Kibera: the Julie Hope Children & Rescue Center. The organization operates as a school and general child welfare group, including housing for a few of the children.   The important aspect of this organization is that the children have been affected in one way or another by HIV, whether it is a parent or themselves that is infected. Benta openly acknowledges being HIV-positive herself. But if she was ever distraught about her diagnosis, that must have been long ago, because she was one of the most glowing and optimistic people I have ever met. We bought some food for the school to bring with us and brought it to the shack that doubled as a school and home for Benta and a few of the children that are HIV-positive. Benta monitors the children’s medication, as the children at the center, at least the ones we met, are around ages 4 to 9. The children welcomed us with a song as well as the common phrase that many of us recognize from The Lion King: “Hakuna Matata”.

One boy caught my eye. He was one of the younger children, maybe 5 years old, and wearing a Chicago Cubs t-shirt. I wanted to get my picture taken with him. He obviously felt special to be singled out, although I’m sure he had no idea why. The reality of the situation, though, is not all that happy. It was a ragged T-shirt, with “Fukodome” written on the back; a player from about 10 years ago. The shirt was donated at some point, and the boy probably has little to no idea of what it really is. He might not even like it, but that is the shirt that he wears because it is the shirt available to him.

Since I wasn’t going to be as much help as I had hoped at the HIV testing center, I decided to volunteer my second week in Massai land. The Massai are one of the more than 40 tribes in Kenya, and one that has most strongly held on to its culture of herding cattle. Images that may pop into your head if “Kenyan tribe” is mentioned: slender men in red cloth holding a long spear; that is Massai. Additionally, the Massai-Mara natural reserve is the Kenyan side of the Serengeti and home to many of the African safari animals.

On the way to Massai-land

Early Sunday morning, a group of us climbed into a 4×4 vehicle to leave Nairobi and take us into the bush. Some were simply doing a 3-day safari around the nature reserve, while Kyla, a young woman from Canada, and I would be staying with them the first 2 nights, and then going to another village to help at a local school that Marafiki helped to construct. As we came closer to our destination, and entered the savannah area, we began to see the African wildlife, zebras, giraffes, and a variety of antelope species, gently ambling alongside the dirt roads we were traveling.


The goat pen I helped build, and the water tanks that Marafiki set up to help the local Massai village

Izzo, the director of Marafiki, has been busy in the Massai area, and has many plans. He is in the process of building a mid-range safari camp both for tourists and volunteers. As part of that more permanent physical presence, they have already set up a new water supply for the village, piping in water from a spring up in the hills, so that it is much cleaner than the stream that runs openly by the village.   They are also working on some agricultural education projects to help the local farmers increase their productivity. These include using a new type of grass and feeding method for goats in order to decrease the grazing impact on the area. In support of this, the task for Kyla and me during our time there, while the others were on safari, was helping build a goat pen. This would be used to raise the goats in this new way to serve as a demonstration for the local populace, as they need to see results before being willing to adopt a new style of raising their animals.

Travelling through Massai-land on a “peeky-peeky”

After a few days of fencing the pen, and many resultant cuts and blisters, it was time for our next project. While the safari-goers would be heading back to Nairobi, Kyla and I were to head with Sheldon and Dan, two of the Marafiki workers, to the next Massai village. However, there had been steady rains over the past few days, washing out the roads to the village. So, the 4×4 vehicle couldn’t make it. Instead, we would be traveling by “peeky-peeky” which are the local motorcycle-taxis.

We each got behind a driver on their beat-up bikes, along with one other bike that was loaded with more of our luggage and supplies. Then we headed through the countryside of Massai-land. Passing groups of people walking along the roads, who would smile and wave at the passing “mzungus” (white people” on the motorbikes. We occasionally had to make some interesting water crossings, sometimes by getting off the bikes and wading across after the motorbikes were carefully driven across. It was a fun new experience of travelling through this country. I even was allowed to take one for a quick spin myself a couple of days later.

One of our “manyattas”

After about an hour, we arrived at a tiny village seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We were taken to a group of three “manyattas”, traditional Massai dwellings, which are made of sticks, mud, and cow dung. This was to be our home for the next few days, sleeping on mattresses laid out on bed frames fashioned from sticks.

Kyla, Dan, and Sheldon helping out at the school

While enjoying the simple life of this rural village with the African plains spread out before us under a wide-open sky, we walked a few hundred meters each day to help at the small village school. We didn’t work with the children directly, but rather did simple tasks that had been on the back-burner around the school: painting, making up posters, attaching protective covers to the textbooks. This is one of the key features that most people need to understand about “voluntourism”: often the necessary tasks where you can be of the most help are the simple behind-the-scenes jobs. It doesn’t make for great Instagram posts, but it helps thing work better and frees up the teachers and staff to focus on educating the children.

However, occasionally we would interact with the children. Many of them would often walk miles to attend the school. They would walk by our manyattas and smile and wave. Some mornings, I would walk to the school to collect water from the rain cistern around the same time some children were arriving. I would talk with them, although they were often extremely shy, giggling and looking away if I spoke directly to one. I played a couple of games with them, and sang simple songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” just to have a bit more interaction than just them crowding around and watching the mzungu.

Children playing in the open field in front of the school

It was striking to see the simplicity of the school. The students would run around and play in the open grassland around the school during their recess. (One of our tasks was to clear away the thorn bushes that were so prevalent). They had no playground equipment, other than perhaps a soccer ball and a makeshift jump rope. They were called back to class with an old-style hand bell. There were no computers or technology of any kind, only desks, books, posters, and chalkboards. It was basically the type of classrooms you would expect in the first half of the 20th century. However, there is truly a desire for education amongst many people. Dan, the Marafiki worker staying with us in the village, is Massai. He actually left home because, while his parents wanted him to settle into the traditional lifestyle, he wanted to continue his education.   He enrolled the help of his grandmother to argue his case. Not because his grandmother had a particularly noble view of education. Rather it was because, like grandmothers around the world, she was willing to give her grandson almost anything he wanted!

A cave where adolescent Massai boys will sleep when preparing for manhood

Our last day at the village, we walked up into some of the nearby hills, where the savannah plains turned into an almost jungle like atmosphere. This dense forested area is where the local boys will leave their families for an extended period of time during adolescence as part of their journey into manhood. Early the following morning, I left with Sheldon to make our way back to Nairobi. Kyla and Dan were returning to the original village we stayed at in order to join up with a new safari group.

I spent a couple more nights at the Marafiki house with the volunteers, including a St. Patrick’s Day night out. That Monday morning, I went back to the embassy to pick up my new passport. Then, in the evening, I was picked up for the next part of my African experience.


More Information

Agape Volunteers: The website/organization I used to book my program in Nairobi

Marafiki: The local organization in Kenya I worked with during my first two weeks in Kenya

Kivuli Center: A local community center run by the Koinonia community outside of Nairobi that offers a variety of health and education services. This is where I worked with the HIV testing & counseling.

Julie Hope Children & Rescue Center: A children’s organization in Kibera that is focused on children affected by HIV.