You see it every December 31. People start reminiscing over the past year and they form their resolutions for the next one. You know, I’m going to go to the gym, not eat chocolate, read my bible, drive the speed limit… Some write these in their journal, some share with families and friends, bloggers, tell everyone.
I’ve read many a new years blog posts and I have to say, some people just don’t lead interesting lives, lo siento. I on the other hand am one lucky girl, at least this last year I think I was.
See, a year ago I began a journey that defined the most interesting, action packed and incredible year of my life.
Now fast forward. On this last December 31 I was smack dab in the middle of my World Race, sitting on a beach in South Africa I was nowhere near ready to reminisce over the last year or make resolutions. But, today, as I’ve hit the one year mark I’m finally ready to give it shot. So here you go, the last 12 months of my life.
Month 1: Ecuador
The year kicked off in Quito, Ecuador, where our squad of 50 spent 4 days being filled up and exploring the city. We got caught in downpours, lost our breath from the altitude, and stood on the Equator, setting a tone for the next 10 months.
In the middle of launch we experienced what would become the first of many ministry switches, instead of working with a children’s home in El Tingo, we were going to be working in a church in the small farming community of Conocoto, about 40 minutes outside of Quito. We slept in the church, got attacked by fleas and lived with a family that didn’t speak a word of english, but the month was so good! We had to learn to live in community, and even more than that, a community of strong-willed women, it was hard, but we came out so much stronger, and after spending a month helping build a new church building, being the weekly entertainment and playing with neighborhood children we left feeling like we had really initiated change.
The scenery in Trujillo was a bit more bleak than Ecuador. If I had to think of one word to describe the month it would probably be dusty, but we made the best of it, helping out the church we were partnered with, with their Compassion International program in the mornings and then going on house visits at night. In the afternoons we had “siesta time” where we were all able to catch up on Glee and the Hunger Games and then on our off days we decided to forgo a visit to Chan Chan for the opportunity to climb up a mountain and run down and massive sand dune (so much better!) and then we made a visit to the famous Huanchaco beach to do what else? Surfing!
After one of our most epic travel days of our entire World Race, 5 days, with a brief stop at Lake Titicaca and then La Paz, we made it to Cochabamba and Hospitals of Hope, a place that obviously left an imprint on me because I’m returning this fall! While our off day’s here weren’t as epic as Ecuador or Peru, it was the service that really made the month. I got to work in a coffee shop, paint a school, visit kids in the pediatric ward and go kidwashing (once a week bathing of homeless Quechua children in the city) and I loved it. While Bolivia has some awesome things to offer, that I’m hoping to take advantage of this next round, this first trip there was perfect.
5 flights and 24 hours in New York City later we arrived in Eastern Europe. After three months in South America, the clean, manicured streets of Tirana were a bit of culture shock. This month we worked with Cru, helping in their college ministry, selling magazines on the University campus, not my favorite, I think I sold 2…. but I did love getting to build relationships with the Cru staff and the students, oh and eating the crepes, boy howdy did Albania have good crepes!
This travel day really only took a day, but it included 4 border crossings (Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania) on a child size bus, supporting my theory that travel days on the World Race can never be easy.
We spent a week as a squad debriefing in Bucharest, getting a chance to see the sights and freeze our butts off in the 10 degree weather, then my team hopped a train to Transylvania where we lived in a small Hungarian village and helped in the Gypsy communities. The greatest poverty I saw on the entire trip were in these Romani Gypsy communities, which were literally built on the wrong side of the tracks. Kids didn’t have socks, gloves or coats and it was 5 degrees outside. Many of their homes are also filled with abuse so the kids continue the cycle by beating on each other, and beating on us. While we weren’t able to help with the abuse we were able to help a bit with the cold, giving the kids warm socks and clothes before we left.
Africa finally! This was my most anticipated month on the race. We were partnered up with two other teams for the month, living in Plettenberg Bay, a glamorous resort town on the famous Garden Route, but our living situations weren’t glamorous. The farm house had no furniture, no stove and only 2 bathrooms for 28 people. We also slept in tents outside and mine got attacked by monkeys every morning at dawn, no joke. Oh Africa.
This month was a special situation because it included both Christmas and New Years, so our contact gave us a week off to celebrate, but in truth we didn’t know what to do with our time! We went into the beach most everyday (it was the middle of South African summer), some went bungy jumping, I just watched, but I did go swimming with wild seals, which is terrifying in its own right, and then I got to get up close with elephants at the local elephant reserve.
Although we had fewer ministry days this month we really grew to love the kids we worked with in the township, everyday they would see our bus pull up to the school and come running, and then they would cling to the bus when we left. When the month wrapped up we had many tearful goodbyes.
Another doozy of a travel day brought us to Beira Mozambique. First with an 18 hour bus ride back to Johannesburg, then a 9 hour drive to the Swaziland/Mozambique border (why we drove through Swaziland I have no idea), somewhere in this period I had a jar of jelly shatter all over my stuff/feet, I guess it was a good thing it took us 6 HOURS to get our visas, so that I could clean it up. The final stage was a 24 hour bus ride with 22 people crammed into an 18 seat bus, with no air con, driving down the Mozambican pothole-filled roads. But all the “suffering” was worth it because the boys at the Kedesh Santuario, our home for the month, are some pretty rocking boys.
We didn’t really have a defined service for the month. We just helped out where we were asked. We did a lot of tutoring and playing with the boys, hoeing and planting, and boy did we eat a lot of popcorn and watch a lot of LOST.
As we pulled away on the last day I cried, because I knew I would never be back there again.
This was the month of animals. Lucky, lucky us. I’m pretty sure we lived in the best location any world race team has ever lived in. The house wasn’t anything extravagant, but it just so happened to be on the property of a country club, which also happened to have it’s own game park. After ministry each day we could go swimming, play tennis or watch American Idol and TLC in the club house. Then we could go for a run and see zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, impalas…. you name it. As long as it wasn’t a predator, it was there. Not content leaving Africa without going on a real safari we traveled an hour south to Hlane Royal National Park to see the lions, elephants and rhinos…
As we landed in Bangkok I started to bawl, happy tears of course, I felt like I was home. We spent the first week at the YWAM base in Bangna, Bangkok for our 8 month debrief. I got to take my teammates to GES to meet my students and then take them around Bangkok, to the malls and temples. It was a great time. Then, after getting our teams a little mixed up for our “Manistry” month my team headed to Chiang Mai to work with Lighthouse Ministries, an organization that tries to rescue bar girls and get them into their dream careers, to show them there’s something more. It was an incredible month, getting to be back in the country I love, but it was incredibly difficult as well, being immersed in such a sad culture. This is also the month where it was confirmed to me that I would be returning to Bolivia. An exciting moment!
We had to leave Thailand because our visas ran out, but we arrived in Cambodia during the Khmer New Year and couldn’t go out to the villages we would be living in for the month so we found ourselves spending 4 days in Siem Reap while we waited. When I visited Siem Reap 3 years ago I was over the moon to visit the temples of Angkor, but I never thought I would get back. Little did I know, 2 years later I would be watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat. It was cool to be back again, but I don’t think I’ll take it on a third time.
After the 4 days we headed south the Phnom Penh and then an hour west of the city to Kampong Speu and a little village that literally only received electricity a month before we arrived. We slept on the floor under mosquito nets all month, didn’t have our own bathroom, ate our meals in less than sanitary conditions, got sick, trained calves to act like dogs, swam in rice bogs and fell in love with a group of incredible children. We taught english to the community children for several hours a day every month. Those kids learn so fast and had so much joy in the fact that they could learn this uncommon skill.
The last month of the World Race! After flying into Kuala Lumpur, so thankful that we didn’t have to bus there from Cambodia, we arrived at the ministry site in the city and were immediately informed that our contact wasn’t expecting 2 teams and we were going to have to take a 7 hour, overnight bus to Kuala Krai, a city in the NE corner of the country. I guess it was only fitting that we started off the race with a ministry site change and ended the race with one too. It was a trying, jam-packed month, but at least we got air conditioning! Most of our ministry was with the Tamil people, Malaysian Indians. We would drive for 1-2 hours everyday to visit Hindu families living on palm plantations. I’ll just say I got a lot of spanish practice in on the long rides. Thank goodness Malaysia is gorgeous. Our longest road trip of the month was to Penang, where we got to do late night street feeding with the homeless. It was 72 hours straight of ministry but so awesome.
The month wrapped up with our final debrief. A time to reminisce and say goodbye. Our final debrief just happened to be on a tropical island. Lucky, lucky us.
Coming home was so easy and so hard. I unpacked my backpack, and though I was thankful I didn’t have to live out of it anymore I cried because it was a symbol of the race being over. Being home this last month wasn’t the most eventful. I spent most of my time cleaning, playing with Ellie, scouting thrift stores and catching up on TV, but the rest I got was definitely needed, and now, I can go into this new year with a new energy, and a new excitement.