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Losing Our Way Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing. --------------------------------------------------------- Arundhati Roy (Indian author, advocate, activist)

Losing Our Way (Mi & Ive)

VIETNAM | Saturday, 10 April 2010 | Views [1393] | Comments [2]

We marked the last night of the 15-month journey with a ritual burning of the map we'd been using to chart our 'round-the-world course. And with that...

We marked the last night of the 15-month journey with a ritual burning of the map we'd been using to chart our 'round-the-world course. And with that...

April 5-10, 2010. Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam.

So this is where it all ends. On beaches of powder the color of gingerbread dough, and warm, transparent waters - the turquoise of the Gulf of Thailand. Five days: wake late, beachfront breakfast, snorkel, gulf lunch, hammock nap, swim, nap again, read, stroll, bloodred sunset, beachfront dinner, twlight, midnight... celebrate Miral's 34th birthday, celebrate 15 months around the world, contemplate 15 months around the world, celebrate, contemplate, celebrate... wake late........

Five days and this is where this book writes to an end. A final chapter here should say something about our three and a half months looping around Southeast Asia – learning its ancient civilizations, rich spiritualities, dazzling smiles, towering-glowing-growing landscapes, soaring thermometer!, chili-and-lemongrass-and-all-things-nice, sights of anything and everything strapped to a motorcycle, and histories of human wars with all the usual suspects: the idealism, the heroes, and the frankly repulsive. Nobody wins a war we learned. Instead, losses grow like cancer. Decades afterward. Cambodia. Laos. Vietnam.

But this chapter will close something more than Southeast Asia. This is where the whole 15-month roller-coaster comes to a halt. .....India. Nepal. Kenya. Tanzania. Uganda. Germany. Switzerland. Peru. Ecuador. Colombia. New languages. Currency exchange rates. Exotic fruits. Burning garbage. Overlapping spiritual systems. Another (!) volume of Lonely Planet. Helping. Receiving. Haggling. Cyst-inducing bus rides. Street food (“Does that one have any meat? MEAT? Dang, what's the word for meat?”). Lost - directions from strangers - still lost - more directions. Mosquito nets. Emphatic hellos from passers-by. Maybe most wonderful of all, unbogged mind, clear mind, open mind. Now down to five days on this tear-shaped island dissolving into infinite waters. Won't ask for a clearer metaphor.....

Won't ask for anything, now.

But they will ask. “How was your trip?” “What did you learn?” “How have you changed?”

Well, actually...

In Asia, they have a saying: “Same Same, But Different.” Mi got a t-shirt. A good answer for us. A good description of the world. When you see the same systems, the same stories, over and over and over again, the world's patterns become very clear. For instance, there REALLY ARE good, kind, generous people everywhere. We met them. So many of them.

A man on our first Indian train platform sees us confused by the system and navigates us through the crowds and Hindi seating charts taped to train doors and conductor clipboards and up to our seats. We surely would have missed our train. A Ugandan man realizes we are arriving to our bus-stop too late in the night for anything but a high-risk motorcycle taxi ride back to our school village, and walks us from hotel to hotel to find a room for the night. When the search turns up no vacant rooms, he calls and wakes up a car-owning friend to come and pick us up and safely deliver us back to our village. That ride may have saved our lives, as we later found out, there had been a string of late night violence on that road. A Kenyan woman houses us and feeds us because she lives close to the bus-route we are seeking, and her son and son-in-law take us to our dawn-hour bus as if we are kin, finding a way to get us there on time even after one of their motorcycles breaks down. A homeless Cambodian man gives us directions. A Vietnamese woman slices us mangoes off trees on her family's small farm. Good, kind people. Everywhere. It is no longer just reciting cliché after you sit down in the homes of so many people who, materially, have so little who insist on offering you tea or home-made bread or moonshine along with attentive smiles and warm embraces – or after you have been helped on with your backpack by one after another passing stranger – or asked a little about yourself by yet another local on a bus struggling in whatever English they can speak, with no goal beyond making you feel welcome in their country. Even in the chaos that is so often the daily experience of the so-called “developing world,” random acts of goodness abound. One of the first words we learned in the language of every country we entered was, “Thank you.” We were given so many instances to use it.

Good, kind people are everywhere. Cliches are now marrow in our bones. “People are more similar than they are different.” “It's a small world after all.” “No matter where you go, there you are.” There are lots of cliches we've taken in this year.

But maybe the cliches that resonate most with us as this journey ends are the ones about living life to the fullest. “Live every moment.” “Seize the day.” “Life is too short.” “Think outside the box.” No matter your life situation, there is always infinite potential to step beyond the apparent limits and do things creatively, express uniqueness, and more deeply and fully live what poet Mary Oliver calls “your one wild and precious life.” Countless times we have stared into the face of a stranger or newfound friend, living exactly in this way and accomplishing what seems like magic...countless times also we have stood at the brink of another ocean just a little further East, hiked wild new terrain, emerged from a religious service or a wedding or a funeral, or from a conversation with someone who brought a perspective we could never have arrived at on our own – and turned to one another and asked, “Why doesn't everybody DO this?” Sometimes we meant it narrowly – why doesn't everyone save up, sell off, give away, rent out, whatever is needed and head out and see the world? It has ended up to be so much more inspiring than we could have imagined, more educational than even college tuition could have bought, and so much easier than anyone might have thought. But of course we know that our situation is not the same is everyone's situation – and our dream is not everyone's dream. Moreso, we meant it much more broadly – why doesn't everyone find a way to take the next step closer to doing something they had always dreamed of doing? For us, it was this chance to really FEEL the world, widening our hearts to embrace more people, more stories, more histories, more cultures. For each person it is something different. Certainly not every dream can or is meant to come true. But taking steps in that direction is always possible. The poor and displaced, the sick and the powerless, they told us so this year. We watched them carefully. What is everyone waiting for?

Long before we first left the US on this trip, Ive found particular inspiration from the life story of Christopher McCandless, subject of the book, and later the movie and the amazing Eddie Vedder soundtrack, “Into The Wild,” who walked away from a comfortable, upper class life to wander the United States in pursuit of his dream of surviving for a time alone in the Alaska wilderness. He didn't survive. Okay, maybe not the best-placed source of inspiration! But little did we know that over our 15-month journey we would meet Christopher McCandless over and over again.

We met Christopher McCandless at each volunteer site we worked at. In Ecuador, we met an urban woman who moved to her husband's family ranch in the rural cloudforest to give a go at sustainable farming and fghting back against deforestation. In Switzerland, we found a man whose heart was moved to love by his spiritual teacher and cultivated an openness to all peoples and ways that still grows. In Uganda, we met an orphaned man who put himself through school, began taking in children, orphaned like himself, and allowed his vision to grow into a model rural school serving hundreds of children. In Ladakh, Ive met a woman who was one of the first Europeans allowed into the region, who came to study the language but fell in love with the people and set to helping them find ways to preserve their unique culture. In Calcutta, Mi met woman after woman who had given everything up to serve the poor in mind, poor in body, poor in spirit – all of whose work was tumbling out miraculous results. In Cambodia, we met a recent American college graduate who completed some volunteer work in Cambodia and signed on for a two-year stint to help further an important school program for street children – with a future dream to serve the people of Somalia!

But it wasn't just at the NGOs where we volunteered. Christopher McCandless was everywhere we turned. Across the months, we met a German guy in Switzerland who participated in the age-old German carpentry tradition called compagnonnage -- one that most of his colleagues no longer observe – hitchiking the world for exactly three years and one day living only off of the skills of his trade and the kindness of others. We met an American girl in Peru who came down to help after a devestating earthquake and never went back. We met a man from Spain who walked away from a six-figure income in San Francisco to travel overland from Spain to Russia to China to Laos (where we met him) and beyond to who knows where “because it's what makes me really happy.” We met an American guy who loved the people of Laos so much that he started a Library Boat program to bring educational materials into the rural villages. We met an American kid in Ecuador who didn't follow his friends to prestigious schools and jobs and, instead, saved his money to buy a small piece of Ecuadorian land to start a farm and live off the land. We met an American veteran of the Vietnam War who returns regularly to Vietnam because, “I love the people here,” to perform random acts of kindness, like helping to reunite a famiy separated in the aftermath of the war. We met a techie from Chicago who left his high paying job in educational technologies to start an NGO to bring these resources to girls in under-privileged countries. We met a woman from Holland who came to Uganda as a volunteer, fell in love with the people and culture, adopted three abandoned local children and now lives as a single foster mother in rural Uganda. The list is endless. Sources of inspiration for doing what your heart really calls you to do have been everywhere. Turns out inspired risk-taking isn't rare, but rather a growing global pattern.

Our next stop, New York City. The USA. The country everyone in the world wants to get to, or so we've been told. A lot. We return to the United States less with a feeling that our great world-wide adventure is over – and more with an awareness that the adventure will continue as long as we see it as one – as long as we continue to answer the call. The United States is simply country number 15 on our list. So much is there to discover (which means the blogging continues...!).

We shall not cease from exploration” T.S. Elliot wrote, “And the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”

Can we continue to lose our way in the US? After all, compared to the rest of the globe, the US is, same same, but different. But the difference, like the one we experienced after arriving in Entebbe, Uganda from Zurch, Switzerland, is profound. After living out in the world, it is impossible not to own a deep gratitude for the life situations our country has given us. To be able to be so free as to access nearly anything we want in the world seems built into our passports. We come away from this year with an immense feeling of gratitude for our good fortune. We have grown up with opportunities and resources that are unimaginable to most. In the privileged world, we have the rare daily situation that allows us zero concerns about basic necessities – if the electricity will come on as scheduled, if water will come out of the tap, if the sanitation truck will take away our trash, or if the markets will have food. And we don't often need to ask if there will be enough money this month to buy any of that food... or to send the kids to school or travel to visit a sick relative in the next town. No, we are rich. We began this journey pretty defensive about this idea that we might be rich. “We may seem rich to them, but...” Now we know.

There is a huge chasm. One way it has been explained:

If our so-called global village consisted of 100 people...:

60 would be Asian. 14 would be African. 12 would be European. 8 would be Latin American. 5 would be American/Canadian, and one would be from the South Pacific.
80 would live in substandard housing.
67 would be illiterate.
24 would lack electricity – and most of the rest would only have electricity for limited nighttime hours.
33 would have no access to safe drinking water.
50 would be malnourished.
1 would be dying of starvation.
1 would have a college education.
33 would be attempting to live off of 3% of the wealth of the village.

And 5 of the villagers would control 32% of the village's wealth. All 5 would be American.

This picture has settled into our bones simply because of the time we have spent with the other people in the 100 person village. They are not so far away. And they are not so different from us. What is lacked in the developing world is not due to laziness, some kind of failure of discipline or moral infortitude. No doubt about that. The vast majority of people in developing nations, yes, those that earn less than they need to live on, those that dream only of affording a permanent roof for their home or elementary schooling for their grandchild, begin work hours earlier in the morning than we do, work later into the night than we do, work amidst way harder conditions than we do, ask for much less than we do, and somehow maintain their kindness and generosity and sense of humor at least as well as we do.

In fact, there's no good reason for such a massive lack of equity across the world. No adequate logical or religious explanation for why we were born with so much and they without. So then why? Well, their war-scarred governments are locked in slanted debt-producing contracts with developed governments and multinational corporations, and so take the money from their teachers' (policemen, doctors, technicians, engineers, etc, etc, etc) salaries, which in turn breeds corruption. And farmers all over the developing world are being convinced to abandon subsistence farming in favor of cash crops that corporations want, where they are contracted to become dependent on chemical fertizilzers, hybrid seeds, and insecticides, and get little renumeration for their efforts. And the reasons go on. But it is clear that the chasm is manufactured. It is manufactured to amass riches for the few and dependence for the many.

The chasm is manufacturd in the name of development. We call it development. It sounds good. It brings up images of the introduction of superior medical care, access to clean drinking water, the availability of useful technologies. and certainly those things are happening. But, mostly, its the worst of our culture that is being developed. We have seen that the world is increasingly eating Snickers bars and Lays potato chips, foresaking traditional foods. They are watching Jason Statham movies and Friends re-runs more than learning traditional skills, arts, and customs. It is near-impossible to travel from country to country, research and learn, and not see the hard-engraved pattern of cultural destruction being promoted. It is promoted by a system that sees market opportunities, cheap resources, and cheap labor as more important than human well-being. A system that pits the modern corporate culture against ancient wisdom cultures. A system designed to give us the things we expect for our modern lifestyle and leave them scrounging for the left-overs.

Tolstoy's words now echo for us. “I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means - except by getting off his back.

So now we must return to you, the land so many we have met simply refer to as “Paradise,” with the intention of losing our way, that we may find new ways...and to be some of the ones climbing off his back. We come with fresh eyes to you, a country that has so generously gifted us – to explore your wisdom. We begin again where we started, to know you for the first time.

See you soon,

Mi & Ive



Who is Jason Statham?

I love you both so much and can't wait to see your beauty soon! Thank you for living your life-

  casey love Apr 22, 2010 2:56 PM


Hey ivan_miral,

We really liked your blog and decided to feature it this week on the WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy travels!
World Nomads

  World Nomads May 3, 2010 2:45 PM

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