I was talking to a colleague this weekend at a conference about her RTW trip experience she had with her husband. They were in their early 40’s and spent 3 yrs. in 3rd world countries. She was excited about our plans and had many stories about her time in Nepal where she volunteered for 6 months working with people afflicted by leprosy. She also had some wisdom on an idea that has me pondering – pre-trip planning, trip experiencing, and post-trip reintegration. She said that they prepared well for the pre-trip and trip experiences but were shocked at how hard the post-trip was for both. It’s made me consider just how much I may be changed even by a year away and considerable time in 3rd and 2nd world countries.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed and been amazed and challenged by when I travel to 3rd world countries is the reality that our wealth as a United States citizen does not necessarily equate to better or more enjoyable lives. I remember a mission trip in a Peruvian street boy camp where every night after a hard days work everyone from the camp would play soccer for 1-2 hours on a cement basketball court, half the players in bare feet. What struck me was the joy on their faces not only then but throughout the day in the midst of grueling work digging wells, building houses, planting crops all by hand. I remember the faces having a peace about them even amidst the pain they also had. The simplicity of life seemed also the strength to rely on daily. I found myself drawn to this even while realizing how much of a consumer I am, overwhelmed with obtaining the “best” product for my enjoyment and comfort. My dilemma in this is I often find the most enjoyment in life comes from moving through challenging times that make me change and grow; not in the comforts that make life easy. Obviously there is a balance to this and creature comforts are enjoyable, but I often think I tend to not have enough of the challenges and too much of the “comfort”.
One of the things that still sticks out about this trip was taking showers. We were on a coastal town in the desert of Peru where the typical day was cloudy and cool. After a day of hard work, a shower sounded wonderful until everyone realized it was cold water in a nearly outdoor shower. One of the things I do not like in life is stepping out of a shower in a cold place! But I learned three important things through this. One, I adapted. I started taking a run right before I would take a shower – this would get my body temperature up and then a cold shower wasn’t nearly as bad. By the end of the week I actually was enjoying the “alive and awake” feeling of a cold shower. Secondly, being grateful for what I have. There are times still when I’m in a shower and feeling the warm water cascade down and I think of those who have cold showers in cold places… or no shower at all. Lastly, I learned something about coveting – it’s much harder to covet in the midst of a simple life not exposed to all of the “deserved comforts” that our American culture and media propagate. When our group left, we offered to buy the camp a hot water heater for one of their buildings. The leader’s answer was fascinating, “Why would anyone want to heat up water for a shower – you would be burned!” His idea of “hot water” was boiling water which seemed not only a waste of money and resources but plain dangerous! Because he had always taken cold showers it wasn’t a negative thing and because he probably had not experienced the luxury of a warm shower he didn’t covet it. Ignorance is bliss?!
I do wonder how I’ll be changed in 10 months compared to the small portions I’ve already experienced and what it will be like to come back to a culture overwhelmed with “stuff” (me included!). Probably the thing I’m looking forward to the most is living out of a backpack – weird I know. I’m planning on having 2 or 3 outfits and everything I need for life will be riding on my back. It’s exciting to think of the simpleness that I hope to integrated into my life from this experience. I also probably need to think more about the shock it may be to my system to come back to a society where we walk into Costco only to be assaulted by the 30 different kinds of bread one can choose…