Saturday, June 27, 2015

Two years ago yesterday (reflecting on my volunteer experience with La Libertad)

Two years ago yesterday I was chilling out in hammocks and handmade huts in an indigenous village in the Colombian Amazon. Yesterday I was in a hammock in a parking lot.

It was a bit of a challenging week in the office and that thought gave me pause.

What have I done in the two years since I had that big adventure? How well have I lived up to my hope to not lose sight of what I learned in the rainforest? Am I living life to the fullest now?

2013 was a big year of growth for me, spurred in part by my “30 Before 30” list. I visited 5 coutries on 3 continents and visited friends I hadn’t seen in many years. I made new friends and learned about lives very different from my own. I passed the US Foreign Service written exam with the goal to become a diplomat – to continue traveling and helping others.

And yet, in the years since, I feel like I’ve gotten comfortable in my surroundings again. I’ve lived in my current apartment for 3.5 years – longer than I’ve lived anywhere as an adult. I landed a job at a veritable dream company – though not in a geographic area in which I wished to stay permanently – after finding out I didn’t move on to the next stage in the Foreign Service selection process.

What happened to what I learned in the Amazon? To be courageous in the face of the unfamiliar, to lean on those surrounding you, to be joyful and content with whatever you have – however little it may be, to share what is yours, to pay attention to nature and the gifts she provides, to celebrate what connects everyone as living beings?

I learned that year that, at my core, I’m a communicator and a connector. Whether through speech, song, touch, or written word, I enjoy the give and take of story-sharing, joint experiences, and making others feel at ease. When a wild baby monkey climbed into my lap to howl along as I played my guitar in the rainforest, I felt connected. When a young Israeli soldier sat next to me on the bus and I laughed at not one, but two rifles strapped across his chest, and he laughed back – which turned into a conversation that lasted for hours on the bus and hasn’t stopped, thanks to digital communication – I felt connected. When I had lunch in London with a friend who lives in Brooklyn, I marveled at the connections life can throw our way.

I don’t want to spend my days in a hammock in a parking lot. I want to spend my days connecting with the world around me. In our fast-paced modern society we miss so much that I found so soothing in the jungle. The simple comfort of physical touch or the sheer happiness of a young child’s laughter are all too often misconstrued as annoying or inappropriate on a daily basis. How did I lose those memories so quickly? What can I do to preserve and embody that connection and peace in a life filled with modern demands?

Realistically, I understand at this point in my life it’s impractical for me to give up everything and move into a hut in La Libertad – but that’s exactly what my friend Ben, founder of the Amazon Pueblo non-profit organization, did last year. His full-time presence (divided between the village and the nearby city of Leticia, for logistical reasons) in Colombia has ensured the growth and expansion of Amazon Pueblo in ways we could only dream a few short years ago. His in-person efforts have resulted in bringing safe electricity to the villagers, a safe dock for villagers and visitors which can facilitate more tourism, and therefore more income, and legal recognition in both the US and Colombia of Amazon Pueblo as a non-profit organization dedicated to improving sustainability and quality of life in the village.

Those of us serving on the board of directors here at home support and do what we can, but everyone is always “so busy” these days – it can be difficult to even find the time to write. Showing up and giving of your own time and energy can make such a difference in the world around you. By the same token, how you choose to use your time and energy makes a difference in you. That’s what I need to examine more carefully. Am I making the best use of my time and energy? Am I content with my choices and the results? Am I practicing what I’ve learned and living a life of purpose and peace, or am I falling into the unexamined life of the daily rat race?

I’m the only one who can answer these questions for myself – but it’s worth taking the time to pause and reflect on a regular basis.

(originally posted on my personal blog,

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