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inspiration

I never expected to be able visit Turkey. Although everyone I knew that had been loved it, they all said how they thought it was too inaccessible for me. You see, I can’t walk much because of my disabilities, and generally use a wheelchair scooter to get around if we don’t have our car handy. I have travel with disabilities down to a science – I do my research, rent a car (or drive our own), figure it out, adjust my day. So how could I travel to Turkey, where the buildings are so ancient that accessibility isn’t really an option? I saw photos, I heard stories and travel tales, I tasted fresh Turkish delight and made gozleme. I hung evil eyes (gifts from loved ones), and read voraciously. Turkey? It was my Mt. Everest.

And then.

Turkish Airlines asked the most influential travel bloggers (including yours truly) from the White House Travel Bloggers Summit to visit Turkey. I asked if they could help make it accessible. Gizem Salcigi White of Turkish Airlines worked hard to make it so – she arranged for a wheelchair for me and found some university students, Sezer and Kadir, to help me get around Istanbul. YES!! I was so excited – I could visit a place that I dearly wanted to explore, but never thought I could. Having disabilities can be difficult, especially for travel. Venice? Probably not an option. Turkey? NOW an option!

The two guys that helped make Istanbul accessible to me.

Kadir and Sezer, two university students that helped make Istanbul accessible to me. 

And so I went – flying from Chicago to Istanbul was effortless. Airport handicap access is not the same the world over, but I had no issues. In fact, in Turkey, Turkish Air has these amazing trucks that lift up to the plane and then drop down and take you to the airport – all in your wheelchair. Genius.

At first, handicap accessibility was easy. I can do up to a flight of steps, so walking a few steps up into the bus that took us into Istanbul was no problem. Our hotel (the Renaissance Bosphorus) was completely accessible. I began to wonder if I had made much ado about nothing.

Cruising on the Bosphorus.

Aboard a cruise on the Bosphorus

Once in Istanbul, all of the travel writers split into groups and then went out to discover different aspects of the city. My trusty wheelchair was stowed in the back of the bus, and my university friends were ready and handy. We went to the Turkish Airlines campus, exploring training for the airline (including heading inside an enormous flight simulator), and the HUGE hangars in which airplanes are repaired. Mostly accessible, thanks to my wheelchair and Sezer and Kadir.

At the Turkish Airlines training center, Istanbul.

At the Turkish Airlines training center

Visiting the Blue Mosque gave me a glimpse into accessibility and ancient buildings. The wheelchair could only go so far – the rest I had to walk. I held tightly onto Kadir’s arm as I climbed the steps into the Blue Mosque, wandered around inside on the soft carpets, and then headed out again, in a daze from the beauty and history of it. Sezer had taken the chair back around to the entrance and was waiting for me.

Steps into the Blue Mosque.

Steps into the Blue Mosque

Heading into the Blue Mosque.

Heading into the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul.

Inside the Blue Mosque with Kadir

A visit to the Hagia Sofia… same thing. You can’t really make millennia-old buildings accessible, although there are some concessions (a shorter line to get in, sort of ramps to get over the door steps). I felt a bit stymied (and in a great deal of pain), but enjoyed the time with my new friends, who pushed without complaint and sought new ways to show me parts of these gorgeous buildings. We laughed, explored, and figured it out as best we could. In the back of my mind, I was becoming more and more stressed about actually seeing anything in Istanbul. It’s too ancient, too inaccessible, too crowded.

crazy sidewalks in Istanbul.

Crazy sidewalks in Istanbul – these ancient marble slates were the GOOD sidewalks!

And then it truly became more difficult. Crowds. Traffic. Steep, winding cobblestone roads. I sat in my wheelchair for a long time while my fellow travel writers went down a hill to an incredible arts museum and learned to do traditional Turkish marble painting. It was hot, and I looked at the wares for sale across the street, eyed some of the many Istanbul cats roaming the streets, people watched, and started to feel sorry for myself. It isn’t fun to wait, in the sun, while you’d rather be doing something else and you feel your disabilities acutely. Tears may or may not have entered the picture. 

getting into ancient buildings in Istanbul.

getting into ancient buildings in Istanbul.

Watching cats in Istanbul

Watching cats in Istanbul

The long steep pathway to a traditional crafts museum in Istanbul.

The long steep pathway to a traditional crafts museum in Istanbul – you can’t even see the door from here

And then Sezer left the museum and came up to keep me company. He showed me photos – of his friends, his beautiful mother, his home. I learned that many Istanbulites escape the city as often as they can, to go home to relax and visit family. I learned that family is extremely important in Turkish culture. I learned about what life is like for a university student in Istanbul, far from home (in Sezer’s case, beautiful Antalya). We laughed, played word games, shared stories, and sat in the sun together, enjoying each other’s company. All of a sudden, being in a wheelchair wasn’t so horrible. I was having a great time, instead of missing things I’d wanted to see and experience.

It dawned on me…that instead of seeing the sights of Istanbul (or sitting outside of the sights of Istanbul, if they were too ancient), I was here to learn about the people of Istanbul. That instead of wandering through millennia of history, I could find glimpses of now. Instead of learning about a building (i.e., Topkapi Palace – extraordinarily beautiful, but NOT accessible), I could learn about a person, family, culture. If you know me, you know I love to talk with and learn about people. Why didn’t I realize this earlier, instead of being sad about not seeing the main attractions? The change in me was immediate.

I sparked with joy.

Instead of a tour of Istanbul, I was on a people tour. Here’s how it went…

We next headed down an extremely rough cobblestone street and down a hill (one thing that Sezer and Kadir did was pretend to be Fast and Furious drivers. I didn’t fear for my life, much, but it was a great deal of fun once I got over being scared. Istanbul is hilly!). My travel writer friends headed into a beautiful pottery shop, and learned about making traditional Turkish pottery. I climbed the few steps in, and then waited while our group went downstairs to see traditional moonstone pottery. I found a newspaper with a new kind of game, like Sudoku (with famous people!), and chatted with a local. Learning about Turkish culture and talking with people? CHECK.

The next day, we visited Topkapi Palace. While some of Topkapi is somewhat accessible, most of it isn’t. For me, there was a long, restful period of time sitting around the fountain inside the grounds – peaceful and relaxing. I talked with the guys, with fellow tourists, with girls duckfacing for selfies. We then had lunch at the amazing Istanbul360, known for its views.

At Istanbul 360

At Istanbul 360 – what a view!

Afterward, instead of heading off to explore and photograph Taksim, Galata, and other famous areas of Istanbul, Kadir and Sezer played Fast and Furious again, taking me down a very (very!) steep street (yes, some walking was involved, as the wheelchair would never have made it all the way on the street and sidewalk).

Sidewalks in Istanbul.

Sidewalks in Istanbul. Yes, we headed down this steep road in a wheelchair…

The steep road down to the lemonade cafe.

The steep road down to the lemonade cafe.

Down, down, down the hill in Istanbul.

Down, down, down the hill in Istanbul

Destination? A lovely lemonade café, with a side journey to a bookstore (it’s the academic in me, I can’t pass one without going in) and an art supply store to pick up a notebook for our daughter.

a bookstore in Istanbul

An academic can always find a bookstore or two…

Bookstore in Istanbul

We made it to the lemonade café… and I discovered an entirely local, completely beautiful aspect of Istanbul I never knew existed. Shady trees in between the tall buildings, people playing chess, a professor holding forth to his class at the next table, couples on dates, groups of friends. THIS is also the real Istanbul, as much as the tourist attractions are. We ordered crisp, tart lemonades, and talked school mascots, friends, family, what they were studying in university, and more. We whiled away a few hours, and I thought: today, I discovered a tree in a bathroom, a secret garden, new friends with a wicked sense of humor, and a slice of life in Istanbul. It was glorious.

At the lemonade cafe in Istanbul

Kadir, Sezer, and I sipping lemonade

Look what message I saw on the board at the lemonade cafe in Istanbul!

Look what message I saw on the board at the lemonade cafe in Istanbul!

At the lemonade cafe, Istanbul.

At the lemonade cafe – what an oasis of calm! 

At the lemonade cafe, Istanbul

At the lemonade cafe, Istanbul.

A simple change in perspective can truly change your journey.

 

Evil eyes in Turkey

When our group went to the Spice Market, I was told that it was not accessible. Sezer and I rolled across the empty square, seeing a wedding party and a very smart way to handle the great amounts of trash in Istanbul (hint: it looks like a TARDIS). While I didn’t see the spices inside the market, I did see men on tiny stools having coffee, discussed trash with the trash guy, bought plenty of Turkish delight, discovered and discussed how many Syrian refugees are living in Istanbul, and had freshly roasted corn on the cob with Sezer, who loves old cars and showed me one of his favorites, parked near to where we munched on our corn. It was a different side of Istanbul than I’d expected to discover – one where you see real life, not just tourist stuff.

Turkish delight in Istanbul.

Turkish delight in Istanbul

An open square near the Spice Market, Istanbul

An open square near the Spice Market

Happy wedding! Istanbul

Lovely wedding couple 

TARDIS trash machine in Istanbul

The TARDIS-like underground trash containers in Istanbul

Sezer and I with fresh roasted corn in Istanbul

Sezer and I with fresh roasted corn

Vintage cars in Istanbul

Vintage cars in Istanbul

Sezer is a cowboy, a James Dean, a renegade who will go far, but whose thoughts are never far from his home in Antalya. Kadir? He’s a sensitive, thoughtful guy, very smart and talented (he can bowl backward!), with a strong grip that helped me up many a staircase and a ready smile to encourage me.

Sezer and I in Istanbul.

Sezer and I

Kadir in the Hagia Sofia

Kadir in the Hagia Sofia

My fellow travel writer friends helped when I needed it, lent arms and shoulders, and gave hugs. A loving and friendly face in a stressful situation is a wonderful thing – even better when you are longtime friends and colleagues. Like when you’re an expat and you find a box of Cheerios and your heart gives a leap? Yes. My friends made my heart happy, with their care and love.

My people tour of Turkey didn’t end in Istanbul.

When we flew to Izmir and Kusadasi, to visit Ephesus, the House of the Mother Mary, and the Basilica of St. John (and later, Pamukkale), I spent most of my waiting time with Can (pronounced John), a funny guy with a wry smile and a very caring nature. I hacked his internet while we waited atop Pamukkale (because I am addicted to Instagram and wanted to share it); laughed at signs at the marketplace at the end of visiting Ephesus; learned of his job in tourism and how he tries to help travelers with disabilities.

Can and I in Sirince

Can and I in Sirince

Laughing at Ephesus

Laughing at Ephesus. No genuine fake watches were bought.

Handicap gate to Pamukkale

Handicap gate to Pamukkale

A lovely table atop Pamukkale, where we rested in the shade

A lovely table atop Pamukkale, where we rested in the shade and instagrammed the heck out of the lovely area

When I waited outside of the ruins of the Basilica of St. John, I sat and talked with a man and his father – they ran the gift shop directly across the street. I learned that they each practice Islam very differently, but that understanding goes across generations, and is humble and kind.

new friends near the ruins of the Basilica of St John, Turkey

New friends

While I waited in Sirince, after a glorious lunch at Sirince Artemis, I talked with the woman who ran the beverage shop. She was surprised when I asked for a cold hot chocolate and then made me one after we figured out the language difficulties, and then she made fresh hot donuts for me (I think she wanted me to have something hot that day).

Fresh donuts in Sirince, Turkey

Fresh donuts for me! Thank you!

We visited a local cooperative and learned about traditional Turkish rug weaving. While our group climbed the stairs to see the amazing showroom and museum, I sat in the main weaving room under a tinted portrait of Ataturk, watching the women and girls weave in peace, chatting softly amongst themselves and showing far greater skill and talent than I had ever imagined.

Ataturk

Weaving course in Turkey

Weaving Turkish carpets

I rested and watched her artistry

When we stayed at the Hotel Kismet in Kusadasi, one of the staff very kindly took me down the hill in a golf cart, so I could swim in the Aegean as often as I could. For a mermaid such as I, this was more than welcome – it was life-giving and soul-nourishing. I know he was busy, and I appreciated his efforts.

Catching a golf cart ride down to the Aegean at the Hotel Kismet, Kusadasi.

See how happy I am? BIG THANKS to this kind man for helping me to get to the sea!

When my friends boarded the Turkish Airlines flight back to Istanbul the regular way (walking across the tarmac, climbing the stairs), I talked with the guy who ran those genius accessible boarding trucks, learning about how things work at smaller airports – and who solicitously made sure I got to my seat ok.

Accessible airports in Turkey

I love seeing signs like this! It means WAY less pain for me.

Loading trucks for accessible travel with Turkish airlines

Loading truck for people with disabilities. You go on the back gate in your wheelchair, it rises up to the top. You drive to the airplane, and then get right up next to the plane. Voila – VERY accessible boarding! Thank you, Turkish Airlines.

Did I miss seeing the attractions? Yes. But I learned so much more about Turkey than I realized – about the people who live there and care about their country, who pine for their homes while they are in the city, and who daily practice kindness and generosity to strangers. While some ancient structures may be inaccessible, people with disabilities can definitely visit Turkey – if they change their mindset on how to experience place, as I did. You won’t be able to see everything, but you will be able to experience more than you ever thought possible.

Me and my shadow- accessible Turkey

Can and I and our shadows on some pretty flat marble in Pamukkale

 

And the famous Turkish hospitality? It runs more deeply than I could have imagined, and made me fall in love with this venerable culture and country, which welcomed me with open arms.

 

Accessible Istanbul.

#WidenYourWorld - accessible travel in Turkey

#WidenYourWorld – accessible travel in Turkey is possible!

 

 

Note: This article was originally published at Wandering Educators.

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“Where do you see us after Paris?” I asked my boyfriend of one year and a half as we walked the grey, frigid streets of Luxembourg.

“My priority in life is my career, and I will never make a decision based on a relationship, not even our own,” he replied, firmly, coldly, as my heart began to crumble into one million pieces for the first time in my life.

“So where do we go from here?” was the next question that we both knew we had to answer. “I, despite everything, would like to maintain an independent life,” he replied. “I, despite everything, need a relationship that has room to grow,” I affirmed.

Independence has always been my pride, my strength, my reliable friend that I could fall back on when life disappoints. My parents raised my two younger brothers and I to fend for ourselves and to make our own decisions. They both came from poor families in the the U.S., so their independence was their savior from drugs, hardship, and more poverty. Independence was their gift to their three children.

And yet when I saw the words written in an email across my screen from my, now, ex-boyfriend in Paris, I opened a dictionary and turned to the letter, “i.” “Independent: not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free.1” He wanted to make his own decisions. He wanted to be free, free of me. How had independence betrayed me? 

As I quickly moved into the depression stage of grief, I knew I had to change. I had been considering changing jobs for a while. I thought that the only thing left for me in Paris was him. If he was gone, was it time to leave? 

I first came to France when I was 19 years old, a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill. It was my first time leaving my home country, and I was leaving it for an entire year. I was scared. 

A year later I had fallen so in love with my French life and my new French self that I promised myself I would return again one day, to work, live, and stay for however long I wanted. Ten years later I was going on my third year in Paris, and now I was considering throwing it all away. 

Dad said, “Come home.” Mom said, “Not yet.” All I could think of was my bed in North Carolina where I would go and sleep for months until I woke up and it was all over. 

I dragged myself reluctantly to my next visa appointment and braced myself for the typical six hour wait. This time, however, I was called to the desk within fifteen minutes. The woman explained to me that they were setting me up for a ten-year visa. I was halfway through. I asked about citizenship. She gave me the address of the naturalization office for more information. Why did this suddenly seem so easy? 

After leaving the citizenship office I stopped on Pont Notre-Dame and stared at the Seine, which looked more blue than normal from the sky’s reflection. “Only three more years until I can apply for French citizenship,” I thought. I saw the sign reflecting at me in the Seine as if there was a presence standing next to me saying, “Don’t give up yet. It’s not your time.” 

Three weeks later I found myself in Portugal. I wanted to prove to myself that I could still be on my own, a two week trip to explore Portugal and Spain, by myself. Except that I never made it to Spain. Four days into the trip I threw my back out while trying to pick up my suitcase in Lagos. I had to take myself to the hospital and could barely walk. Had independence failed me again? 

By the time I made it back to Paris I had a new job offer, and I had decided to stay in my city. My heart was not ready to leave. Even if it still bled with tears, it did not want to run away. 

A few weeks after giving my notice I was sitting at a café by myself in the 8th. I had a perfect spot in the sun and ordered my summertime favorite, tartare de boeuf with frites maison. As I sat quietly eating my meal I felt a smile and the warmth of the sun fill my body. At one point a man came and sat at the table next to me. Then a woman, about my age, sat down at the table on my other side. We sat there in silence, watching the ebb and flow of Paris unfold in front of us, independent of one another, but never alone.

About the author: Rebecca Earley is a marketing data consultant by day and travel blogger by night. She was born in Chicago, grew up in North Carolina, worked as a “Mad Woman” in advertising in NYC, and is now living her dream in Paris.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Brazilian Problemsolving anda hero

 

Everyone of us could be a hero. Each person has a unique gene pool with their own strengths and weaknesses. With this idea set in mind, I went off to lead a summercamp. A summercamp where I hoped to be a fun leader that would be respected and loved.

 

As I set off with my delegation across the Atlantic Ocean to São Paulo, I thought about the children of all kinds of different races that I would meet. The different cultures from all these countries that I would try to understand. Together with all the other the children and the leaders and staff, we would make this place our home for a couple of weeks. I found this quite soothing. My ‘own’ kids weren’t anxious either, for they were excited to meet everyone and make friends. Well, there was no problem with there at all. Within a day, friends were made and laughter from all around the world came together. As if they knew one another all along. The kids got to know eachother through singing, games, discussion, theater and mutual hobbies.

 

When times were good, the kids only required assistance, but as life was not always sunshines and rainbows, the inevitable clouds sometimes appeared. So on these somewhat rare unasked for occasions I was needed and pulled up my sleeves and showed my capabilities.

 

Problemsolving. Sometimes, it’s easy and sometimes it’s difficult. But as every grown up relates to this word to a certain extend, how come we can never know enough about this topic? It got me thinking about when someone solves a problem. Does this make this person a hero? Or do you need to pull off something historically influential like Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King or Isaac Newton to be called a hero?

 

Back in the camp I was confronted with several problems, that needed to be dealt with. One more important or visible than the other. Everyone seemed delighted when supper was ready to be set onto the table, because it had direct impact. A few people were happy when a disagreement was cleared up, that was about to get out of hand. Luckily most of my time in the camp, I did see sunshines and rainbows and invested this precious time to push my limits to encourage kids to speak up their mind and not to worry for they’ll be loved unconditionally. Display that democracy goes hand in hand with chores, laughter and singing. I let the kids think about the world, because prejudice is not yet in their dictionary, and listen to them eagerly. Listen to the dreams, the asperations to what they have in mind for the future, for they have an unlimited imagination. The part where I tried let everyones voice be heard was considerably challenging. But my aspiration was that not only to hear the social, opinionated children, but also to let the the shy or bullied young ones be able to speak up.

 

Think about the story of the fisherman; It’s okay to give the famished fisherman fish, but wouldn’t it be much better to teach him how to fish? Giving children an opportunity to raise their own voice and let them be their own hero, is what benefits their growth.

 

And as my summercamp came to an end, my dream of making a difference came true. The girl, who was most shy and passive, and instead of being interactive, she was always following the herd, started to behave differently. Out of nowhere she was coordinating her group to perform a play. She came up with ideas, spoke her mind and argued to defend her opinion. The world gained a new voice.

This turning point brings my story to an end. My view of what heroism might be, has been changed. Because, yes, it’s advisable to listen to the teacher, because often he is right. Yes, it’s good to read about people who made a difference in the world to gain knowledge. But as the world shifts quickly, we need people to think for themselves and be brave to speak their mind. Let children prosper in to the resemblance of their hero to become a their own hero.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The earth is hot beneath my feet as I find my footing within the sloppy path of rocks the color of mud earth, stratified as though stairs had been carved within. This rocky path to Umude Creek is flanked by thick bushes on both sides with huge vegetation and tall palm trees arranged in rows straight and erect like a line of soldiers on a regiment field. There is a dryness in the soft breeze that whoosh through the thickets and bushes letting of an eerie sound that leave me shivering under the bright orange haze of the afternoon sun.

This is a journey best made in solitude alone with nature and away from the hassle and bustle of my small eastern village in Imo state Nigeria. The time is right too for at this hour the sun which has settled low in the sky like a big floating orange balloon would discourage the village children from running naked and gleeful down the rocky path spinning their empty pails playfully. I do not have the courage to visit when they are making their daily rounds of fetching stream water and swimming like little nymphs. They would snicker at my feeble movements in water.

I have passed the rocks and turn into a narrower windy path that would lead me into the creek, my eyes feasting on the beauty of the forest with the keenness of an amateur tourist. There are several huge trees along this path their wide branches spread far to form a large canopy of green leaves. At a bend, I see a fat squirrel chewing a nut beneath a tall palm tree, its back hunched to form a furry brown ball. It scurries off at the sound of my approaching feet behind a small bush of glowing sun flowers. The entrance to the creek is lined up with bamboo palms and tall coconut trees with stooping stems. The resulting shade from the thick foliage of green vegetation around gives the area a picturesque effect. I moved closer to the water and peered in. The green moss underground gave the stream a greenish hue and I stood waiting for a sign that it was okay to try my resolve in conquering the gnawing phobia within me. I dipped my feet into the water watching the ripples appear then spread out in circular motions, disturbing a cluster of tiny fishes swimming close by. I am fascinated at the ease at which they move their slippery bodies swimming further and further away to the point where the current was high.

Inspired, I waddle into the water after the fishes and when my feet no longer feel the firm grip of sand beneath, I crash loudly, the water splashing into my eyes blinding me from hope into the darkness of my defeat. The sounds of my wild thrashing explodes in my head and mingles with the hoarse screaming of my mother as she writhes under the harsh grip of my father. My frantic thrashing finally brings me to the bank of the stream and I clamber out, melancholic and soaked to my bones. Exhausted, I lay underneath a coconut tree in my dripping clothes and close my eyes to the glare of the hot African sky.

My solitude is soon broken by the chatter of children and I see two small girls splashing in the stream. I feel envious of their confidence in the water then suddenly the smaller girl is being carried away by the tide. Her sister turns to me for the first time and screams.

“please save my sister.”

” I can’t swim.’ ‘ I scream back . ”perharps there is nothing I can do quiet well.”

“You can do anything if you choose the right reasons to act.” she replied.

There is a wisdom in her words that belies her age and suddenly I am seized with a compulsion to save the drowning child. I abandon my coconut shed and running briskly plunged into the deepest part of the runnning stream in search of the child and her sister who had dissappeared from sight. The plop sound of a dropping coconut nearby alarmed me and as my eyes flew open, I reliase that I had not moved from my coconut shed at all. My eyes fix on the spot where I had plunged in to save the girl and it dawns on me that I could conquer any fear if I found the right reasons. Inspired, I stood and walked into the calm stream. This time as I fell with a splash when my feet no longer touched sand, I didn’t thrash wildly like the darkness had closed in on me.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Ever since I was younger, I would hear stories about the conflict in Mindanao, a far region from where I stay in the Philippines. The evening news would be filled with hijab wearing girls, gun slinging boys and prisoners of war. And I often ask myself the question when will it ever end… will it ever end?

Just recently, the whole of Philippines was taken by storm when news broke out of a recent encounter between conflicting parties which rendered 44 of police enforcement dead. As for the casualties from the other end, the numbers were not as definite. The place of attack is a residential area wherein civilians and militants alike are residing. It is hard pressed to think that no civilian casualty ensued. This is the situation in the warring region for the past how many years.

As much as the conflict has never been resolved, despite the threat that looms the region every single minute of the day, I, as someone who is not in the direct line of fire and nowhere near a possible grenade explosion, manage to let the knowledge of the armed conflict rest out of constant awareness. It just came into full focus because of the said recent encounter.

Children of the region are robbed of the childhood that many in the more peaceful parts of the country experience. Men and women alike live in fear of their whole lives being torn down to ground zero. Residents tread with the anxiety of who is who, with the worry that they who shake their hands can be the same ones who thump their backs for the final blow.

And yet… they live. They go through the motions of life with death and conflict as their backdrop. They rely on their own versions of faith to save them but not without the wits to save themselves. They manage. They manage to eat, study, teach, love and most importantly, inspire despite what their situation gives them.

I know that time will pass and soon enough, this awareness would again take to the corners of my mind but as of the moment, Mindanao inspires me to brave. Everyday I would consider myself lucky for living through so many moments. Sometimes, despite how self-centered it may seem, I would feel proud because I managed to get past menial and relatively larger challenges.  However, as I hear about stories of war, as I see soldiers return to home base just outside our house,  I feel for those who have to put on the mask of courage in the most turbulent of times and somehow, what they are going through is so much bigger than what I have gone through and I am urged to do better so eventually I can do something for them.

 When I was pondering on the question on what place inspires me to be brave, I immediately thought about Mindanao. In spite of a global experience that travelling and studying abroad left with me, in spite of the many people I met there that are all brave in their own ways, it is the collective struggle that the people in Mindanao that tells me that no matter what situation one is in, there is no reason to stop fighting for one’s life. I have traveled to places wearing the lens of a tourist, an athlete, a student but one thing has always been constant, whenever I travel places, I am a Filipino. It is only fitting that the place that inspires me to be brave is in my country.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

 

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Burnt Offerings

 

After Adelaide, South Australia, was hit by severe wildfires last month, it was with some reluctance that I visited one of the scenes of the fire.    

The new year catastrophe had cost South Australia dearly. The final tally was 27 houses destroyed, 125 outbuildings razed to the ground and over 130 reported injuries. Animals including koalas, kangaroos and family pets were killed or injured as they struggled to get clear of the flames. The monetary cost is expected to be around A$13 million. The saving grace of the event is that there were no human fatalities. But this does not take away the truth that many things were lost in the fire.  

In the township of Kersbrook, which was arguably the worst hit area, 12 houses were lost. I felt myself becoming dizzy when I saw the havoc that had been wreaked by the fire.  Tree skeletons were all that remained, despite the best efforts of the CFS (Country Fire Service), who worked tirelessly to stop the wildfires from spreading further as temperatures and winds soared, intensifying the disaster.

There were some 700 firefighters battling at the fireground to contain the inferno, which had spread out from Sampson Flat, and swept across over 12,500 hectares of the usually picturesque Adelaide Hills.

In the face of such indiscriminate devastation, there comes a point when there is nothing else you can do. Except be brave. 

I visited the fire-fields a week after the final blazes had been extinguished. Scorched trees waved branches stripped barren of leaves to cloudless, rainless skies. Black and grey were the primary colours of this desolate-looking landscape. Verdant such a short time ago, this place had been stripped of colour. And the blackness everywhere marked the scars.  

However, the lengthy and difficult clean-up process had started. Members of the community and outsider volunteers alike had cleared away the fallen trees and darkened matter that had swept across roads in a futile bid to get away from the inferno and the searing heat it brought with it.  

It was overwhelming to see such an altered place. The stark remains made me feel weak. It seemed hopeless to think that this place could ever look like it had before the fire. But then I peered at the charred remnants more closely. Inspecting the bare trees at close range, it was clear to see that something was happening.

Many of the branches showed red splotches of colour that, at first, looked like bloody wounds to the very wood. But these were not wounds. They were fiery red blossoms that had been woken by the fire. The life cycle of these trees had not been cut short. Resurrection was taking place.  This was a landscape in the process of change and it promised to be beautiful once again, despite – or perhaps because of – the fiery purge it had endured.

After just a short time since the disaster, there is already regrowth on many of the trees, shadows of their former selves in this thankfully temporary state. The burnt offerings are transforming into something strong and living, proving that in the face of ruin, life still finds a way.

 

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On Hold

            It’s nine thirty in the morning. Intrudingly bright sunrays are piercing their way through the curtains, almost peeling them back, forcing me to face the day. Waves crash on the hard-packed sand outside the house, which statuesquely stands alongside Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Malibu, in which I’m staying. Aside from letting Baxter, the dog I’m watching, out to do his business, I have no morning requirements. Baxter is a scruffy little terrier and he’s scratching his crate to get out and greet the day. His beard is untidy, but he neatly combs it on the carpet after I let him out.

After brewing coffee, I let Baxter out into the backyard and he starts panting in the blistering heat. He persists to sniff his way around the confines of the yard to find the perfect spot to do his business. I go to stand in the shaded part of the yard, courtesy of the bone-dry Santa Monica Mountains. I check to see if Baxter’s stool is normal because I found a condom in his ritual morning dump the other day. I don’t know where he ate it, but I’m glad nothing out of the ordinary is in his shit today. Baxter swiftly returns to my feet with his already shredded rope toy between his crooked teeth. His unkempt tail whips back and forth. There’s an eagerness in his onyx eyes, as if the subtlest thing inspires him to attack each waking moment with tenacity. I throw his toy a few times before he drops it and barks at the cawing seagulls gliding above the house. He’s brave and doesn’t know it. I used to feel like that. What happened to that fearlessness? I think it vanished after my aunt, Lyn, died several years ago. It feels like I’ve been on hold ever since, waiting to rediscover it.

Baxter has convinced me to shift myself into gear and apply for jobs to climb out of this self-dug rut. We go back inside, I feed him, cook some breakfast, and turn on my computer to scour the Internet for all the appealing jobs. I have tired of filling out draining job applications. I agree that those double negative questionnaires weed out the people who pay attention to the questions from the people who don’t, but I cannot say that I don’t disagree with most of the questions. While I call previous places I’ve applied and wait on hold, preparing to be boastful in order to dazzle managers, Baxter devours his bone, ripping it to shreds. Perhaps I could learn from Baxter in that he finds joy in the little things that I can’t seem find pleasure in. There’s a pristine beach outside the door and I’m wallowing in a valley of lost hope.

Baxter stands near the counter, on which his treats reside. He scratches the cabinet to get my attention. I get up to grab the treats, he wiggles with excitement, and, without my command, sits, lies down, rolls over, and stands in attempt to earn treats. I can’t leave him hanging because I know the feeling all too well. I toss him a treat and he eagerly awaits something more, just like me. The way Baxter acts reminds me of the vantage point I used to see the world from. It was like I was trekking a mountain range, conquering life as I progressed, but it I’ve lost momentum. With the right inspiration, however, I might find a trail marker to guide me into the next chapter, where I’ll ride the wave rather than watch it ripple into the distance.

 

Everybody needs a kick-start now and again and Baxter has managed to restart my engine. I grab his leash, clip it to his collar, and we walk out the door to head to the beach. The warm sand between my toes is comforting. Baxter stops every ten feet to dig a hole, determined to find that one grain of sand only he can see. We walk to where the cold, brackish water rushes up the beach and Baxter stops. He’s afraid for the first time, which is shocking to me because the ocean has always empowered me with a sense of bravado and has been a regenerative haven. I look down at Baxter, he’s shaking and there’s a fear in his eyes. I nod to acknowledge his fear and shift my gaze out at the expansive blue mass. Without looking down at Baxter, I walk into the water and Baxter willingly follows. The wet stand sticks to my feet as if to hold me back. Impossible. This is where I’m strongest.

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From the Cliff in Indonesia

Before I traveled to Bali, Indonesia, I thought I knew what paradise was, since I was born and raised on Oahu, Hawaii. The rich, exotic culture, which is steeped in vibrant Hindu traditions, the lush and mountainous landscape, and premier surf spots are only some of the aspects that entranced me. Given that Indonesia is a developing country, I was instructed to be on guard at every moment. Don’t drink the water, mind your passport and money, understand the danger, and don’t disrespect the religion were a few of the warnings. I never felt an ounce of worry while traveling around Bali.

After being in Bali for a few days, I hired a driver to take me to a legendary surf break, Balangan. The driver, Wayan there are five main names in Bali and Wayan is given to the first born, but sometimes people will have “street names” like Harry or Sally, drove me out of Kuta, a congested, touristy beach city reminiscent of Waikiki on Oahu, in a rickety Toyota van. It was evident that he didn’t properly know how to drive a manual transmission because the car jerked in third gear at a crawling five miles per hour. Eventually, we escaped the trafficked area and hit the open road.

He turned off the main road, which slithered up and inland of the cliffs, onto a dusty, pothole-ridden dirt road. The van rattled and I bounced around on the sticky leather seats because of the poor suspension. Then we burst through a cluster of trees and I could see the beach. As soon as the car came to a jittery halt, I leapt out to look at the breathtaking bay. From the cliff, I counted ten people out in the water. Mangy cows lounged next to towering palm tress in the grassy area above the beach. A wooden warung, a modest, family-owned restaurant that serves the bay’s visitors, squatted in the center of the beach. Waves smacked the cliff on the far side of the bay before peeling across the break. The wind was minimal and the waves looked like they were roughly eight feet. I couldn’t believe I was about to paddle out in this picturesque, vacant surf spot.

            I climbed down the stairs to the beach and quickly realized that the waves were much bigger than I originally thought. Sometimes the desire to taste the danger needs to be satisfied. I felt inspired to tackle this foreign break, but wondered if I was in over my head once I paddled out and reached the waves. Surfers dropped in and were continually engulfed by the jaws of the dangerously beautiful barrels. To ride in a tube of moving water and hear nothing but the sound of rushing water as it curl over your head and collides with the surface below, is one of the most amazing things a surfer can experience. I had to ride one of these daunting monsters. I came to Bali to surf.

            A fifteen-foot wall of water approached me. I faced towards the shore and dug my arms into the water to get on the wave. Water splashed in my face as I popped to my feet and charged the colossal drop. As I carved down the line, I saw the jagged, dry reef nearly fifty yards away. Out of fear, I decided to abort the wave by diving through the steep, thick wall of water—only I didn’t. The immense force of the wave caught and threw me over the falls.

            Darkness surrounded me, but I relaxed and let the ocean punish me. Though I wasn’t in the most ideal situation, there is something moving about being alone under a thundering wave, witnessing the sheer power of the ocean. I’ve often thought about dying out in the ocean and I would happily surrender my earthly ties to the ocean, but it wasn’t my time. I had to seize the moment to scramble back up through the washing machine of currents and breach the surface. I gasped and located my board, once I resurfaced. I walked my board to shore in the shallow water and jogged up the beach. Turning around to look at the bay that just punished me, I was proud that I had the bravado to challenge the bay. Even though it punished me, it was no less beautiful; I had more respect for it.

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My City’s Muse in Nigeria

Every year I go for an annual pilgrimage in this lovely town. Lazily calm and quietly peaceful. But every year I learn something new. I take something or maybe more than one thing along with me on my sojourn on this earth. Although I may say the events that unfold are always the ones I need however, it may just be that my soul only percieves and accepts that which it needs the most.

Just before you enter the town, you must face a heightened turbulence, like the storm that comes before the calm. It feels like everything is about to rip apart but then you hold it all together till you reach the end.
Then a profound calm pervades all and a smooth sailing heralds your entrance. With trees hovering above the road, a careful blend between bowing down to give a royal welcome and stretching out a helping hand to usher you in for an imperial tour.
As you emerge from the leafy tunnel and make way into the sunny burst, the cliché that at the end of the dark tunnel is a blinding light never seemed more apt. Maybe this light may not blind you but it will open your eyes to the beauties of the town. A beautiful town which will calm your working race into a walking pace
The black and bold women carrying bouncing fruits, bubbling children skipping luxuriously from one end of town to another. The men, well you wouldn’t see them yet except for the very few working around. They are too busy providing for their women or too lazy sleeping or drinkng away their daylight. But trust me at night you will see them all from one joint to another shouting and laughing or simply staring at the glories of God, moulded in the form of women; women who glitter the roads and spakle even in the darkest night. Women, these blessed breed one of who brought a glowing light into this town and after whom a major road was eponymously named. A woman whose skin colour cannot be depicted in the statue that stands like a colossus in a roundabout which was named after her. A woman who fought passionate battles in small villages, evil forests and in the minds of people with but the love in her heart and sincerity of her soul. Her war trophies were souls of children who found a home in this world and the lives of men and women extricated from the bonds on their hands and in their heads.
A woman who won the war for independence long before it was fought. She inspires me and she inspired so many. This woman is Mary Slessor. Till date she stands as a colossal inspiration to all who pass through the lovely town of Calabar. She reminds us that battles are not won on the battle field, they must first be fought and won in our minds. Chains are not broken by swords or saws, they are unchained by sincere thoughts and loving hearts and Mary Slessor broke the bonds in Calabar and indeed Nigeria with her heart of gold.
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Bravery on the Beach in Costa Rica

When I think about a place that really inspired me to be brave, the first place that pops into my mind is Playa Camaronal, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The reason I chose this place is not because of the massive waves that challenge even the most advanced surfers, but rather because of the creatures that inhabit the beach. These creatures are baby sea turtles, and I was fortunate to have watched as they took their first steps in this world, each step fraught with danger as they struggled into the waves.

I traveled through Central America for 3 months with a group of students through a program called Carpe Diem Education. We traveled through Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras, all the while learning new lessons and meeting new people.

We drove down to Costa Rica from Nicaragua on a public bus, finally ending up in Guanacaste, at Playa Camaronal. The beach was quite large (3 kilometers total), and was held by a small river on the West side and a large cliff to the East. The waves were incredible for surfing, as many locals and foreigners drove out to the reserve to challenge the breakwater.

We met our director, Massimo, right when we stepped off the bus. He informed us that we would be working that first night with the tortugas (turtles).

Each night consisted of several groups combing the beach for signs of the turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. In the event that we found a turtle digging a hole in which to lay its eggs, we would quietly go up to it, put gloves on, and pick up the eggs and put them in a bag to bury later.

We were fortunate to be able to release the tortuguitas (baby turtles) into the waves on the third day. There were roughly 70 baby turtles to release, and Massimo carefully emptied the turtles onto the beach, where they made their way into the waves. It took them several tries before they were caught by the waves and dragged into the ocean. What an amazing species!

The turtle eggs faced many challenges when they were buried without our assistance. The local crabs would consume them as part of their diet, as did raccoons. Poachers were also quite common, as the eggs buried on the beach were often stolen in the middle of the night.

The reason I’m inspired by these animals to be brave is because of the odds that stand against them –  only 1 in 1000 baby sea turtles survive into adulthood. These turtles have inspired me to beat the odds as well. Of the nearly 500,000 high school baseball players in the United States, only 11.5% go on to play at the next level. As a Division III recruit, I have made it farther than 95% of high school baseball players. I am proud that my work ethic and commitment to improvement helped me get to where I am today.

When I was traveling in Central America, I saw exotic animals everywhere I went. One in particular stood out: the turtles of Playa Camaronal, Costa Rica. The turtles face many obstacles and threats, just as I overcame many obstacles to become a college baseball player. As I look back at my experiences in Central America, I’m thankful to have encountered the turtles, as they inspired me to overcome the odds and flourish, not only as a future college baseball player, but also as a person.

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