on travel, thoughts, and the art of short fiction

Archive for the ‘Thoughts…’ Category

Being In The Moment

In Thoughts... on April 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Two days ago, I found myself flipping through the pages of A Day’s Tour, a travel narrative written by Percy Fitzgerald circa 1887.  Travel writing has evolved over the years, but certain scenic impressions and sentiments remain timeless.

 

“We long to be away, to be crossing over that night- enjoying a cool fresh passage, all troubles and monotony left behind.”

 

I found my footing when I stumbled across this passage. This sentiment binds us, travelers, sojourners, from all corners of the globe and walks of life. The desire to step purposefully, to experience life in the moment, to have the senses engaged by new places and spaces is universal. Whether discovering for the first time, the town next door, or the continent next door, the art of travel in many ways is the art of being in the moment.

 

I’m in Brooklyn right now, in the middle of a writing class and finishing up a photography class, but I can’t wait to hit the road again. Here’s a glimpse at what’s to come:

 

Charlotte, North Carolina

Cleveland, Ohio

New Haven, Connecticut

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania

Rochester, New York

Jamaica

Tokyo, Japan

Osaka, Japan

Australia

The Marshall Islands

 

As always, if you have tips pertaining to any of these locations or know wine loving’ friendly folks who reside in these areas, don’t hold out.

 

My site, Sojourner’s Sojourns, will also be getting a much-needed face-lift in the coming two weeks. I’m excited for her big reveal.

 

Be present. Step forth.

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What’s In A Name?

In Thoughts... on January 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm

“Sue-jerner?” “No.”

“Sigourney? Like the actress from Aliens?” “No.”

“Sojoiner?” ”No.”

“Serjerner?” “No.”

I grew up with a large and inaccurate variety of names. It was inevitable that during the course of a day, I would have to correct its pronunciation at least five times.

As a child I wanted nothing more than to blend in seamlessly. In kindergarten I wore the requisite pigtails tied with pink bows. In first grade I took ballet and tap classes, pirouetting and shuffle ball changing my way to popularity. In second grade I read the  Ramona Quimby books just like my peers and chatted with them endlessly about the indignities of being seven in a world designed for thirteen year olds. My attempts to blend continued for years, yet despite my efforts to glide peacefully through my early life, my name was always there to trip me up.

I cursed my parents for not giving me a good sensible name like Jennifer or Samantha. Jennifer and Samantha were my favorite names. All of my dolls (and I had quite an extensive collection) had Jennifer or Samantha as either a first or middle name. I had no choice but to live vicariously through them.

It’s uncanny how our names, long or short, complicated or easy to pronounce define us. Like mantras repeated several times a day, we become subtly attuned to the vibration of our sound.

My parents decided to name me Sojourner. This was my father’s idea actually and I wonder if he thought it through.

A history professor, I know where he was trying to go with my name. From those who could actually place where my name was derived, I often heard “Sojourner! As in Sojourner Truth? What great shoes you have to fill.” These people almost always pronounced my name correctly and were rewarded almost always with a relieved smile.

Names like people evolve. Somewhere around my sophomore year of high school, I began to appreciate the unique sound of my name and the meaning behind its soft j and staccato o.

Sojourner Truth, was a lovely and accomplished woman, however, I saw myself in my name in a different way. I saw the romance of a canoe trip down the Nile. I saw the brilliance of the sunset across the Serengeti. I was called to the cobblestone narrow streets of Montmartre.

Sojourner, taken from the French word sojourn meaning to travel for a brief period was how I identified with my name. Having volunteered, worked and journeyed my way across 21 countries and counting, I am in every sense of the word Sojourner. My name has grown with me over the years, guiding, me, giving me permission to grow and evolve. My name allowed me to see the beauty in being different.

I chuckle now when I hear the familiar “Honey, where are you going now? Why can’t you just stay put?”

“Dad, you named me Sojourner, now let me sojourn.”

A name is always chosen for you, but you choose which aspect of that name defines you.  I choose to sojourn, to be a sojourner.

 

 

 

The Great Gap Year Debate

In Thoughts... on November 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Go to college… Go to grad school… Get a job… Travel the world…

 

If these were all regarded as viable and respected options, which would you choose and in what order?

 

I often think about this. Reflecting on my path, specifically during my late teens and twenties, if I knew what I know now about the world, would I have done things differently? I think I would have re-arranged the order of a few things. I would have squeezed in more travel time. I would have taken a gap year.

 

I’m not unhappy about my accomplishments. I have done an extraordinary amount of things; I’ve seen a great deal of the world. You know that life well lived feeling you get when you do something exciting or reach a new milestone, I’ve felt that more than once. I just can’t shake the feeling that with a broader variety of acceptable options, I could have done so much more, found my place in the world much sooner.

 

Imagine an American society where young people are encouraged to exist within a different context, where the decision to take a year off to live, volunteer or work in a different country is widely supported and looked upon as a valuable right of passage.

 

Imagine…

 

Yesterday, I read a blog post written by Rita Golden Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad  calling for the establishment of an international gap year norm in the United States.

 

A fearless traveler, who chronicles her adventures through books and blogs, Gelman has been on the go for the last twenty-five years and talks candidly about her experiences connecting with people in the communities in which she travels in an authentic and compassionate way.

 

Gelman raised two points that resonated with me. The first, being the simple fact that if more Americans took the time to travel internationally and experience life in a different place, there would be much more compassion in this country towards the greater global community. I think this would also carry over to our own back-yards, not only would young Americans be more empathetic towards the plights of others around the world, but towards the plights of those in their own communities at home.

 

Second, Gelman argues that a gap year, would allow students to develop their own passions and ambitions so that when they do enter college, graduate school or the workplace, they possess the self-awareness to enthusiastically pursue a life course they are well suited for. I couldn’t agree more. Travel has a way of stimulating our senses in a way they have never been engaged before. You are exposed to so many things as a traveler; you are bound to awaken something inside of you, a new interest, a talent, a passion that was allowed to lay dormant during the course of your everyday life back at home. The more people who enter college securely grounded by and passionate about their course of study, the more college graduates. Consequently, more and more colleges are allowing for gap year breaks.

 

Could an international gap year be the answer to some of our societal problems?

 

I first became familiar with the term gap year in 2005 when I took some “time off” to volunteer at an orphanage in Cape Coast, Ghana. One of two Americans it seemed in the entire town (I’m sure this is a slight exaggeration), I was surrounded by Europeans (mostly British and German) and Australians on their gap year.  I was completely in awe of this cultural phenomenon, where people in their twenties were encouraged to take a year off to live, interact with and explore the world so that they could better understand and appreciate their place in it.

 

At home, when I declared at twenty-five, after having invested three years towards a teaching career in New York (that I wasn’t sure I wanted), that I was going to take time off to experience other people, places and perspectives through volunteerism, I was most often met with “why?” Why did I need to go to Ghana to help people when so much help was needed at home? Why did I want to go to Africa, surely it would be dangerous, and I’d get malaria or be mauled to death by a lion. Why did I want to put a career on hold, when there was money to be made and opportunities to seize? The answer- I was simply curious, I wanted to experience life from the perspective of those living in the developing world. I wanted to see Ghana, whatever it looked like, sounded like, smelled like. I wanted to take a moment to give in a way that I had never had the opportunity to give of myself before. I needed a break, from New York, from the East Coast, from North America. I didn’t know why or how, but it was time for me to go.

 

I have met others like me, who have acted on our unpopular desires to get out and experience the world. But why do so many young Americans repress their desire to travel. What is it about the culture of this country that perpetuates such extreme isolationism, xenophobia even?

 

The statistics speak volumes; only 37% of Americans hold a passport. Now granted, we are a large nation relatively isolated barring Canada and Mexico, and a large number of Caribbean nations, and hmm…. Central America and honestly, South America is right next-door too, so I guess we aren’t exactly isolated; we can’t use that excuse. Americans seem to be the great practitioners of isolationism. Used to having comforts, used to being comfortable, used to having others adapt to our cultural norms and language, for most Americans, being outside their comfort zone is terrifying. This terror is reflected in everything we do, and shapes our view of the world. Could it be, that the world outside the boundaries of the United States of America is just as beautiful, just as inspiring and safe? Could it be, that the people outside of the boundaries of the United States of America want in many ways, the same things that we want, laugh at some of the same jokes, fear many of the same fears.

 

Obviously not everybody will want to take a gap year, not everyone is suited for travel, but for those who are, who haven’t been presented with the option or the tools, a gap year would be profound and life shaping. Everyone who wants to experience a gap year should be able to without being made to feel guilty, reckless or aimless.

 

One of the biggest arguments I hear when embarking on volunteer projects abroad is that I am ignoring problems in America. I completely disagree. We need to shift our focus from the part to the whole. Volunteering abroad builds compassion and empathy. Seeing the poverty and riches of others puts one’s own place into perspective. I have always to this day been involved in some sort of volunteer work in the United States. The assumption that my back is being turned on my country when I expand my outreach to some of the most desperate areas of the world is ridiculous and usually comes from people who have never volunteered their time before in any context whatsoever.

 

I would love to take a gap year. I probably won’t see mine until I retire (I’m married with a child now); however that won’t stop me from taking mini gap year-like escapes every few years. It is important to me. I feel it’s my duty to ensure that my son is exposed to the world. And when he finishes high school and is faced with that challenging decision as to what to do next, if the answer is a gap year, I will be behind him 100%.

 

 

What do you think? Would an international gap year norm in the United States be beneficial or detrimental? Have you had an experience with a gap-year, or study abroad program that you’d like to share?

 

For more information on Gelman’s gap year organization, you can visit her website www.letsgetglobal.org.

 

 

Ten songs that make me want to get my travel on!

In Thoughts... on October 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

I have the tendency to lose myself in elaborate daydreams, often sparked by hearing a familiar song or two. The following ten songs, make me want to lose myself in adventure. The artists listed are not necessarily the originals, they merely sing the versions that speak to me.

1.  Mozambique  by: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s classic ode to the beautiful people and beaches of Mozambique resonates. My time in Inhambane, Mozambique was pure magic (well, most of the time) and this song stirs a longing in me. The Indian Ocean from the shores of Mozambique was so placid and warm.

2. You Belong to Me by: Carla Bruni

This romantic little song makes me want to set out solo and explore the world (cue my husband, singing the lyrics to me in deep mournful tones). In my fantasy, I don’t stay away for too long and return home with souvenirs and postcards (don’t ask why I don’t send those, in my fantasy they peek out of the top of a brown paper bag) to a beautiful and happy reunion.

3. Africa  by: Toto

This song reminds me of so many moments I’ve experienced beneath the dark starry southern African sky. It makes me want to return and relive those experiences over and over. There is nothing like the soft (and often-times not so soft) rains down in Africa.

4. Aux Champs-Elysees by:  The Gilles David Orchestra

Who doesn’t want to stroll merrily along the Champs-Elysees, baguette and brie in a bag slung over their shoulder? I do! I experienced Paris once and I have memories of my friend Freddy and I singing the song excitedly as we took it all in. I also remember an argument regarding who sang the correct lyrics and who had the better accent but whatever. It was mostly a beautiful moment, one that I long to experience again.

5. Country Roads by: John Denver

This song reminds me of driving down the dirt roads in Brandywine, Maryland. It reminds me of the beautiful landscape of New England in the Autumn (don’t ask) and of the often overlooked beauty of the Mid-Atlantic in the Summer. It also makes me want to embark on a road-trip, something I’ve fantasized about, but have never managed to experience.

6. Leaving on a Jet Plane by: Peter, Paul and Mary

This song stirs in me the excitement of a new journey; of leaving things behind, notes of uncertainty and even melancholy in order to pursue the unknown.

7. Changes by: Seu Jorge

This song takes me to the idyllic Brazil that I only know from my imagination, from my longing. Forever on my list of places to experience, Seu Jorge’s version of Changes stirs the romance, the grit and the free-spirited movement that I know awaits me when I finally make it to Bahia and Rio.

8. Girl from Ipanema by: Pery Ribeiro

This song evokes the sultry, rhythmic, salty essence of that undulating ocean water on Ipanema Beach in Rio, where I’ve never actually been except in my imagination. I want to go. Pery Ribeiro makes me want to grab a caipirinha, throw on a sarong, put a flower in my hair and dance on the beach as ocean water laps at my ankles. In another life, I swear I’ve been there.

9. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans by: Billy Holiday

New Orleans is a magical exotic place, one of the most mysterious and culturally unique cities in the United States (in my opinion). This song makes me want to visit the Louisiana Bayous, taking in their lush and murky beauty. It makes me want to go back in time and stroll the French Quarter with its cobblestone streets, towering French architecture and Jazz.

10. Sail Away by: Enya

With a voice as etherial as ocean mist, Enya makes me want to set sail from the foggy shores of the British Isles on a slow and dewy morning. This song makes me want to go to Ireland and watch the sun set from the vantage point of a rolling green cliff, a misty breeze ruffling my hair. Freeing and meditative, Sail Away, invites me to do just that, to sail away and lose myself.