A State of Mind


This is my third time in Uganda, but it’s the first time I’ve been completely transformed by my surroundings.  The first two trips were very short, no more than a week.  I saw everything I see today but with different eyes.  What I previously perceived as reality was simply my individual view, based on personal history, experiences, fears, hopes, and beliefs.   Coming to a place, for the first time, that is so starkly in contrast to what we know has a powerful impact on us.  However, our initial interpretation of that place is largely false.  Until we are able to shatter the kaleidoscope with which we view our new environment, we cannot have a true sense of the place – or of how we relate to that place.  I realize now how foolish I was to think I knew anything about Uganda.  My understanding of the world hadn’t yet reached a level at which I could comprehend something so complicated and new.  Don’t get me wrong, I will never fully understand.  I cannot imagine any of us will.  But the thing about long-term travel is this – if you can do it, I truly believe there is no better way to find your place in the world.  And I don’t mean geographically.  Rather, I’m referring to finding purpose and meaning in life.


Sometimes it is as though our lives are living us.  We continue in this way, doing what we feel we must to achieve whatever it is we are trying to achieve, and we lose all sense of control over this momentum.  We find ourselves stuck in a mindless hamster wheel, and it’s not until we are faced with an extreme circumstance (tragedy, sickness, death, loss of a job, loss of a relationship) that we are able to stop the wheel and ask ourselves, “What am I doing with my life?”  In that moment of clarity, people often make seemingly irrational decisions, abandoning the dependable, productive, “sane” routine which has defined them throughout their entire life.  They replace the tried and true with hopes and dreams, doing whatever it takes.  Things that had once seemed impossible – quitting a hated job, leaving a bad relationship, starting a business, sailing around the world – suddenly seem perfectly within reach.  This is not to say that reaching for our hopes and dreams always turns out the way we would like.  Failure is a very real possibility when we take a chance in life.  But failure tends to lose it’s terrifying grip when we live the life we want to live.  When we live someone else’s idea of what life should be, fear of failure equals fear of embarrassment, shame, and disappointing someone other than ourselves.  When we live our own lives, despite what others say or think, there is only one person we let down if we fail.  And that person is easy.  Failure, mistakes, and bad experiences can even take on a positive light.  The most interesting people I’ve met can sit and tell stories for hours. These stories aren’t fairy-tales with happy endings.  They are full of missteps, mistakes, injuries, and accidents…failures.  The difference is, the person telling the story doesn’t view the failures as something to be ashamed of.  With every failure comes an invaluable life lesson which prepares the recipient for anything that lies ahead.


The good news is, we don’t have to wait for a stressful, difficult, painful time to realize what we really want to do with our lives.  Stepping outside of our routine (and I don’t mean changing book club to Tuesdays or driving a different route to work) can be a very powerful way of rekindling the fire that burned brightly when we were still young, adventurous, and invincible.  Traveling is one of the most effective ways to step outside of a routine…and long-term travel will produce the most profound transformation.  However, it’s not easy for most people to just pick up and leave behind the lives they know for a few months or years. Even a few weeks can be difficult.  As a parent, I think the greatest gift we can give our children is the encouragement to see the world.  Recently, a 19 year old young woman arrived here, at the orphanage, to volunteer for several months.  She just graduated from high school and is taking a gap year before starting college in the fall.  Before coming to Uganda she worked on a farm in France, went to Morocco with friends she met while on the farm, and then spent several days in Istanbul, entirely on her own.  She will continue on to Italy and Greece before returning home in August.  I am both impressed and inspired by her fearlessness.  This kind of solo travel is relatively uncommon for American youth.  Yet this is the ideal time to embrace it.  No student loans, mortgage, bills, family.  Just a young person with no debt or baggage, and the journey of life is only beginning.  Doesn’t it seem silly for a young adult to start that journey without even leaving her own backyard?  The young woman visiting us is going to start college in the fall with a sense of clarity and direction which could not have existed without a year of travel, volunteering, and meeting so many diverse characters along the way.  She will be emotionally ahead of her peers.  Most importantly, however, she will set out to live her own life, not a life dictated to her by someone else.  Classroom education serves an important purpose, but the practical experience derived from immersion in other cultures is the best way to figure out what we want to do with our lives.  Considering many of us don’t figure this out until we are in our 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, or even older, I cannot imagine why every parent wouldn’t strive to give their children these tools early on in their lives.  In my opinion, there is no greater plague on life in America than the complacency and numbness that come from living our lives to acquire material possessions and achieve a level of success measured by three things – those possessions, our physical appearance, and our adherence to society’s implied code of conduct.  The knowledge that none of these goals can ever bring real happiness (we can never be rich enough, beautiful enough, or perfect enough) should be the only deterrent needed to point us in another direction, toward things that actually feed our soul and bring us real joy.  But we are human.  And humans are undeniably good at using distractions and addictions, and just about anything that feels good, to temporarily mask our fears.  We apply a band-aid to our deep, infected, pustulating, mortal wounds and don’t think about them again until we wake up the next morning and realize the band-aid has bled through.  Then we just put another band-aid on top of it and search for the next distraction.  Eventually, we realize our ultimate distraction is the daily routine we cannot seem to escape.  But it’s not that we can’t escape it.  We just don’t want to leave it’s comfortable confines.  We don’t know what’s on the other side…and that fills us with fear.  We prefer numbness to fear.  And so we continue in this way until some experience, usually a difficult or painful one, shifts our focus and makes us less fearful of the unknown.


We cannot all pick up, leave our jobs behind, and travel the world.  However, we don’t have to remain on auto-pilot.  Basically everything we do in life is based on our state of mind.  If that state of mind isn’t working for you, you must change it.


Realize that the sense of security you take from everything around you is false.  Your job, your house, your family, your routine.  Nothing is permanent.  Change is the only constant.  Even if you manage to hold onto all of those things, their position in your life will likely change.  What is unbelievably important today can become irrelevant, or even bad, tomorrow.  Once you recognize that this sense of security is false, consider whether or not taking a chance is really that risky.  For example, if you hate your job but are too afraid of what will happen if you make a change, is the risk of failing really worse than remaining in a job that makes you unhappy?  What is the worst thing that can happen?  You’ll end up in another job that makes you unhappy?  Doesn’t sound like that big of a risk to me.  You’ll undoubtedly learn something about yourself along the way.  And you’ll find out that switching jobs might not guarantee happiness, but it’s also not as scary as you thought.  It will give you the courage and knowledge to try and try again.  And my guess is, you will eventually find what you’re looking for.  This thought process can be applied to just about anything in life.  Don’t remain stuck in an unhappy rut just because you’re afraid to make a change.  Fear has an important purpose in our lives, but irrational fear of the unknown can prevent us from living the lives we want.  Irrational fear can bring more pain and suffering than any failure ever could.


Encourage your children to be global citizens.  They are growing up in a world very different from the one we grew up in.  We need to shift our perspective on world travel and view it as a vital part of our children’s education.  It will help prepare them for college, careers, and life in general.  But it will do so much more than that.  It will significantly improve their chances of living a life of meaning and passion, excitement and adventure.  It will give them the tools to create the life they want, and I cannot imagine a more beautiful gift.



Even though we are all 100% aware that achieving perfection and constant, never-ending happiness is impossible, most of us still strive for these unattainable goals.  We privately feel a pang of failure every time we miss the mark of perfection.  And for most of us, that is several hundred times a day.  We want to say the perfect thing, have the perfect house, be successful, be a good parent (all the time), eat perfectly, exercise perfectly, walk into a room perfectly, never smell, never have something in our teeth, never have back fat, flabby arms, or zits, never be awkward, never accidentally say something inappropriate, never live in clutter or chaos, never say things to people just to impress them and then think about our wretched shallowness later, never have parts of our past that we just wish we could forget, never pay bills late, never have a bad hair day, never make crappy, chemical-laced, processed food for our children’s dinner because it’s easy, never talk to ourselves, never have bad breath, never lie, never exaggerate things about ourselves, never look in someone’s medicine cabinet, never drink too much, smoke too much, or eat too much, never be lonely, never throw something recyclable in the trash, and never be selfish.

So, we all spend our days feeling a small pinch of guilt every time we do anything that isn’t completely in line with the image we have created of our perfect self.  Since that perfect self does not exist, we live in a constant state of internal conflict.  And the more we look at everyone else’s “perfect” life on t.v. and, even worse, on Facebook, our lack of perfection becomes increasingly frustrating and depressing.  At least we can be a bit more realistic when comparing ourselves to the beautiful people with perfect lives on television. We know that they are airbrushed, exercise 6 hours a day, have stylists, and are fed a constant diet of kale and locally-grown, organic, free-range, gluten free, kosher, humanely-treated, grass-fed, hydroponic, chef-prepared meals that are only stored in glass containers (never plastic).  And we know that their “perfect” lives aren’t real.  But with Facebook, it’s a little harder to separate ourselves from the awesomeness that everyone else is experiencing on a daily basis.  Our friends always look perfect, travel the world, make amazing dinners, have exciting lives, get their pictures taken with Brad Pitt when they happen to run into him at a work trip to New Orleans, and they are ALL incredibly involved parents.  And even when they bitch and complain, they do it with such wit and sarcasm…it just makes them cooler.

Well, I know the equation for posting pictures on Facebook.  The moment I look at a picture of myself and think, wow, I look good in this picture is the exact moment I post said picture on Facebook.  Those are pretty much the only pictures most of us will ever post…the ones where we look really young, or really fit, or really young and fit while simultaneously hiking a really big mountain.  Never mind the fact that this particular hiking trip is the only one we have taken in over a year, and we only took it after an argument with our spouse about the fact that we watch too much t.v. and the kids are turning into computer zombies and if we don’t get them out of the house soon they are going to lose all ability to communicate with other humans.

So, strive to be perfect on Facebook.  That is the ONE place in our universe where we CAN be perfect.  And then let yourself be imperfect in every other moment of your life. Embrace your imperfection.  Laugh at it.  Know that most of what we see of other people, even in face to face interaction, is what they WANT us to see of them.  And this is okay too. There is nothing wrong with knowing who we want to be and portraying ourselves that way to the world.  BUT.  When we aren’t an exact model of our ideal version of ourselves, we need to view that incongruity as the beautiful, unpredictable, imperfect thing that is life.  AND. We need to remind ourselves that being happy 100% of the time is just as impractical as achieving perfection.  Learn to ride the wave.  My personal opinion is that a passion and excitement for life is a much better goal than happiness.  When you can wake up every morning and feel a sense of excitement for the new day, the new opportunities and possibilities that exist. When you have a sense of adventure, going into every new day.  When you feel as though the world will be a better place because you woke up this morning, it doesn’t matter if you are happy every second of every day.  That feeling of being truly ALIVE will get you through those inevitable (and usually fleeting) moments of unhappiness.

Fixing or Serving?


The differences between serving and fixing are great.  When we fix things, we are working under the assumption that those things are broken.  It is very common, especially in the Westernized society in which we live, to view things that are different as broken.  And when we view something as broken, it is easy to regard it as entirely broken…however, that is rarely the case.  As an example, on a recent trip to Uganda, we drove high into a region of the country that was so untouched by modernity we could have easily been transported to the nineteenth (or even 18th) century and wouldn’t have known the difference.  The scenery was more beautiful than any I had ever seen, and the houses lining the long dirt road were simple mud huts, no bigger than a relatively small bedroom in a Western-style house.  I was overcome with a feeling of peacefulness and wished for a moment that this could be my life – no internet or Facebook to be obsessed with, no reality television, no concerns over whether or not the couches are too worn or stained, no massive piles of laundry in front of the washer and dryer.  Simple.  Peaceful.  I imagined building a small structure there for my family one day.  We could go there to “get away from the stresses of every day life”.  But as we spent more time there, our friend (who is from that area and can see beyond the magical, fairy-tale qualities) told us of the problems.  The mud huts were rarely ventilated properly, and the women who spend such a great deal of time inside, cooking, were developing lung cancer at an astounding rate.  Because of land issues, the families would have to wake up early, strap their babies to their backs, and hike an incredible distance to reach rented farm land.  They would stay there all day, and then make the long journey back on foot.  This labor intensive farming is so difficult, that many children stay home to help with the labor, instead of going to school, further perpetuating the cycle of poverty. 

I am telling you about all of these underlying problems because it is these things that are broken.  However, when we decide to serve, it is often to fix what we see on the surface as being broken.  Difficulties in the earlier part of my adult life due to an obsession with material things, have caused me to develop what I can only describe as an aversion to many of them.  For this reason, I immediately viewed this place as a paradise.  But I believe that many Westerners would have a different perception…and only a few years ago, I would have too.  We see this simple life as being broken.  Let’s build them bigger houses, help them learn our way of life.  Now Monsanto is in Africa.  This is the Western solution to fixing the problem of hunger in Africa…but again, we are fixing a symptom, not the real problem.  Africans aren’t starving because they can’t grow enough cheap corn.  Africans are starving because of lack of education, inequality, AIDS, polygamy, mistreatment of women, corruption, and the list goes on.  Now that we have basically destroyed our country with mass farming and pesticides, we are heading to the rich land and soil, and amazing biodiversity of Africa to do the exact same damn thing.  We are fixing the symptoms, not the problem.  Africa is not broken.  There are elements of Africa that are broken, as with every country on this planet.  If we could focus our efforts on truly serving, instead of hastily trying to fix the “problems”, we would find the solution.  By integrating ourselves into the whole of the story, we would become part of it.  We are fortunate enough to live in a place where most of us receive a solid education, have access to health care, and live free from corruption (relatively speaking).  I am certain, with every ounce of my being, that if we looked to the root of the major issues in every developing country on this planet, they would all boil down to education, corruption, health care, women’s rights, and general inequality.  Building bigger houses isn’t going to help these places, Monsanto isn’t going to help these places, the internet isn’t going to help these places.  Cultural understanding, on the part of the people who are equipped to make a difference in this world (all of us), is the only thing that will help these places. 

The Elephant in the Room

I was listening to an interesting program on NPR yesterday.  It was about racism, and one of the speakers was talking about an experience he had while teaching a class on race issues at a university a few years ago.  He was working alongside an African-American woman and during their classroom presentation they had to constantly refer to the color of their skin (i.e. “Being black has meant this to me…., or, Being white has meant this to me….”).  After class, he told her that he was frustrated by this.  He didn’t feel comfortable with the constant need to speak about themselves in a way that seemed to create a division between them, even though they were completely equal.  To his surprise, his colleague disagreed.  She asked him why it didn’t cause that same division when she referred to herself as a woman. There are differences between men and women, but men and women are still equal.  In this day, and in this country, that is something that pretty much goes without saying.  I mean, there are still inequality issues between men and women (the salary gap, for example), but that awkward, uncomfortable feeling doesn’t arise when discussing differences between men and women, even if those discussions are between a man and a woman.  The differences between blacks and whites can make us feel uneasy because we learn not to discuss those differences.  When we are taught not to talk about things, they become awkward and difficult to bring up. Even those of us who consider all human beings to be 100% equal on every level, still have those moments of stumbling all over our words when discussing race.  For a very real example, as I was typing the above sentence I wrote “the differences between blacks and whites” and then I got concerned that the term “blacks” should be “African-Americans” and then I thought, well, I said “whites” too, so I guess if “whites” is the right word then “blacks” is fine too. I mean, it’s ridiculous.  All of this worrying, filling our heads as we tip toe around trivial things, makes it even more difficult to knock down the barriers between us.  We embrace the differences between men and women without feeling awkward if we notice those differences. Shouldn’t skin color be the same?  And ethnicity, and religion, and sexual orientation?  We are ALL different, each and every one of us.  We are all unique.  No person is the same as another.  I am a woman, you are a man.  I am white, you are black.  I am non-religious, you are Christian.  But we are ALL equal.  What the hell does anything else matter?  If you are kind to me, I’m going to be kind to you.  If I like you, if we enjoy each other’s company, if I have fun with you…I’m going to want to be your friend, and you will likely want to be mine.  Black, white, religious, gay, eccentric, whatever. It’s time that our differences stop being a bunch of elephants in the room and start being unique ingredients that we are proud of in ourselves, and appreciative of in others.


This is a hard post to write, but in the wake of the Travyon Martin case, I think it is important.

On my first trip to Uganda, my daughter and I went straight to the Malayaka House orphanage. We were immediately welcomed and became part of this thing that was, and is, so much larger than ourselves.  It was incredible.  And I realized at that moment that being surrounded by 37 Ugandan children and 7 Ugandan aunties and so many other local people who I’ve come to regard as friends, would be an important part of my life from that point forward.  Malayaka House would become, in many ways, my second home and everyone there would become my second family.

The next day we went to Kampala, the capitol city, with my daughter and a group of friends.  We drove all over the city, weaving in and out of a chaotic rhythm of cars and buses and motorcycles, children and preachers, chickens, cows and goats.  It was overwhelming and awe-inspiring.  I had never seen anything so remarkable.

Kampala is a large city, and it seems that just about every person in Uganda is there, outside, working at the roadside markets, shopping, or walking to and from wherever they are headed.  As we slowly maneuvered our way through the city, I began to notice people staring at me.  They didn’t appear to be smiling, in fact I felt as though they looked angry.  I began to feel badly…did they believe I felt superior to them because of my white skin?  I started to look away.  A feeling of unease gripped me.  I chatted with our friends and pointed out interesting things to my daughter, but the whole time I was trying to process these unwelcome feelings.  I knew they didn’t make sense.  Nothing had happened.  Nothing had changed.  Why did I feel this way?  And then it hit me.  As I looked out the car window at thousands of people in every direction, I asked myself, “if every person out there had white skin, would I feel this way”?  I imagined this scenario.  Every market vendor, every woman and child, every person walking, driving, riding in a bus, leading a cow, or carting bushels of matoke on their bicycles.  Would this feeling that was involuntarily entering my mind still exist if everyone had white skin?  And I realized, quite disturbingly, that it would not. If everyone had white skin, I wouldn’t even have taken notice to them, smiling or not.

I have a respect and appreciation for every culture on this planet.  I believe that all humans are equal.  Skin color, religion, sexual orientation…we are ALL equal and we should all be given the right to live the lives we want to live, to be free of suffering, to be safe and secure, to be happy.  I believe all of this and I strive every day to instill these same values in my children.  Yet, here I was, managing to fall into an unconscious mental trap, brought on by the conditioning of a society that has made major strides, but one which has a LONG way to go.  I was ashamed of this feeling, regardless of how deep in my subconscious it had been residing.  But this was also an opportunity to dig up this buried response and rip it to shreds.  We all have things about ourselves which we don’t understand.  We may not know where they came from, or why they exist.  And sometimes, we live our lives believing they don’t exist within us, in any way…until we see them.  In those moments, it is not until we recognize those feelings,  feel the shame associated with them, and make a conscious decision to evolve past those primitive feelings, that we can destroy them forever.

At that moment, I said to my friend, “Why isn’t anyone smiling at me?  Everyone I make eye contact with looks angry”.  He said, “Smile a big smile at each and every person.  See what happens”.  So I did…and every person, every single person,  gave me a HUGE smile back.


We all know the suffocating feeling of stuckness.  No…stuckness is not a real word, but I think it is the perfect word to convey the feeling attached to those parts of ourselves that we simply don’t understand.  The things we do or say or feel that we have zero explanation for.  For example, I thrive on change.  This, in and of itself, is not such a bad thing.  However, in the context of my daily life, it has been both wonderful and terrible.  I cannot sit still.  I cannot just be.  I try and meditate.  I try to take on hobbies, telling myself that each new hobby is the one that will finally end the restlessness in my mind.  I will start a newspaper, I will get chickens, I will start a garden so beautiful and plentiful that between the chicken eggs and the vegetables in the garden, we will cut our grocery bills in half.


Well, the photo above is this year’s “garden”.  I planted it in May.  It is now the middle of July.  To be honest, I can’t believe that one little green thing is actually growing…not sure what that is, that might just be a weed.  Anyhow, I have tried to start a garden every year, and I’ve been certain that each year would be “the one”. But it only seems to be getting worse.  Oh, and by the way, the chickens were awesome.  I really loved them.  The first 4 months were so awesome.  But then it got cold here in Vermont…who would have expected that?  And my free-range chickens really preferred our front porch to their coop.  So, I spent about an hour a day scraping frozen chicken poop from our front porch.  After that winter, the chickens went to live with their new family…although, I will say, I was pretty proud of the 8 months I stuck it out!  I do miss those chickens.  If we ever move to Hawaii, or somewhere it’s warm all year long, I think I could actually do it long term.  Crap, now I want to move to Hawaii.

Anyhow, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent.  The real purpose of this post is to talk about stuckness.  So, to reiterate, stuckness is that feeling we have when we can’t define why we do or feel something.  Typically this is something that has been a part of us for most of our lives, but we never had an opportunity to put it into words.  Sometimes this is because it is attached to something we, or our parents, or other people in our lives, are ashamed of.  For example, during a divorce, a child will feel all kinds of conflicting emotions, but the parents want to avoid hurting the child by involving him or her in the goings on of their divorce…so they never discuss it.  The parents are usually only trying to help keep the child’s life “normal”.  They don’t want the child to have to feel pain because of their marital issues, so they put on a happy face and talk about other things.  The child learns that the divorce is not something to be discussed, and so he or she doesn’t discuss any associated feelings.  Those feelings get interwoven into the fabric of who that child becomes, good or bad.  Now, as a 30 year old adult, that child does things that he or she simply doesn’t understand.  On the outside, it may appear to have absolutely no connection whatsoever to the divorce so many years ago…but in some way, shape or form, this behavior or feeling or fear or habit was born from the experience.  I am only using divorce as an example because it’s an easy way to illustrate my point.  I cannot remember anything bad about my parents’ divorce.  I don’t remember them ever fighting.  I don’t remember even being sad.  Therefore, I cannot tie a single one of my positive or negative traits to their divorce.  But that is just too easy.  I mean, every event in our life has some kind of lasting impact on us, however large or small.  Big events in adulthood are easier to connect to their related emotions, but the things we have been doing all our lives, the things we just cannot seem to articulate a reason for…these are the things that can make us feel stuck, like a hamster in a wheel…going around and around and around, and never being able to break that damn cycle.

The only successful method I have found to deal with some of that stuckness, is working to help other people live a better life.  This kind of “work” does not make the undefinable stuff go away…at least it hasn’t for me.  But it makes it less of a bother.  It casts a new light on everything.  So, my chickens and my gardens and my tinctures and my newspaper and my yurt and my novel and my insatiable travel bug are ALL still there (in fact, I’m pretty sure they’re in hyper-drive now), but I don’t feel plagued by them anymore.  I LOVE this part of who I am.  Sure, some might call it restlessness, and I will certainly still run into some issues caused by my passion for change and adventure and excitement…but I KNOW I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for that part of me.  I have never made less money than I do now.  We have very little.  Our cars both have over 150,000 miles; one is a conversion van with almost no paint left on the roof and the other has “MOM” scratched on the hood from when my then 4 year old daughter wanted to make sure I knew the van was daddy’s and the Saab was mine.  They are both about to fall apart and…I don’t even care.  I have never had less material items or money, but I have NEVER been happier.  And I mean that, I truly mean that.  Stuff and money do not equal happiness.  Not having ANY money, and not being able to eat or get medical care or get an education, now THAT can equal unhappiness.  So, shouldn’t this be one of the easiest things in the world to figure out?  Money doesn’t equal unhappiness, but NO money usually does.  Doing good for others equals happiness.  So, we all start doing good for others, which makes us happy, and by doing good for others, we help them get to a point where a life with no money or opportunity or food or health care is no longer their reality, and they become happy as well.  Now we’re all happy.  Wouldn’t that be great?  If everyone could understand this simple equation, wow.

How One Thing Can Lead to Another


I want to tell you all about an amazing experience I had about 2 months ago.  I got an email from a a woman asking if I could deliver some Bobo’s Coffee in the next day or two.  I emailed back and said, of course I can, but can you tell me how you heard about Bobo’s Coffee?  She emailed back and said that she had been to a winter farmer’s market in February and had purchased a few bags of coffee for her 17 year old son.  I drove to her house the next day to deliver the coffee and she welcomed me into her home, where I spent the next half hour chatting about the coffee and Uganda and Malayaka House.  She told me that her son loves coffee and has actually been dreaming of going to Africa to apprentice on a coffee farm.  I immediately said, then he should come to Uganda and work with Godwin, the man who runs the farm cooperative we get our coffee from.  She seemed intrigued by that idea and told me she’d talk to her son and get back to me if he was interested.  Well, he was.  Very.  This was about 2 months ago, and today that 17 year old kid is in Uganda for the month of July, volunteering at Malayaka House, going on a gorilla trek…and taking the 6 hour journey up to the Mt. Elgon region  to work with the Ugandan farmers on the coffee farm for several days!  I think it is beyond awesome that a 17 year old kid would have the courage to just take off on a trip to Africa, by himself, for a month.  When I was 17, I was sneaking out of my parents’ house at  night and skipping school at least once a week.  

This 17 year old kid is Sam, and his mom is Duval, and I am inspired by them both.  There’s no doubt that Sam will do a lot of good in his life…and he will certainly inspire a lot of others to do the same.   

The Younger They Are, The More They Will Learn


In November, my family of 5 will be moving to Uganda for 4 months.  We will be living at the Malayaka House orphanage in Entebbe, Uganda.  We are doing this because of my involvement with a coffee project benefiting the orphanage, but I am most excited about this adventure because of my children.  We all know that kids absorb just about everything, good and bad.  But the impact that my work in Africa has had on my children has been shocking, in a very positive way.  I am told that my 4 year old won’t even remember the trip. I disagree with this statement, but even if it’s true, the memory isn’t what’s important.  For each of us, the person we are is an intricately woven fabric of experiences, people, sounds, smells, fears, pain and suffering, connections, and moments of compassion and understanding.

Imagine this: A young child is dropped smack dab into the middle of an experience that feels shockingly different. The child looks around and nothing looks familiar, nothing tastes familiar, the air smells different, even the dust and dirt accumulated after a day of playing outside is a different color.  But over time this experience becomes normal, even expected.  The mind expands, making room for the new normal.  The old normal doesn’t go away, it will always be there.  And so will the new normal.  The child will return to the old normal with ease because his mind has already created a space for that reality.  But now there are two realities, and with that new reality has come a tolerance and an empathy for a culture that would otherwise have been foreign, and even scary.  That tolerance and understanding will never go away.  That child will grow into an adult that will respect the differences and similarities within all of us, all over the planet.

This is my hope for my children. I want them to grow up and view the world as one world, not a place divided by countries and continents and politics.  I want them to live their lives passionately and seek to ease the suffering of the people they share this planet with.  It is not fair that some people have so much and some people have so little, through no fault of their own.  I am not a religious person.  I have no idea what happens when we die.  All I know for sure is that we have this life right here, right now, and we should live it fully, and help others to do the same.  It should be human instinct to want to ease the suffering of others.  We are born with that instinct, and it is only through conditioning – much of which is completely unintentional and well-meaning – that this instinct fades away.


Think Tank

It is easy to believe that acceptance into the official club of do-gooders, humanitarians and activists is restricted to only the most noble and sublime.  It is just that perception that prevents so many of us from doing what we know is right.  We perceive that in order to be the type of person who tirelessly does work to help mankind, one has to be truly selfless.That is simply not true. Nobody is selfless.If we believe that in order to help ease the suffering of even one person, we have to be this superior, perfect, almost saint-like human being, we will never take the first step.  
We all have a path laid out for us before we can even talk.  The traditional path is to graduate high school, go to college, get a job in your designated field, get married, buy a house, have children, and continue to climb an invisible ladder, with the goal being success and happiness.  Well, the truth is, the invisible ladder leads to only one thing…and it isn’t happiness.  More often than not we are following a path and a time table laid out to us by someone else, or by society as a whole.
My personal journey into adulthood was painful and difficult in many ways. I want to use the example of my life to illustrate how detrimental a lack of options can be at this pivotal moment in a young person’s life. 
With no intention of going to college immediately after high school, and without the knowledge of any other options, I moved into a cheap apartment and began waiting tables and partying. There was definitely nothing inspiring or significant going on in my life.  I came home from work every night to a house full of “friends” and stayed up all night drinking and smoking and, eventually, even getting into serious trouble.  Granted, even kids who head to college do a lot of partying when they’re not in class, but the difference is, they wake up the next day and work toward something larger.  They go to class.  The only place I ever went was back to the diner.  What were my other options?  I was a kid, and I certainly wasn’t thinking outside of the box then.  I was an intelligent, friendly, creative, adventurous kid with absolutely no idea how to use any of those attributes to change the world or bring myself some form of happiness.  This path led me to an early marriage, an early divorce, and countless other stupid mistakes for several years.  I finally turned my life around, enrolled in college, met a great guy, did the whole house and kids thing, and started to feel happy for the first time in many years.  Then I fell into yet another debilitating – and far too common – trap of our existence in this society.  I started making money, lots of it, and I began to notice how “good” it made me feel to have nice things.  Our three bedroom house wasn’t big enough anymore, so we bought a bigger house.  That purchase was followed with a brand new truck and a brand new Lexus.  I was interviewing nannies and planning trips to Europe and Puerto Rico and Key West as often as if they were right down the road.  I needed more and more.  I loved how powerful it all made me feel.  It was like sitting at the popular table in high school and being the prettiest one there…I felt on top of the world.  And then it all came crashing down. 
I lost my job, my husband lost his job, and we began to drown in our debt.  My ego was too tied up in the cars and the house, in my image, to get rid of them, so we kept hanging on.  I would awake in the middle of the night with a sick feeling in my stomach, endlessly trying to figure out a creative way to get out of the mess.  But there was no way out of it. 
And then one day, when I simply couldn’t take it anymore, I just figured it out.  Somehow, I was able to step back and see where I had gone wrong.  The material things around me brought me no happiness. In fact, almost every single unhappy, sickening thought I had each day was tied to all of the crap I had accumulated to make myself feel happy.  To impress people.  To feel important.  I knew that I had to start making significant changes, but it wasn’t easy.  I couldn’t just ignore the bills that were piling up and keep living in a house that was now way beyond our means.  We had to leave.  We had to swallow our pride and start over.  We did it…it wasn’t easy then, but we did it.  And when I think back to those days, I am so thankful that they are over.  So unbelievably thankful.  And I can honestly say that I don’t regret a second of it.  I attribute what I have learned these last few years to that time. I had to hit rock bottom to see how disillusioned I was…and I’m glad it happened when I was young and I still had so much time to do something significant with my life, and teach my children to do the same.
My story is a very common one, but it shouldn’t be.  Young people should graduate from high school with a solid understanding of multiple options.  They should be aware of the opportunity to see all of the paths that lay before them.  If the path is to go to college and work toward a dream job, that’s an awesome path to be on.  Passion is the most essential building block to true happiness, and we need more passionate people in this world.  But for those who don’t have an immediate plan, or for those who are feeling lost, possibilities exist that are difficult to find without someone to act as a mentor.  If someone had come to me when I was 17 and said, “Amy, would you be interested in helping women and children and people who are suffering in Africa, or India, or Asia, or South America?  Do you want to see the world and meet inspiring people from all over this planet, and have an amazing, unforgettable time that will change your life and shape your future?”  I would have gone in a freaking second.Things like debt and family and work wouldn’t have been a concern yet.  I would have met incredible people who would become mentors and role models. I would have returned to the US with a passion for making a difference on this dangerously self-destructive planet.  The 10 years of crap I lived through because of my own ignorance would have been non-existent.  I could have been working to make this world a better place for the last 17 years, instead of just starting now.  I could have been helping people in need, and they could have been helping me to be happy and full of life. 
There is no excuse that we don’t have a plan in place here in the US to provide our youth with options beyond college or the military. The military certainly does a wonderful job of recruiting our young people who aren’t likely to go to college right after high school.  Handsome men and beautiful women dressed in uniform pass out literature and ask kids if they are interested in making a difference, defending their country, and protecting our freedom.  That is an awfully big dangling carrot for those “lost” kids who aren’t sure what they want out of life, but they know they want something.  They should know that there is something else out there. They should know of the myriad ways to make a difference that are based on peace and a love and respect for all people, on every corner of this planet, here in our country as well as abroad. 
Every act of generosity, however small, creates a ripple effect that impacts everyone in its path.  The person doing the good deed wants to do more, the person receiving the good deed is filled with gratitude, and the people who witness the act are inspired to do the same. But this isn’t enough.  I am worried…seriously worried.  I am concerned for the future of my children, and definitely for the future of their children.  This planet and its people are in distress.  Earth’s population is increasing at a rapid pace, and this increase is mostly in the developing world.  There are already billions of people living in extreme poverty, and that number continues to grow every day.  How can we just turn a blind eye to the inequity in these parts of the world…in MOST of the world?  How can we just live in a little bubble and pretend that the majority of the people on this planet aren’t suffering?  The only reason I can think of is that we just can’t comprehend it.  And why can’t we comprehend it?  Because we aren’t educated about it.  We aren’t encouraged to travel to the developing world.  In fact, in many cases, we are discouraged.  We are told that it is dangerous and crazy.  Without seeing this suffering firsthand, it’s almost impossible to fully grasp the severity of the situation.  It’s surreal.  It’s like watching a movie or reading a book.  It tugs at our heart strings, but then we sigh and say how sad it is, and then we shut it out and go back to our comfortable lives – the only lives most of us have ever known.
I am starting this blog with the hope that enough people will take notice and begin to come up with a collaborative solution…kind of like a think tank.  Something has to be done.  There has never been a better time than now to use our resources to begin an extreme acceleration of the process to end mass poverty, inequality, abuse and suffering around the world.  With technology and ease of travel, and an ever-growing population of young people who want to make a difference but just don’t know how, our problem is not a lack of power.  It’s a lack of knowledge.  How do we reach our youth on a mass scale and provide them with the knowledge?  They can choose to use it or not.  They just need to know it’s an option.