Bucket List – Forgiveness

Forgiveness can bring peace - photo by E. Jurus
Forgiveness can bring peace – photo by E. Jurus

What baggage do we carry around with us in our lives? Sometimes the emotional baggage, residue from episodes of anger, hurt, disappointment or betrayal, can weigh us down enormously. Forgiving someone, while sometimes a seemingly impossible task, can do us a world of good. Even if we only make it as far as letting go of the emotions, that’s a substantial step in the right direction.

When I was in my twenties, an arsonist set fire to my parents’ home. They were lucky to make it out alive. The insurance company rebuilt their house, but it couldn’t rebuild their lives.

The police never caught the perpetrator, although we had our suspicions about a miserable neighbor and some union involvement.

The ripples from that event lasted for the next decade and a half. My dad’s health went downhill, and my mom started drinking again. I cursed the arsonist for years for all the pain he/she caused to all of us.

It was only after my parents had both passed away and were free from the event’s clutches that I was able to let it go myself and move on. I haven’t forgiven the arsonist for what he/she did, but I don’t really think about it any longer, and there’s no longer bitterness associated with the memory. The Mayo Clinic website has the following thoughts on the process:

” Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”

So by that definition, I’ve found forgiveness.

It’s been far less easy to forgive myself for hurts I’ve caused others. There’s a subconscious sense I have, right or wrong, that I need to pay for those hurts by my continued pain at having inflicted them.

forgiveness-is-a-giftOn May 4th, the Global Forgiveness Challenge begins. It was created by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho, who live in a country where there are decades of grievous hurt and stored resentment. The goal of the challenge is to encourage you to let go of your emotional baggage and begin the healing process. Once you sign up for the challenge, you’ll receive a daily inspirational message by email from Tutu and his daughter, daily exercises to practice, articles to read and the support of an entire community of fellow sufferers.

I’ve signed up for the challenge. Perhaps with their help I might even be able to forgive myself.

You’ll find more information about the Forgiveness Challenge here.Let me know if you’ve joined the challenge, and perhaps we can all help each other.  

A change of pace – literally

 

Post-surgery breakfast with accessories - photo by E. Jurus
Post-surgery breakfast with accessories – photo by E. Jurus

Life throws us a lot of curve balls. Even when we see them coming, though, we don’t always know how fast they’ll arrive, or how steep the curve will be.

Arthritis runs in my husband’s family, so it seemed inevitable that he would develop knee issues at some point. Perhaps as much as 15 years ago an orthopedic surgeon told him that at some point he’d need to have his knee joints replaced.

Yet it wasn’t a knee that he had replaced last week, but a hip. Both his hips have deteriorated to the point where there’s no cushioning at all, just bone grinding on bone.

This condition has been brewing for a couple of years, but it recently took over our lives practically overnight. One autumn we were hiking around Machu Picchu, and a few months later we seemed to have turned into our parents. Wasn’t really expecting that for another decade or so.

And so began the round of surgical appointments. What got us through the next few months was, ironically, that Mike was in so much pain trying to walk at all that he actually looked forward to the earliest possible surgical date.

We arrived at the hospital very early Wednesday morning and waited with the other hip and knee patients until the surgical floor opened for business. When the man at reception told us to head up, there was a communal chuckle at the eight people among us who shuffled slowly to the elevator.

The pre- and post-op care at Sunnybrook Holland Orthopedic Hospital in Toronto is exemplary. As nice and as dedicated as everyone was, though, we had trouble controlling our nerves waiting for Mike to be taken to the operating room – the anticipation leading up to the surgery was a killer. Everything went well, though, and Physio had Mike up and walking around the next day. On Saturday he was able to be discharged and we came home.

You think beforehand that the surgery itself will be the worst part. You don’t realize that post-surgery life is a bit like PTSD – there are lingering emotional after-effects. We’re both tired, over-reacting to highs and lows, and having trouble relaxing.

The first night back at home was rough, trying out various furniture configurations so that Mike could find a comfortable way to sleep (still one bad hip, plus a long and tender incision on the other side).

Every day is a learning experience as he shuffles around the house with two canes, struggles through his post-op exercises even though he’s tired, and uses a special gripping tool, like a virtual third hand, to change his clothes. He can’t prepare his own food because it’s too hard to carry dishes around while using his canes, so I make sure there’s always something on hand for him to eat when I go to work. There are dozens of little adjustments to make, and each day brings a few more.

It bothers me to see him hobble around. He gets frustrated when he has days that feel like setbacks. The light at the end of the tunnel is a pain-free hip in a few weeks, but the second surgery will follow after that, so we have a long road ahead for which we have to maintain our strength.

Our life has changed in myriad ways, but we count ourselves lucky to be able to rely on each other, and to have been able to accomplish so much on our bucket lists so far, and we work on being resilient through the next chapter. We look forward to doing more travelling, even if it might be more restricted than it has been. I’ve found over the years that bucket lists have to be flexible, and right now we’re focussed on wellness, so I’m planning activities that involve a mental escape from the day-to-day grind of coping with this latest challenge. Life goes on…

My two biggest pieces of advice for anyone still hale and healthy are: 1) Take care of your body. Whatever you do to it when you’re younger will come back to haunt you. 2) Live life to the fullest while you can. You never know what lies down the road.

Finding that authentic experience

Samburu tribesmen demonstrating how to make fire the traditional way - photo by E Jurus
Samburu tribesmen demonstrating how to make fire the traditional way – photo by E Jurus

My travel sources have lately been reporting a surge in people looking for an “authentic” experience in places like Africa.

Let me begin by saying that one of the biggest obstacles for finding something ‘authentic’ is a traveller’s preconceptions. If you’re looking for a time capsule, you’re not going to find it – there are very few places untouched by modern civilization.

Trying to plan something authentic actually to some extent defeats the purpose. You can’t stage-manage this type of experience; you can arrange for a tribal visit, for example, but you must proceed on it with an open mind and no expectations about what might or might not happen.

A case in point is a visit to a native Samburu village that our safari group enjoyed in Kenya a couple of years ago. It wasn’t on our scheduled itinerary, but our guide suggested it and we were all immediately on board.

Just the fact that the tribe lives in a village is a change from their traditional way of existence – the Samburu were originally nomadic, but a few years ago this tribe received a schoolhouse so that their children could be educated and they’ve had to stop moving around in order to be close to the school.

In many ways the tribe still lives very traditionally, though. The village consists of huts with a frame of tree branches held together with mud and covered in whatever materials they can scavenge – old cardboard and paper, bits of cloth… The huts are an extraordinary sight, surrounded by a thick ‘hedge’ of thorny tree branches that’s too wide and dense for predators to penetrate. During the day the tribe opens up the hedge to go in and out, and at night all the animals (mainly cows) are brought inside and the gaps are closed.

Samburu village surrounded by thorn hedge - photo by E Jurus
Samburu village surrounded by thorn hedge – photo by E Jurus

The villagers dress in colourful robes and jewellery for visitors, but we did see women down at the dry bed of the Ewaso Nyiro River doing laundry in t-shirts and loose skirts. Near the Masai Mara reserve, we saw Masai people dressed in a mix of traditional and modern, often incorporating bits of modern clothing, such as pants and tops with a brightly-coloured cloth as a shawl. Regardless of how much of the Samburu robes were for our benefit, it was a joy to see the wonderful clothing that remains from ancient times.

Bits of modernity have crept in as a result of the tribe staying in one place: the villagers offer tours and sell crafts to bring in money, and our guide had a cell phone to communicate outside the village.

The visit was a fascinating experience, though – the villagers demonstrated some native dances and how they made fire, we sat on benches under a tree where they hold their village meetings, and we sat inside one of their huts to see how they live on a daily basis. The Samburu are known for their elaborate beaded jewellery, and I treasure a necklace that I bought from the hands of the woman who made it. My husband bought a great spear from one of the men – the spear with the tufted leather guard on the blade in the photo below.

Traditional Samburu dances - photo by E Jurus
Traditional Samburu dances – photo by E Jurus

Yes, we paid for the tour and were hit up for donations to the school, but if I’d known in advance that the tour would be available I would have likely brought school supplies as a donation anyway.

As we finished the tour we were steered down a path lined with villagers selling their crafts, and they were a bit aggressive, but they were just being entrepreneurs. Obviously the tribe is aware that visitors like to buy jewellery and spears, and we were happy to buy something on location as opposed to in a shop in Nairobi.

Authentic experiences require interacting with local people in however they live their normal lives, not expecting a historical moment frozen in time. This usually means getting a bit down and dirty, so to speak – avoiding luxury accommodations and getting out into the streets to walk around.

If you truly want a real African safari, e.g., go camping in the bush! I’ve stayed in luxury lodges as well, and while they are lovely, save that for a couple of days at the end of the trip as a treat after roughing it. There’s nothing like being immersed in the African bush for a week or so, as in the days of early safaris. With a good safari operator, you’ll be quite safe, and you’ll experience the magic of sitting under the great African sky at night listening to the sounds of animals settling down for sleep, sleeping yourself snuggled under duvets while the chilly night air fills your tent, waking up to the raucous call of birds, and eating delicious meals cooked over wood fires. It’s an amazingly exciting and peaceful experience at the same time.

Safari tent, Okavango Delta, Botswana - photo by E Jurus
Safari tent, Okavango Delta, Botswana – photo by E Jurus

When we were in Egypt many years ago, for the first couple of days in Cairo we felt like we were in a fishbowl riding around from sight to sight in our tour bus. It wasn’t until we had some free time and walked to the museum and the market from our hotel on the Nile that we really began to feel a connection to the people and their culture. Never fill your leisure time on a tour with back-to-back excursions – leave some time to just walk about, sit in a sidewalk café or restaurant, and watch the ebb and flow of life around you.

One of the best experiences we’ve ever had took place on our last day on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. We were flying out that night, so we arranged with our resort to have a driver guide take us on a tour of some of the island before we headed for the airport. We visited the botanical gardens, some wonderful Hindu temples, a sacred lake, a jungle waterfall, the Seven Coloured Earths of Chamarel (naturally coloured sands), and ate fresh guavas handpicked for us by our guide Roger. Since our flight wasn’t until late, we inquired about somewhere to eat dinner other than at the airport, so he took us to a little place he knew on the side of the road across the street from the ocean. We sat out on the front porch and had a fantastic spicy chicken curry with rice while we watched the traffic go by and were waved at by the passersby. It was the perfect way to end that trip.

If you want authentic experiences, you need to get away from the luxury spots and obvious tourist traps and truly interact with the locals – walk where they walk, eat where they eat, and genuinely engage them in conversation. See how they really live, not how you’d like them to. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn about the world by accepting it for what it is.

The new Samburu village school - photo by E Jurus
The new Samburu village school – photo by E Jurus

Great opportunities

Walking with lions at the African Lion Encounter, Zimbabwe - photo of E Jurus
Walking with lions at the African Lion Encounter, Zimbabwe – photo of E Jurus

Our modern world is so full of opportunities! You can live out just about anything you might want to put on your bucket list, or try out any type of job experience.

Although it wasn’t originally on my bucket list the first time I went to Africa in 2007, as soon as I came across the opportunity to do a bush walk with lions in Zimbabwe near Victoria Falls, I jumped at it. We’d be spending 9 days on safari first, looking at lions from the safety of a game-drive vehicle, but to actually be able to touch a lion!

It was an intense and absolutely amazing experience. I can’t describe to you what the sensation was like of being able to interact and even touch these powerful, regal beasts. The lions that you walk with aren’t completely wild — they’ve been rescued as small cubs and habituated to humans — but there are strict rules to follow, and you never forget that they could destroy you with a paw swipe if they so chose. To be able to safely get that close is a rare privilege.

Both times that I was lucky enough to be able to do the Lion Encounter (click here for more info), I observed volunteers working with the staff — yes, you can go to Africa and spend weeks with the cubs, helping to feed them and conduct behavioural research.

There are many organizations around the world that offer volunteer experiences, both with people/communities and with animals. Many opportunities are just for personal growth, but there’s an organization called Worldwide Experience that offers some fantastic opportunities for work that would look stellar on a resume. One of their newest packages is the Wildlife Veterinary Programme: 21 days working with the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust. You’ll combine adventure and some unbeatable work experience! Visit the website for more info on this programme and all the other terrific opportunities they offer. As with any such opportunity, do your research to make sure it’s a good fit and that the organization resonates with you, and send me a message if you need any tips about travel to Africa.