World Kindness (Every) Day

Image courtesy of https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/world-kindness-day

This will be a short post, as I have a virus and my head is on strike, but I did want to mention that yesterday was World Kindness Day, and that’s something I really believe in.

In a world with a lot of daily stressors, it’s easy to be grumpy, short-tempered and so wrapped up in your own issues that you forget to take other people into consideration. I think we’re all guilty of it from time to time in varying degrees, but sometimes you run into a person who is so toxic to deal with that it taints your entire day.

My best antidote to that is to go out of my way to be kind to someone. I’ll make someone a nice cup of tea, or make a point of chatting with a stressed store clerk to make them smile, or give a Tim Horton’s gift card to a homeless person so they can get a hot meal. These small acts of kindness are my way of putting some good karma back into the world.

If each of us can take the time to be kind, to give someone a break or the benefit of the doubt, even just to smile at people, we could make the world a much nicer place.

In the words of Brooke Jones, Vice President, The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, ” Kindness starts with one. One smile. One compliment. One cup of coffee. One conversation.” Find out more about being kind at the Random Acts of Kindness website.

Label removal

I hate labels. As soon as I get a new item home, whether its a piece of clothing or new towels, I cut off the label — it’s a tacked-on piece of cloth, or worse, plastic, that just annoys the heck out of me.

Yesterday I saw the title of an article on the BBC website, my daily news source, that produced a similar feeling: Emma Watson: ‘I’m happy to be single, I call it being self-partnered, and it really struck me as a ridiculous concept. No disrespect to Emma, it’s the idea that we have to label ourselves as something. Why can’t we just ‘be’?

Why should it matter to society what status we have? Whether we’re in a relationship or not, have children or not, what age we are, what our sexual orientation is – none of that should matter or be anyone else’s concern.

We live in a society of both oversharing and judginess. People feel the need to be validated by the opinions of thousands of people they don’t actually know, while internet trolls seem to take great pleasure in being mean about it.

Having grown up in the post-war era, when wealthy families were rare and most people were just working quietly away to make ends meet, people were just themselves, without connotations attached. I went to a high school where we dressed in uniforms, which really did democratize the student body. It also removed any anxiety about what you were going to wear the next day. We were aware of who the wealthier students were, but that never manifested in a way that made students from lower-income families feel threatened. I was one of the latter. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, and I understood that, and appreciated when they were able to splurge on something special.

There were a couple of cliques of students who thought they were cool, but – and maybe our class was singular in this – everyone had plenty of people to hang out with, regardless of their interests, and I never saw anyone get bullied or shunned.

Now ostentatious wealth seems to be the norm – massive homes that flaunt their size and expense, wealthy people spending ridiculous amounts that could feed a family for several years on art or memorabilia, or on luxury travel where everything must transpire perfectly or the trip isn’t worth taking.

My hubby and I were on safari in Botswana a number of years ago to celebrate a milestone anniversary. We chose a mobile camping safari that you could perhaps call early glamping – the camp staff transported and set up our tents in each location, cooked our food, etc., so all we had to do was show up and enjoy the experience – but we used communal toilet tents, slept on cots and fell asleep to the sounds of hippos grunting down by the river. We loved it and had an absolute blast being so immersed in the African bush.

In our final game reserve in the Chobe region of northern Botswana, one day our group passed a safari vehicle from the most exclusive (and expensive) lodge in the area, and all the guests looked bored.

How sad, that these people apparently had so much money that they couldn’t appreciate the remarkable experience of being in the middle of Africa, surrounded by prowling lions and noisy baboons and big herds of elephants thudding down to the river’s edge to bathe – an experience that many people will never get to have. What a waste!

Everyone seems to feel the need to label themselves publicly, urged on by the media, who thrive on drama. A recent trend I’ve seen is for business signatures to include what your preferred pronouns are, e.g. “she/her/hers”. If we’re to be truly inclusive someday, we shouldn’t even have to specify.

Labelling people tends to create an awful ‘us vs them’ mentality. I’m married, you’re not; I’m straight, you’re not; I’m wealthy, you’re not; I’m xxx religion and you’re not so you’ll be going straight to Hell… So many troubles have arisen from a separation of identity, when we should all just be creatures sharing the same beautiful planet, and acknowledging the importance of every creature on this planet. Maybe then we’ll take better care of it.

The search for peace

I remember exactly what I was doing on September 11, 2001. I imagine that most people do. Some events are so impactful on a global scale that they are forever etched in our collective memories.

I was sitting at my desk in a common area at our local college, working away, when someone came out of an office and said, “There’s something going on in New York.”

The internet was still in its early days as a news source, but several of us crowded around our colleague’s live stream to watch, stunned, as events unfolded. I can recall watching the second plane fly into a tower; it was so surreal that it was hard to absorb.

Word spread quickly and I think most work ground to a halt as the Library set up a big TV screen in the lobby. No one knew what to do. This horrific event was unfolding before our very eyes, and all we could do was watch.

The 9/11 tragedy had ripples for a long time afterward.

The skies were eerily quiet for days while a no-fly rule was in effect. Friends with relatives in New York City were glued to their television sets. Everyone wondered how the aftermath would play out.

I live in a community close to the Canadian-US border, with hydroelectric plants and a number of big factories, so most people that I knew experienced some anxiety over the possibility of our own attack – although I suspect that scenario was on most people’s minds in North America.

In the height of irony, astronauts on the International Space Station, a cooperative venture bringing nations together far above us, could see the smoke plumes and struggled with their own sense of helplessness – you can read their poignant point of view in an article on Space.com.

Six years later, when my hubby and I went on our first African safari, airlines still had considerable restrictions on what travelers could bring on board, and we became very creative at packing economically.

9/11 changed our modern landscape, and there has been endless speculation about why it happened. Like most historical events, we may never know all of the truth, but I think we can agree that global peace continues to be a series of forward steps alternating with backward steps.

I believe that the root of conflict is a lack of respect for someone else’s right to hold a different point of view, and I believe that one of the ways we can work toward global peace is to travel.

It’s really difficult to hold another place or culture at arm’s length, to put a psychological wall up, when you’ve been there in person and met the ordinary people who live there, work there, try to provide for their families, laugh, feel pain, feel sorrow. It’s hard to turn away from animals and environments in need when you’ve walked among them.

We have met so many wonderful people on our travels. We have seen the magnificence of places like Africa and the Amazon Jungle, and know how critical they are to life as we know it.

Life thrives in the quiet places of our planet. Beauty and harmony are there. Find those places and their inhabitants, and understand why all the parts matter.

As a counterpoint to the sadness of 9/11, and the many ongoing conflicts in the world, one movement we can embrace is Forest Bathing. The name may sound silly, but bear with me on this.

Forest Bathing is a Japanese practice that promotes wellness by spending mindful time in a forested area. Nature is healing. Buildings, as beautiful as some of our constructions can be, are artificial environments, surrounded by cities that often don’t include much green space. Our increasing urbanization is separating us from the planet that has nurtured us for eons.

September 7th, this past weekend, was International Forest Bathing Day. The practice is really catching on world-wide, and there is likely at least one certified guide within fifty miles of you. Of course, anyone can do forest bathing for themselves, but you need to be able to do it slowly, taking the time to notice all the beauty and enjoy the serenity.

Find your centre, your inner core of peace and connectedness. I’d love to hear about it.

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