Tag Archives: Volunteer

Imagine a day without water

A few years ago, I volunteered at a nature reserve on the island of San Cristobal in the Galápagos. As a biologist, visiting the Galápagos Islands had been a lifelong dream. I couldn’t wait to get to the reserve and do my part to protect this precious ecosystem and experience the amazing diversity of wildlife. 

This volunteer experience was marred by many unfortunate, and completely avoidable, problems. I’ll write about them in another post eventually. One of the biggest issues the volunteers faced was having access to clean drinking water. 

Upon arriving at the reserve, which was located far away from any town or store, I found a disturbing sight. I went into the kitchen to refill my water bottle and was told to get water from a large vat that had “sabanas sucias” written on the side. Dirty sheets. Our drinking water was being housed in a vat that obviously once contained dirty bed sheets. Hopefully this vat was thoroughly cleaned prior to being filled with our drinking water but based on how things were done at this reserve, it was probably wishful thinking. 

The vat had a basic water hose hung over the edge. I asked where the water came from and they told me it came from a near by river. I asked what they did to clean the water, which was darkish brown and had little sticks and other debris, since there was no filtration system. 

The reserve manager explained that they use three drops of bleach each time they refill the vat to clean the drinking water. I didn’t want to drink bleach at all but three drops hardly seemed adequate to clean a vat that was several feet high and too big for me to get my arms around. 

All of the volunteers were uneasy about drinking the water. We tried to make tea whenever possible, which was also rough considering how hot and humid it was. Everyone began to have digestive issues, especially me as I have Crohn’s disease. To be honest, it might not have even been the water. The reserve cook was an incredibly unhygienic woman who never washed her and did not seem to understand what cross-contamination was. 

I was there during the rainy season and everyday was a torrential downpour for several hours. Clean drinking water could have easily been collected. I asked why they didn’t collect the rainwater and I never really got an answer. They seemed annoyed that I kept asking questions about their environmental and sustainability practices, especially when I brought up that they could be growing their own produce on the sprawling reserve instead of buying food from the ships coming from the mainland. 

I was supposed to stay at the reserve for 3 weeks but left early due to mounting health problems and frustration with a nature reserve not actually practicing sustainability and conservation. 

While I didn’t truly experience a day without water, this was the closest I have been to having to worry about whether I’ll have clean drinking water from day to day. It really put into perspective how fortunate most of us are. The majority of us don’t put any thought into where our water comes from. We just turn on the faucet and trust that clean water will continue to flow. 

Today, pause and be grateful that you have easy access to clean drinking water. Reflect on your water habits and see where you can do your part to reduce the waste of our most precious resource. Maybe even try to live one day without water. Would you survive? 

Year In Review – 2016

The last several years of my life have not been particularly happy ones. I was unhappy in my job and my personal relationship. I vowed that I would change that. I ended the relationship and eventually gave myself a deadline to change my situation. In early February 2016, I went into a sensory deprivation tank with thoughts of a solo vacation to escape the job I hated, at least for a little while. When I left there, I had already decided to quit that job and travel alone for an extended period of time. Over the next several weeks, I researched and ultimately decided on three months in Ecuador. I would spend this time detoxing from an office environment that felt toxic and focusing on improving myself and ubelongthe lives of those around me. I found a beautiful yoga ashram outside of Quito where I will live for a month and get my teaching certification. During my time at Casa Kiliku, I will also eat an organic vegetarian diet (which will be an enormous challenge for a veggie hater like me), practice daily meditation and get back into things that once brought me joy like reading, writing and photography. Then I found a great volunteer organization called Ubelong. Through them, I will spend three weeks getting back to my science roots while volunteering in the Galapagos. Having the opportunity to participate in conservation efforts in such an incredible place is a dream come true for me! The rest of my time in Ecuador will be spent exploring the amazingly diverse country.

I was in the early planning stages when I met a man. He seemed to be the man of my dreams. Everything I had ever wanted in a partner. He was tall and handsome. He was loving and attentive. He was a science minded archaeologist, my very own Indiana Jones. He was perfect. I told him on our first date that I was planning this three month trip. He was very supportive. Giving me advice and telling stories from his own archaeological exploits in South America. He even gave me some gear that he thought I would need. Everything was perfect…too perfect. The little voice in the back of my mind kept telling me to brace myself. It was all too right. Something had to be wrong. After about five me-jon-cavernsmonths of blissful happiness, reality set in. He was not perfect, because nothing and no one ever is. He was not the man of my dreams. He was a liar. To what extent, I’ll never know but I do know I could never trust someone who lies about insignificant things. It is only a precursor for the bigger lies to come. There were many red flags. I overlooked them of course, as we all do when things seem to be going great. In retrospect, the warning signs were everywhere but I turned my blinders on for a while. In the end, he showed his true cowardly spinelessness and I couldn’t be blind to it. I have no respect for fake people. People who feel the need to put on airs because they know deep down they aren’t good enough.

The ending of that relationship was devastating but luckily, I had not altered any of my plans. I still had the adventure of a lifetime to look forward to. I continued to plan and book accommodations, trying to pay down as much as possible while I was still employed. During this time, the Presidential election was looming over our heads. How had our country come to this? The con man and the most despised women in the West. Beloved celebrities began to die off left and right. It was also as if they sensed the end of creative freedom on the horizon and couldn’t bear to see it. Then it happened. It actually happened. The thing we all thought would never really happen. It’s hard to see the silver lining in situations like this. You can only hope that this is rock bottom and the only place to go from here is up. 2016 has been a tumultuous year, not just for me personally but for the entire world. This year has been one of huge transitions with far reaching consequences that we can’t possibly understand.

2016 will forever be remembered as the year the world changed, probably not for the better. I fear that future generations will look back and view this time much like we look back on the rise of Nazi Germany, and wonder how the world allowed such atrocities to occur right before our eyes. Today, we are actors in the same tragedy. To be better as a species, we have to be better individually. We have to stand up and demand better treatment while also taking responsibility for our own lives and happiness. That is what 2016 has really been about for me. I decided that I could not blame my unhappiness on things that I had the power to change. I am in charge of my own happiness and I will do the things that make me happy. As I prepare to embark on my journey, I wonder what kind of home I’ll return to. I’m anxious to see what 2017 has in store but I’m also hopeful that the goodness in people will overcome the fear and insecurities of others. So, let’s celebrate the end of 2016, it could not come soon enough! Here’s to a 2017 filled with happiness, love and adventures!

Why I Decided To Quit My Job To Travel

bamboo-walkway-maui
Bamboo Walkway – Maui

Since I was a little girl, I loved learning about science and animals. You could even say I was a bit of a fanatic. When friends would come to my house to play, I would make them give presentations about animals based on the information found in my beloved Animal Fact and File Cards. I would tell my family that when I died, I wanted my body to be left in the African savanna so the lions could eat me; something my mom still teases me about from time to time. Even as a small child, I knew science would be my life.

Then I got sick. It began as a constant painful upset stomach. I was feeling tired all the time. Then the bleeding started. I was terrified, exhausted and ashamed. I didn’t understand what was happening to me but I knew I wasn’t myself anymore. I kept it to myself. I would sit around wondering what I had done to bring this on myself. It was over a year of having symptoms before I finally told my mom. When I was about eight years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s has been an incredibly destructive force in my life. It, and the chronic anxiety it brings, has controlled my life for as long as I can remember. It’s always there, influencing every decision I make. Dictating what I can and can’t do, where I can and can’t go, what I can and can’t eat or drink. Crohn’s made getting though school, and life, very difficult. I couldn’t focus anymore. I felt angry, sad and isolated all the time. Some days I didn’t have the strength to pull myself out of bed. When I did actually make it to school, I would often have to spend the majority of the day sick in the bathroom. My childhood memories are mostly of doctor visits, hospital stays, the horrible side effects from the medications prescribed and the loneliness Crohn’s has caused me.

Despite all of this, I knew what I wanted and nothing was going to stop me, not even my own failing body. I worked hard and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology with a minor in Spanish and a Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management. I went on to take a job with an environmental agency. I hoped it would be fulfilling and make me feel like everything I had struggled through had been worth it. I realized immediately that it would not be the job I was hoping for. The work was basically data entry for people with science degrees. Constant issues with management left much of the staff feeling unappreciated and disengaged. The turnover rate was shockingly high because many felt as though management saw them as completely disposable. It was a very depressing place to spend 40 hours of your life every week for years. I feel that place caused me to lose my passion and drive for life.

During this time, I felt stuck in a relationship with someone I had nothing in common with. From the beginning I wanted things to change but any time I expressed even the slightest negative feeling towards our situation, he would freak out and guilt me into tolerating it. Everyday was the same dissatisfied boredom and I was incredibly unhappy. I decided that I needed a break from the monotony and wanted to take a group vacation to Costa Rica for my 30th birthday. I talked about it for weeks and began planning. Several friends had already committed to the trip when he had one of his meltdowns. He made me feel so guilty and selfish for wanting to take this trip that I cancelled it. Then, a couple of months before my birthday, I couldn’t take it anymore. After two years, I finally ended the relationship. I hated myself for letting someone else influence my life choices so much and for so long. I vowed that I would never forgo my own happiness to appease someone else ever again.

I began focusing on bettering myself. Going to yoga more often. Trying to meditate, which is a huge challenge for someone with a mind that does nothing but bounce from one insane worry to the next obsessively. I tried to think about positive things. The idea of a taking a solo vacation kept coming into my mind. When my birthday came, my friends threw me a great surprise party. I felt loved and thankful to have so many amazing people in my life.

A week or so later, I had my first sensory deprivation experience. It was exciting and calming while also being somewhat unsettling. Something happened in there. I’m not sure what. On the drive home, I realized I had decided that I was not just going to take a solo vacation. I had made the decision to quit the job I loathed and go spend several months in South America. I eventually chose beautiful Ecuador as my destination country. The Galápagos Islands have always fascinated me and I felt it would be the perfect place to reignite my passion for science and living life. I will be living on San Cristóbal Island for three weeks while I do volunteer conservation work with the Ubelong organization. I will also spend a month living in a yoga ashram. During this time I will focus on meditation and mindfulness while I obtain my yoga teacher certification at Durga’s Tiger School – Casa Kiliku outside of Quito. Yoga and meditation have become great tools for easing my Crohn’s symptoms and calming my mind. I hope that by taking my practice deeper, I will find a place where Crohn’s and anxiety are no longer an issue.

As excited as I am, I’m also terrified. I have no idea what will happen over there. Maybe everything will be wonderful and it will be the best decision I have ever made. Maybe I will be sick and alone the whole time and it will be awful. Regardless of what happens, I will be satisfied knowing that it was a decision I made for myself, in spite of the fear. Crohn’s disease has been the biggest obstacle in my life, but it will be an obstacle I continue to overcome everyday. Now is my time. No more 40-hour weeks in windowless cubicles doing soul sucking passionless work. No more dealing with people who hold me back from what I want. And especially no more going through life letting fear dictate my level of happiness. Fear took my childhood and a significant portion of my adulthood away from me but now I decide what I’ll do, where I’ll go and what I’ll eat and drink. There is no point in limiting myself anymore. It will be with me no matter what and I refuse to let it keep me from the things I want any longer.