Monday, November 23, 2020

There Are No Tuk Tuks in Tuk Tuk

I am in the jungle in Indonesia riding on the back of a motorbike over rough terrain. Numerous wet stones and mud create the obstacle course that is our landscape to traverse. What makes the situation even more dire is that it is dark and raining and the headlight on this old motorbike keeps going out. I wonder how he can drive through this at night with no head light?  

This should not really scare me. I’ve done far more dangerous things traveling than riding on the back of a motorbike…but it does. After wrecking a bike in Tuk Tuk on my own last week, I had hoped it would be the last time I would ride one. 

But I am learning that in Upper Sumatra it’s often the only mode of transportation. Especially here in Batu Kapal, where unlike in Tuk Tuk which has roads, there are only small trails to get you from village to village. As usual I had arrived to my destination not knowing what to expect. I like it that way because it keeps things exciting but sometimes it’s more nerve racking than I care to admit. 

A few days ago, I decided to rent a motorbike to visit some sites in Tuk Tuk on Lake Toba, though I had never driven one before. I never thought it was a good idea before but it was the only way around. 

Tuk Tuk does not take after its namesake as I had assumed. In most countries I have been to, I have been able to hire tuk-tuks to get me short distances. But the small three-wheel vehicles which are similar to a rickshaw but with a driver’s seat and a motor, were nowhere around. There are no tuk-tuks in Tuk Tuk I learned. Only motorbikes. Many carrying entire families. Some could be seen carrying a wooden structure the size of a small room, stacked with merchandise and parcels. 

After a quick five-minute driver’s course, the motor bike owner sent me off saying, “Drive slow. No insurance!”. 

I did great the first day. I thought for sure I had a handle on it. The next day I drove twice as far, almost an hour, eager to see the traditional Batak Dancers in Simanindo. 

I arrived to what was usually a popular tourist attraction for such a small place, but today there were only three attendees. The musicians sat atop the second-floor balcony of a beautiful Batak building, framed by ornate wood cuttings painted red. Elaborate wood carvings hung all around them. The building was topped by the iconic sloped roof shape that all traditional Batak homes and buildings have. They played beautifully, one on a set of large drums made of bamboo, the other, on a horn of some sort. The dancers seemed bored. They made silly gestures to each other and smiled half-heartedly through it. Clearly, they had performed this dance hundreds of times. Their beautiful woven skirts and sashes were starting to fade from over use. It must not be fun to perform for such a tiny audience either. Even though it was slow season, it was much slower than usual. Many tourists were afraid to travel anywhere in Asia due to the scare about corona virus.

When the performance was over, I got on the road again, ready to head back to my home-stay to rest. I was only driving for a few minutes when I turned a corner and saw a bus stopped in front of me. I squeezed the breaks hard but could not get them to work. There was nowhere to go but straight ahead so I just braced myself. Seconds later I found myself with the wheel of my motor bike stuck up under the bumper of the bus. The bike was still standing upright and I just stood up and got off. I was pretty shaken up. The bike’s fender had broken off and the headlights were smashed. Even the fiberglass casing around the seat and the back reflectors were busted, having felt the impact all the way around the bike. But I was lucky not to be injured. It could have been so much worse. 

Several men came to make sure I was ok. It took two of them to pull the bike out from under the bus. The bus was unharmed. They called the owner of the bike and when I got on the phone, I was surprised to hear that she really was more concerned for me than the bike. Actually, she did not even sound upset about the bike. She asked if I could drive it home. We started it up and the bike could still run, no problem. Once my heart rate calmed down, I felt okay to drive again. I just wanted to get back now, and never get on a motor bike again. I took it very slow going back. 

When I got there Isabel, the owner, asked me to go with her to the mechanic to see the cost of the damages. Reluctantly, I got back on the bike and endured the ride. The cost was one million two hundred thousand rupees to repair, equal to about two hundred forty US dollars. I agreed to pay, a small price for being alive and unharmed. The breaks were somehow working fine now. The crash was my fault. 

I bought Isabel and I lunch after that. Then we went back to her house and sat talking about the accident over tea. We were both amazed that there had been so much damage to the bike and that I was perfectly fine. I still could not understand what happened with the breaks. She was just glad I was ok. She smiled at me and I could see I had made a new friend. 

I visited with her over the next couple of days. The day before I left, I needed to get to town for a couple of errands and I asked her to take me. She said she would but we needed to make a stop at a wedding party in Samosir first, eat and then we could go to Tomok. I was so excited to be seeing more of the culture, I did not mind getting on the motor bike again. Isabel finished a plate of food and I thought, “She’s going to be really full if we eat again in an hour”. Then she quickly changed from her stained daily clothes into a nice green satin blouse, batik skirt and sequined slippers. I asked her, “Is this your family whose wedding it is?” and she smiled and replied, “Here, we are all family.”

Thankfully the wedding party was only a couple of blocks away. As we drove up, I could see other women walking toward the party, putting on their nicest batik sarongs over their everyday clothes as they walked. 

The newlyweds were gorgeous. The bride wore an ornate white beaded lace blouse over her traditional red Batak skirt and red sash across the chest. Her head was crowned with gold metallic appliques on rich red fabric, held on by thick rows of pearls that stretched around the back of her head, with many more in perfect lines clipped into her hair below. The groom wore a smaller red sash over his suit and a triangular red crown with similar gold appliques. 

The women of the wedding party were all dressed in traditional Batak skirt and sash with ornate lace and beaded blouses, the men in suits and sashes of varying colors. They were all beautiful. Isabel had nudged me off, telling me to go take pictures, as soon as we arrived and I could not stop shooting. Delighted women danced in groups together. The wedding party made rows and danced back and forth to upbeat Indonesian rhythms, played by a stylish band. 

A line was formed in front of the newlyweds. Guests holding Indonesian cash rupees and women with tall colorful woven baskets of rice on their heads, each took their turn congratulating the couple and giving them the money. The line of women ended beside several large bags that the rice was poured into. I did not know anyone or speak the language but I was having a terrific time just to be watching.

When I could see that the wedding party was moving to the banquet tables I went over to sit with Isabel and her friends. All of the guests sat in randomly placed plastic chairs or on the ground on tarps. There were probably two hundred guests in total. That’s when I noticed that several of her friends wore the same outfits as Isabel. She told me, “We eat and then I sing and we go then.” She explained that she and the others were there to perform and she wanted me to photograph them. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige my friend. Besides I was already so enamored to be able to photograph the wedding party. 

A table was set up with large buckets of food which was scooped up with a bowl and put onto plastic plates. We were given no utensils as everyone eats with their hands in Samosir. The plates were passed out and as soon as Isabel got hers’, she opened up a plastic bag and dumped it in. She waited for another plate of food and put most of that in too, saving herself a small portion of rice and meat to eat for now. That’s when it dawned on me why she kept mentioning eating at the wedding party. How na├»ve of me not to realize before how poor she really was, which is why this meal was so important. I suddenly wished I could do more for her. There was a lot of rice left on my plate when I was done and after setting it down on the ground, I thought perhaps I should offer it to Isabel. But before I could, another woman came along, picked it up and dumped it into her own bag. 

 Sometimes I surprise myself. I visit so many countries where the people clearly live on so little, yet I am still clueless about just how little that actually is. What if the wreck had happened to another tourist and they had refused to pay Isabel? It would be a huge loss and there would be no course of action she could take to get her money back. The fact is, if anything happened to her bike or her home, there is no insurance to cover it to be able to rebuild. Thinking about this I worry about Isabel.

Millions of people live this way. Millions of hard-working people who may bring home a few dollars of income a day, if they have the means. Yet, I can afford to travel and carry a camera that is worth what is perhaps a year’s salary to one of them. It makes me sad to think about. When reality hits me like this it can be really depressing. This is the way it is in most of the world though. And there is really nothing I can do to change it. What I can do is just be Isabel’s friend and support her when possible. So, when she asked me to donate 100,000 rupees ($7.50 US dollars) to her singing group, I was happy to do it. 

One thing I do know. When I look at their smiling faces, I am reminded that there is something they have more of than most people I know- love and happiness. They have communities where everyone is considered family. Most underdeveloped places I visit in other countries, I find that the people are genuinely happy. They smile and laugh often. They rarely complain. They seem content with what little they have. Even the babies are almost never heard crying because they have the attention that they need to thrive. They are well loved. It’s more than a lot of people in the US have, even if they are rich. And that alone gives me hope for Isabel. 

Now riding through the jungle, I realize that maybe my motorbike driver cannot afford a new headlight? I decide to pay him enough for the ride to also get it fixed. I know that this will not be my last motorbike ride because there are no tuk-tuks in Batu Kapal either. 

The Beauty and Challenge of Working For Sea Turtles

As we turn the bend toward the north side of the island, the current changes from gentle to fierce. I plunge my oar into the treacherous aqua blue water, and yell to my friend, "Paddle harder! Harder!". We are now in rough seas and dangerously close to the jagged rocks along the shore. I worry that our kayak might get tossed against them if we do not get out of the current quickly. I think to myself, "What have I gotten myself into this time?".

My friend Kristina and I are in the Virgin Islands where we have come to help monitor the nesting of endangered sea turtles. It is my first wildlife volunteer experience, a position which I procured after seeing an article from the US National Park Service that volunteers were needed on St. John Island. It was an island I already adored, so I reached out to them and was put in touch with a ranger. I am told that there is no real volunteer program in place so if I come, I will be helping design it. I will have free accommodations in a tent by the beach, I just have to pay for my travel expenses and food. "Sounds great!", I tell the ranger. I agree to be there for five weeks. Kristina will stay for ten days. I am excited to be visiting this natural wonder again, living on the beach in my favorite paradise.

 I have invited my friend to help because I know she needs a break from the city and an island vacation will be good for her. Plus, I do not want to be alone for this new experience and she will be great company. 

I have no idea what to expect. A theme that will ring true for nearly every journey I embark upon from here on out. 

 I arrive a few days ahead of her to assess the situation, taking the first couple of days to soak it all in. I spend the time lounging on the pristine beach and snorkeling in the prismatic water, teaming with dozens of tropical fish and sea turtles. It feels like a dream to be here. 

It will be our job to monitor four beaches, seeking sea turtle tracks and the nests that they lead us to. I quickly find out that to get to each beach we have to walk or hitchhike along the only road, several miles to each location. It is already muggy at 9 am on my first-day monitoring. I have walked for more than an hour to reach my first beach and I am drenched in sweat, exhausted from the heat. "This is not going to work.", I tell myself. 

 By the next day, I have convinced the ranger to talk the Cinnamon Bay kayak rental into allowing me to borrow a kayak for my work while I am there. I have never actually sea kayaked before but I know well how to control a canoe on a river. I am sure it can't be any harder. 

 Yet here I am, trying to control this boat in strong waters, realizing that sea kayaking is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I had had a couple of days to practice on my own but getting to the other beaches was not a problem. It is now, trying to traverse raucous waters to get us to Trunk Bay. Kristina has never been in a canoe or a kayak. She is what we call a lily paddler, someone who does not yet know how to use their strength to move the boat with a paddle. She is trying her best but I can see that it will mostly be up to me to get us to safety. 

 It feels like the boat is going nowhere, the ocean is strong but the wind is just as powerful, seeming to stop us from moving at all. The waves keep throwing water in my face, making it difficult to see where we are going. All I can do is paddle harder and faster. I use every bit of strength I have to get the boat to turn the corner into calm water, where the wind finally dies down. Exhausted we slump down in the boat, feeling the gentle rocking of the much calmer sea now. We both start to laugh, impressed that we made it. We look out onto the crystal blue water, the white sands of Trunk Bay ahead of us, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and we know the effort was worth it. 

  After doing our beach monitoring, we waste no time gearing up in our snorkels and fins. We jump into the refreshing clear water to see what magical marine life resides below. It is even more gorgeous than where we reside at Cinnamon Bay! Trunk Bay is known to be one of the best sites anywhere on earth for coral reef snorkeling. There are large parrotfish in neon blues and yellows swimming around us. Angelfish the size of my hand elegantly glide by, their long feathery fins flowing behind them. A large school of tiny silver fish dart back and forth over brilliant purple sea fans, chartreuse elkhorn coral and brain coral. Tentacles of orange sea anemone, home to many clownfish, gently flow with the small currents that move on the ocean floor. A true octopus's garden. The occasional sea turtle floats by, making its way under tunnels of rock formations and quickly swimming out of sight. 

This is our routine every day and we live for it. We see a multitude of beautiful sea creatures including stingray, small sharks, and jellyfish with every swim. My first squid sighting felt more like an alien encounter. Eight translucent oblong-shaped creatures sitting together in a perfect diamond formation. They are completely still, with large eyes protruding from the sides of their heads. They seem just as curious to observe me as I am them. The sea turtles that we have come here to help save are like majestic dinosaurs of the sea. They look prehistoric compared to everything around them. Green sea turtles are the most common. We hope to see the legendary leatherback sea turtle, which can be as large a Volkswagen beetle. 

Over the next few days, our kayak trip to Trunk Bay gets easier. At least we know how to handle it now and Kristina has become a much stronger paddler. 

Our living situation is not the dreamy accommodations that Kristina imagined. It's her first time camping and it leaves much to be desired. It's hot as hell in our tent, even after the sun goes down. We hope no mosquitos have come in with us or we won't get any sleep. They are bad enough outside of the tent, in the thick secondary forest that surrounds us. We pass out by dark each night. We have had a full day of monitoring sea turtle nests and exploring, starting at six am. All of our food is stored in an old cooler that does not keep ice for more than a day and getting to a store to buy more is a task. But Kristina graciously sticks it out, happy to be away from the city and enjoying exploring this beautiful island.  

When her time is up, we are both sad that she has to go. I help her haul her leatherback turtle sized suitcase out of the woods. It does not roll well over the thick layer of leaves and stones on the forest floor and we have to carry it most of the way to the parking lot. From there we say goodbye. I will miss sharing more adventures in paradise with her. Then the ranger gives her a lift to the island ferry and Kristina heads back to New Orleans. 

I am on my own now. I do my daily monitoring, handling the kayak on my own with some challenges but I am more comfortable with it now. Soon after, a new volunteer arrives. She knows a little more about kayaking and has experience volunteering with sea turtles in the Galapagos. There it was her job to autopsy the dead and document what is inside of each turtle to help determine why it died. 

I am learning some of the unsavory aspects of wildlife management as well. The mongoose was introduced to the islands decades ago to help control the rat problem. Since then they have become the biggest threat to sea turtle eggs. They are constantly seen darting into holes in the ground, rampant throughout the island. Cute creatures but a total nuisance. Chris, the ranger shows us how they are trying to manage the population. Many years ago, forestry management tried baiting them with poison but soon realized how harmful it was to other animals. Now the only option is to capture them in cages and then euthanize them. Before witnessing this, I am sure it will be a bit traumatizing for me to see but I feel it is something I need to know more about. Then I realize that the screeching of the creature when we approach the cage before the euthanizing gun is even put to its head is enough to give me nightmares. Seeing the euthanizing procedure is tough to take. The volume of mongoose, make it an impossible task to keep up with, regardless. Because of this, it is not a method that they will maintain for long. 

Every day we walk the beach at sunrise looking for turtle tracks. Rarely do we see them. These beaches are so tourist-heavy that if there were tracks, they are walked over before we get to them. Even in five weeks, the only turtle nest I find is an empty one, with rubbery decaying shells from recently hatched baby turtles lying around it. Maybe they go to other places to lay eggs these days? But that is doubtful because turtles are known to lay eggs in the same spot their entire lives. The babies then come back to where they were born to begin laying the next generation of eggs. 

Tourists from cruise ships leave tons of trash on the beach, so we end up spending some of our time cleaning up after them. We think they should be fined for trashing the beach. But that too will take more resources. The cruise ship tourists cannot even be bothered to stop walking on the fragile coral reefs when the lifeguard blows a whistle and yells for them to get off. 

I am realizing that sometimes it's hard to be a volunteer in wildlife management. There are parts you cannot un-see. Parts that make you more disgusted with humans than you were before.

But I also see the beauty in getting to work this closely with nature. Feeling like you are making at least a small difference for wildlife. Despite the drawbacks, I have had five rewarding weeks living by the sea, getting to know the sunrise and sunset, learning about the plentitude of sea creatures that reside here. It's been a beautiful experience and one that only makes me want to do more. Before I even go home, I am already researching my next destination for wildlife volunteer work. 

And before I leave the Virgin Islands, I will have one last adventure. I have been invited to visit a new friend on a neighboring island. It will be a short seaplane ride to get to St. Croix and the tiny plane will only hold a few people. It's my first ride in one and landing on the ocean makes the trip seem even more exciting. 

  Once I tell my new friend Emily my story of not getting to see any sea turtle nests or babies, she contacts a local friend who works with a sea turtle sanctuary there in St. Croix. We are hoping that she can accommodate us for a visit. We luck out as the following day is the last day that the sanctuary is open to visitors for the season. The roster is already full but once she hears of the work I was doing on St. John Island, she makes an exception for us to come. 

 The experience is more than I could have hoped for. We are given a tour with a group of school children and shown the beach where leatherback sea turtles have laid their nests. It is an incredible sight to see. In just one small area of the beach, numerous huge indentations lie where enormous turtles have dug away the sand and deposited their eggs in the cool ground. It is even more incredible to imagine that each nest holds eighty to one hundred eggs. 

Considering what the infants have to go through to survive after hatching, it is easy to see why so many eggs are laid at once. Once hatched they will have just enough nutrients in their soft bodies to swim the first few hundred miles to a place in the sea where a river of micronutrients is waiting to be consumed by them. It is the only food small enough for these tiny creatures to eat and digest. It will take two weeks to swim there if they can survive the many large predators they encounter along the way. Only one in one thousand will ever make it to adolescence a few months from now.

After viewing this awesome site, we are escorted to the seashore where we are each given one tiny leatherback sea turtle, the size of the palm of your hand. I cannot contain myself. I start to cry for the blessing to be able to hold one of these tiny creatures that I have dreamed of seeing for weeks now. 

These are all babies whose nests were endangered and had to be relocated, so it is a miracle that they are even alive. Releasing them has to be done in the most natural way possible and we are not allowed to intervene, no matter what. 

On cue, we all take two steps toward the ocean as instructed, before laying our babies on the beach and allowing the waves to wash them away. All of the kids are cheering for their little ones to swim into the ocean. I watch in dismay, while my baby sea turtle and so many others are tumbled by the first oncoming wave. It is on its' back now, getting pummeled in the waves and trying to gain balance to swim upright. I worry if they will even survive this! 

But for being only infants, they are strong creatures. In a few moments, they have been tossed far enough into the ocean that they can safely swim away. Seeing this my eyes well up with tears again. I give thanks for the blessing to be able to do one more, tiny thing, to help in the proliferation of these magnificent creatures.  

(Video of Me Volunteering)

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Great Reset

Can we please just call this the great reset?
Have you grasped the gravity of this yet? Not even a war could dismantle every single system on the planet like this virus is doing.
This is prime for creating the greatest human change we can imagine. On every level.
Don’t go to sleep now! Believe in the best possibilities for our future once we cross through this darkness.
You have a choice in what you believe after all. Give your energy to the best possible outcome rather than the worst.
Why not. You have nothing else to lose now.
If you truly believe in how energy works then you know how important it is to stay hopeful and not succumb to the fear.
That still means keeping yourself and the public safe by staying indoors but not allowing your fear to take over and keep you from believing in the greatest possible outcome for us all.
I believe that anything is possible.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Be Still Now

YOU have never had the time to sit and be in silence. 
NOW you are being given that time. 
This is the time to BE STILL. 
Humans are in this predicament because they lost the CONNECTION to nature a long time ago. 
We lost it because we became so distracted by our wants and desires that we forgot our need to connect and the need to be still, to sit in silence and commune with nature. 
NOW is the time. THIS is how you will reconnect with your inner self, with nature and mother earth. 
This is how you will find HEALING on so many levels. This is how you can help humanity right now. 
BE in the silence. 
FEEL your connection with the natural world again. 
For you, for us and for them.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Abalone Shell

I have always had a strong intuition that has led me throughout my life. I feel very blessed for this. It led me to my spiritual path.
Sometimes though, I doubt myself. I am human after all.
I have followed a Native American spiritual path for many years now which has given me the gift to pray with a sacred pipe or channunpa. This is a very honorable tool to have and I am still in awe that I have been given permission to be a pipe keeper.

Sometimes I feel unworthy though. I am human.
I am a white woman, born American of a melting pot of different cultures. I do not know who my blood ancestors are. I think of those of us who did not grow up with an ancestral heritage. It’s unfortunate.
I often think of the many natives who know their heritage but have lost their traditions. Some forced out of it, being told this practice was devil-worshipping and to stop their traditions or die. I think about those who are afraid now of their ancestors' sacred ceremonies. I think of the few who still practice these ceremonies but do not want whites associated with them at all. I wonder if they know how blessed they are to know where they come from.
I am incredibly grateful to those natives who do know. To the ones who shared their spiritual tradition with whites. Believing they were a way to help keep these ceremonies from dying out. These native elders taught us that Great Spirit does not discriminate for who can pray in this way. That the channunpa was brought by White Buffalo Calf Woman for all of the people. They tell us that anyone who is drawn to this path can pray in this way if they are respectful.
No, I did not just decide it was my right to be a pipe keeper. I was given permission. I earned this privilege through commitment to this spiritual path. Through believing in the power of these ancient ways. In honoring the earth. In knowing that we are all related, which in Lakota translates- Mitakuye Oyasin. I earned it through years of commitment to these sacred ceremonies.
Though I was not raised on any ancestral traditions, I was taught similarly that we are all created equal. That no part of nature is any less than any human being. Just as my mother was taught and her mother and her mother’s mother. And my spiritual path has taken me into an even deeper understanding of Mitakuye Oyasin.
I love seashells and I have collected them on beaches all over the world. I find that each place has its unique shells that may not be found elsewhere. I have found many different kinds of shells but there is one that I have never seen on any beach. The abalone shell has been used in Native American tradition for ceremonies for eons. It is used to burn sage in for purification and to represent the sea. The ones I own I received as gifts. I somehow never felt right buying one. And I never had one small enough to travel with.
While I was abroad I spent a lot of time praying by the seashore with my channunpa. I thought a lot about what I was doing there. I wondered again, who I was to think I had the right to practice this tradition from a culture that was not even mine.
I was doubting myself again. Then came the gift.
In Malaysia, I was staying in a dorm with other volunteers and one day I came in to find many of them had left. The Europeans who were there before did not spend time collecting shells on the beach. They were backpackers just moving from place to place. All of their packs were gone and the room was practically empty.
           There beside my bed was a very small abalone shell. A perfect shining specimen of the most sacred shell of Native American spiritual practice. It appeared out of nowhere, not even from this continent. And it was the perfect size for travel. I knew it was a gift from creator. A reminder that I am worthy of following this sacred path. That yes, my intuition has served me right and I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Reminding me that every being on earth is sacred, including this small shell. We are all created equal. We are all related. Mitakuye Oyasin

Friday, March 6, 2020

Shamans and the Ego

One sacred plant medicine, which has taught me a lot, is Huachuma, also known as mescaline, from the San Pedro cactus. It is an integrative plant, meaning it teaches us how to connect with nature and with spirit.
Years ago, I was at the Amazonian Shamanism Conference in Peru where I met a Curandera. At that time, she was the only female shaman I had had the opportunity to be in ceremony with. Through her, I worked with huachuma plant medicine for the first time. Wendy seemed very humble, preferring not to have a title. She was said to have trained with shamans from all over Peru for many years.
During the conference, I sat with Wendy at a day ceremony at the zoo in Iquitos. At one point we were standing in front of the jaguar enclosure where I witnessed something I had not seen before. Wendy stood looking at the big cat for a while and then he came over to the fence. He stood on his hind legs baring his belly and leaned up against the bars, looking at her and purring. I was amazed! Even a house cat does not bare its belly so easily.
Wendy explained to me what had happened. She said that she had gone into a space of shifting her energy to be on his level, focusing on feeling who he was. She did not ask him to do what he did. She just opened up to who he was and he felt her connection. He then returned her honoring of him with that gesture, showing his honor of her as well. He felt a connection, without any threat and felt safe enough to bare his belly, the most vulnerable position for a cat to put itself in.
She had me do an exercise to understand this myself. I focused on the tree I leaned against and began to truly feel its connection to everything around us and me. I felt its acceptance of everything exactly as it is. And I felt like I was part of the tree. It was a powerful early lesson in connecting with nature. 
Wendy was reminding me that as humans we do not take the time often enough to relate to the natural world around us. Our minds are always going and they make a grinding sound that the plants and animals can hear when we come near them. If we can take the time to connect with nature, the noise stops and then nature is more open to sharing its love and lessons with us.
           I invited her to come to the US after that, and share huachuma ceremony with my community in Atlanta. She was a powerful healer. At first, the ceremonies were beautiful and Wendy helped many people to heal, including close friends and family. But before long, as can be typical with powerful healers, ego took over.
           I soon learned that Wendy had an eating disorder. One night I watched her eat a gallon of ice cream and a pound of M&Ms in one sitting. Something I had not thought humanly possible until then. I had to wonder, “How many people were living inside of her?”, literally. It made sense that she could not take off the weight. We had talked about her weight problem and its effects on her health when I last saw her in Peru and she had promised she was working on it. That was not the case.
Then things got even more bizarre. She began to accuse me of things I had not done as if I was out to get her. Her eyes did not sit even in her head and I started to feel like I was dealing with multiple personalities. In one minute, she could be so kind and humble then suddenly a harsh angry personality would take over. Sometimes she even behaved like a little child. She did her best to belittle and berate me whenever possible for the most minuscule things. That was my cue. It was time to say goodbye to Wendy.
           Despite feeling abused by her it was difficult to let her go. I had thought of her like family and she had come to live with me and my partner in Atlanta at the time. It took days to convince her to leave my home. I tried to be as gentle as possible despite her harsh responses. Even though my partner knew how she had been treating me, he seemed to get gaslighted by her and was taking her side. He even went to check on her at the hotel she was staying at, against my wishes.
When I sent a message to my community that I was no longer working with her I got very little response and mostly resentment. I only said that I was disappointed that I could no longer have a relationship with her or host ceremonies for her. I said that I would not discuss why in an email but if anyone wanted to talk to me about it to feel free to call. No one wanted to believe me. They almost all took her side, without even knowing what had transpired between her and me, or even asking. That is the power that a shaman can have on a community. People become so transfixed by the idea of having a “spiritual teacher”, a personal “shaman”, that they will not even question the integrity of the person they now call their “spiritual leader”. This is the problem with the ego. Each of them felt so righteous in their belief that this person was all sacred, that they did not want to hear anything I had to say about my experience living with her.
Sadly, this had not been the first time I had left working with a shaman who had become a dear friend. Only the year before I had been bringing another Ayahuasquero to the US when I accidentally learned of his adulterous ways. Somehow my computer had deleted all of my contacts and when I reached out to him to let him know I would not be able to host ceremony for a while, he quit responding. He quit communicating knowing that I could no longer provide him with customers. I talked to the friend who had introduced me to him and she told me all about the troubles she had come across with him and the adultery. She even found that when she was around him, her body formed large boils that only went away when he was gone. I stopped bringing any more shamans to the US after that and went into my own practice of spiritual study again.
           Years later I found some redemption when I saw one of the people from the ceremonies I hosted for Wendy, at a Sundance. He told me that he was sorry for how people had treated me and that I had been right. He too took her into his home only to be treated badly and then for her to leave in the middle of the night with no trace. The friend who introduced me to her in Peru even apologized for ever getting me mixed up with her. It’s been consoling to know others could relate to my experience with her.
           The universe has blessed me with meeting some powerful shamans for teachers. Many I have had beautiful and healing experiences with, including those who lost their integrity along the way. But the greatest teachings have come from the plant teachers themselves. It is the spirit within them that has enlightened and healed me, showing me how to change my life for the better. I have been blessed to have known and continue to learn from these enlightened spiritual beings. I no longer take psychedelic plant medicines to learn and heal, they told me I did not need to anymore. They helped me learn to connect naturally with all plants and animals. They already taught me all that they could.
Since then, I have had other truly humble human teachers. They are of high integrity but I do not forget that they are human and have flaws. I learn from them but the real lessons are in the experiences the universe provides me and how I respond to that experience. I believe that what is most important is to listen to your intuition about everything a “teacher” is telling you. Decide for yourself if that instruction or healing is beneficial or is it feeding their ego. It is up to you to be aware and to notice when a healer or teacher is not living in integrity. You always have the choice to continue working with someone or not. Be careful that your ego does not decide for you.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

PSA: Wildlife Volunteer Work Takes a Special Breed


PSA: Wildlife volunteer work takes a special breed. Living conditions are not great. It’s usually in remote areas away from any city. You witness many painful things.

But there is also so much beauty that comes with it. 

IF YOU DO NOT LIKE using the kind of toilet pictured, taking cold showers, waking up at dawn, riding a motor bike, being bitten by leeches and mosquitos or maybe even a scorpion, sleeping under a mosquito net with open walls to the jungle, having no air conditioning or heat, having a sub par mattress and bedding to sleep on, washing your clothes by hand, sleeping in a dorm with shared bathroom, being unable to choose your menu, being in a culture where almost no one speaks your language, losing electricity on occassion, being without internet access from time to time, whitnessing humans in the poorest living conditions, seeing the hardest parts of wildlife exploitation and endangerment, or seeing domestic animals in the worst possible conditions, then this is NOT FOR YOU!

IF YOU CAN HANDLE ALL OF THAT AND YOU LOVE seeing animals in the wild, doing tasks that help the proliferation of wildlife, seeing some of the most beautiful natural places in the world, being in the wilderness, learning about new cultures, eating exotic foods, helping communities, being a steward of the environment, being around people who are happy to be alive and interacting with traditional people using very few words, then this is PERFECT FOR YOU!

( for the record we usually do have western toilets and a bidet but almost everywhere else going to and from the project, this is the toilet you will be using with only water to clean yourself with- if any- in many countries)