I’ve been getting lots of questions about how the trip went. Here are my humble impressions on how Haiti impacted me personally. For the lowdown of the entire journey, Jeff Evans did a remarkable job summarizing our cross-country Haitian sojourn, and I don’t just encourage you to read it, I implore you to. Amazing read!!!!
My opportunities for adventure markedly dwindled with the onset of motherhood six and a half years ago. It was the ultimate choice of love and legacy to leave my life of spontaneity and devote myself to the next generation. Parenthood was a decision I never thought this rock-climbing, tent dwelling, surf, skating, river running, snow bunny would make…but it turns out to be the greatest and most rewarding, albeit challenging adventure of all. Now, for a quick look back…
For many years I would call home and my parents’ first question was never, “how are you”?, but “where are you”? My father repeatedly admonished, “you have the life…most people work 50 weeks and take off 2, but you work 2 weeks and take off 5o”. I assured my father that he would not want my life as I was calling from a pay phone leaning at 45˚ from some previous storm and the shotel (my term for shit-hole hotel) in which I was staying in Panama at the time turned the water off every evening. Regardless, it was the life I loved…adventure around every corner and not a concern for where I landed each night, just ready for whatever the next day would bring in the form of some extreme sport, ideally.
Fast forward 15 years to now and I had a certain smack of reality on the face when I opened my passport and realized I hadn’t left the country since my youngest daughter was born five years earlier. My recent travel log had gotten a bit predictable and solely domestic. I was invited to go on this multi-sport pioneering, scouting trip with Travelcology by my buddy, Jeff Evans, and I did not hesitate! I was more psyched than ever to see if I still had it in me; the willingness to be hungry, uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone, all the while exploring some of my favorite sports! Traveling with a group in less than clean and easy conditions was a departure from my current position as CEO of the Wheeler Household, Inc., and Wellfit Institute, wherein I make the rules, set the pace and keep things in order.
I have been longing for more travel, but was holding back for concern of “doing the right thing as a mother”, but I decided that WE create the meaning in our lives and I want to be the mom that travels, adventures and sets that example for my family, all judgments aside. Phew…so, I reconciled that. However, it became evident that my experience as Adventurista Mom (a little fashion forward, still adventurous) was going to be unique in this group of travelers as I was the only mother. I don’t say this in some exclusive clubmember sort of way, but I view risk-taking a little differently in light of my being a mom. My daughter had expressed concerns that I would be injured on the trip and I vowed to stay safe for her.
I was not afraid to go on the trip. Every ounce of my being wanted to travel with fun, new people, but I did wonder…will I still like camping? (for the record, those were my favorite nights, camping at Boukan Guingette in Mole St. Nicolas, www.boukanguingette.com, look it up) will I be able to keep up with the boys? (well enough) and will I dislike Haiti as much as everyone warned me I would?
Living in such close proximity to the island nation of Haiti, Floridians feel some carte blanche to cast judgment and commentary on all that’s broken there, beyond the rubble of the quake, there is an assertion that Haiti is just a forlorn, forsaken place and there is nothing there for tourists. Why go there?
We went there because we believe Travelcology’s MTB Ayiti (Mountain Bike Haiti Program) will make a difference in Haiti and Haitians can take control of the business and empower themselves, the proverbial “teaching them to fish”. Ideologically we believe that adventure and eco-tourism are viable, sustainable models that keep on giving to the local people and the natural environment when implemented properly. What we didn’t know at the time was that Haiti would keep giving back to us (reference Jeff Evans’ blog for the story there).
The group that traveled was comprised of philanthropic-minded, adventurous, world travelers with incredible resumes including authors, world-renowed adventure guide, professional athletes, guide book writer, TV producer, filmmaker and banker, to name a few. Common denominator: willingness to suffer, explore, get wet, dirty and connect with the locals. Most of us loved to bike, kiteboard and surf, and as much as we wanted to have ourselves a grand old adventure, we also knew we had a greater purpose. Purpose is what took us away from our jobs and what motivated me to leave my family behind. By the first night, we knew we were in alignment when we deemed our mission: Plunder for Purpose! Seemed a fit with some of the old Haitian tales of piracy guide book author and historian, Paul Clammer, had been sharing with us.
The first night at dinnerI declared this trip my re-entry into the world of adventure…to me, this would be an opportunity to expand my company, Wellfit Institute’s, international adventures and get a sense of what Haiti may have to offer for future retreats. Traveling in a group setting also validated my long-term belief that true magic and learning occur in small group settings. How lucky was I to be able to experience Haiti for the first time, not only through my perspective but through the eyes, minds and hearts of my fellow travelers?!?! I could not have asked for a more fun, insightful, intelligent and heart-ful group to discover the magic and wackiness this island nation has to offer! I value each and every one for deepening my experience and sharing what had meaning for them during the journey. I am especially grateful to Jeff for teaching ME to fish, by encouraging, no imploring me to learn how to change my own blown out bike tires, which led to my learning of complete bicycle de-construction and re-assembly and to Tyler Bradfield for teaching me vital self-rescue kiteboarding skills. My confidence grew in knowing I can now be a self-reliant mountain biker and kiteboarder, just like the Haitians who will take on MTB Ayiti in their own manner of self-reliance. We leave a legacy of empowerment when we have faith in our own and others’ abilities. Wicked cool!
My business and personal mission is to empower and instill hope in people through yoga and therapeutic interaction. It is a responsibility to be in partnership with people as we navigate our way through the world. Whether we know them personally or not our intentions make an impact. My intention for this trip was to express love and caring to everyone I encountered, and to experience the island culture of Haiti as a group of individuals, as mothers, just like me, as humans making it through the basics of daily life. As I mentioned, I had been urged not to go to Haiti. Common concern, general complaint: it’s dirty, there’s nothing to do there, why do you want to go to such a poor, desperate place. What I know about myself is if there is a chance something is going to be on the challenging, dirty or surprising side, I go. Their doubts just fueled my determination to go.
Now, back to the people. As a therapist, I’ve worked with the depraved, the depressed and the downright crazy, nasty and mean. I had a good sense that coming into this trip I would see a different kind of devastating human conditions. Poverty was no surprise and the shock of severe squalid conditions did weigh on my heart at times. This ain’t no place for the weary kind, no, not at all. What both touched and haunted me was the view into remote villagers’ most intimate and private spaces and basic acts of being…bathing in rivers, children relieving themselves in the open. There is little to no privacy and unabashed exposure, only for the sheer longing and hope for something better. Haiti is not “dirty”, it’s just not been given an opportunity to get better, truly, holistically, systemically and sustainably – not yet. Help has only reached certain pockets of the country. Many areas remain primitive, especially in the remote ne’er traveled regions through which we ventured…
I can say that I am forever moved by the simplicity of these villagers’ existence, whether by choice or circumstance, there are ingenious manners of survival and play that we take for granted. Simplicty. Reusing. Children making toys out of trash and smiling, as they revel in simple joy. Humans are resilient and Haitians, as a whole are patient and hopeful people.
One highlight of the journey came for me mid-way through the trip when I immersed myself in one of the small remote villages during a routine tire repair by busting out music and igniting a spontaneous dance party with my travel mate, Louise Story. Michael Jackson, Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga drew a large, curious crowd and suddenly we were speaking the same language through hips, booty-shaking, arms a-waving (or flailing). Little girls grooving, mamas smiling and bootie-bumping with granny of the village reminded me that music is the great equalizer and dance speaks a thousand words, invoking smiles, worldless connections and memories…
This trip to Haiti resonates in me on many levels. Sure, it fed my appetite for adventure, beyond my expectations, as we all had a taste of all the multi-sport elements we intended to scout and pursue. Although, I was far from expert at any of these, we can all say that we got our bodies wet, bruised, dirty and tossed around. Wind, water, waves, mud, sand and dirt all had a hand in shaping our physical sense of Haiti as a wonderful playground with far more potential given the time to settle in to each place we visited. I experienced the magic of self-discovery as I learned how to handle the mechanics of my bike and kite and I know that we are on to something greater than ourselves…offering the tools for this island nation to self-rescue, to reassemble their lives and be vehicles for their own change.
Against the backdrop of squalor and ram-shackled shelters, it may seem a disparate place to waft through villages with expensive gear (bikes, kites, surfboards) that is far from essential and basic to survival. But with the heart and intention in this project, we all agree it’s a win-win and we quickly get the sense that the locals agree, albeit cautious, wide-eyed grins exchanged with us foreign adventurers, and the oft heard “ban m ‘yon bisiklèt” (give me a bicycle)! Overall, we were met with a curiosity that said less “stay out of my village” and more “when you come back, remember me”…
This is a common sentiment in Haiti, “next time”, they say, “come find me next time you are here and they will share their name and ask you theirs”.
So you ask, why Haiti? Because the people of Haiti are more than hungry for food and handouts. They are ready for sustainable relationships and a reason for you to want to return…
And I will.
In loving kindness,