love stories

2013 and Where My Heart's Been

It's been a damn long year. 

2013 will go down in my books as one of the craziest, most unpredictable and unbelievable years I've had. But I'm not entirely surprised. I opened this year telling myself that this was the time to really push myself out of my comfort zone and put myself out there. An old journal entry from exactly a year ago today has these simple words splayed on the page in gigantic, capital letters: DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. 

So I did. And oh, the places it's taken me! 

Those three simple words have taken me to Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda in a journey that I still find myself daydreaming about, wondering if it was actually real. That experience taught me about patience, understanding, empathy, friendship, leadership, and what true cross-cultural dialogue and solidarity really looks like. It taught me the importance of staying present in every moment. And it connected me to some of the most gentle souls I've ever met who will always be the shape and the depth of these dots on a map. 

This year I found myself in places and situations I wouldn't have expected. I found myself--against all reason--willingly jumping off a fucking 44m-high ledge into the Nile River (or what others like to call "bungee jumping"). I found myself on a boat in the pitch dark with nothing but the boundless sky above me and the Indian Ocean around me. I found myself writing a cover story for a magazine. I found myself taking up rock climbing and being kinda obsessed with it. I found myself running a 5K and then climbing up the CN Tower again. I found myself in New York City in the same room as Bill Clinton, Muhammed Yunus, Belinda Gates, and Richard Branson. And then I found myself roaming the city alone. I found myself learning how and really loving to paint. I found myself solidifying a number of friendships, forming new ones, and truly recognizing the depth of what it means to be a family...

...and that's just a snapshot of where my heart's been in 2013.

It's been an intentional year and though I've yet to scribbe the words to define my 2014, here's hoping it will be just as purposeful and full of love. 

Do You

3 countries, 6 weeks, and one too many bumpy and dusty bus rides later, OG’s East Africa Gender and Human Rights program is quickly coming to a close. I’m currently writing this on our final overnight bus ride from the beautiful coastal town of Watamu back to the bustling city of Nairobi (12 hours being flung side to side in your seat? NBD, we got this!).

It’s hard to believe that six weeks have flown by already, but at the same time it feels like we’ve been here for an eternity. We’ve just done so much, felt so much, and seen so much that it’s almost impossible it all happened in such a relatively short period of time. But here we are…

We’ve been through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and back. We’ve eaten beans and chapatti, ugali, sukuma, undengu, mandazi, and pilau more times than we’d like. We’ve been on our fair share of matatus, motos, and tuk tuks. We’ve squatted for long drops more times than we can count (what are toilets?!?!) We’ve biked through the savannah,  hiked through gorges, and rafted on the Nile River. We’ve met with local activists advocating for trans and intersex rights in Nairobi, engaged in discussions with sex workers in Kisumu who are educating their peers on sexual health, and exchanged insights at a Polytechnic University on what dating and sex is like in a Kenyan vs. North American context. Most importantly, we’ve connected and created what will be a long-term partnership with a youth-led community based organization called the Young County Change Makers.

But the best part about this journey? Sharing the entire experience with Alex, Ashley, Emily, Hailey, Jean, Josh, Leah, Meg, Morgan, Nicole, Steph, and Taylor — 12 unbelievably kind, strong, and beautiful people who have taught me more than I could have imagined. Each one has taught me some sort of lesson on patience, humility, generosity, and honesty. And collectively, we’ve all learned to just “do you”…to be unapologetic about who you are and what makes you happy. If you want to take some alone time, do you. If you want to explore a more specific issue or engage in a different aspect of our volunteer project, do you. If you want to wallow in frustration or spin around on the beach in happiness saying how beautiful you are (ahem, Tay), you go right ahead and do you! Whatever the case may be, just do you!

It’s been an exhilarating, challenging, frustrating, and just straight up amazing journey and I’m happy to have been able to “do me” the whole time…in all my beautiful, OCD, and hangry little self…without judgment or ridicule (ok, maybe a little ridicule!) And it’s been a gift to get to know each person on this trip, stripped of all make-up, attachments, and history…just as they are in the here and now.

So as we go our separate ways and board different planes to start new adventures, let’s never forget to stay true blue and always do you!

Sawa sawa.

Originally posted on the Operation Groundswell blog. 

Portraits of Why I Travel

We can talk all day about the complex histories, the rich cultures, the funny languages, and the delicious or obscure food that every place is made up of, but in the end, it always comes down to the people. For a true traveler, what really matters are the people you meet along your journey whether it's the brief encounters with inconsequential strangers or the unforgettable moments with strangers who turn to life long friends.

As one blogger on the Matador Network so wonderfully wrote, "despite the reasons why we end up in some dot on a map, it is always the people we share our time with that will define the place in our minds. Other travelers. Locals. The people we came with. Shared laughs. Shared suffering made eminently more tolerable because everyone is suffering together. Hour long conversations about the meaning of life using a few shared words and hand signals." Inspired by that, I thought I'd share a few faces in the crowd that have given shape and depth to the places on my map...

Sylwia and I up top Mount Pilatus

Sylwia and I up top Mount Pilatus

Sometimes you meet people you just instantly click with. Sylwia's one such person. We met three years ago while studying abroad in the Czech Republic, traveled one weekend to Berlin, and have been travel buddies ever since. It makes all the difference in the world to be traveling around with someone who shares your travel style, who can withstand your "quirks", who's interested in seeing the same things you are and who revels in the same simple pleasures as you do...or even better, somebody who can teach you to open your eyes and heart to something entirely new.

The good people of CMFR marching at the International Day to End Impunity

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries to work in for journalists but the people from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, a non-profit media monitoring organization, is fighting against that. In November 2011, I decided to go back to my home in the Philippines and volunteer with them. I hadn't been back in nearly a decade, but Kat, John, Melai, Bryant, Sheila, and the rest of the CMFR team made me feel so welcome. They taught me so much about the Filipino press system and the culture of impunity that plagues the country, but also the amazing people who are working hard to change the system.

My little family in Florence

My little family in Florence

Sometimes you just totally and completely luck out with your choice in accommodations. Sylwia and I met Christene, Eoin, Kathleen, and Katy (L to R) at the Dany House in Florence and it was all love from the get go. This shot's from one of the most amazing and memorable nights in my travels...watched a sunset with a panaromic view of Florence, ate cheese, drank wine, and obnoxiously sang 90s hits all night. Just one of those picture perfect days to last a whole lifetime, you know? (Cue Jay-Z's version Forever Young here...)

Theavy at a non-profit fair trade event

Theavy is one of the sweetest people I know and we met while I was backpacking the streets of Phnom Penh.  She works at Mekong Quilts, a social enterprise offering sustainable employment to women in the village of Rumdou in Svay Rieng province, and we struck up a conversation immediately about our work in the non-profit sector. She invited me to an event where I got a first hand glimpse of the huge and vibrant fair trade network in Phnom Penh. Our friendship continues through email as we keep each other updated on non-profit life in Cambodia and Canada, continuing that cultural exchange despite the geographic constraints.

Goofing around with the OG crew

Now I know technically this one doesn't count as I didn't meet these crazy people on my travels, but rather here at home in Toronto. It's people like the entire Operation Groundswell crew (at home and abroad) that are the reasons why I travel. The open mindedness, the readiness for whatever adventure awaits, the social awareness, the genuine kindness...

...and of course there are those who I didn't manage to get a picture of but whose faces have added even more color to the video reel of my adventures I often replay in my head And so, whether by chance or by design, I welcome and look forward to the friends I've yet to meet on my future's to more conversations, to more dancing, more laughing, more drinking, more singing. 


Ah, 2012. What is there to say? Probably the fastest year of my life...still blows my mind that we find ourselves here again so quickly, looking back on the year that was and trying to make sense of where it all went. It's been a strange year with a lot of bumps, a year where I oscillated between knowing everything and absolutely nothing almost every other day (like a true twenty-something should).

But more than anything else, 2012 is the year that I gained a new family. I joined the Operation Groundswell team in early June and it has changed my life entirely. OG is unlike anything I've ever experienced before. Our office is a home, our staff is a family, and our work is the passion that drives us all. Getting up to go to work isn't drudgery, but something that I long to do. Everyday I'm surrounded by people who I admire so much and who push me to do and be better. It's a rarity in this world to do the work you love and be surrounded by such crazy cool cats at the same time. I've drank the Kool Aid, no doubt...every last sip of it! 

So here's to a 2013 full of laughter, love, discoveries, and adventure. May you find what you're really good at, what you really want to do, and both the courage and the luck to make it all happen.