First of all, how do I live?
Well some, including me, would say I’ve lead a pretty crazy, adventurous, out-there, and unconventional existence so far (although now I’m meeting 20 year-olds who’ve already gone to twice as many places as I have). See what you think:
When I was 18 I took a bus across Canada from Ontario to the Yukon to house-sit for a senior nun for the summer. (about 100 hours on the bus one-way btw!)
When I was 19 I went to Indonesia and taught English for a year.
Then I moved to Halifax and went to art school, which is crazy by any standard out there! I also got elected to students’ council and lead several student protests.
Halfway through art school I got bored (a.k.a. academics and stress gave me a nervous breakdown) and decided I needed to do something more real and in-line with my values, so I moved to Toronto to live and work with refugees for 8 months.
After finally completing art school I moved to Victoria B.C. to try to make (part of) my living as an artist selling my art on the street, while also getting a certificate to teach ESL
Victoria was far too middle-class, white, (and expensive) for my tastes so I flew to France, travelled around with a friend in his VW van, then from Italy I took a boat to Turkey where I worked on a few organic farms for a few months.
I was getting low on funds, so from Turkey I flew to South Korea and started teaching English there (ended up doing so for 2 years and 3 months).
In-between teaching gigs in Korea, I travelled to Peru and Bolivia with my best friend Corinne, oh, and I became a Baha’i (but that’s for another blog).
After Korea, life got pretty normal for about 3 years when I taught English to International students in a college in my hometown of London, Ontario.
During all of this teaching English stuff, I realized something was missing and finally concluded that my calling was to be an art therapist and if I didn’t do it, I would forever wonder “what if?!”
So in 2012 I moved to Montreal, learned French, and began the long, trying process of applying for the sole masters in art therapy degree in Canada. I finally got in and started in Fall 2013 and graduated in 2015.
At that point, my dad had asked me if I wanted to walk over 500 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with him, so that seemed like the next logical thing to do.
While walking the Camino, my mantra was “May the eyes of my heart be open” which I repeated about 100 times a day while walking 6-7 hours a day across the north of Spain until we reached León. (See, I was finally an art therapist, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with that – where I was meant to be, where I could be of most service).
I decided to leave the Camino and travel around Spain and visit old/make new friends, which is when I applied for a volunteer position doing art therapy with children in an orphanage in Guatemala!
Just before I flew to Scotland for the Fire festival on Halloween, I found out I had been accepted for the position in Guatemala, and I had better start becoming fluent in Spanish by early December, since the job started in January 2016!
I moved toGuatemala, learned Spanish, and spent 2016 learning way more from living in that orphanage than anything else in my life had previously prepared me for.
Just when I told myself I didn’t need any more crazy challenges, I applied to volunteer for The Red Pencil International, an art therapy organization that partners with on-the-ground NGOS in various relief/humanitarian missions. I was accepted to go to India for 6 weeks to work with women survivors of domestic violence/acid attacks.
I list all of these highlights (because really, the real living takes place in all the moments and details in-between!) to now answer the question of “how do you live like you live?!”
There are many answers for this but here is what presently comes to my heart and mind (in no particular order):
- I was born as a white Canadian, which gives me many privileges that I have often taken for granted.
- I never felt called to have a family or a conventional life.
- I never exactly had ONE calling. I’m more of a multi-potentialite or renaissance person (I’m kinda good at many things, and have many, many interests!)
- I’m very, very CURIOUS and an experiential learner, meaning I only really learn things by doing them.
- I love people. I go where people who interest me go, and I go where I can meet new and interesting people.
- Anxiety helps – I get antsy after being in one place for too long (3 years is my usual limit)
- I am (secretly until now) deathly afraid of being boring – this lights a fire under my ass.
- I (so far) have not met the ONE person who I am willing to compromise my freedom for enough to “settle-down”. If he/she is out there, then this person will likely never ask me to anyways!
- I’m very heart and gut driven. I listen to my heart and gut and follow them (btw meditation helps pick-up signals better). They are my compass.
- I tend to follow the seemingly irrational rule that whatever I am afraid of, that is probably what I should move towards, because that is where my growth lies (ask me more about this if you want).
- I was raised by parents who taught me that the measure of my success was my happiness, not “the job” that I did, and that they would love me unconditionally.
- I was also raised by parents who lived simply, within their means, and who put family, spirituality, the golden-rule, doing meaningful work that helped others, travel, and their happiness before monetary gain.
- My parents are incredibly generous with their space and let me come and live in their little guest-house in their backyard whenever I am in-between travels or jobs.
- I live simply. I own a ton of clothes, jewellery and books, but other than that, I am free! No house, no car, no mortgage, no debt.
Of course, maybe you’re saying, it’s easy for me to live this way since I am single and I have such helpful parents. But I believe this way of living – following my heart, travelling a lot, doing meaningful work – a lot of my freedom comes from not investing in having stuff (more stuff than I need) and not putting my energy and money into consuming what I really don’t need. I just watched a great documentary that in fact inspired this blog post, it’s called MINIMALISM and I think there are reasons that this way of living (and it CAN be done with kids in tow!!) is catching on: people are realizing that just working so that you can live paycheque to paycheque, and spending all of your hard-earned pay on getting more stuff which doesn’t really fulfil you anyway, it’s not cutting it.
How many times have I heard “yeah but when are you going to come back to living real life?” If “real life” is feeling stuck, unhappy, in-debt, and stressed-out, then my answer is NEVER. Even when I’m living in my hometown I don’t subscribe to that lifestyle, though it’s very easy to fall into that way of thinking where you accept feeling stuck, unhappy, in-debt, and stressed-out because you convince yourself it is NORMAL. Because society tells us it is normal. It doesn’t have to be!
The point is, I have people who look at me with fear and/or admiration and say “how do you live like you live? I could NEVER live how you live.” Well maybe travelling all over the world and volunteering isn’t for everyone, but at the core of how I’m choosing to live my life is my belief that I OWN THIS ONE LIFE, and that it is precious, and that I’m going to do my best to live it without regrets because I’ve done what I feel called to do during my time on this planet. If you are operating from similar beliefs, no matter what that looks like, then you ARE living your life just like crazy ol’ me! But in YOUR OWN style.
P.S. – Here’s an amazingly good, kick-you-in-the-pants, motivational video in case you need some inspiration! It’s called “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives”. Boom!
What are the best lessons learned (for me at the orphanage Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos – and for you in 2016?)
What are you most proud of?
What will you miss (this one’s mainly for me I guess)
What are your top 5 experiences of the year?
My best lessons learned from NPH/2016:
To care LESS!! Yes, this sounds possibly negative, but it isn’t. For someone like me who gets incensed/irritated/angry about anything that has the slightest whiff of rudeness or injustice, this year has put me to the test! I have been learning not to care about whatever I cannot control – ie. the behaviour of others, chaos around me, cultural practices etc. The only thing I can control is MY REACTION to things, and my own actions. That is IT. If I get pissed off every time I see something I don’t like – whoa – recipe for early heart-attack or some horrible preventable illness. So I still care, but trying to care less about crap I can’t control or change.
Most results are invisible. I have been trying to plant seeds all year in the hearts and minds of the kids and I so far have only seen a few tiny sprouts of the evidence of this work. Like Bishop Oscar Romero said: “This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.” The test is to keep the faith that the work we do/have done will take root. But it is likely we will never see the results. We have to do the work anyway. (at least you mothers will see the fruits of your labor – all of the values you are instilling in your kids is taking root – I assure you. I was blessed with parents who taught me a love of life, a curiosity about the world, a sense of compassion for the poor, and lit my light of spirituality. I am the result of their love and hard-work!)
Friendship really is about quality not quantity. I already knew this, but I relied on and completely felt the power of only a few friendships getting me through the hardest parts of this year! I couldn’t have done it without their love for me and my worth mirrored in their eyes, and I know I will now have these friends for life. For LIFE!
People (especially kids) react and respond to you based on the message you give them: If you say over and over that they are bad, lazy, hyper, mean etc. they will receive that message and give back more of that. When I have looked into some of the kids’ eyes and told them I believe in them, that I know they are capable of changing their behaviour, that they are kind, that they do care and that I know above all despite their actions that they are good, they have responded in kind. Some have tried to prove me wrong, but I’ve seen the light catch and spark in their eyes when they hear from someone that they are good.
Not everyone will like you, but those who do are the only ones who really count, and are worth your time and energy. This one speaks for itself.
I am most proud of
Not giving up. I seriously thought about leaving the orphanage many many times. I didn’t. I did my best under the circumstances I was living in. I’ve learned that I have a heart of 1 part rock, 1 part gold, 1 part mush, and a core of pure light (as we all do!)
My work as an art therapist. There were many many many priceless, healing, powerful moments with the kids this year. May we all learn to love art/expression and give ourselves to it with abandon as much as kids do.
For standing up for myself again and again and not accepting rude, mean treatment. It didn’t stop the behaviour, and I could have stood up for myself with less force at times, but I did what I had to do to defend my personhood. No matter what, I’m glad that I didn’t allow people to trample me down.
Learning and cultivating what my body is capable of – ie. running a 5km race, climbing a very very steep volcano, eating whatever was put in front of me and making the most of it.
What I will miss
Hugs from the kids, kissing the tops of their heads, hearing their laughter, seeing their smiles.
The warm weather of Guatemala!!!!!!
The stunning views all around me – volcanoes, green rolling hills, humming-birds, the shimmering lake
The COLOURS!! Guatemalan textiles are probably the most colourful in the world and the mayan women wear them rain or shine. They are vibrant, dazzling, and fill my heart with my love of colour. I will miss these when I go back to Canada where everyone tends to wear black all winter! I think I’ll cover my walls with pictures I’ve taken here to keep the colours present.
My friends who I won’t see for (probably) a long long time. My two closest friends here are from Italy and New Zealand!!
Black beans. I know I can find and cook these in Canada, but they won’t be the same!
My top 5 experiences from 2016:
Hugs and love from the kids who let me into their hearts – hearing them say “Gracias, Hailey!”
Climbing volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango – seeing Fuego erupting in front of me!!
Seeing my friends and family back in Canada when I came home for a visit in July – feeling the love all around me and dancing to world music at Sunfest!
Running a 5km race! I proved to myself that I could do it and I didn’t slow down or walk once! (I only started learning how to run in April).
Swimming in Lago Atitlan – the waters there are…. magical? There’s something about them that soothed and healed my soul.
Extra #6: Traveling with my Dad. My dad and I discovered that we actually are great travel buddies when he came to visit me in Guatemala over Christmas. We had some happy and fun adventures together.
Extra #7: The (international) friendships I made. Really, I have felt amazed over and over by the beautiful people I attracted into my life and who continue to be inspirational, loyal, loving friends: Mayzy (Hawaii), Saydy and family (San Pedro), Juan Carlos (Guatemala), Emily Rose (Arizona), Wilmer (Guatemala), Reynaldo (Mexico), Mireia (Spain), Vanessa (New Zealand), and Suea (Italy). You are now part of my tribe and I’ll never forget you. Be forewarned – I’m very very loyal, so you’ll never get rid of me! hahahaaaa!
Why not reflect on these same questions for yourselves and send me your answers (either here or to firstname.lastname@example.org )
After a year like this, I’m excited for and curious about what adventures and challenges 2017 will bring! Bring it on – now I know I can handle anything!
If you had told me a year ago that I would or even COULD run a 5km race, I would have laughed. 5km doesn’t seem like much to some, but I’ve never seen myself as an athletic person, nor have I ever been a runner.
At least, that is, until I decided to climb a volcano. See, about 2 months ago I climbed a very tall (almost 4000 meters tall) volcano, which many had reported was the hardest thing they’d ever done. What???
I got to Guatemala back in December 2015, and already knew I wanted to see lava, since I was in the land of volcanoes! And how perfect – Acatenango and Fuego (a VERY active volcano) were both visible from the orphanage where I was living. How hard could it be? But then the reports started coming in from other volunteers who climbed it: “I would NEVER do it again – but it was amazing!” or “hardest climb I’ve ever done!” and this was coming from RUNNERS!
I started to have doubts that I could hack it, since I never saw myself as a runner or even remotely close to athletic. So when a friend asked if i’d like to climb it with him back in April 2016 my response was “oh nooooo, I’m nowhere near in shape for that!” To which he responded “ok, then we’ll start training you and you’ll be ready in no time!” He started sending me daily whatsapp messages outlining my training for the day. I started to climb the 50 steep stairs outside volunteer houses, and soon was doing 10 reps of those, squats, push-ups, lunges, and even the dreaded “burpees”!!
Then it was time to start running. I started off running 30 seconds, walking 1 minute. Then running 1 minute, walking 1 minute. Then running one minute, walking 30 seconds, and so on, until I could run for 3, 4, 5 minutes without needing to stop and walk! by September 2016 I was running 3 kilometers in about 21 minutes, without stopping. I knew it was time to
a) hike that volcano
b) sign-up for a run to keep myself motivated.
I signed up for a 5km run in Antigua for December 5th and then soon other volunteers were also signing up. My good friend Vanessa didn’t run, but she came along for moral support for my first run ever! I didn’t care too much about what time I set, as long as I just finished the darn run! It was on a dirt track through a coffee farm. It turned out to be fun (though really tough) and another volunteer decided to run along-side me even though she was faster than me. Whenever I’d start lagging, she’d smile and say “si se puede! I know you can do it!”
and you know what? I did it! I finished the run and felt
great! exhausted and like my lungs were going to implode – but I did it!
This year has been full of challenges that at times seems impossible for me – as you can imagine, it’s not always easy living in an orphanage and doing therapy with troubled kids. Climbing the volcano was not easy, but it was nowhere near the “hardest thing I’ve ever done!” I’d never thought of myself as a runner until I just stopped overthinking it and just started doing it! 2016 showed me that you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to. For this, I am very grateful.
On November first, Guatemalans celebrate All Saints Day by flying kites to create a connection between the earth and the heavens. This video explains it better than I can!
I organised a group of us volunteers to go to the two biggest kite festivals happening in Guatemala, luckily only about an hour from where we live.
The first festival we went to took place IN a cemetery. There were flowers on all of the graves when we arrived, but by the end they’d all been trampled and there was trash everywhere. It was surprising to see how much work and planning had gone into preparing these beautiful kites for the departed, but then how little effort was taken to respect the actual graves. A cultural mystery.
The kites at Santiago were not for flying – they were so large that they had to be raised up by teams of between 30 – 50 people using giant bamboo poles:
Amazing, right?? I was pretty into the kites:
Even the pastries were shaped like kites:
Next, we somehow squeezed our way through thousands of people going out and coming in through the cemetery entrance and made our way to the town of Sumpango for the other Giant Kite Festival, which was this crowded:
You can see the giant kites in the background through the haze of dust!
The Kites in Sumpango were smaller (though still huge!) but more elaborate in their shapes:
The kite above was being flown – keep in mind it was over 12 feet in diameter, and would sometimes come crashing down into the crowd! Festivals in Guatemala are not for the faint of heart!
However, it was the people who really fascinated me:
And at the end of All Saints Day, heaven came down to earth:
This festival happens every year – It’s worth the trip – you will never see colours, kites, or anything quite like it anywhere else!
Six of us left basecamp before dinner to hike a few miles up and down the saddle between volcanos to the ridge line of Volcán de Fuego. The hike there and back took about 1.5 hours each way, and we stayed up near the crater for about an hour! This picture barely does justice to the distance (since we’d already covered a long way downhill from basecamp) but the ultimate destination was the little hump in the upper right corner). That’s me in the red!
Here’s a link to a video of Fuego erupting
Today feels like a miracle. Or like the apocalypse. I awoke to find myself in a completely empty house. And not just my house, but all of the volunteer houses. They are all EMPTY! This is the first and the last time that this will happen. I feel like how I sometimes feel on Christmas or on my birthday when I feel like I have to do something special or behave differently or make every moment count because it’s fleeting and won’t happen again for a very long time, or in this case, ever.
The 7 women I live with are all out of the house. They won’t even be popping in a few hours from now. This is my time, this is my house. I’m planning on making pancakes and dancing all over the place like that quote about dancing like no one’s watching – because NO ONE will be freaking WATCHING!! 😀 They have all gone to the beach town of Monterico for the weekend. All except for me, and yes, this was by choice 🙂
In case you don’t know, I live in an orphanage (orfanato) in Guatemala. The orphanage has 200+ kids, 100+ staff, 40+ años de servicios, 20+ volunteers, and about 5 stray dogs that eat our compost. My house alone has 8 people in it (5 of whom refuse to do their chores and don’t seem to notice when we’re living in a filthy mess), 100+ flies, unknown numbers of spiders, beetles, and termites. This whole place is teeming with people and living beings at all times EXCEPT FOR RIGHT NOW. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
What was that? I couldn’t hear you over the DEAFENING SILENCE!!! Qué RICO!! How delicious (as they say here). Si, qué rico! so I thought I’d take this special time to write down the many observations, gratitudes, sensations and fleeting moments I’ve been storing up in my heart and brain, and use the inspiration to write I’ve found from reading a book (All My Puny Sorrows) by Miriam Toews. Her writing is so good it fills me up – even if I only read a page or two – her words are like a mouthful of cheesecake – or like an amazing rock you’ve found on the beach – something that is so good you want to savour it or turn it over and over and over in your hands and see how the sun glints on it in different ways.
Life has become – more or less – normal for me here in Guatemala. Ahora estoy acostumbra. I should say in the orphanage here in Guatemala, because that is where my time is spent and I don’t want you all to go envisioning me off in some jungles or ruins or amazing night clubs or colourful textile markets which are where I spend maybe 0.5 % of my time. My life (for the past 4 months) has been in this orphanage. I don’t even get to venture to the nearby town that is a 5 minute walk away as that town has been deemed too dangerous for us volunteers to visit alone. I witnessed a momma dog with 6 milk-full-teets being deliberately run-over by a truck last week, and when it happened all the people in the shop I was in laughed, and when I told them with tears in my eyes that it wasn’t funny “No es chistoso!!” they laughed harder. So I guess I’m not used to everything. There are some things that you can never get used to as long as you still have a soul.
My girls. I’m getting used to them again after Semana Santa – holy week – when I became their tia and they directed all of their pent-up angst and rage towards me and I seriously started contemplating leaving – going “home” – though that word has become like a question mark for me since I was 19 (but that’s another story). So there are now 15 of them – used to be 12 – because a 10 year-old girl from the youngest section was behaving so badly that the tias decided to send her up to live with the oldest girls (my girls), the idea being that they would smarten her up real fast. Trouble is, they all think she’s so cute and they’ve just been cuddling her and transferring their bad habits to her – like the other day when she saw my (hippy) pants she said “oh qué horor!!”(what horror!) just like the other girls, and now she just says it all the time. “Hailey, what did you eat for dinner? ” Pasta. “Qué horor!” Or I make a joke she doesn’t like and it’s “qué horor!” Yes, how…. cute.
So back to Monterico… a few of my girls were concerned about me staying in my house by myself and invited me to come up to their dorm and sleep for the night because they were concerned for my safety (?? The orphanage is surrounded by 10 foot-high barbed-wire fences and has security guards with automatic weapons) and me feeling lonely. This IS in fact cute, and a nice improvement from Semana Santa when I DID sleep-over with them and decided to wake them up in the morning, not with shouts and commands like the other tias, but by playing Bobby McFerrin’s Sweet in the Morning on my cell-phone. This was met with “Aaarrrrghhhccchhhh!!! Qué ASCO!!”(how disgusting) and “Hailey your music is terrible” and “Hailey play REAL music, Guatemalan music!!” by this meaning Enrique Iglesias, who (I checked) is in fact from Spain, or Justin Beiber, who’s “Sorry” will forever be
branded associated in my brain with Guatemala. It’s like their freakin’ anthem and they don’t even know what “sorry” means.
Back to Monterico: “Pero, Hailey! Porque tu no fuiste a Monterico con los demas!?” (Why didn’t you go with the others to Monterico?)
“Porque es alla donde Erica estaba matar hace un año, y por eso, no quiero ir alla. Y tambien, a mi me GUSTA estar sola a veces” (because that’s where Erica the volunteer coordinator was murdered a year ago, and for this reason I don’t feel like going there. And also because I LIKE being alone sometimes).
“Ah. Quieres dormir en la sección con nosotras? Tu vas a bajar?” (I see. Do you want to sleep in the section with us? Will you come down and visit us?”)
The phrases “Vas a bajar” or “Porque no bajaste?!” have become, to my ears, the way my girls say “Hailey, we love you – we appreciate you” because it is them inviting me to come visit them or chastising me for not visiting them. And no answer is sufficient as a reply to “Porque no bajaste?” Why didn’t you come yesterday? today? last night? If I reply “porque me descanse” or “es mi tiempo libre” (it was my free time/ night off/ I was resting) or “tenia que lavar mi ropa, comprar comida etc.” I had to do my laundry, buy food etc…. any reply will always equate to them as “because I don’t love you.” If you have any sort or even a smidgen of a guilt complex, this place will do a number on you.
My girls love me in their own frigged-up way:
Yesterday was my day off and I enjoyed a good chunk of it reading in the house hammock until my stomach growled and I realized I had no groceries. I decided to go up the seven flights of stairs to get some grub from the cafeteria, and I ran straight into my girls coming down the path to eat outside. “Hailey!! Porque no bajaste ayer?! Vas a bajar hoy???!!!” So I decided to take my plate and eat with them. Because they’ve all either been abandoned or lost their primary care-givers, they have a hard time showing that they like you. I like to catch them watching me from the corners of their eyes, or smiling at me from behind their hair. It seems my girls either completely ignore me or hate me (like in the cafeteria “No! you can’t sit here!!”) or notice every wrinkle, cut, red spot (“Hailey, tienes hongo!” Hailey you have mushrooms/fungus on your skin) or piece of clothing I’m wearing (“Hailey – te lleves puesto una tanga?” Hailey are you wearing a thong?). They are either fiercely repelled by me (and at those moments I’ll admit sometimes I take pleasure in grabbing one of them and forcing her to hug me and planting all sorts of noisy kisses on her head while she screams in disgust) or they want my love but can’t ask for it and try to make contact with some part of me – by touching my clothes, tracing my wrist tattoo, or my favourite, braiding my hair.
So here we are – the spell of silence has been broken by some yokel in the slum across the stream showing off his new speakers and sub-woofer blaring Justin Beiber and Shakira or some such nonsense. Oh well, just means I’ll have to play my music extra loud while I’m in my empty house dancin’ on my own.