Then

Then: Alishan

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Close your eyes. Imagine a place far above the clouds where the altitude draws out each delicate breath into that of a war against self.Where the panorama taken by the eyes coincides with the struggle the body endured those last moments. The view overrides all thoughts of the mind and a silence is generated. Just breathe. Imagine. Enjoy.

Receiving the call that offered an experience to spark in me a life that craved more adventure than I knew possible. Alumi was heading out to Alishan with his family for a morning hike up the mountain and in true fashion invited his adopted daughter to attend. Moments of self consciousness and nerves arose as my understanding of the Chinese language was minimal and my ability to communicate unintelligible. Yet when living on the polar east to all your western known ways the only acceptable answer is “yes”.

A truck, that appeared to have endured all this world has to offer, now climbed mountain after mountain carrying the magical Taiwanese trio and the anxieties of an American girl.  As my apprehensions rose so did my ability to rapidly flip through the English-Chinese dictionary.  Growing altitude broke way to my desire to express the simplest of sentences, “Wow, the mountains are beautiful”.  “Beautiful” became the word of the weekend, yet this overused utterance did not touch the complexities of the words I desired to mold together to offer proper describe to the intensity my eyes endured.

To put a picture in words is a talent I have yet to grasps fully. I desire to describe the climbing wall of greenery that appeared tangible as the twist and turns inclined greatly, yet I am unable to give  the vastness of these creations justice. Like looking out into a boundless ocean and seeing perfect peak after perfect peak desperately singing the song of the surfer. Yet these waves carry the paint shimmering emerald green. As the sun draws itself awake from behind each white blanket before hiding its shine under an ever changing cover of clouds. Breathtaking.

Nighttime was quickly approaching as my curiosity of sleeping quarters danced among the other questions held in my mind. Whether I brokenly verbalized my questions or not, the answer would not vary, so I chose to “wait and see”. Noodles were served and curling up together in the back of the covered bed kept the warmth of that intensely cold night at bay. The bed of Alumi’s truck quickly felt like home as Sandy curled up to my side and began teaching me the colors in Chinese. To my surprise 4:30am came quickly and sleep was surprisingly sound.

The steam of the coffee being brewed at the back of the truck perfectly represented the cloudiness of my mind. A quick cup and off we went to conquer what proved to be my first true mountain top experience. Exhilarating.

Alive. Literally above the world. I was connected to a beautiful family, nature, life, and fully engrossed in this experience given to me through a manifestation I conjured. A lesson in “yes”. The time I now  call upon as a vital example of taking a leap even when fear tries to overpower all other emotions.

Alishan sparked in me my love of taking risk of the unknown and trusting the process.

Just saying “yes” when the experience arises.

For this I am forever grateful.

Then: LUVStock

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The teacups still turned with the assistance of the man powered wheel, the lotus flower paintings  graced the faces of the boulders scattered throughout the property, and the pirate ship still swung, although the safety aspect was questionable at best.

This mystical fairyland became my paradise that first year in Taiwan. Many nights were spend surrounded by calming energies, mindful conversations, and individuals willing to share a piece of their journey with me in order to collaborate themselves into the scrapbook that is my life.

LUVStock was my first encounter with this story worthy place.  Facestalking and Googling “Events Around Taiwan” allowed me to find this weekend festival in the mountains, in what appeared to be a broken down amusement park (The Refuge). The images that graced my presences involved ones of adults looking like children with their smiles lighting up every aspect of the camera’s frame. Dancing, music, food… cool looking people- sold. Knowing that Kelli had been to The Refuge many times before means she would be the perfect accomplice to this adventure. As this became the main focus of my daydreams from the plane’s take off in Kentucky to landing in Taipei and all days that followed until the festival.

The morning of LUVStock I knew perfect “hippie ware” must be chosen. Now looking back I smile. How hard I tried to express myself through the material that covered by body that now seems to choose itself for me each morning. Letting go of trying means falling into self, but for that day it meant overplanning.  A green tank and an abundance of patterned squares from the 1970s drapped my lower half- a perfect mix of appropriate, expressive, and  easy-going. Simple anxieties and excitements waltzed through my mind until I finally threw a bunch of extra” just incase”  clothing in my backpack and headed down stairs to join the others. Lauren (my roommate), Kelli, and I were off for a night of unexpected adventures.

The energy completely shifted as we drove up into the mountains. Any nervousness of the unknown faded away – pure excitement and life rushed in. As we walked down the steep hill to enter this land everything in me changed. I found home. Before even seeing it, I knew this place would be a sanctuary where I could go and self-discover.  The fires roared, the people swayed, the music calmed, then excited. Booths filled with exotic clothes from around South East Asia, India and Nepal, and the smells of the food took me around the world in a matter of seconds. I was in love- with a place, a feeling- a life that had just begun, and me. I loved how real I felt in that moment. I got it, even for just a moment… what “feeling like yourself” truly was.

The night was spent exploring in the dark. Curiosity welling within, questions of what this place could possibly look like in the daylight.  Eating, looking around, becoming a bit overwhelmed, then not, were the first stages of our night.  When the night could not get any better the pool arrived and it was as if quicksand brought me into a trans that ended when the night did. Something as simple as dancing in a pool. Yes, a pool. Some people turn pools into skateparks, LUVStock prefers community dance garden.

Feeling the vibrations bounce off the walls, and breaking by laying in the water slide looking up at the starts, I promised myself I would not forget. That moment. That feeling. The movement that started within me.  That night also brought Jessie into my life who would end up being a 2 year travel buddy and forever friend.  Jessie’s and my stories continue up rocky cliff faces, Friday night bouldering, weekend morning bunches, and treehouse adventures in Laos, but I thank that first night. The one where I met my Taiwanese sister, a gift among many produced in those few hours.

Exhaustion took over at the end of the night, but running within me was pure light. Light that would shine brighter with each night The Refuge took me in and has continued to burn deeper within me even to this moment and far beyond..

 

Then: The Building of Glass Walls

401660_799881070188_2031822475_nLet me tell you about a relationship. One in which each day I felt as if I was walking on glass, for fear of making a crack that shattered into more criticism and disapproval . Yet… I loved and fought-silently until I won the battle.

 

Every story has two sides, and this is mine. I am not writing to denounce this individual, that is not my intention. She did however challenge me in ways I never knew possible. One’s that taught me lessons of strength, holding my tongue, letting words go, and looking at life as a whole to find happiness, even when the workplace was my glass house. To her I am forever grateful. The struggle allowed me to be here, in this moment, knowing that I am on the right path– and her challenges helped to get me here.

In my suitcase, there was a leaf. A big leaf-  a canopy- ready to grace the presence of my new reading corner.  The Greenhouse: a place to grow your brain and expand your imagination. Excitement poured out of every cell of my being. An anticipation to see those encouraging faces that were introduced to me at the job fair. My boss. A woman I knew would be there for me every step of the way. To support, encourage, and praise my enthusiasm and hardwork. She would love this leaf. She was going to adore the tree I was preparing to create with handprints that would welcome the class to the reading corner. Ohhh and the “Grow Your Brain” cheer– that would win her over too. When she saw me in action, I would be told that I am doing a great job, a superstar first year teacher- the conscious and subconscious desire of every newbie.

The year began and I was “On Top of the World” (thank you Imagine Dragons for my daily theme song). Wearing the tie-dye shirt with my flowing turquoise skirt (a bit of a contradiction to the business suit I was hired in) that danced as I sang and pranced my joyous way around the staff office.  The song of “Good morning, isn’t it the most beautiful day.” rang from my lips daily. I was in a new country. I had a beautiful class that although scared of me and didn’t speak a lick of English were charming me with their tear filled smiles. A new group of friends that like me had just graduated university and where experiencing this life for the first time. Everything seemed perfect…

And it was… except for the fact that I quickly learned my Suzy Sunshine attitude and bright spirit was not encouraged in a public setting such as the staff office. I started to feel as if I was a burden an annoyance of some sort to all that surrounded. As I continued to go about my ways, living bubbly and loving life I reverted my focus to my students. The dancing, singing, and charisma continued, and this was enough to fill me up in a way that made each day still as lovely.

With any traveling story, there is a moment or a mark where the honeymoon stage begins to wither and reality kicks in. Normally around the 3 month mark, and it quickly passes like any storm, but that first lightning bolt is always a bit shocking. Mine came the day of my first observation.

The morning was filled with tears as I felt I was having trouble adapting to all that was new in my life. The friendship, work environment, distance all seemed difficult on this particular day, yet I still had to perform. I gave my boss fair warning of my situation and then was ready to do exactly what I ask of my students.. I would “try my personal best”.  Well.. I bombed it… in every sense of the word. I knew it from that first moment. As I choked on each word while trying to steady my voice and my hands I felt the book drop. I shook, couldn’t grasp the pages, or my thoughts for that matter. The next 30 minutes trampled on as if eternity was as the end of this road.

Relief rushed through me as the lesson came to an end and I was able to self-evaluate. Considering I am and will always be my toughest critique I knew this evaluation would be exceptionally easy- nothing but progress could be made. I warned my evaluator of my “bombingness” and without acknowledgement she said that she would see me in her office at our scheduled meeting time.

At that moment the walls of my workplace went from an indestructible concrete to a transforming of easily broken glass.

Our meeting was not a meeting, but a learning session. Yet after much thought and time put into my self-evaluation it was quickly dismissed and not one glance was given as it was her truth that was shared.  Other than the fact that I was made to feel that I am disorganized, unprepared, and overall a waste of space to the teaching community, there are two phrases that particularly shook my world and brought tears to my eyes.

I am destroying the children’s learning. I am insulting the Taiwanese culture.

Yep… those two got to me. I tried to stay strong as I knew this was not my best performance, but when I was told doing group work sitting in a circle on the floor was showing a complete disrespect to the Taiwanese culture… I lost it. The water works began and I was told not to cry…

I asked to speak about my self-evaluation. I was told there was no need. At that moment I knew that no matter the age of a child or adult that I would never adapt this approach as my own. One of negativity where I was not acknowledged of my honesty in the self-evaluation or a discussion was not had about how I could better myself. We are all here to better ourselves.. to find our true selves.

Sometimes our lessons are simply of what not to do… and this was the lesson found here. I did not know at that moment that each second that passed a wall was being built, yet at that same moment my growth as a person was being structured in the most beautiful form of myself.

This was the beginning of a year compliments being overwritten yet “constructive criticisms” were forever present… until the very end… when I won this battle… but that is still a year away…

Then: Om Nashi Me

That little silver Taiwanese car might have been old and a bit rinkidy, but the spirits and song that filled the car where on fire. Tears of missing coming from the driver’s eyes, wonder coming from the eyes of the passenger, and in the backseast a girl sat in awe of her new life. Her eyes as wide as the ocean she just crossed. That ride, that one song, a moment filled with emotion shining clearly in my mind.

As a somewhat stalker I found Kelli on Facebook before I began teaching in Taichung, Taiwan. I knew the girls from the job fair, but Kelli kind of looked like me, or at least the me I would like to portray. On Cornel’s website she looked like the “hippiest” of all the teachers and that was enough for me- instant friends. So as I began to Facebook her with messages of “I swear this is not weird I just would love to learn about life in Taiwan and the school” a friendship formed. One that to this day I am very grateful for and in the short month we were together she opened the doors that paved the way for the next year.

Kelli is a beaming soul that brings joy to the lives of everyone lucky enough to come into her presence. I knew when we met that she was going to not only be a friend but a guide, a teacher, into this new world of living- one outside of the comforts of the box that I had only known. This world that I had grown up in was one of more love than anyone could possibly wish for. I had everything I ever wanted and needed and more support and protection than I feel most have in a lifetime. I was also given wings- the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, and with those wings I chose to fly.

When you begin to fly- you fear falling. When I met Kelli I did not so much fear falling as I wanted to fly higher… and fast. I wanted to know all there was about her life. I wanted to ride a scooter around the country, sleep for nights in a hammock remote from the rest of the world, take buses to locations I could not pronounce and meet people that left stories in my mind and imprints in my heart. Now looking back this was the first of many examples of: I asked, I received.

Kelli was only in Taiwan another month, so on her last weekend we went up to see Alumi and his family- her adopted Taiwanese family.  I had no idea when getting in the car that morning that this day would check off the “day to go down in history” on my internal checklist.

The mountains glowed in an aqua green that is only visible in Southeast Asia, where the mountains sing their song of joy that the rain is still present. We stopped on the way to take in all the beauty and appreciate that moment offered. I was in the presence of two people that had mastered this ability (Kelli and her brother, Ryan). I looked around in awkward awe. This feeling of “I really appreciate this moment, but I am thinking so much… what’s next, wait… body… mind… quiet- let’s take this all in… should I take a picture.” Lucky for me Ryan is big into photography so he snapped the moment and we hopped back in the car and headed on our way. We were going to her adopted families house. A Taiwanese family that spoke little to no English… to spend the day. I was WAY out of my comfort zone, but I said I wanted to live the experience, so I must try the experience.

Upon arriving at Alumi’s I was speechless of how these three individuals could so openly welcome me into their family in a matter of seconds. We ate, laughed, loved, and explored each other’s cultures and lifestyles. I watched the interaction they had with Kelli and I knew that she was truly part of their family- the people she chose to have in her life and love deeply. Gifts, tears, and many hugs were exchanged as they shared their last moments together before Kelli headed back to the States.  Sandy (their daughter) on the other hand was too busy to be sad. She felt the need to initiate the new girl into her family by forms of trickery. Coming up to me with her sweet smile and a cherry tomato in her hand for the garden . As if offering me a welcome gift, she slipped that little red ball into my hand and encouraged that I eat it all at the same time. Her angelic face covered up that moment of devilish ways as I bit into the most intense and deathly hot pepper my mouth has ever experienced. We fell into a wrestling match, and at that moment she became my sister.

Through seeing Kelli’s interactions with the family, I became a bit envious and so badly hoping that my journey here would entail something as beautiful. Not knowing that I again I was manifesting my path.

On the way back, the car was silent. Not an awkward silent, but more thoughtful.  Kelli shed quiet tears as the thoughts of her amazing journey crossed her mind, and pure appreciation of all that her life has given her. Ryan sat in the front see overlooking the most spectacular view wondering where his next adventure would take him, as his wanderlust was far from finished, and I sat in the backseat manifesting my dreaming of my future experiences with Alumi and the family-one  that would eventually bring them to a week in the United States with my parents. That is when a magical moment happened. One that brings tears of pure appreciation to my eyes every time I go back to those three minutes.

While riding high up in the mountains in peaceful gratitude a song starts… no not a song, the most breathtakingly beautiful pattern of sounds that can ring in these human ears- Om Nashi Me. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros created a song that changed my life and touched my soul. That moment I sat unable to think, move, breath- the only comprehensive feeling I had was “There is not place in this world I would rather be than here in this moment.” A “song” changed everything. It brought life, promise, adventure, future all into my life. I so desperately held onto that moment. One where I was alive- every cell of my body could feel, was balanced, dancing…

In that moment I could fly.

And my wings were only beginning to spread…

 

 

 

Then: Hypocritical Gratitude

This “now” moment transpires into memories of “then”, that particular moment, the raindrop that was filled with a bug that traveled and never looked back.

This morning while washing my hands I was thinking about how fortunate I am to have an abundant amount of water that has been consistent throughout my life. How I have always had everything I need to survive and even now, although my salary is considerably lower than most in this field, I am still living an exceptionally comfortable life.

Then why, in the time it takes to open a salary statement did everything change? I had my first panic attack in over a year. A true, couldn’t breath, hyperventilating attack… over money of all things. Over the realization that I might be getting paid what I would consider “nothing”.

When my breath returned and the chaotic storm cloud that was my mind calmed to just some thunder and rain, I became aware that my hypocritical actions were causing me anger. I realized that maybe all those beautiful thoughts in my head do not apply as strongly when a real life situation arises. It confused me this extreme change, but also showed what “human” looks like.

This situation… this reminder also happened to be a manifestation; not that I realized it at the time. I asked this morning to be reminded of a moment in my travel worthy of words. Through a bit of hypocrisy, tears, and frustration I was reminded of a time where a lot of change was made, simple appreciations were had, and I found that happiness is found in the smile of a beautiful Ghanaian child.

I remember the rain, the thatched roof, and the look on my parents face the moment the bug bit me. I was in a new country for the first time… Ghana of all places. My sister, who I had admired since before I was born, was in the Peace Corps. Her choices to volunteer in Ghana for 2 years gave the rest of us the gift of travel.

I do not remember what day it was, I believe the rain came the first day of our trip. I remember being hot, and feeling free. The thatched roof made for a perfect shower head and the stream that flowed looked to tempting to deny my tired, overheated body. So it happened. Tilting my head up to the sky, feeling the water blanket my body I caught the bug. The travel bug. The one that has been with me since that moment. That simple 2 minute “shower” where I realized freedom came in the form of a simple act.

I always joke with my friends that at that moment my parents probably thought “uh ohh, here we go”. Not knowing that the daughter that was bound to be the Kentucky gal would end up finding home wherever she roamed.

Ghana was crazy-in the most awesome sense of the world.. Simple lessons such as “eggs do not need to be refrigerated” to whatever you order on a menu doesn’t matter- you get what is there… eyes and all. Bucket flushing the toilet is an skill to be remembered, and “stuff” does not make people happy.

On one of our first days we saw the dance. The dance of villagers that have not danced in years. The dance of being welcomed, of joy in the freedom of movement, and of embracing new voyagers into your home. The colors swirled as the elders spun in their tornado of tie dye that broke their chains of time without dance.

I learned about appreciation in Ghana. Not only appreciation for freedom, but of simplicity. A simple lifestyle, and the embellished knowledge that was given to me as life lessons. I observed people of all ages learning to wash their hands and to drink water away from where their feces fell. Something that I took for granted, that keeps me alive is not “basic knowledge” to all.  Teaching grown adults to put on condoms and the various choices for contraception were lessons that made me uncomfortable. I  Watched as my sister with the extraordinarily large display item, and awed in admiration her ability to hold a crowds attention. As the women blushed and the men laughed the knowledge we take for granted during high school health class was being passed on to help protect the lives of these individuals.

I had the opportunity to teach grown men how to play princess card UNO as the others cooked our local cuisine. A meal that took 6 hours to prepare as it was by candle light. This was my first experience of eating what you kill. Jessica (my sister) was given a goat from the elders. As in traditions around the world you eat everything that is given. After a week or so of feeding Billy my sister and dad headed out to “prepare” Billy as my mom and I huddled in a near by hut with my fingers desperately trying to block out the cries that were forthcoming. Although this experience runs chills up my spine as I write, I remember the gift and the pride the elders had as they gave him to my sister. I remember the peanut soup and the chewiness of the goat. I remember my hands covered fully and liquid dripping from my face and fingers as a picture was snapped capturing this moment of pure joy. It was a night of family, a beautiful connection with the teachers that dedicated themselves to helping my sister and learning from her as well.

Ghana offered me a gift I will never be able to repay, but instead try to live by. Happiness forms from the relationships and people in your life. The man made material items we so desperately long for can bring joy for the time being, but look into any Ghanaian eyes and realize where true PURE joy comes from…

Side note: If every lesson that was taken from the trip was typed, it would take what feels like a life time… so maybe they will just be saved for the book 😉 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then: The Fair

20160928_193857-01Every story has a beginning. To pinpoint that moment, the shift where life was becoming everything you manifested it to be, is challenging to do in the mist of the excitement, but after the fact that moment becomes very clear.

My moment was at a job fair. Well… technically it began with a rejection letter from Teach for America that made me feel as if my world was coming to an end (oh the drama of a senior in college).  Yet when they told me I can’t, in true Hancock fashion, I dedicated my time to finding an even bigger challenge- International teaching. The request of most schools at these job fairs is “Minimum 2 years experience.” In my mind a senior in college with 5 months of student teaching under her belt could totally compete with any great teacher out there, and so it began.

Dozens of emails, applications, resume drafts, and hours of prep time later (including two new business suits and professional pictures) I thought I was on my way.

February in the Mid-West comes with it’s challenges, mainly gigantic snow storms that freeze planes into one spot and shut down full airports. Yet, by some miracle (which I now know to be manifestation and synchronicity) I was able to fly out (get bumped to Buisness Class for the first time ever) and arrive in Iowa just in time for what is now known as my shift.

An International Teaching fair is best described as the United State’s Black Friday for teachers. As those conference room doors swung open, hundreds of anxious teachers raced to sell themselves to their dream schools, hoping for their moment when everything changed.  I did not have ANY idea what to expect, but I did know that I would not sell myself the same way I did in my TFA interview. Instead I walked up to each school I desired, handed them my shiny black folder with a creatively constructed paper version of me inside and said “My name is Carolyn Hancock and this is why you should hire me.”

Well it worked. Schools in Thailand, Costa Rica, and Taiwan all offered me jobs while India and Vietnam (where I ended up a year later… story to come) were interested with a bit more experience or if an Early Childhood position was ready- works for me!

I was beyond words…

It was the first of many experiences to come where I was simply ALIVE. It was happening, my life, the one that I chose completely for myself was starting. I was in full control, but with no idea of the beauty, love, and shift that was ahead…

(I can’t stop smiling while writing this, the feeling of that moment showed her face again– grateful!)

Side Note: The Buddha in the picture above was given to me by a couple I met at the job fair. On the way home all of our flights were canceled and changed many times. We were texting, but did not think we would see each other again.  Right before leaving I saw them in the hallway where they handed me my Travel Buddha. They explained that wherever we go in this world we will always be connected through our matching Buddhas. He has been with me in my backpack through every adventure, patches added, and moving moment. Those two beautiful souls have no idea the gift they gave me on that “regular” Sunday afternoon.