I is for Immerse.
My good friend Hassan is a photographer. I can't say I made him one, but I certainly took him under my wing and paved a narrow dirt path for him to traverse. He started out a student at the CDC in Indo - courtesy of 4th World Love. He spoke a tiny bit of English when I first met him and he hovered on every word that I spoke, especially when it came to explaining things about taking photos.
We'd roll around the island on motor bikes, checking in on the local folks, noting improvement in sponsored activities and he was constantly there - available to assist, happy as a clam, and always super on point. Just ready and avail to hold my camera. Waiting for me to utter one quick tidbit about any new slice of education he could possibly scrap up - notepad at the ready. He was willing and hungry to immerse himself in learning. Just like a sponge. Soaking it all in.
I tend to give him a camera every time I'm back in Indo. My random cast off technology. Not cause it doesn't take good pix. But because he deserves to have what I have. To learn on what I learned on. To have the freedom to immerse himself in a trade/craft like anyone in the Western world can do.
He sends me pix now and again - I love the macro shots and the wedding pix. He's become the village photographer. He speaks great English now. He's still a farmer at heart, but he makes me proud as a mama bear with his tenacity, gift and humor.
Hassan. My friend, the photographer.
See his pix below.
B is for Brave.
When I very first went to Indonesia, I didn't have an ounce of fear in me. Not sure why. I just don't get scared of traveling alone on a budget. Internal compass thing that I will forever have in me, I guess. Now, when I landed in the village of Sembalun (on the Muslim island of Lombok) to volunteer for the first time ever in my life - I almost shit my pants. Not cause I was scared, but because I was terrified. To teach. I was just suddenly standing in front of a classroom of 10-year-olds (I'm sure they were just as stunned as I was) - expecting to perform. OMG. Could you just?
Every set of teachers eyes were gleefully on ME, all kids were hyperventilating with excitement (an American alone in a Muslim school about to teach?!), and I literally had not only no lesson plan (huh?), but no freaking idea what to say or do. Somehow I fell back on humor though and we learned body parts. It was a brilliant stroke of genius on my part (no clue where it came from) to scream belly button and point it out and have the whole class repeat. I could have gone on forever (and did about 12 hours a day for 2 weeks). Somehow off that little bout of insanity, I became legend in Sembalun (the teacher they all remember most I'm told) - and I think it's cause it was so non-traditional, so fun and unexpected...how could you not help but get caught up in the whooping joy?
After I left and went home to Chicago, I took that phenomenal high and started 4th World Love - which has gone one to teach anyone willing to learn English for free. We started a community development center(a new one was just built, the destroyed in a flood, and is now being rebuilt again), we have a paid full time English teacher, we host multiple volunteers from around the world, we support pretty much any village project (water tanks, cleft palate surgeris, garbage cans, organic farming, art center, etc...) that they want to tackle. I thought I was brave that first time, but after going back this past summer - what I really saw was how brave all my friends in the village had become.
I just remember EVERYONE being shy to the point of almost running away and now, well, now - there are these amazing conversations in ENGLISH about everything in the world. They remember all the Spanish I ever taught them and are nothing but hungry for more. They want to create jobs in the village. They leave to learn a little, then come back and really try to figure out how to apply what they discovered to the village and home they love. They give back to each other so simply and effortlessly, its almost a shame. How did we in America get so jaded and cynical and straight up unappreciative?
The villagers of Semablun, especially all my great friends at CDC, are the bravest, coolest, funniest people I know. Even the gals. They were terrified of me trip 1. Now, they roll me into their arms and shove local sweets down my throat (god bless 'em). They create things to sell. They are trying to grow outside the stamp of poor and it's incredible to witness. It takes some serious WANT to learn like that. To give like that. To dedicate like that.
Guess I'm just glad that I was brave enough to head there the first time so they can now be brave enough to head elsewhere the first time. Full circle.
Having a puppy makes me think about being a kid. Remember back when you were free?
You could just run, play, hide, eat, cry, yelp any time you wanted. There was always a summer on the horizon. Every day was about what kind of pure fun you could have. Dirt sandwich, playing in the creek, picking wild berries, helping out in the kitchen (or just simply gazing on as mom and grandmas did the work), baby snacks throughout the day. Hair in dreads. Feet a mess. Everything eye-level was a new toy. There was no stress. That word doesn't even exist in the priceless world of puppies and kids. Catching fireflies. Rocks were the only thing you had to put in your hand-me-down purse. Running through the woods til the sun set and it was time for dinner. Naps on the swaying front porch swing. Summers at the lake. Gulps of water and sunshine and joy - EVERY SINGLE DAY. That's kids and puppies done up the right way.
If (and when) I have a kid, I want them to live the same free life I did growing up. See above.
The kiddies in Indo where we have 4th World Love, well, let me put it this way. They are the ultimate village treasures. Everywhere is home. Every hip is familiar. A mud puddle = a romp in the swimming pool. A basket of food scraps = a knife in hand and a life never afraid in the kitchen and all the wonders it can turn out.
Oh the joy...I'm gonna try to get that vibe back into my own life.
I'd be crazy not to get involved...
They are Muslim and covered head to toe. But, they're just like us in the end. Just wanting to gossip all the live long day amongst their pals and shove down sweets for hours and hours. Laugh, cackle, eat, sip sweet tea, poke fun at each other. Those are girls. You put a room full of them together and you will always get the same posse of could-be fatties on the make.
I don't know much Indonesian, so Sasak is even further out of reach. But, we share giggles and bites of sweets for a few minutes. They scream the English name of something to me over and over - as if it will make the Sasak version stick into my skull. But, unless its Spanish, it's in one ear and out the other.
Who needs words though - when food and smiles are God's currency? They adore me cause I've helped their kids and neighbors kids all learn English. I've helped their little community as much as I can - water towers, homemade garbage cans, community development centers, cleft palate surgeries. FREE English classes. Tools. Volunteers and a thriving volunteer program. Comupters. Cameras. Clothes. A beloved guitar played by all (expertly, I might add).
Who am I to care? Why even start 4th World Love? Hell, WHY NOT? It ain't no biggie and it makes me proud. It brings me joy when sometimes there ain't none. I watch people learn and LOVE IT. I make a difference. Again, WHY NOT?
And, I guess all these funny little folk in Lombok make me laugh and laugh. Of course I'm gonna help. It's just my nature...and it's sooooo easy to do. 'Nuff said.
Usually, I'm shooting food, so I rock my macro lens. But, can you believe on this Indo trip, I didn't bust it out once. Hauled the macro, wide angle and long lens all the way across the world and didn't even use anything but the wide angle - which I've never even really played with before. But, once I saw how neat all the pix looked, I fell in love. AND, figured out how to shoot food with it super close...which is not so easy all the time.
On our last day in the village, we hiked up to the top of this baby mountain where Royal and Hassan had planted a garden full of organic goodies. Terraced all the way down. How about the security guard (on left with giant knife/sword) being there so he can chase away the wild boars that come tromping along to eat up all the greens.
Our boy Hassan says he hikes up to the garden every day to prune and tweak things - clears his mind and makes him happy. What a haul. But so worth it. Daniel (smoker in pix) didn't speak a lick of English last time I was there...and now is pretty dang fluent. He goes shoeless most of the time and is content in the fields cutting rice. BUT - he's also a wannabe rock star - who is a master at guitar. These boys never cease to amaze me.
GOD - I love the wide angle!
4th World Love Rules
Let me put it this way - 4th World Love is probably the coolest, most heart-warming thing I have ever produced. This NGO that me and my bud started years ago in Indonesia is REALLY WORKING.
I just got back from another epic trip where we went to the village, hung with our peeps, checked out the progress and brainstormed about the future. I will have many postings in the coming weeks, but the jet lag right now is killing me.
So, I leave you with nasi (rice). I think I have nasi OD. The food is just so mesmerizing though. So rustic, rural and redic. I love it all.
This is what happens when you travel to faraway regions all by yourself to volunteer. You become a complete and utter superstar. There you are, just on the make for something more, and you find an outfit like 4th World Love and before you know it, you're in cahoots with me and Lis, getting details about how to get to the mountain village of Sembalun, Lombok. We get you sorted, and next thing you know, you're stumbling off the jam-packed ferry on a remote Muslim island...waiting to be picked up by our happy-go-lucky team of field ninja's.
Once you are in the village, you barely get any sleep cause you are so excited, nervous and happy to be rolling into the CDC (Community Development Center) to see what our little set up is all about. You are beyond delighted that there is a fridge and you can't help but notice the beautiful world map and post-its full of Spanish words littering the walls. Lots going on here.
Time to get down to business and teach English - at CDC and the local schools. The kids go absolutely ballistic when you roll in. Every time. In fact, the adults are beyond joyous too. They can't believe you've made your way to their tiny village from some real faraway land just to help them have a better future.
A couple days pass. You eat the best food you've ever tasted. You've stared out your bedroom window and contemplated trekking Rinjani (2nd largest volcano in Indo). You've gone to the secret waterfall and almost drown (from happiness). You've made a gazillion friends already who all know you by name, and somehow you remember theirs. You see progress in students that seemed impossible 72 hours ago. You actually participated in a late night jam session on the village guitar. And nothing ever felt more right in the world.
A few weeks more pass and it's time to go. There are tears. There are small, incredibly thoughtful gifts. There are promises to come back. But you must go. The journey of life and travel is still out there and for now, your time in SMBL is over.
But, on the four hour journey back to the ferry, you think - I LOVE IT THERE. I LOVE THOSE PEOPLE. I LOVE WHO I AM BECOMING. AND I CANNOT WAIT TO RETURN.
Trust me - it happens every time.
Thanks for the pix Kasey!
Years ago, me and my Fatcake team boldly tore off to a small beach-side village in Mexico to shoot a TV show. We'd invited a handful of pals down for the final leg of the trip, assuming not a soul would take us up on the last minute travel -- A couple did, however...and one of these lovely ladies was Linda. While maintaining a constant tequila-fueled buzz, we made pots of homemade spaghetti for the villagers, we sampled raicilla, we swam in the warm ocean and almost got yanked to sea, we watched breathtaking sunsets, and we laughed til we cried - over and over again. The Lin, as we so fondly called her, had the time of her life. Good pals on the beach, living life the way it should be lived -in the moment, full of laughs and dripping with good memories.
The Lin loved animals, loved giving to worthy causes, and loved being around good people. We spent time living in her basement before we'd gone to shoot that TV show (yes, there was a time when me and my team were all homeless, just looking to switch up life a bit) and she was the one who taught me all about healthy food, the best of vegetarianism, and how to make a real home - with a fridge full of delicious food and wine.
Last year, she donated a generous sum to 4th World Love, which qualified her for multiple entries into the 2009 all-expenses-paid trip to Baja this spring (2010). 4WL is on the hunt for the next village to open a community development center and Baja is just the place to find it. This way, loads of people who can never make it over to Indo could perhaps step on down to Baja to volunteer and watch the magic of giving back unfold. The Lin won the contest (to our sheer and utter delight) and we couldn't wait to get on the road with her once again in majestic Mexico.
Sadly, our gal Lin passed on last month from cancer. The news was beyond devastating to us. Death hits us all, I suppose. When you least expect it. When you don't want to face it. When you think you and yours are invincible. When you think you'll live forever. When you think you have tomorrow to live your life.
We're going to honor her amazing spirit by naming the 4WL CDC we eventually find down in Baja after her and her donation will ensure that a brand new set of dreams from those less fortunate get to come true.
I'm sure she will be watching the whole time...and laughing right along with us. We hope you join us down in Baja sometime soon +
Why would you want to volunteer at 4th World Love's Indo outpost?
You walk amongst clouds...every single day.
You hang maps for people who've never before seen maps...and you show them how far away your home is.
You screw up what could have been the happiest map photo of all time by being the only one not in good form. Yet the photo still shines.
You squat on dirt floors and find more pleasure in that motion alone than you do from an entire spa day.
You laugh with wild abandon. Hyena-like even.
You turn a lovely scarf that took 2 weeks to weave into a fashion statement that others want to emulate.
You smile like its going out of style. All dreamy like...all the dang time.
You learn to ride a motorbike and wonder why do cars even exist?
You forget what a shower is...and simply don't care. Long as you wash with volcanic water now and again, all good.
You teach pigeon Spanish, combat frisbee, and plastic bottle recycling to packs upon packs of villagers.
You make entire families come together over a sweet photo. And, you all cackle in unison with pure joy.
You brainstorm with people who never once had an outsiders ear all to themselves.
And, sometimes...you make their dreams come true.
You look back over your photos once you are home - and you want to go STRAIGHT BACK...and when you do, you are remembered by EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the village. No matter how long you stayed.
If you ever decide you want to rock it in Indo with 4WL remember, it's cheap - $100 per week, all food/lodging/guides included. We set it all up for you and you can roll out anytime. Make 2010 count.
At the end of January, we'll announce the winner of the 2009 4th World Love contest. You still have a little time to enter if the above photo interests you. And, if it doesn't...well, man you must have no sense of adventure in your bones!
Think: A Misty-led road trip escape to Baja for a week, with a night on my pirate-style sailboat in Marina del Rey included.
All you have to do is donate $100 (all donations are 100% write-off and all funds raised go directly into the quest to find and start a new 4WL location down in the outlaw land that is Baja). The more $100's you donate, the more times your name goes in the pot!
Check out 4WL for more intel and thanks loads for all the amazing donations thus far. Our Indonesian CDC is thriving with ideas, volunteers, programs and English lessons galore.
The trip happens this Spring 2010 and all costs are included. Meaning, we got your back!