Movement Heals

Depression and anxiety are slippery things; they creep in when you’re not looking and hunker down right next to you on the couch. Even on sunny days when nothing is amiss and thoughts should be happy, depression’s nefarious tentacles can wrap around your ankle and tug you down.

And now, with a world-wide virus crisis and unemployment or isolation blues plus whatever you may be dealing with on top of that, the grip of anxiety or depression can be unbroken by our usual coping strategies. We can’t go out to the bar with friends, visit a loved one, go shopping or attend a movie. We may be struggling with finances and rent, afraid of what the future holds. A small but difficult realization for me was that I can’t just go hiking to burn off my fears and my circling self-doubt. Just sitting at a view of the ocean can calm me like nothing else, but not right now.

Trust me, I’ve had my times of stagnation and paralysis during this quarantine—I think we all do and that’s normal. And don’t let anyone tell you exactly how to feel right now. But for my sanity and well-being I found my restlessness needed a movement outlet, and as I eased into a practice of dancing at home I remembered how much I love the creativity of improvised dance.

I have danced for years, both in classes and with Youtube tutorials and by myself. I find it hard to put my finger on it, but dance gives me a distinct peace different than any other activity—reading, drawing, cooking. As soon as the music instructs my rhythm and begins translating into movement I feel as if I’m involved in a larger piece of humanity, as a drop might feel in an ocean. My soul feels connected, less chaotic as if I have gathered the floating parts and fastened it up like wrapping a package with a ribbon. I have also noticed my body feels much more inhabited when I dance: this awareness disappears when I underappreciate it. Sometimes I think we become so used to being here, using our feet and hands that we forget what a miracle moving is.

We are inundated with grief, and it is valid and acceptable to grieve for anything you may have lost. While we process and feel the state of our world, however, think of the ways you can move your feelings and uncertainty forward. What is something that helps you release your headspace and anxieties, lets you hear things you thought forgotten? What is your movement that grounds you in your physicality, here and now, the life breath that swells within you? Even within crisis, let your body heal in some way.

“The body says what words cannot.”

Martha Graham

Mental health:Why so taboo?


If we never confronted the darkest corners of our psyche and merely hid it all beneath a veneer of socially acceptable positivity, we would never learn—heal—move on and accept the struggles of others and ourselves. I truly believe part of the problem of mental health and loneliness is society’s way of stonewalling or pressuring us into a fake, constant success-mode. We have to have our lives under control, but we also have to live up to the world’s expectations of glamor and fun and wealth. And look good while doing it. The success-mode doesn’t like ugly, it doesn’t accept less-than, it hypes us up into individual beauty or brand or success marketers, selling a version of our own lives. Until the veneer slips and we realize we have been selling a half truth.


Obviously positivity and hope are essential. If we didn’t hope for something we would all just give up now. But sometimes life is dark, life is hard and we can’t do what we’re expected to. Or we are processing trauma, and can’t “just get over it”. And we may be afraid of exposing our dark corners because of anxiety of how people may react. This is normal and understandable, but shouldn’t isolate us or freeze our desire for help or healing.

I’m embarking on a lifelong journey of seeking out my own darkness, processing my own shame and need for support from others, and acceptance of myself—strengths and weaknesses. Whatever this process looks like, I hope to find more grace and inspiration for myself and others, through writing, therapy, listening and learning. I encourage anyone struggling with anything—which is pretty much everyone, even those with impressive Instagrams—don’t lock your pain and shame and unforgiveness away. Acknowledge it, bring it into your conscious as much as you are able and ask for support when you need it. Don’t wait until it’s unbearable: because you are loved and we as humans are born to connect with each other.

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Burkina Faso


The top 10 facts about hunger in Burkina Faso are layered with historical conflict and complicated cultural conduits. The desperation and vulnerability accompanying the Sahel food crisis have affected much of the surrounding area, jeopardizing education, job security, and food security. With developmental assistance and diversification of business and exports, the crisis will gradually lessen and the economy will strengthen.

  1. Malnutrition rate: As of 2011, chronic malnutrition in Burkina Faso was at 34 percent and acute malnutrition over 10 percent. Severe and acute malnutrition rates passed the emergency threshold in parts of Burkina Faso recently in relation to the Sahel Food Crisis. 10.4 percent of Burkina Faso children suffer from acute malnutrition. Another 30.2 percent of children experience growth stunting, a symptom of malnutrition.
  2. Security: According to Trading Economics site on Burkina Faso,  external debt also increased to 3188.20 EUR Million from 2833 Million in 2016. Terrorism rose to 4.52 in 2018, the highest index ever recorded for the nation: security is frequently linked to limited employment availability, poverty, hunger, and desperation.
  3. Poverty rate: Though Burkina Faso experienced a boost of gross national income of 95.3 percent between 1990 and 2017 due partly to increased cotton production, it remains among the 10 poorest countries in the world. Around 40.1 percent of Burkina Faso’s population still lives below the poverty line.
  4. The Sahel Food Crisis: Swelling insecurity and sporadic attacks on the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso (and other countries in the Sahel region) plague agro-pastoral regions, forcing families to flee. The conflict and droughts have raged on since 2012 and displaced many, including the 24,000 Malian refugees who fled to Burkina Faso. Levels of violence are proportionate to the levels of hunger, malnutrition, and food shortage.
  5. Food Inflation: According to Trading Economics site on Burkina Faso, cost of food in Burkina Faso increased 2.7 percent between August 2017 and August 2018. As well as higher food costs, less money is coming into Burkina Faso as exports fell from 602.2 units in July to 434.8 units by 2019.
  6. Economic growth: Cotton accounts for 70 percent of Burkina Faso’s exports. When Burkina Faso’s government phased out genetically engineered cotton seeds in 2017, cotton production plummeted. Farmers are worried the country won’t gain back ground unless the agricultural sector modernizes. Mali cotton production surpassed Burkina Faso for the first time in a decade. Studies reported by the Alliance for Science show the introduction of GE cotton to Burkina Faso led to a 22 percent increase in yield, and households gained an average profit of 51 percent. However, the government’s rejection of GE cotton reversed all this progression, and drought and pasture shortages affected the highly agricultural country as well.
  7. Job availability and security: Cotton agriculture also employs about 20 percent of the working population, a number which has been challenged due to the struggling production and phasing out of GE seeds. One farmer, Seidu Konatey–interviewed by journalist Joseph Gakpo for Alliance for Science–expressed in early 2018 that if the situation continues through 2019, his farm will abandon cotton production. The many refugees and displaced families have very little job security, a number exacerbated by the Sahel conflict.
  8. Education: The top 10 facts about hunger in Burkina Faso show how a lower than average Human Development Index can affect education. Burkina Faso’s 1.5 mean years of schooling is well below the low Human Development Index bar of 4.7 years. The average number of school years in Sub-Saharan Africa overall is 5.6, with Burkina Faso resting at the meager end of the scale. In 2017, many schools were forced to close due to conflict arising from the Sahel food crisis.
  9. WFP: The World Food Program has been helping those impacted by the Sahel food crisis since 2012 by providing treatment for acute malnutrition and dispensing food. WFP also distributes food and assistance to orphans and HIV patients and provides breakfast and school lunches to children in the Sahel region. Supporting farmers’ organizations by linking them with buyers, offering training, and restoring land, WFP combats hunger on many levels.
  10. Humanitarian Aid: As the top 10 facts about hunger in Burkina Faso illustrate, the number of Burkinabé people in need of food quadrupled in 2018. The European Union directed £16.1 million in 2018 to Burkina Faso, ensuring children receive the nutrition and medicines they need. The EU gave treatment to 187,000 children under the age of five and launched a new disaster risk reduction program this year. This includes resilience methods such as safety nets and free healthcare.


Diversification of the agricultural force in Burkina Faso will help strengthen the market and shift the focus from stalling cotton crops toward other production. Promoting agricultural production and technological advances can start lifting the extremely impoverished out of this cycle. Greater exports and modernization of industry will create more access to nutrition treatment and a more balanced economy which can alleviate food inflation. Humanitarian aid has made a difference, as these top 10 facts about hunger in Burkina Faso show, but millions of people still food security and medical assistance for acute malnutrition.




Potential of Widening Internet Coverage in Ghana


ŸRates of Progress of IT in GhanaŸ

Even with the challenges the country faces in establishing infrastructure, the positive influence of internet coverage in Ghana shows in rates taken from 2016.

ŸCommunity-Influenced Tech HubsŸ

“Developers in Vogue” provides a haven for Ghanaian women pursuing the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. As the gender disparity in STEM studies favors men and stimulates misconceptions about women in the workplace in Ghana, “Developers in Vogue” combats gender preconceptions on one level and lack of opportunity on another. Their aim to inspire social impact through technology and problem-solve by using real-life cases from their communities works to connect women with jobs after course completion. Visit their website for info.

Another company, Hopin Academy in Tamale, Ghana, works towards supporting students by connecting them to the courses most appropriate for their interests and skills. Relying on peer-to-peer development and local innovators to problem-solve for the community, the tech hub connects Ghanaians from different backgrounds to practical niches in the local job market. For more examples of community-oriented tech hubs, click here.
ŸCompanies Partnering with Ghana Tech HubsŸ

As Christoph Fitih, Sales Director for Africa branch of Parallel Wireless states, “African countries need to adopt new technologies to prevent further marginalization of Africa from the world economy and eliminate the widening of the current digital divide between Africa and the rest of the world.”

Businesses in Ghana understand the time is ripe to create an online presence, and even necessary as the world market starts to move more and more toward internet users. MEST, a Pan-African organization partnering with global tech giants, offers aspiring entrepreneurs a rigorous, fully sponsored 12-month program to top-graduates in several African countries including Ghana. Training includes business, communications and software development as well as hands-on project work, giving graduates the chance to pitch their final idea to the board and receive seed funding for their entrepreneurship. Academics and teachers from all over the world bring their experience to the company. To learn more, visit MEST’s website.

More internet coverage in Ghana means tech companies such as Hubtel and Rancard have become Pan-African brands, and according to Nana Prempeh, co-founder and CEO of Asoriba Ghana has “great strengths when it comes to the tech ecosystem. MEST has been a strong backbone of the community… The government has also recently shown great interest in the space by building the Accra digital centre.”

Other global companies partnering with Ghana’s many startups and tech hubs include:

ŸIssues Ghana FacesŸ

A CNN article observing the unique challenges and potential of broadening internet coverage in Ghana states “Ghana is the future of Africa,” perhaps literally and figuratively. Ghana’s comparatively stable electricity, security and internet infrastructure exists in spite of the series of damaging military coups it went through before 1981.

Even though fewer than 1 percent of African retail sales are made online, traffic congestion and demand for Western goods has boosted numbers recently. E-commerce will sky-rocket in Africa, according to the technology review “Ghana’s Last Mile” by Jonathan Rosen. He hopes issues with unpaved roads and confusing street-labeling will be overcome through the same spirit of innovation which is already sweeping the nation.


Broader internet coverage in Ghana brightens its future in tech and the online market. There are obstacles of infrastructure to be overcome and yet great hope for keeping up with world-wide tech hubs. Perhaps its name, roughly derived from the words meaning “Warrior King,” gives a glimpse of the spirit of the country. Investment from giants like Google and Amazon Web Services spearhead the beginning of partnerships with corporations all over the globe, as other companies begin to take notice of Ghana’s local hubs and competitive training. Most encouraging is seeing the hands-on training of MEST addressing communities and providing a stream of trained tech-students into the job market.


Peru Scholarship Program Pronabec Changes Lives

Though the government-funded Pronabec faces some challenges, the Peru scholarship program has soared on with intensity. Awarding thousands of grants over the years, it offers opportunities to some of the most educationally at-risk Andean populations. Tour guide Octavio in the Titicaca region in Puno gives an inside view, telling the way a scholarship altered his fate.

Pronabec Quick Facts

The scholarships began in 1972 under the title “National Institute of Scholarships and Educational Loan” (Inabec), and eventually became the “National Program of Scholarship and Educational Loan” (Pronabec) in 2012. As of 2015, the State celebrated 50 years of giving out national scholarships to prospective students. Over the 40 years, the Inabec financed over 70,000 scholarships by facilitating foreign support and training new educators. As of 2012-2015 Pronabec gave over 69 scholarships to Peruvians hoping to study internally or abroad.

Pronabec Targets Specific Andean Populations

The Peru scholarship program offers awards at universities all over Peru including Lima, Arequipa, Puno, Cusco, and even at the National University of the Peruvian Amazon, UER Amazon. The number of employees has grown from 40 to 537 as of 2016, and their model of a revolving fund for educational loans has given 73,052 government-funded scholarships over the years. Subsidized scholarships focusing on specific populations promotes access and completion of education for scholastically at-risk populations. Decentralization of the financing means partnering with regional, provincial and local government and private companies in each geographical area.

The Peru scholarship program supports diverse populations in Peru with transport, school supplies, health, food, and tutoring services.  Ensuring that students transfer into the workforce, the program follows the model of other institutes by integrating graduates into the labor market and technological development of Peru.  To date, there are over two thousand Peruvian citizens who have also enrolled in the International Experience of scholarship granting, traveling on subsidies all over the world to gain experience and learn from foreign educators, as read on page 18 of the Institutional Management Plan.


Pronabec has had the social inclusion approach, trying to serve the poorest population of the country, through granting scholarships. It results in 73% of the scholarships awarded to people living in extreme poverty and 27% to those in poverty… [Also] 55% of the total scholarships [have] been granted to women.” (page 22)


Pronabec Gives Andean Tour Guide Full Scholarship

In an interview with The Borgen Project, tour guide Octavio from Puno explains the system which allows him to study economics for no cost at the acclaimed Universidad Nacional del Altiplano, practicing English at his night classes. Born in the Andes mountains, he and his single mother lived below the poverty line and would be otherwise unable to afford school. After his primary-school grades came to the attention of the Peru scholarship program, the university contacted him and offered him a merit-based scholarship. Proud of his Aymara heritage, he tells the stories of the Lake Titicaca and mountain regions in English, Spanish and Aymara. Because of this education, he can act as a guide for a well-known tour organization and share his story, among others. “The most important thing,” Octavio said, “is to keep positive and never, never give up.”

Issues For Pronabec

In 2013, there was a lack of 862,750 professionals in Peru for academic areas including agronomy, medicine, administration, mechanical-technical, communications, industrial engineering, and others, according to page 17 of Pronabec’s Institutional Management Plan. Despite the gradually increasing stability of Peru’s economy, political turmoil has boiled over many times throughout voting polls and incidents.  The impeachment of former President Fujimori and the recent resignation of the last President Kuczynski, who was discovered to have taken political bribes from corporation Oldebrecht, indicates the times Peru’s government tipped dangerously near boiling point. The scandal of Oldebrecht, a construction giant based in Brazil, illuminates many government officials in this time of unrest who were willing to benefit from corrupt business.

Directly after Kuzcinski’s resignation, the Peru currency strengthened as much as .4 percent to 3.2516 per dollar. Consequently, many political scientists foresee more hope and economic peace for the country as Vizcarra takes over. The success of the Peru scholarship program depends on supporting subsidies sustainably into the future. If government funds funnel into universities, educational access, and toward businesses which support the local economy, the investment in Peruvian universities can continue to develop and benefit from a stabilized job market.


On to the Future

Gradual and steady economic growth in the last few decades had reduced poverty rates and built a more solid foundation for secondary and tertiary education. The Peru scholarship program must work towards becoming more inclusive and decentralized while maintaining competitive standards, which will contribute to the labor market and economy. Sustainability can only be achieved through continued education and investing in educators, i.e., human capital that can carry on the programs with greater momentum.

IMG_8903Sacsayhuaman: Cuzco, Peru.


MyFight Fights Extreme Poverty

Non-Profit MyFight fights extreme poverty by employing marginalized women in workshops producing jewelry and leather-goods. The organization partners with families and workshops all around the world and purchases their hand-crafted products to create a break in the cycle of extreme poverty. This model gives women in developing countries a chance to be entrepreneurs in the climate of a struggling economy and little opportunity.

Microloans for Women

ŸJesse Murphy started the organization seven years ago in Billings, Montana to combat poverty: the goal in his own words is to not just “feed the hungry but to end hunger”. Part of his passion of fighting against human trafficking appears in the organization’s focus on women and business. Investing in businesswomen in developing countries contributes to ending the cycle of poverty, providing opportunities banks would never offer. One hundred percent of the profits flowed directly to microloans for families, adding to the steps climbing out of extreme poverty.

Partnering with Fair-trade Workshops 

   ŸDuring a visit to Ethiopia to adopt their son, Jen and Dave Ulrichs saw the devastating poverty that Ethiopians deal with on a daily basis. As of 2011, the World Bank measured overall poverty as 30 percent, while 35 percent of the population was undernourished. According to Jen Ulrichs, they partnered with investors and local workshops in Ethiopia, sponsoring growth of the already existing craftsmanship. Fair-trade workshops are thriving in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, India, and the Philippines, employing indigenous women to create jewelry and bags from diverse materials including bullets and leather. Now the non-profit focuses on workshops instead of microloans, funneling at least 75 percent of the proceeds back into the developing businesses. Staff individuals are encouraged to introduce ideas: an Ethiopian family produced a line of jewelry with ebony beading, marketed under their original design.

ŸAt the Nairobi site, hundreds of sustainably employed workers produce striking designs for Acacia Creations. Experienced designers work directly with the Acacia Creations workers, and managers offer job training to allow progress in the workplace. Another site in Chiban, Ethiopia employs many former victims of trafficking and homelessness and trains staff in the art of leatherworking. To read about more stories of the artisans and the workshops in each country, visit MyFight’s website.

Hundreds of Volunteers in US

ŸA distributor for MyFight’s on the ground  US campaign, Mariel Rieland, describes in an interview her part in the organization: she travels to events giving specific information on the style of bag and jewelry and where it’s made, donating at least 75 percent of what she sells. She echoed the importance of empowering marginalized women, as MyFight fights extreme poverty by including women as an essential piece of economic and developmental success. “Working for another social business in Uganda, I saw firsthand the impact of consistent employment and a safe working environment for marginalized women…  [they] gain a confidence in their abilities and strength that can have a ripple effect in their lives and communities,” she told the Borgen Project, connecting to MyFight’s mission to invest in women with little opportunity.

Beginning with individual microloans and continuing as a sustainable model to empower impoverished communities and trafficking victims, MyFight fights extreme poverty on several fronts. Investing in the lives of women living in extreme poverty, the nonprofit sponsors employment, and thus hope, of marginalized women. By uplifting women and their families, the non-profit creates a new cycle of support and jobs, breaking old cycles of poverty and lack of opportunity. MyFight also connects the products to buyers in the US and provides a sustainable source of employment for developing business. From bullet casings to purses and beads, the art of fair-trade workshops demonstrates the transforming power of conquering poverty.

Peru Journaling on Culture&Spirituality

COMING INTO Arequipa after Lima reminded me of driving into Skagit after downtown Seattle. The country opens up into plains and terraced crops, lorded over by sharp-peaked mountains. The river Colca snakes through canyons which look like a giant knife ripped into the dry ground. Although we had risen early and were feeling the effects of the 11,000 foot elevation, we wanted to explore the city and find the restaurants and monastery. Our lively guide Jessica buoyed us with her energy and led us through the city squares, through festival booths honoring Paccamama (Mother Earth) with various art pieces and earrings. Compared to Lima, I noticed more space for walking, more women in traditional Quechua dress with docile lambs in their arms. One of these women saw my face brighten and she bee-lined across the street, plopping the lamb in my arms before I could haggle price. Feeling its heart beat and hearing its small protesting bleat blew my heart up like a balloon, it was completely worth it.

Fields of corn and potatoes and onions carpet the surrounding area like scrubby blankets of green and gold. The peaceful nature of the old city center and the churches and mountain sentinels in the background brought us to a quietness different than Lima. The Santa Catalina Convent was a bright maze in a city of white buildings, all made of “sillar”—the volcanic dust that can be formed into a porous stone. (There was also a legend that it was called the white city because of how many Spaniards lived there, and the racism that established a hierarchy between lighter-skinned Europeans and the indigenous people).  Vibrant orange, Moroccan blue, and bursts of geraniums and bougainvillea. Hushed voices and kilns for pottery and dark, ashy kitchens, smoke-holes opening up to the stark blue sky. Established in 1580 to “shelter a select group of the religious order”, the monastery was a reminder of the Catholic control that came with the Spanish.

–>The indigenous Quechua respect the dead in their culture because death is a part of the earth’s balance. Light, dark, life, death, upper world and underworld—these things are necessary. The Quechua and Incan culture would wrap their dead in heavy tapestry, surround them with important artifacts, gold and silver. The way I understand this sacred balance is that yes, to the Inca there is still good and bad, but death is a stepping stone in the process of life, like a valley is necessary for a mountain.<–

Winding up to the staggering height of 16,000’ we summited Colca pass and stood looking out over mountains, valleys, cloud puffs and thousands of rock stacks balanced along the summit. These are a way of showing Paccamama thanks for everything she is. It means something more when you know the unified meaning of all these formations and that each person built it for a similar purpose.

After the summit, our bus wound down the other side to where a group of women were selling their homemade wares. Jessica, our guide, had brought Inca Cola to share with these ladies, each of which she knew by name and it was beautiful to share a moment of commonality with people we had never met even with a language barrier. After buying a few things we set off for Colca Canyon.

Coming into the canyon was a beautiful sight: sheer cliffs on both sides, vultures wheeling above, a dark green river rushing along the canyon bottom. Arriving, we wandered through gardens and beside trumpet flowers where giant black humming-birds were feeding. I had a sense of guilt and sadness that just outside the small city was a resort  created for tourists where most Peruvians would never visit.

I did feel an utter sense of calm after staying there a day, mostly from the absolute beauty of the cliffs and country we woke up to each morning. Because of little light pollution, we were surrounded by more stars in the hot springs than I thought possible. The stripe of Milky Way yawned above, planets jolting out of the black sky like search lights; I feel the depth of my being connect to the wild so much stronger when the stars burn above.

X     X     X     X     X

The morning of the 11th we wandered through an outdoor market and visited a Catholic wedding in a church. The bazaar was full of new, unfamiliar types of potatoes and fruits. One tuber was a vibrant shade of pink and shaped like a lumpy finger but tasted delicious.

I didn’t mind the 5 hour bus ride through the mountains again, it was good to watch the slate mountains give way to ice and snowy peaks, and to while away the hours with thoughts of all we’ve learned so far. Even in the wildest areas in a wasteland of mountain peaks, there are groups of people living and working. A scattered herd of llama, a warmly-dressed shepherd in Adidas and sweatpants sitting on a rock overlooking the barren fields, condors swooping above. A metal corrugated house framed by crumbling bricks and various work animals, llama and cow, background of a small child tossing a kite into the wind. Or a cluster of houses surrounding a giant ornate church, packs of dogs chasing each other outside. I am struck by the resilience and tenacity of the mountain dwellers, many of whom do not have running water or electricity. But also the struggle of the government in establishing the economy and pouring funds back into its cities; it seems every politician and president we learned about ended up using their funds to their personal advantage in spite of assuring to alleviate poverty. Many of the young tour guides we spoke to were passionate about politics and the local elections which were beginning to ramp up, and determined to work toward a solution for the impoverished neighborhoods that would not drain the economy or overtax the civilians.

X   X   X   X   X   X

–>I wrote some while I was on the train and was able to encapsulate much of how I felt about the spirituality and people of Peru, especially the Quechua and Aymara people. However, I want to delve more into how it really affected me, and how I was able to understand a small part of it from an outsider’s perspective.<–

Personally, a reoccurring issue for me was about how much energy is spent on money and the pursuit of money. Isolation and fixation on earning as much as you can is widespread in our society, making it all too easy to fall into pursuing money for money’s sake. And while I fully agree that economic comfort affects both personal life and emotional and physical well-being, I am concerned that we are spiraling further and further from our human spirit and the necessity to find quiet spaces and attend to our wellness outside of finances alone.

Being in Peru, there was a lot of poverty due to many complex social and political reasons that I do not pretend to fully untangle. Many families subsisted on very little, had few possessions and limited sanitation, water and electricity, some of whom lived far from any towns or cities in Andean villages. They did not have typical access to internet or cell service, or many other communication abilities that I often take for granted. Political figures more often than not took advantage of the corrupt system and used tax funds for their personal benefit, accepted bribes from companies seeking political influence such as construction company Oldebrecht, or inflated votes to suit their own wishes. There is no graph or statistic that can provide an algorithm of the spirituality or kindness of a culture, and I know the proof of my experience lies with my own account and with actually visiting and listening to the different narratives of the people.

When I was in the mountains of Peru, at the ancient Inca ruin of Moray, our guide invited us to dwell for a long two minutes of silence sitting in the temple of mother earth, or Paccamama. I had many issues and anxieties swirling around my brain, many I was not even aware of, but considering the peace of the earth and the beauty of its resources and wildness I fell into true silence, quiet in mind and spirit. This quietude was unbroken by any hate, shame, or guilt, the breeze and sound of birds faded to the distance. I did not think about my failure, or what I needed to add to myself to be worthy.

And through this tranquility, I saw myself as a tree surging out of rocky soil, reaching out branches like a bird’s wings. I don’t usually see myself as a strong being, but having this vision from mother earth, from God in a sense I had never felt, I know I am strong. It reminded me as well of the kindness of the earth: something forgotten so easily in the wake of natural disaster and war and unrest. All these are also true of our world, but the beauty of the Andes and the growing stewardship of the land in Peru filled my heart with hope. And hope is essential for growth.

All of this is to say that I can’t fully explain my experiences of the supernatural or transcendent world. Every time I try to nail down the spirit-world I realize it essentially resists labeling and a boxed-in identity. However you might recognize it—God, or a higher power—is bigger than I can explain, and I realize the commonality with other cultures more now than ever. We are searching for presence and life outside the everyday physical and I fully respect the Quechua and Aymara people for the examples I saw of unabashedly confronting their fears and hopes, beyond material discussions like the weather. I remember one man we met came from a poor background growing up in the mountains of Cuzco, with one parent and little opportunities for education growing up. But he was one of the strongest and most optimistic individuals I have ever met, telling me to “never give up hope, never admit defeat in the face of your fears, keep following your dreams and the things you love”. I was struck by this. He was finishing up his degree at a university in Puno on a scholarship he earned through academic testing and continued to keep through maintaining his grades, and he still visited his mother in the mountain district. And he was telling me, someone he barely knew, to never give up hope.

Mother Teresa spoke this:  “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” 

I believe as Americans we have a poverty of loneliness, isolation and dying hope. This can create havoc among us just as any kind of poverty and I only hope we can work daily, with small personal steps, toward nurturing hope and kindness in our hearts. Only when it exists in us can we continue to instill it in our homes and social groups. And when we realize the constant growth of material possession and money is not proportionate to peace and purpose.

However, ending on a lighter note, sometimes it is the smallest knowledge of hope or action of love that can change my perspective. Let us not be discouraged and remember actions that change someone’s view of humanity, no matter how small.




Truth of a Dream

I looked into the light. It was unlike any color I had ever seen before. It had decided to flood the wood with impossibly thick beams like water flitting with birds and leaves. I couldn’t feel anything except that my feet hurt, a little, and the moss cold underfoot.

What brought me there? Fuzzy spots danced over my vision and I sank deeper into the soft ground. I was close, tangibly close to the familiar and yet hovering on the skirt of something unknown. I smelled bluff grass and heard the rasp of blackbirds, my back prickling at the sound. A girl with long hair ran past towards the edge of the wood and raised a kite, blonde hair streaming in the wind. She turned a moment and then ran, tossing the kite into the sky. I noticed micro-cracks, fissures in the pines that split around branches and dripped with sap, roots spreading grayish on the vibrant moss. The top limbs let out sighs as they stretched in the wind, making pictures I recognized and could not name. Wild blackberries curled around the trunks, growing before my eyes to a purple-black fruit that shone, burst and withered to winter husks. The ground was covered by them.

When I looked up again, the light was fainter, I heard distinct chirping of a robin. Whether my eyes dimmed or I was falling asleep, or dusk descended, I did not know. I still knew nothing of why I stood in the wood, or what it meant. I was strangely at peace and rest.

When nothing shone but a pale moonlight and what may be water in the distance, I started to move forward. My feet knew all the hollows and found a path outside the trees, as if I walked here before. Stars hung overhead, starkly brilliant; the rough-angled branches of a tree blotting out some of them.

Now I remembered: I had written of this place. I had lived here, but only briefly in my dreams, based on a wraith spun from my island home. Why was I back here?

I stood, contemplating subconscious and the inner world within each of us. Are dreams wrought of something more real than memories: do we experience a completely altered world within a dream? Or do we experience a certain reality unattainable in harsh daylight?

Everyone has a place: a place we trespass back to in the recesses of memory and visit for something. Clarity, unfinished business, closure, an infinite peace, why was this my place… and why turn my mind here on default when so many other places meant something to me? I wrote a story years ago of this bluff, a story of a fictional character with no similarities to myself and yet found I was writing of myself, of my dreams, half-remembered paths I never returned to, not fully. An amalgam of emotion, summer days, childhood pain and loneliness, birds I never loved until they vanished, an intense love for the wildness of an island. Moments I thought would be lost, but slip back in when I least expect it.

We all have a Place we return to, perhaps not in physicality but in truth.

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death. ~Robert Fulgum




When breath comes once every few moments

And death comes once like a lever

Once pulled, never

Here undone..


When humanness means a day—sunrise and set

The leaf only green until brown, skeleton

Of spring, telling one

Transient story.


Moments geyser quick as we sit with thoughts of

Sights never seen, flickers of life we somehow

Missed under swinging clouds

And setting sun.


Life is of essence here, and now. The wonder in sky

And earth and being appear in life immediate, belief

Our breath matters, life starts now.

Love is why we endure on.










Thoughts on an Autoimmune Disease

Growing up as a dancer, I challenged myself to control everything: control my movement, my thoughts in my head, my unison with those around me, even my eating choices in order to gain as much nutrition and health as possible. Inevitably, I collided with uncertainty and the uncontrollable.

During my first year of college, an old stomach pain I thought had faded came back in full force. My subconscious told me I was inventing it, this pain that could get me out of homework and obligations. It nagged me for a few months, a pain that all the vegetables in the dining hall couldn’t help. Simultaneous guilt and fear gnawed away, telling me the rest of my life would be this way, that I was very sick but also very lazy for feeling too drained for social events and distracted from working on my assignments. Guilt and fear spun a depressing trap of isolation, and I never opened up to anyone about sickness that whole year.

A year later I realized the pain wasn’t going away on its own. I plummeted to breaking point after skipping multiple classes and sessions as a tutor in the learning center because of ‘not feeling well’. My personal last straw was when I had no energy to dance anymore. Diagnosed with a mild ulcerative condition in my intestine, I acknowledged the unique needs of my body as well as the effects of stress and under-resting. The feeling that my immune system was against me turned out to be partially true.

Since this diagnosis, I try to accept my weaknesses for what they are–not pure laziness (although I’ve had my share of lazy) or social ineptitude, not a state of complete physical disintegration, not snobbery because I try to eat healthily. I accept that I will have to watch my diet for the rest of my life, that there are many people with health problems more serious than mine, that I will benefit from listening to my body’s needs and taking certain medicine.

I suppose in all this I hope others will be inspired to listen to their individual needs, to treat their body gently and find ways to relieve stress. If anyone is unsure about chronic symptoms or pain but has never gone for checkup because ‘it’s probably nothing’, consider the way you advise your friends about their health and give yourself at least as much concern. And for those who do have an autoimmune condition, know you’re appreciated and loved and are not alone.