I am an avid traveler. I have had a great number of adventures around the world, eating bugs, camping in Africa, bungee jumping, storming the Great Wall of China. Every time I tell a story from my travels, someone says, "You should write a book!" I'd been on my very own Eat, Pray, Love journey for years, and I have often kicked myself for not putting pen to paper along the way.
That's the thing about travel though. It's so incredibly transformative, but sometimes you just cannot put it into words. I didn't know how to write about it, how to tell all of those seemingly unrelated stories, because I couldn't see the central theme that tied them all together. When I returned from my first big adventure in Africa - camping my way from Cape Town to Nairobi over 2 months' time - I had seen and done so much that I refused to get my film developed for several weeks. I wasn't ready to talk about it yet. I just didn't know how.
On that trip, I went to the night market in Zanzibar with some friends, something we'd been looking forward to for weeks. It sets up every night near the old town walls on the waterfront in Stone Town. Tables are covered with fresh, exotic seafood pulled up from Indian Ocean mere feet away earlier that day. You select your skewers and they are grilled up right there over hot coals. Where there is seafood, there are usually cats and a friend began feeding her leftover food to a stray under the table. All of a sudden, there was a blur of motion and we looked down to discover a young boy of maybe 6 was under the table too, trying to wrestle the food from the cat's mouth.
For every sad thing I have seen traveling, I have easily seen 50 happy things, but this one has always stuck with me. That line in the sand between "have" and "have not" had never felt so clearly defined before. One morning, a few days after returning home from that trip, I walked into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. I was standing at the sink filling the coffee pot with fresh clean, limitless water from the tap when it hit me like a ton of bricks - all that I had been taking for granted for years. I sat down on the floor and sobbed. That was almost 15 years ago, and I have tears in my eyes as I am writing this now.
Yet despite the poverty I had seen, there was also so much beauty and grace and happiness in the same countries. One need only look at the recent hashtag sensation #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou for proof. But something else became obvious to me on that trip. The people who needed assistance the most were not receiving it. No amount of money that I donated to a non-profit was going to do anything more than- possibly - provide a bowl of rice somewhere, which is a lot like sticking a Band-Aid on an amputation. What people needed more than anything were opportunities, and the continued support to allow those opportunities to succeed and flourish.
Don't get me wrong - there is absolutely a need for emergency response and food aid during crises around the world, and there are some amazing organizations that provide it, but I couldn't shake the feeling that there isn't a satisfactory long term solution. The only thing I had control over was where I spent my money when I traveled. Not only was I certain that it was helping someone at that moment in a very personal way, but I got to meet the person who carved my beautiful wooden bowl with his own hands. I learned about his wife, the names of his children, heard his story, had a good laugh with him when he talked me out of my sneakers in trade instead of cash. I fondly think of him every time I put fresh fruit in that bowl, which sits on my kitchen counter still.
I needed a way of bringing that experience home, a way of sharing it with my friends and family, a vehicle for me to be able tell people about trip I took overseas. So, I created The Wanderlust Trunk. It's the best way I can think of to support local economies and communities directly, and it's a way for me to help others make the connection to a personal story and feel as though they are helping one person, rather than millions.
Happily, once the idea for The Wanderlust Trunk was born, I realized I had also discovered the central theme that had been missing from my narrative and started blogging soon after. A Thousand Different Lives is the story of a girl with a wandering spirit and a nomad heart. I live in the present, but a lifetime's worth of rich and colorful travel experiences share the same time and space. Every single day, a sound, a smell, something intangible, nudges my memory and for 4 seconds, I am walking through the countryside in Cork, Ireland smelling peat fires or jostling through the market in Marrakech about to bang into a camel head that's hanging down in front of me. Sometimes, I'm funny. Always, I am irreverent. Often, I see ordinary, everyday things from a unique perspective. I hope you'll stay and read a while.