It was a bright Saturday in Washington DC and I was invited to have an intimate conversation with girls of the Global Girls Global Women Hummingbird Project, led by Dr. Jeri Dyson - a dynamic woman, medical doctor, face of the Walgreens Battle Beautifully Campaign, my soul sister, a super faithful friend and most of all a woman whose passion for inspiring young women is truly admirable. She calls me her Mentor - I call her my SHEro!
With such an exciting headline of “The Influence of Global Travel on Women of Color" mine was probably not the most conventional way to start the conversation.
Passport ownership was actually such a luxury for so many girls and it was important to let these young women know what the true value of a passport was, way beyond the access of borders. It was important to let them know that some women’s passports were stained by the pain of asylum, refugee status and in some instances human trafficking.
This eye opening conversation was to engage their thoughts and change the notions about travel as a luxury. It was now the time to associate travel not only for the value of the experience and cultural sharing, but to instill how respecting the many lands and soils of other cultures was critically important no matter how much we had already known from our geography and history classes.
Their eyes were lit and and I wasn’t going to fumble on the opportunity, by falsifying the imperfections of a ‘perfect’ travel experience as a woman. It was also not my intention to convince them that travel was only for exchanging cultural and culinary experiences, but in a nutshell it was to invite a sense of responsibility within the discourse around travel and especially travel for impact and change. The subject header was about to endure some radical transformation and the travel gods would allow my absurdity to reign as I committed to transforming lives in my own uncanny little way. Of course asking forgiveness from my host Dr. Jeri - who by her commitment to developing and shaping global citizens, was completely understanding of my passion to share the real experience of travel through a completely different set of lenses.
As a passport holder, one has a sense of wonder but beyond that sense of wonder - one has such a massive responsibility to the journey and the many stops along the way.
How else could I leave an impression on such an important group of emerging leaders if I painted the glamorous sides of travel without speaking of the truths of the dangers of traversing one’s territories without leaving a responsible footprint.
In these days of global warming, climate change, cyclones, melting icebergs and the many volcanic eruptions, who really wants to go anywhere? After all, some can suppose that the further ventured from home the least sense of comfort can be derived.
Here I was, being expected to give a fancy account of my travels and myriad of global experiences - instead I was constructing a lecture on how to embrace the lands of others and how to cope with the environment in the process. Why was this so urgent for me? Because I had the duty as a global citizen, to remind young women that it was important to understand our footprint’s impact in the bigger scheme of finding new frontiers.
In fact, it was more than a responsibility, it was a necessity and so I was able to share with them that I had the occasion of running a bath until it got warm, but instead, jumped in head first into the cold shower - to save water. In a world of scarce water resources, I was doing my tiny part to consciously respond to an urgent global need.
I have also adopted an approach avoiding the purchase of drinking water, and have instead now resorted to carrying a personal water filtration system - which can filter any fresh water; rendering it safe to drink for up to 100,000 gallons of water on my travels - a habit that I got into after becoming ultra conscious about the damage that single use plastic bottles had made - I myself having validly contributed historically and very unconsciously.
I was also no longer prepared to travel as a tourist and make the mistakes that could be avoided. Instead, my role as a global citizen was to accumulate less, save more, store less, travel lighter and take my waste with me to reuse, repurpose and recycle in some tangible way.
Through these lenses this was not the traditional way to begin to inspire impressionable emerging leaders who were excited to learn about my global travel as a Woman Leader working in Social Impact - but hopefully their expectations were fulfilled, as I was now encouraging them to see the world but keep it as pristine as possible and leave less of a footprint of disharmony.
I could see their keen interest as we discussed socially responsible global travel - the way air travel adds to emissions and pollutions and how much one flight could harm our ecology. How much a one night hotel stay contributed to pollution and waste and how many wash cycles it took to launder the daily change of linens from one hotel room - the multiplier effect of full occupancy and most of all the effect on energy use of washing dishes.
It was also remarkable to discuss my relationship with ground transportation - once I got into a country; walking as much as possible, catching share rides, using scooters on some occasions - all in my personal quest to promote less wear and tear on the environment as a passer by. Now please don’t think that I got there overnight and with ease. After all, I drive myself in my own country and am quite used to having reliable transportation for most of the activities that I have to do. But what would be the chances of taking shared public transportation and making new friends? it’s quite a great experience to meet folks from diverse cultures whilst sharing rides - for example, the UBER drive in DC who shared not one, but two quotes from his father Cooper Dodd during my shared ride - quote #1 “belief is what a person thinks perhaps is true, whilst faith is lost in fruition and fruition is truth itself” and quote #2 “It will be best to pray not knowing that there was a God, than not to pray and find out later that there is”
Not only were his stories filled with proud moments of a strong family ethic, but it also allowed new thoughts to swoon in my head for a moment - what if and what if not......why if I had not shared a ride and gone on my merry way only to consume lots of fuel on a singe ride in the same direction as some of the follow passengers and still not have any provoking thoughts for the day.
So what will I tell a room full of young and impressionable Global Girls who will become Global Women and have a chance to leave responsible footprints?
I’d say leave all the extra load behind - most of my luggage load includes traditional candy or condiments that are gifts for my hosts or friends. Travel with one reliable pair of walking shoes, one pair of dress shoes, a formal dress, two pairs of slacks/trousers, a few coloured tee shirts, one jacket/blazer, a few fashion accessories (recycled materials are better) and scarves, pack your reusable hot/cold cup or water bottle, pack a reliable supply of underwear and socks, fill up your refillable lotion bottle, a block of soap, a sarong that can be doubly used as a bath towel and hung to dry after each use, a pillow case, minimum toiletries, your prescribed medication and any over the counter meds you usually use, a miniature key ring flashlight, a supply of thank you cards (recycled paper please), a small bottle of home made insect repellent (olive oil or coconut oil based and essential oils of rosemary, geranium and lavender) and of course the smallest and lightest travel blanket that you own, which can be rolled up as a pillow or a foot rest from the tired and swollen traveling feet!
Whilst my travel photos somehow look super exciting and glamorous, I can tell many stories of courage and of learning to adapt and blend. I can also tell of how my social engagement in communities changed my perspectives of how I treat the planet and most of all, how some of the experiences brought out the girl-guide in me. Not out of fancy but out of necessity and not wanting to have it any other ways. In india, I only got ice in my drink once in almost a month - in sweltering heat of Hyderabad in March/April. In Cuba I discovered the take-out food did not necessarily mean take out cutlery and had to buy and eat two extremely sweet popsicles to make my own pair of chopsticks. In Swaziland, whilst camping in the sugarcane fields during winter, I had to sleep in a crouching posture and double layers of clothing inside of my very humble and basic tent in order to keep warm. Mornings were extremely lovely and the entire experience will be repeated no matter how cold it felt.
I reflect and unpack from any travels, its always a matter of putting the same practices into the daily actions that I do in my home and paying attention to how we consume whether we are at home or abroad - understanding that we are in fact contributing to the waste and we should be mindful of the footprints we leave in our quest to see the world.
Thank you Dr. Jeri for inviting me to be part of your community and for meeting your mother and the girls that you are making such an important impact on.