My whole life up until become a mother has been about traveling. Exploring the world. I was born in a small village in France (hence the weird name) and came to America when I was a toddler. I am not actually French, I just happened to be there when I popped out. My parents met in Germany and traveled the world with five children, so I guess it has always been in my blood.
My mother understood that I was a visual learner, so when I was struggling in history class, she packed up the minivan and took me on a six week journey across the country. We walked through Gettysburg and cried at Wounded Knee. We rode horseback through the Grand Canyon and recited the pledge of allegiance in front of Mt. Rushmore. I learned more in those 6 weeks than I did in my entire high school career- listening to my Walkman and living on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Our road trips instilled an early love of traveling in me.
Another pivotal moment in my life was when I walked up to the Video Warehouse and picked out a dusty old copy of Gorillas in the Mist on VHS. I was a kid and thought the “monkey” on the cover was cute. I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. I still ugly cry when I think of Digit. Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall quickly became my heroes. I still think they are the most badass women to ever walk the earth. They ditched all of the comforts of home, told men to fuck off and set up camp in a foreign country where nobody wanted them- where they held their ground fighting for what they believed in. I wanted to be just like them. I set my sights on a career working with animals. And not sitting in a lab messing with them- just a peaceful, sit nearby and watch them kind of gig.
I studied Wildlife Conservation in college and one day, I walked passed a flyer for a program in Central America studying howler monkeys. This was my ticket to the jungle. I went to EMS (aka- “expensive mountain shit”) and was on my way to what I thought was Costa Rica. If there is one thing that you will learn about me quickly- it’s that I can be very smart, but have no common sense. Like zero.
My plane landed in a field and I was loaded onto the back of a pick up truck. One day, I was chatting with the TA of my program and telling her how I had a hard time finding something on the packing list of what we had to bring for hiking in a rain forest. Finally she looked at me and said “Where do you think we are right now?” When I said Costa Rica, she had a look of concern that was mixed with un-contained laughter and told me I had to call my mother immediately. I had been living in Nicaragua for weeks.
When I had my mother on the phone and told her what country I was actually in, she just said “ok honey!” which, I suppose, is where I get it from. Sometimes I am not sure if I am brave or just really, really dumb. As we traveled out to the field station, a group of guerrillas marched out of the woods- and not the cute kind I was looking for. These ones had machine guns and stood in front of our bus ordering us to get off while they went through our bags. I remember thinking “I am going to die here and my mother is always going to wonder how my body made it to Nicaragua.”
But back to the point… as I boarded a ferry to reach the island of Ometepe, a man approached me with a small cardboard box. There was a newborn puppy inside and he was selling it for a dollar. It was clearly dying. I could feel my heart crumbling into tiny pieces as I tried to explain to him that the puppy would die without it’s mother using the three Spanish words that I knew. It was the first of many times that I would find myself in that situation- of witnessing abject suffering and feeling completely helpless to do anything about it.
This began my second passion- animal welfare in developing countries. That trip opened my eyes to things that I never imagined happened on this earth. I grew up in middle-class Massachusetts where we love our pets as if they were family. Here- dogs were vermin. We were driving along in a a taxi one day when I saw a dog lying in the road. I thought it was dead, but as we passed, the little dog lifted her head. She had been hit and could not stand. I screamed and begged him to stop. The man looked at me and burst into laughter. He couldn’t believe that I would have that reaction. He drove straight over her little body and finished the job. There are many moments like that which will haunt me- yet I know they made me who I am today. I fight for those animals, who I could not help, but will never forget.
I have had my heart broken traveling many times, but it would never stop me from going on the journey. I will however, consider how animals will be affected by the tours I go on and abstain from activities that are harmful to them. Before I leave on a trip, I will google nearby veterinary clinics and plug them into my phone, so in the event that I find an animal in need, I can call for help. I hate feeling helpless to do anything.
Continue on to Part Two… Becoming a Mother