Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Reflection ...

*warning ... it's a big one*

Well ... it has been three weeks since classes ended with my girls and I have been to new places and made new friends along the way.  (And I have neglected this blog).  Complete freedom in schedule and life is a real treat; however, I do miss the life and connections I made during my first month via Cutting Borders.

Today I woke up feeling the need to reflect.

Let's get the downside out of the way:

Disorganization in an organization - oxymoron? ... No.


And it doesn't appear to be just the organization I chose to team up with. I met some other travellers volunteering with a different (dis)organization as well. It seems that it is part in parcel with the way of life here. And in honesty, I am attracted to the slow pace and the lack of sweating the small stuff - that is always a big draw to Latin America for me.  Although, to take that saying a little further I could say that most people aren't even sweating the big stuff here. Which makes me wonder ... who is better off? 

North Americans definitely have a leg up in terms of business and technology - simply put ... We get shit done; however, it is clear that we are a much more stress filled lifestyle as well. What do you think the trade off is worth?

As far as Cutting Borders is concerned there were some big gaps in partnership:  I rarely ever saw or heard from the directors during my time there - No one ever came on location to check it out.  Weekly fundraisers and meetings sometimes left volunteers hanging with no forewarned cancellation.  All of the Spanish-challenged volunteers were never addressed or included in group meetings by utilizing the translators for communication and feedback.  And finally, I was promised being connected with at least one local stylist in order to sustain Cutting Borders when my time there was finished ... Never happend. 

I don't mean to complain here, but I want to be honest about all sides of the project as it can't always be peachy. I understand there are cultural differences that play a factor in how we all operate in life and I respect that I am not at home and can't have the same expectations; however, there is a sadness in the fact that (not just the Cutting Borders project but) all efforts connected to Mariposas Amarillas have massive potential that isn't being actualized. In order for this to happen I believe there needs to be more structure and communication between the volunteers and the directors. 

(side note: I have had the pleasure in meeting a wonderful Dutch girl, Amis, in Cartagena who is currently studying Spanish in order to work with NGO's here to create organization and structure where it is so desperately needed.  Amis, no doubt, will provide a missing link to the future and success of many individuals here.  Amazing.)

In aknowledging that I don't have a complete idea of what is on the directors plates ... the truth of the matter is that without the volunteers themselves there would be just buildings and supplies sitting there and an essential ingredient in creating the changes in these communities are the people that wake up each day and go spend some of their face-to-face time with the people. It is the relationships that make the difference and that relationship should start within the foundation in order to reach outside of it.

I believe that Cutting Borders unfortunatey had a short shelf life and the flame of potential sustainablity was extinguished when I left Santa Marta. This is a tough pill to swallow for many reasons: The amazing support from home to launch this thing, the time invested by volunteers and students, the interest and engagement of the girls taking the class and, of course, the potential the project has to continue reaching others and growing along with its students.

On a positive note:

I've been in touch with Sirlis via facebook and have heard from other volunteers still in Santa Marta ... My girls have been using their tools!  They have been cutting family and friends hair and a few of them have been discussing creating a little business together once they get a bit more practice under their belts.  Absolute music to my ears.  Out of the initial overwhelming interest in the classes - (lucky number) Seven women now have a new skill and the fact that they are using it and sharing it with other women is outstanding.  This makes it all worth it. 

One of the days of class was dedicated to the question, "What is beauty?".  Through a collage project followed by discussion it was heartwarming to learn that beauty was interpreted beyond asthetics and all of the students clipped images of moments in life as well as beautiful hair and outfits. 

Another magical discussion was near the end of classes during the evaluation.  All of the students talked about how empowering it was to meet everyday as a group of women and learn a practical skill together.  There was something major in the realization that they didn't have to just see life as wives and mothers.  On the contrary, they could contribute to their families/future families through another role as well and this brewed passion and an aliveness in their eyes that just can not be depicted with words.  Seeing that made me feel the most alive I have possibly ever felt.  That is all I can say about it.

A wrap up party on the final day reached well into the night when the women organized massive speakers pumping latin music, an incredible spread of home made food, flowers, notes, etc ... a big fat thank you party was had.  It was an honor.  I brought champaign and my translators brought a beautiful cake.  We partied on that little dirt road from afternoon until after dark.  Motorbikes, donkeys with carts and random people just walked right on through our celebration and by the end of the night it felt like the whole barrio was dancing and laughing with us.  Needless to say, the final goodbyes were heartbreaking.

And so there it is ... the balance of setting high goals without clinging to expectation - it's a challenge.  Also, a lesson for me in accepting the glitches and focusing on the successes has really helped me in seeing this project, and all of the life changing relationships I have had the pleasure in experiencing, as a major successes.


Sunday, March 11, 2012


She was the first person in Barrio Fundadores I met that very first day I stepped out of the cab from the city. Day one for Cutting Borders.   Her little brother (he can only be 4 years old) immediately takes the giant suitcase full supplies from my hands, brushing me away while beginning to move the heavy black bag with little Canadian flag ironed on the outside.  My first reaction was thinking, “Ummm…. Little man … that’s not for you!”  But within seconds I realize he just wants to help and I let him struggle along because his grin and gusto tell me he is more than happy to do so.  His big sister, Sirlis, looks to me like, “Is that okay?” and before you know it the two of us had begun our own way of communicating - Our own way of connecting. 

Her smile is bigger and brighter than I’ve ever seen and despite the challenges of growing up in a neighbourhood with extremely limited resources she is so well put together.  Her outfit is matching and her hair is pulled back.  She is beautiful on all sides … especially the in.

As the weeks go by Sirlis continues to be the first (and usually only) person on time and eagerly waiting for our arrival from the cab.  Same time … same place.  She is often waiting on the street for us because the cab or bus stops a little ways away from where we hold the classes.  She is my youngest student at just 18.  In fact, my translator and I helped to host an 18th birthday party for her in the city with other volunteers mid-February.  I kept thinking, “I’m so glad I’m here for this day.”  As well, she is always the last person to leave class because she is always helping to cleanup and politely walking us down the dirt road again towards where we catch the bus back into the city.  She is a wise old soul with caring eyes that watch over the little ones and she has a grace about her that you first notice in her delicate movements- and later learn about in her overall demeanor. 

To be 18 years old and not have already had a couple of kids is a very rare thing in this barrio.  She is practically an “old maid” now in the eyes of most fellow Fundadorians, and yet I see her as just beginning her young adulthood.  The fact that Sirlis hasn’t just accepted the norm of women being moms and not having their own goals and aspirations apart from that role is both surprising and refreshing to see. 

She is, undoubtedly, very unique.  She is, undoubtedly, special.
What I see in her eyes is:

-Both an awareness of her life situation’s limitations and an eagerness that overrides it.

-A young girl with many questions who is being guided by her own inner wisdom.



What I learn about her:

She has finished “regular school”.  There are no opportunities to learn and grow for her here.  She has nothing to do each day so she helps all the younger children and takes care of them.  It doesn’t appear that she is resentful or frustrated – but you can’t help but see some sadness in her eyes because she isn’t being challenged.  Therefore, she isn’t being fulfilled. 

She wants to go to college one day.  College costs money.  Her beautiful family, of course, wants to support that dream but there are priorities in life and one of the top ones is food.  The reality is that after arranging the necessities in life sometimes there just isn’t much leftover. 

But by no surprise Sirlis has a plan.   Not only will she continue to use her new skill of haircutting, she will also take a course that enables her to apply for cashier jobs in the city and start to save money for college herself.  It’s a brilliant plan!  And unfortunately there’s also a glitch.  This course takes months and it charges weekly.  If you can’t pay each week and miss a certain number of classes then you get booted out.  Sirlis is close to the cut off and she had just begun classes.

How Cutting Borders helped:

I don’t think you need to read on to figure it out … Her classes are now pre-paid and she definitely will not get kicked out of the certificate program.  Conversely, she will most definitely become a cashier in a few months’ time and begin her college saving fund.  With the leftover funds generated for Cutting Borders (approximately $300 CAN) I had the absolute honour of presenting Sirlis’ family with enough cash to soon add an “ier” to the end of it, as well as get a little base going for the college piggy bank. 

When I met her mom on the street corner the day after she received the school fund she had tears of gratitude and kept saying that God had sent me to them and that it was a miracle.  Without disrespecting her beliefs it was important for me to explain that the money might seem like a miracle but it was gathered with intention and effort from many people.  I explained that it had come from the collective efforts of my community in Canada and that, without knowing Sirlis in advance, we were all very happy to reach out and help to create opportunity where one was needed and deserving.  That money came from people who were able and willing and I was simply the very fortunate girl to deliver the love. 

Regardless, it is said by both Sirlis and her mother that I have enough angels surrounding me to not only stay safe on my own but I can take back those blessings to everyone in Canada that helped make this all possible.

As it turns out … I have become an expert transporter.  Coming here I had a big black suitcase full of tools and a program to deliver.  Now, when I head back to Canada, I will carry a thousand blessings with me on the plane and – once again – be the fortunate individual who gets to share that back.

Perhaps I can add “expert transporter” to my resume.
Thank you, Sirlis.  You see me as providing you with an opportunity; however, I believe it is the other way around.

Friday, March 2, 2012

hitting halfway

Yesterday I realized I was halfway through this trip when I needed to get a new blister pack of probiotics out. 

A 60 day supply was exactly halfway gone! 

Say what?! 

Yes, it is true.

I felt it was time to evaluate Santa Marta and share a bit about the city with you.   And perhaps it is the influence of hanging out with both a photographer and a cinematographer for the past few days ... but I figure the best way to do that is with fewer words and more photos. 

I know, I know ... you're thinking, "ding dong, sister ... apparently it takes you a month to make great choices."
The following photos touch on both the hardship and the beauty of Santa Marta and area.
sunset at Rodadero beach

Rodadero palms

Fisherman's Friend
Street construction: zero progrss
in the last month.
My neighbourhood park at night. 
The bay at sundown

Hand-made traditional bag gifted to me from
one of my student's mothers.
Drinks on a rooftop have tired buildings sandwiched between
you and the stunning cathedral just blocks away.

the fact that people here want to help
and make connections with locals
who need more opportunities.


"hombres de la noche"

In summary, it appears that what has taken my breath away (despite the poor upkeep of the city) is:

the sunsets
the beaches
the people

And, really, what more could a person ask for?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

its all about the people

The most important part of Cutting Borders are the poeple involved:

1. First and foremost, my oh-so-lovable students.  Without even meeting you ... you were my inspiration.  And after meeting you ... you are my heros.

2. Of course, my friends/family/community at home who have rallied together in order to make the project prep. and transportation possible.  We did it together.  Once again ... we did it together.

3. The Mariposas Amarillas Foundation here in Colombia for connecting me with a community in need.  This most definitely includes both of my translators who, together, have transformed a connection.  Seriously, without you two the project would have flopped.  Karla and Esperanza - You are two precious pillars of support.  You literally are my voice.  Thank you.

4. The most recent member of the Cutting Borders team is travelling photographer, Joel Duncan, who spent a day with the project last week and was inspired enough to stay in Santa Marta longer than anticipated to return again with his friend and cinematographer, Troy Floyd, tomorrow. I can't wait to experience more of Joel's eye as well as see the edited version of what Troy is about to capture.  Stay tuned for that one!

In the meantime, please click on the following link in order to enjoy Joel's beautiful gallery of images.  They will bring you closer to the experience in a way that I am unable to share with words or my own photos.  Amazing, Joel.  Thank you so very very much.  xx.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

unexpected "holiday"

okay ... so you might think I have been on holidays since I left Canada three weeks ago; however ... this has not quite been the case.  My students, the program, the other volunteers ... I adore it all.  No complaints whatsoever.  Even the challenging aspects of being here and working with a foundation who has different ideas and ways of operating than mine have become a part of the entire experience and I accept it all wholeheartedly (is that all one word?). 

In true Carribbean/Colombian fashion - I discovered I had a week with no classes due to Carnival (Colombia's version of Mardis Gras) pretty much the day before it began.  Why does no one look ahead and warn others of changes of plans and massive annual events?  "No se?!"/I have no idea.  But it is the way it is here.  Great balancing therapy for someone who puts an extra "pre" in front of her prepare. 

(excuse the borrowed photos)

So ... I have just enjoyed nearly a week with absolute free time!  No schedule and nothing to keep me in one place.  A little "holiday".

What have I been up to?  ... Carnival??? 

Would you believe the answer is no?  This dancing queen who seeks music, culture, people, tradition, novelty and energy is also someone who avoids prolonged time among crowds and relishes in the balance of downtime and stillness.

Where to go for the balance of it all?

HERE ...

Introducing just one of the many amazing beaches that Colombia's national park, "Parque Tayrona" has to offer:  "Playa Brava" - a private beach and massive parcel of land resembling Jurassic Park purchased by a local friend's parents prior to the area deemed "national park".  It is a three hour trek through the jungle - home to lions, pumas, howing monkeys, unique birds, and many "interesting" insects.  A touch edgy and totally amazing


A current fad at home is drinking coconut water - It is said to have very high levels of potassium and minerals making it marketable as a "natural energy drink".  No news to the Caribbean, of course.  This past year I got on to it at home but I must say that it is not comparable to the real deal.

Another ever growing fad in North America is yoga.  Granted it does not have Caribbean roots .. but again, I must say that there is something about the practice that takes on a whole new level of enjoyment when you are in these surroundings.

Oh, to wake up to the sights and sounds of waves lapping against the sparkly sand and know that a morning practice of stretch and zen will warm you up quickly due to the hot sun and that the ocean is a welcome refreshment ... just cool enough to quench your body's thirst for equilibrium, but warm enough to be inviting any time of the day/night.  This is what I call HotYoga. 

Colombia ... I continue to fall for you.

And I continue to fall in love with my students.  Tomorrow, I become one.  My spanish classes finally commence in the morning (it takes a very long time to organize things here!)  By the afternoon I will be on my way to the girls after a week off and demo-ing a layered haircut.  Things are moving quickly but the girls are catching on so fast.  I've missed them despite being in paradise!  Updates about their progress to come.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


tonight is the first night that i came home and did not immidiately turn on the AC.  as in ... it's been at least 30 mins. and I am still hanging out without the relief of cool air pumping into my room. 

i might add that i have been without clothing since entering my room; however, this is still a huge step for me!

could it be that i am adjusting to the heat?  is it possible??!!

might i eventually be able to live with the rest of my travelling amigos that i meet from various parts of the globe who manage to save money by staying at places with only a fan and no AC?!?!

is it possible??!!

hmmm ....

to be continued ...

Monday, February 13, 2012

a fresh start

Ahhhhh ... that's the exhale of letting go of last week and starting fresh with anew.
Thank the Colombian gawds (there's a few diff. concepts there) that we had access to our supplies and tools today.  Also, that after an unexpected few days of disconnection - my girls (well - most of them anyway) showed up today!  Seven out of ten is a REALLY great turn out for this community and culture, in general.  Yessss.  And the coaster continues to climb.  I like this direction a lot.
After establishing the incentive program (the top 3 attendees of the program get to keep their kits, while the other kits remain with the foundation for future classes and "sign out" option for the other original girls use) I am confident that attendance will soar and the girls will get the maximum possible out of our time together.
Today I demo'd the haircut the girls will do tomorrow on their live models (family, friends, other volunteers and travellers from the city's major hostel) and then they learned how to pamper the client. 
My favorite luxery of getting my hair done is the relaxing head massage at the sink.  Feet up, head back resting on a padded sink, warm water, beautiful products, and that ooohh so awesome zen moment when your scalp gets that attention you wish you could generate on your own each morning in the shower.  But, somehow - it just can't be done yourself.  Like being tickled ... you just need someone else to pull it off.
However, with just a bucket of water not fit for drinking (even for the locals) and a plastic container resembling a sand castle form ... the experience was just a little off of the whole North American salon full meal deal.  Regardless, with our adaptability and creativity we managed to design our own version of the ever-so-enjoyable shampoo/condition/scalp massage.
With a few unintentional facewashes, a lot of giggles and some pampering techniques ... it is safe to say that everyone enjoyed today's class.
In addition, I have now hooked a whole new demographic onto Bumble and Bumble products (ooops).  They loved the smell of the shampoo and when it came time to condition and massage they agreed they had never smelled something so amazing before and the feeling was unlike anything they've ever known.  It struck me at how fortunate I am to work with quality every single day and it is just like breathing ... I just do it. 

After today, I realized that there is still room to enjoy simple pleasures ... and sometimes that is even in your shampoo and conditioner.  *A special thanks to the fabulous owners of ShampooHairBar for donating a litre of each to the project.  It is VERY safe to say that the contribution is being enjoyed more than anyone could have anticipated.  Such a treat - for them, and for me to see.  xo.

In fact, the girls were so blown away by the conditioner that they all refused to rinse it out at the end.  Seriously.  When I said it was time to rinse the all looked up at me like, "woman! you're crazy!".  Oh no no no ... something this lovely was going to stay IN their hair.  And so it was.

At the end of the day I had seven ladies with (not meant to be) left-in conditioner walking down the street.  I don't know what was shiny'er ... the sunshine bouncing off of their over-producted greasy hair or their beaming grins. 
Nahhh ... it was their smiles, for sure.