I have always been interested in both film and music and the way the creative process works for both, but was unable to choose which brought more passion to my life. It wasn’t until I started back at college, this past year, to complete my degree, that things started to turn around. It has taken me ten years, due to many financial struggles and lack of confidence in myself, for me to be able to finally get back into school. Taking my Intro to Theatre class, and being introduced to If/Then’s soundtrack at the same time, something just “clicked” inside and I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life. From that moment on, and every day since, I have felt such a strong desire to become involved with the workings of theatre and music. I want to help bring original musicals to Broadway (similar to RENT and If/Then) and share the joy they have brought to my life with others.
Like Idina Menzel’s character, Elizabeth, I am also in my thirties and looking to start anew. I connect with the song, “No more wasted time” on a deep level for this reason. I want to start my life bigger and better than ever and stop living “stuck”. I need to stop living life waiting for it to get better. I need to take charge of it and take risks to better my future. I have tried living in small towns in various states along the east coast with no avail. Even with fresh starts, something was always missing.
I feel New York City is that missing piece. It is a place full of possibilities. Even just the idea of the city at this point, gives me the strength and hope I need to keep plugging away at my dream. It is where I will be able to be my true self and not have to look back on what could have been. Although I have been there before, I will be traveling there for my birthday with a whole different outlook and excitement for the city. I will be able to submerge myself in the sights and culture, not just as a tourist, but as someone who will feel “at home” for the first time knowing that this is where I am meant to be, and what I am meant to do.
I strongly believe that this is my time to shine. The song says “No more wasted time, not one more day.” That is something I have been trying to live by ever since. I constantly am reminding myself that it doesn’t matter what setbacks I come across, as long as I follow my passion and my dream, anything is possible. Taylor Swift’s new song, “Welcome to New York”, has also stuck with me since this revelation for my future. The lyrics:
Everybody here wanted something more
Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before
And it said
Welcome to New York
It’s been waiting for you
add to the feeling of this beautiful city calling to me. New York City, theatre, If/Then, and the music of Idina Menzel and Taylor Swift have helped continue to inspire me every day to never give up. I have never felt or wanted something so strongly for my life before. For that, I will forever be grateful to the city of New York and the magic of theatre for giving me a new purpose and a positive outlook on life again. “No more wasted time. No more holding back”. I am ready to live my life the way it was meant to be!
It’s 7 o’clock and as I leave the house the dawn-lit eastern face of the Sierra Nevada mountains looms above me. A wide path through golden browns of brittle sages leads me to my first stop, a small abandoned bungalow, and then on to a small workshop filled with barely used tools and unfinished projects—all inhabited by cats. I check their food and water supply, and as I finish with the felines a donkey whines from the tin-roofed barn up the hill.
For the past 3 weeks I’ve lived in a passive solar cabin on a ranch in Olancha, California, farm-sitting while the owners travel by motorhome to Louisiana. The property is a surreal 28 acres of abandoned shacks and trailers, derelict refrigerators and trucks, a red-slat barn and dry fields, all nestled within ephedra, sage, and a few pine trees that have wandered off the mountains. I’m a Canadian city boy from Toronto; I came here looking for space, and did I ever find it.
I continue up the subtle hill, past the well-house filled with extra feed stock, and the horses whinny when they see me, hungry. The aged gray gelding, Shetan, 30 years old, foundered, his eyesight starting to go, looks about anxiously. As I reach the barn doors a flock of quail waits in the bushes nearby, eager for their morning seed. I am a far cry from my past life of only two months ago, and yet my role hasn’t changed entirely.
In Toronto I’d been a case manager with a social service organization, helping adults with long-term brain injuries navigate the difficulties of their day-to-day lives. Although I’d loved my work and my co-workers, a voice had whispered in the back of my mind for years, prodding me to write. And to an extent I did: I took courses and wrote short stories, and had 10000 words of a corny science fiction novel, but it wasn’t enough. That voice needed to spend full days at a time writing, if only to see, to feel that life. Then, in July of this year, I met a girl. An artist and photographer coming from two years of globetrotting, now preparing to move to California to pursue a Masters degree in Fine Arts. She was realizing exactly what that voice needed: a life of travel and the pursuit of creative passions. In those two months we spent together—rock climbing dense ravines along the Niagara River, packed into the Osheaga festival in Montreal, laying on a dock at the High Park shore of Lake Ontario—something in me was finally able to let go.
So in September of 2014, at 30 years old, I completed one journey and embarked upon a new one, leaving Canada via Sarnia to drive across America. I listened to the blues in Chicago in company of a PhD friend suffering from tendinosis in his wrists. I talked politics in Des Moines with a teacher who’s obsessed with Game of Thrones. I climbed the Boulder Canyon boulder outside Boulder, hiked off trail in Arches National Park and was only slightly worried that the parking lot towards which I was hiking was a mirage. And via a two week stint in Pasadena with the girl who brought about all of this, ended up here in Owen’s Valley.
But for all that I’ve left behind, despite the drastic locational and vocational change, I laugh, because I suppose I’m still a caregiver, only with a small zoo of cats, quail, donkeys, and horses, instead of people. Twice a day in the foothills of the eastern Sierra I lay out their food and water, clean the horses’ stalls, and make sure that the elderly Shetan continues to eat as he enters what will likely be the last days of his life. In the hours between feedings I walk through the desert, I drive to Bishop and climb the quartz-monzonite boulders of Buttermilk Country, and most importantly, I write. And that is the space that I sought when I left Toronto: not any physical space, but a creative space, and the time to focus on my true passion.
And Hannah is here with me for some days, working on her own art projects while I write about traveling and writing and finding the space to be yourself. I think I’ve finally figured out how to make space for that, and though I don’t think I owe her my ability to do it, I am grateful that she was there to push me to try.
The voice on the inspirational relaxation CD instructed me to “Find a place where I could relax and feel comfortable. Study it. Commit to memory how it looks, how it sounds, how it smells and above all how it affects my feelings.”
The theory was that if I could internalise the actual sensations of peace and positiveness; later I could sit anywhere, shut my eyes (and ears) and bring to mind my little haven of tranquillity enabling me the ability to find the strength and energy to tackle anything! My difficulties wouldn’t disappear, but they would become not only manageable, but resolvable. Life would become relaxed and filled with successful achievements. I certainly liked the sound of those ideas.
I had listened to the CD a dozen times, wondering if I would ever find the safe harbour the speaker was describing. Then one day, out of the blue I discovered IT!
I was accompanying my three grandchildren up the hill to the swimming pool. Climbing the slope was hot, tiring, thirsty work. We stopped half way up so I could rest on the seat, in the shade of a huge carob tree and take a drink from the mandatory bottle of iced water. When I’d quenched my thirst the children took the bottle from me, squabbling over it as they carried it further up the hill.
I sat and looked about. The sun was hot in the cloudless blue sky, but in the shade of the old tree the leaves rustled slightly, the birds twittered and all around was a sea of greens with bright yellow flowers scattered everywhere. I had discovered my haven.
“Grandma, Grandma” the children shouted impatiently. Reluctantly I returned my thoughts to the immediate time, I got up, changed back to loving, happy Grandma mode and we all continued to trudge up the hill.
Next day, with the grandchildren all at kindergarten, I returned to my little oasis to really enjoy it and to imprint it into my brain. I sat on the bench, in the shade of the the huge old carob tree with the sun shining in a cloudless blue sky. Everywhere was green, brown and yellow. There were green trees, carobs, pines and even date palms, green flowering bushes and green grass, with brown tree trunks and paths and a myriad of bright yellow flowers hanging in the trees and gently floating in the air as they joined their fellows carpeting the huge expanse of grass.. Above and around the various birds flew; sparrows, finches, tits, herons, crows, pigeons and larks all twittering, warbling, cooing and cawing at each other. Sweet-scented yellow blossoms perfumed the air, while a few bushes of red or orange nectar centred flowers also attracting the softly buzzing bees. In every direction there were sights, sounds and smells that I drank in and committed to memory.
This would be my oasis of peace and contentment. This is where I would go, in my mind’s eye, to revitalize my thoughts and restore my positivity. My haven would enable me to relax, gain the strength and inspiration I need to solve life’s problems.
The knowledge that I had found my haven at last, gave me the feeling I could cope with anything life threw at me, like I was almost immortal.
Brogan says: “You’ve got to use whatever past you came from as part of the origin story that shapes the hero you will become. Welcome to day one. You are the superhero you’ve been waiting for.”
As 2015 begins, I am opening the seventh We Said Go Travel Writing Contest. The Winter contest has always had a theme of inspiration. When I came up with the idea in December 2012 at the Sand Art Festival in Konark, India, I had no idea if anyone would participate. I hoped to have at least ten people enter. There were 60.
By the fourth contest one year later, there were 500. At this point over 1600 writers from over 75 countries have shared stories of inspiration, independence and gratitude. Sometimes you have to move forward even if you are not sure what will happen next.
Brogan believes Bravery is about “discovery…Bravery is about moving forward, because we can never go back.” You get to choose where you live, work and travel. “What makes your choice brave is whether it’s the choice you know to be the right one.”
Many people make New Year’s Resolutions that they do not keep, what do you want to change? It doesn’t matter what day it is but like Brogan says: “You can just start. You can say, “Today is day one.”
I hope you will find the resolve to make a decision that helps you discover more about yourself. Perhaps you will share your journey with us in the seventh WSGT Writing Contest or somewhere else or with a friend.
Many people are not sure what to do or where to go and then they worry. But as Brogan says, “wasting time on worry and fear is a waste of your life. You can do so much more after you deal with whatever it is you’re putting off in all and any parts of your life.” I did spend a good deal of 2014 worrying about my decisions. For 2015, I am ready to move forward. I like what Brogan says:
Bravery is about accepting where you are, and then deciding if that’s where you want to be.
Take Action: “Write down in your Book of Bravery the following:
*I accept that I am here: ______________
* I intend to be here: _________________
* Today (not tomorrow), I’ll takethis action to _________________”
Many people give up on their resolutions or promises to themselves as they become mired in should and regrets. I like what Brogan says about regret: “Regret wastes time. ‘I should never have started smoking’ is about as useful as saying, ‘I should have been born with wings.’ You can do nothing about either…Regret is a losing battle. You can never go backwards, and as regret never happens in the present or the future, you’re already doomed…Accept where you are. Realize where you intend to be. Build a bridge.”
If you get inspired to build a bridge to yourself and your future in 2015, please share it so you can inspire others. Remember:
“You are the author of your story. You are the hero you’ve been waiting for. Accept that you’re the one who will solve your challenges, and that you are the right person for the task.”
I want to thank everyone who has been part of my journey but especially all those I leaned on so hard in 2014. I could not have made it without you. There were many times where I just cried and felt like a failure but today I am going to remember this from Seth Godin‘s blog on January 1, 2015:
“Used to be,” is not necessarily a mark of failure or even obsolescence. It’s more often a sign of bravery and progress.
If you were brave enough to leap, who would you choose to ‘used to be’?
I once read something long ago that has stuck with me until this day: “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” I hear it on repeat inside my head anytime I want to be lazy about my studies or anytime I think that I cannot achieve a goal. I hear it now as I stand in front of the building known as The Progressive Club—and I am instantly filled with sadness. Here sits what many consider the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, a building now decrepit and isolated, on Johns Island—a short ride outside of Charleston, SC. Twenty-five years ago, the destructive forces of Hurricane Hugo nearly demolished the building. It now stands without a roof. Complete sections of wall are gone as if they have vanished into the sea-breezed air. The interior—left exposed to the elements—looks as weathered as the mossy white walls that remain. The place itself is cut off from the public, encompassed by a vine-consumed, chain-link fence with a lock. I can’t even touch the building with my hands.
Wishing to get a more thorough look, I step up to the side of the building closest to the fence. I am unsettled that the view is mostly blocked by a sparse-leaved oak tree with long strings of Spanish moss and a white sign nailed to the side facing traffic. Ignoring it in irritation, I inch as close to the fence as possible, squinting through vines and hanging moss to read another sign, old and dirt covered, posted on what used to be the front door.
Please Help Restore
This Landmark. Built
In The early 60’s
I see partially washed out words that look like “please call…” only the phone number is completely wiped away. I walk over to the information plague to the left that briefly details the Progressive Club’s history. Founded by Civil Rights activist Esau Jenkins in 1948 and built in 1962, it served as a store and community center for the people here. The first Citizenship school was actually just a classroom located in the back of the building. Black adults would meet here—in secret—to learn to read and write so they could exercise their right to vote. It has been registered as a historic site in the National Register of Historic Places since 2007.
Moving behind the view-blocking tree, I read the sparingly-informative sign. It looks as if someone has taken an interest in restoring the place, with the sign proudly stating that the building is in “Phase 1: Drive.” There is nothing explaining what “drive” means; only a phone number to call for more information.
I am still upset. Why has this place—with so much historical significance—not been better loved, better cared for? There are no passing tour buses, no influx of visitors, no roof, no walls. Martin Luther King Jr. and Septima Clark have stood on this very ground and made great strides for colored people in this nation.
Looking, once more, through the grassy fence, I see stacks of cinder blocks piled up in one of the back rooms. Someone was ready to do something. I am filled with a sudden desire to join the cause of fixing the Progressive Club and encouraging people to seek information about its history and significance.
I take out my phone and snap some pictures so I don’t forget what it looks like, so I won’t forget what it should mean to me. My gratitude for this place, the people who made it special, and those who have continued it legacy is monumental. It is, after all, the reason I can vote, go to any college I chose, and have any job I wish to have.
I’ve toured plantation homes in South Carolina, have visited the old slave-trade mart in downtown Charleston, and have seem numerous statues of Confederate “heroes” all over the South, but I have only just found out about the great endeavors that happened in the Progressive Club. I came hoping to be inspired to set high goals for myself. Now I’m inspired to help it. I look back at the “Drive” poster with a satisfying thought: I have a phone number to call.
About the Author: Attya Davis is a College of Charleston senior majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing . She has been writing fiction stories since the tender age of 10 and her passion for it has yet to die out. Attya wishes to travel the world in the hope of finding more hidden gems to inspire her writings and all those who read them.
Abra is a province in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) that is notorious for its records of election-related violence more than any other thing. Development is slow in this province and not much is really happening inside. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that this place is not one of those that would be in your priority of places to see in the Philippines: to mention that you are going to Abra to other Filipinos will surely invite some stare of judgment and even dissent.
How did we, on the other hand, see Abra?
What led us to Abra in July 2013 is to feature its “natural dye makers” — the indigenous highland people called Tingguians – for What I See travel photography show.
The Bamboo Split Weavers
The Tingguians, also called Isneg, are engaged in various crafts. The most important of which is bamboo crafts production. It is for this reason that Abra is aggressively positioning itself as the “Bamboo Capital of the Philippines”.
The Natural Dye Makers
In documenting the production of natural dyes from plants, the team went to the Tingguian village of Namarabar in Penarubia, a town an hour away from the capital Bangued.
Norma Agaid, a Tingguian elder and the sister of the ‘Father of Philippine Natural Dyes’ Luis Agaid, explained which plants yield what kinds of colours: mahogany for red, jackfruit and ginger for yellow, the malatayum plant for indigo, the narra tree for brown, among others.
“Of all the mountain tribes in the Philippines, we have the most number of colours. We only get these colours from sources present around us“, she proudly said.
The charm of Abra stems from the fact that it is not at all in the tourism map. Indeed, it is highly ignored by outsiders. Hence, our experience in this rustic province can only be as natural and authentic as we can get. Indigenous dyeing is obviously a dying art. It is important to shed light into it as it is a part of the bigger “Filipino identity and local artistry” that most of us Filipinos tend to take for granted.
Paco Guerrero, whose background is no less than Anthropology, could not have described the Tingguians any better, “In the forest, they do not only see trees and plants. They see colours.”
I still remember my first impressions of Hong Kong. Racing through Kowloon in the back seat of a red taxi at midnight in 1990, I saw the neon. Bright and colorful, flashing and still, the neon signs peered at me through the side streets as my taxi made its way to the quiet of the New Territories, Hong Kong’s countryside.
I wouldn’t live among the neon that year or the other four years I spent in Hong Kong that decade, but it didn’t take me long to journey to the densely-populated areas where neon signs defined both major avenues and smaller side streets. I loved Hong Kong’s neon signs so much that I even discussed them in the opening chapter of my memoir, Good Chinese Wife.
Before I made a recent trip back there with my husband, I had read about the dying art of neon signs there. The old neon signs are being replaced by newer LED lights. And the artists who work with neon are retiring and there just isn’t the interest among the newer generations.
So I set out to take a look for myself last week in Hong Kong.
What I found was troubling. Streets either looked like this, with LED lights and no neon in sight.
Or like this, with one neon sign per street.
As I looked around Hong Kong Island, I continued to see very little neon.
And even in Kowloon, it was difficult to find a lot of neon.
Neon signs have been a part of Hong Kong from before my mother first traveled there in 1962. In Good Chinese Wife, I write about walking around Hong Kong and imaging my mom and her family there thirty years earlier.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 9: Honeymoon in Hong Kong:
As man and wife, Cai and I headed for an abbreviated honeymoon in Tsim Sha Tsui, the district that sits at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula. We were staying at the Miramar Hotel on Nathan Road, only a mile up from the waterfront promenade that overlooks what I consider to be the most breathtaking skyline in the world. My mom and her family usually stayed in the same area. The Miramar was a popular hotel back then, but I had never heard any of my family members speak of it. Still, I pictured them walking down this street thirty years earlier, dressed in suits and shift dresses, and poking their heads into the tailors and jewelry shops that lined the road.
Among the traffic congestion and crowds of students, pajama-clad grannies, and tough teenage boys with blond-tipped hair, Cai and I slowly inched our way from the Jordan train station south toward the hotel. I felt graceful and special holding Cai’s hand. We had not spent much time in this area together, although it was one of my favorite spots in Hong Kong.
While I didn’t write about neon lights in this excerpt, they were everywhere in the district I describe above. At night, the Tsim Sha Tsui area came alive because of the colorful neon signs on Nathan Road–the main street–as well as the side streets that twisted around this densely-populated area.
Back then it was a given that this and other urban areas were adorned by neon signs. That’s not the case now. I now wonder how much neon will be left the next time I visit Hong Kong.
The karst landscape of Gunung Mulu was inscribed in 2000 as Malaysia’s second UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Among many natural sites already present in the prestigious list, Gunung Mulu easily stands out as it is one of the few that is inscribed on all four natural criteria set by the World Heritage Committee. These are: 1. it being an outstanding specimen for the study of geological processes, 2. it being a exemplary representative of ongoing ecological and biological processes, 3. it exhibiting a superlative phenomena of natural beauty, and 4. it housing a natural habitat for in-situ conservation of biological diversity.
Gunung Mulu National Park is very inaccessible, and going there really needs some effort. I arrived in Mulu on a plane from Kota Kinabalu, passing through Miri Airport in Sarawak first. This proved to be the most convenient — and expensive! –way to reach the site compared to the 12-hour boat ride through the Mesilau River, or the 3-day trek along the Borneo headhunting trail in the mountains.
I managed to explore various walking trails within the park, visit the indigenous Penan nomadic settlements (Penan people have the exclusive hunting rights in the park in recognition to their tradition; some of them are even the descendants of the notorious Borneo headhunting tribes), experience the longest tree-based canopy walkway in the world, enjoy the Paku waterfall all to myself (trekking “alone” some 2km through the forest!), and climb the Tree Top Tower hoping to see some wild animals in action. However, the real highlights of my trip were, of course, its show caves.
In my 5-day trip into the jungles of Sarawak, I stayed in the humble Mulu Homestay just outside the entrance to the park.
The first set of caves I visited are the Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave. These caves are in Mount Api, and to get there requires riding a longboat passing through the Melinau Gorge canyon, stopping by the Penan village, and finally trekking along the karst mountainside.
Wind Cave is a personal favorite. The story behind its name is interesting – winds channeled to the cave, through its numerous shafts (eroded holes in the earth’s surface), can get really strong; hence, it is also named as the Cave of Winds. Its grand King’s Chamber, gifted with some of the best stalactites, stalagmites and pillar formations there are to find, will indefinitely hold a special place in my heart. As it was my first time to see cave shafts (I’ve seen four here), seeing one that drops close to 80 metres below the ground was a stunning experience. From where I had been, the ground that we know is already way above me – yes, I went that deep below the earth’s surface
The Clearwater Cave, on the other hand, boasts the record of being the largest cave network ever surveyed. Also, as much as I lovePalawan’s Puerto Princesa Subterranean River NP, the real record of the longest underground river system actually belongs to the Clearwater Cave that spans over 170km in total length. The biggest cave chamber – the Sarawak Chamber – is also said to be connected to Clearwater. This massive cave network also displays a unique habitat for arare one-leaf plant that only thrives at the cave’s mouth. At the end of the trek, I did not miss the opportunity to take a dip in theClearwater river. I realized later on that I was the only one who braved jumping into the ridiculously cold river.
The next set of caves I visited is that of the famed Deer Cave and adjacent Lang’s Cave, both of which are in the southern limestone karst hills of the park. To reach this part, visitors have to trek a total of 3kms from the park’s headquarter. Lang’s Cave is really small. It is so compact that one can even touch its ceiling, and get a close look at some ‘ongoing geological processes’ like dripstone activities, living stromatolites, and limestone (dis)colourations. Despite its size, this one is the most extravagantly furnished in terms of cave ornaments.
The nearby Deer Cave has the reputation of having the biggest cave opening in the world at 170m x 120m. It’s not superbly decorated as the others, but the inside is home to a totally alien ecosystem that is practically deprived of sunlight and regular air movement. The cave houses around 3.5 million wrinkle-lipped bats, a lot of creepy crawlies, several cave snakes, some freshwater shrimps and fish (this was a big surprise!), and more than a metre-deep sea of guano (bat droppings). One of the highlights of the Deer Cave would be the Flight of the Black Dragon in the afternoon. In consonance to natural rhythms of the jungle, all the bats would fly out at dusk to feed on insects, forming what appears to be like a black ribbon dancing in the sky.
During my entire stay in the park, I never got to see the bats leaving the Deer Cave despite patiently waiting for 3 hours every afternoon and always getting heavily soaked in the rain along the way. It was only then that I realized thatit rains “all the time” in a rainforest!
All in all, it was a very pleasant trip into the forests of Sarawak in Borneo. Cave visits are only handled by certified heritage site guides, entry permits can be hard to obtain, all activities in the park should be recorded, information posters are everywhere, trails are signposted properly, and the site is well and strictly kept and administered (if you snap a leaf off a plant, expect some fine. So, better behave). These measures are all cognizant to the sensitiveness and vulnerability of this fragile natural wonder.
After having visited five UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites and several other natural parks in Asia, I have to admit that Gunung Mulu is one of the most well-managed and impressive natural sites I have seen.
As I sit in my airplane seat, I look at the backpack full of workbooks in which I must address. “Alright, I should use these four hours wisely. I have enough time to finish at least one workbook. I can do this.” It seemed only a matter of seconds before realizing the plane was in full acceleration and taxiing down runway for takeoff. I had to put the book down momentarily and watch the ascension, as it was always my favorite part of flying. As we reach peak ground speed, I could see the other planes aligned for their turn to takeoff. They slowly recede into a multicolored blur. The exhilarating feeling of taking off is an act of physics and imagination that can’t be replicated anywhere. I was pressed against my seat as the nose of the airplane raised up. We were off the ground.
I had organized my space quite well. I had my backpack between my feet, and I was slightly leaning against the window, settling in for the long flight ahead. The slightly cramped feeling of an airplane seat was exactly what I needed. I had everything neatly organized and within arms reach. I had a table to work on, a window to look to the skies, and, of course, my in-flight beverage of choice, orange juice. Everything was in its right place and it was a comfortable, even secure, feeling. I turned my head and looked out the window. A highway full of cars came into view and then quickly faded until they looked like tiny ants crawling along the pavement. I couldn’t help but follow them until they were too small to notice. The orange and yellow hues of the sunrise flooded the cabin. Everyone in the cabin was in there peaceful state, including me. One is neither at point A, nor at point B, one is right in the middle of transition. One is afforded the rare opportunity to escape the chaos and take time to relax. Being contained in an airplane allows one’s imagination to be set free.
Being in a plane allows for a sense of freedom. You can relax and let go of all my worries for that period of time. Although we can not completely escape the chaos of the world, being in an airplane gives you the opportunity to forget about all of your worries and relax.
You become inspired also. The sky turns into a beautiful painting just waiting to be admired. You become accustomed to your constantly changing surroundings that pass by with every minute. The powerful yet calming hum of the engines slowly lulls you to sleep; and within a matter of hours, you arrive in a completely different world. The rush of rejuvenation comes over you as you imagine the endless possibilities you have at your disposal. That cramped yet secure airplane seat allowed your mind to set free and roam into the new depths of your mind.
Being thirty thousand feet in the air allows one to see the world from a different perspective. One peers down at the earth and everything seems different. Cars aren’t just cars anymore. They’re tiny ants. Lights aren’t just lights anymore. They are stars scattered upon the ground. You become lost in thought. You forget all your worries and become mesmerized by the world just beneath your feet.
Daruvar, a small town of nearly 9,000 people in northeast Croatia is my place of freedom. It’s the only place I can ever remember that made me feel truly grateful for being alive.
Growing up, I frequently traveled to Daruvar because my mother was born and raised here and her entire family continued to live here even after she emigrated to the United States.
From 1991-1995 the Croatian War of Independence was raging on in Yugoslavia and my entire extended family, as well as all of the inhabitants of Daruvar, were in the midst of horrendous warfare.
One of my first memories of visiting my Baka (grandmother) in her Daruvar home was the facade of her house. At first glance, it was just a house. But upon further inspection I discovered large imperfections in the stone. Gaping holes and tiny precise holes scattered the exterior. It was an old house so I thought perhaps it was beginning to chip away. “No,” my cousin told me, “they’re from the war—it’s parts of bombs and bullets.” I looked closer and it made sense.
My cousin went on to explain that during this time, our family often hid under tables, or in the basement, with the blinds pulled, the television news on mute, and with immense fear in their hearts. He said that the buzzing of planes just above was an every day occurrence and the sound of bombs hitting the ground was deafening. He told me about spider webs, explosives thought to expel diseases, lighting up the sky.
Even more heart-wrenching was what he described they saw when they emerged from hiding— total and utter destruction. Buildings were flattened, shrapnel was lying all over, and sometimes there was even blood. After one of the attacks, my cousin said that a man covered entirely in blood sought refuge in my Baka’s house.
Although all of this carnage and sadness makes it sound like Daruvar isn’t a positive or uplifting place, it truly is. Daruvar is my place of independence because through my visits here, I have seen what it has become.
During my time here as a young adult, I saw new buildings erected, war monuments built, and a feeling of revival in the air. I witnessed tourism increase due to their updated and improved natural hot springs—water believed to heal. Rehabilitation spas began to sprout up. Energy and life was beginning to fully breathe into Daruvar. I truly feel that I saw the town slowly transition from a place of wreckage to a place of strength and healing.
The most remarkable thing I gained from my trips here was a true appreciation for life.
Once, when sitting at an outdoor cafe in downtown Daruvar, a middle aged woman passed us and my Croatian relatives said hello to her. They told me later that she lost her entire family in the war—her husband and her little boy. Another man, who was very old and walked with a hunchback propped up by a cane, passed us sometime later. My family told me he was severely injured in the war.
I was absolutely amazed that everyone here had a story. Everyone was affected by this horrific war in one way or another, but everyone picked up the pieces and managed to go on. The people, the buildings, the town itself, refused to wallow in sadness and instead, chose to prosper. And they did.
The transitions of this small town and the relentless pursuit of a life of happiness here have given me immense inspiration to live my life to the fullest. I am moved to live every day with gratitude and to appreciate the small gifts life gives me. Daruvar is my place of independence because my time here has allowed me to discover how incredibly lucky I am to simply be alive. And even though I, too, have scars on my exterior, I am not afraid to wear them as a reminder of my past and an inspiration to be better than I was before.
About the Author: Kat is a travel enthusiast having traveled to well over a dozen countries and to four continents. Her favorite travel experience was camping in the Sahara desert of Tunisia and riding camels there too! When she isn’t writing, she is playing with her two rambunctious dogs and dining out with her hubby.