My desire to explore has always been a part of me for as long as I can remember. As I have gotten older, I am travelling more, as I figure, if I don’t do it now, when am I going to do it?
Time is certainly not standing still.
At present I run an Overland Cultural Camping Expedition with my partner each year in Mongolia and I am just home from running my first solo tour (with guests) in Morocco.
Are all gifts the same?
So I would like to talk a bit about giving. What to give is the question? Especially in another culture. Sometimes my western mind says ... "Well I like this, so they will also like it".
I met an older Berber, a woman from the desert, this year in Morocco. She was sitting in the dirt, at Todra Gorge, a popular tourist destination, in the middle of Morocco. I thought "hmmm ... what could I give her"? I had some earrings, which I had made in Australia from Mongolian beads.
So I scrounged in my bag and then went back to her.
As I put them into her outstretched hand, I looked at her feet and saw that her socks were so old and a bit threadbare. Even then it did not register to me, as I had already decided in my mind that she would "like" the earrings. It was only in hindsight, actually, as I am writing this, that I realised that she may have appreciated socks more than earrings!
“...by the look of sheer joy on his face you’d thought I had given him a bar of gold”
And speaking of socks and giving, I remember a few years ago when my partner and I were travelling in our truck in the Sahara Desert en route from Spain to Senegal, we came upon a camel train with six camels and a few men. One man came over to my window, of the truck and I wanted to give him "something".
I had practically cleared out all my spare clothes in the past days to Bedoiuns, along the way. I felt bad that all I had left was a pair of thick black "worn in" woollen socks. I handed them out of the window and by the look of sheer joy on his face you’d thought I had given him a bar of gold. He carefully put his "treasure" into the pocket of his gown, touched his heart in thanks and moved on with his camels winding behind him.
The road can be hard
Travelling is not easy. It is challenging and tiring and you are constantly reassessing your own beliefs. And when we, or I, are taking other people travelling with us, it is bloody hard work at times. It pushes boundaries. Your own physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries and everyone else's too.
Putting a group of 10 people together into two 4x4 Russian vans and taking them out into a wilderness, to live, camp, cook and travel together is sometimes very, very tricky business. You learn a lot, in a short period of time about human instincts and group dynamics.
Then there is the outdoor environment to deal with. Unpredictable weather, coping with tents, peoples individual boundaries and coping mechanisms, cooking outside, the heat, the cold, flat tyres, lack of toilets, cold bucket baths, bogged vehicles, tummy bugs etc etc etc.
Why would you do it, you ask? Because the huge upside is that Mongolia is a magnificent country, the culture is strong, there is gender equality and her nomadic people are unique and special.
“And I do it because of the feeling I get when I stand on the rim of a huge valley, a gigantic basin, surrounded by massive mountains, where I can see so far, that there is a curve in the earth on the horizon.”
The feeling is humility.
There is no doubt in my mind in that moment I am very very small. And I love to share it with other people who want to take a little time out of their western lives. People who can let go of some of the comforts of their lives at home ... to "experience" the ancient Mongolian way of life.
Giving something back to the people in Mongolia sort of evolved and now I call it the Beanie Project. About six years ago, I thought that if I took a few good quality warm kiddies clothes over in my luggage, I could give them to some of the families who live in very remote areas. I did it and it worked.
One particular afternoon, our gifts of clothes were very well received by a family in a very remote area.
Next morning the mother came to visit our camp, on the back of the family motorbike, balancing a jug of fresh milk, still warm from the goat.
Such is the generous nature of Mongolian people. This is just one story of hundreds.
Now I ask my potential travellers, if they choose to participate, to please find some room in their luggage and bring some things. It has become wildly successful.
Last year nine people bought over more than 75kgs of clothes. Each and every beanie or warm item of clothing is received with open arms. There is something very heart rendering when a tiny child puts his or her small hands out, palms up and "accepts" a gift, with such grace and humility.
I have support. I have wonderful women friends, everywhere, who support me, encourage me, and some who can really knit up a storm. I love and cherish these fantastic women and totally respect their craft skills, especially as I cannot knit to save myself!
These fantastic women send beanies and with their beanies they send love and support.
“They connect to a woman across the other side of the world through me. It is magical”
Some tell me that they cannot travel, some tell me they don’t want to travel and some tell me that they have absolutely no inclination to go to places where you get to have a cold bucket bath, at the end of a long and dusty day ... but they still want to give.
That is what we women do. We give ... and so through me, they give. They connect to a woman across the other side of the world through me. It is magical and I feel blessed to be the one who is lucky enough to "hand over the gorgeous rainbow coloured beanies" and experience the delight in a child's eyes, or see the joy and thankful expression on a mother's face.
And there are other wonderful women, like the great bunch of women at Mackay Older Women's network who have supported me many times. Two years ago, they contributed to help me purchase an industrial overlocker, for a social enterprise business, called Mary and Martha's, which supports charities in Mongolia and directly assists hundreds of artisans, mostly women to turn raw materials into saleable items. This provides sustainable income.
And this year I am hoping for 100kgs of clothes to distribute to remote nomadic families and I plan to purchase a drum carder (a wool combing machine) for a group of women so that they can refine their wool products.
Giving defines us
So my main point today is about the art of giving.
It is not about how you give, or when you give, or what you give, be it a gift, a smile, a warm beanie, a compliment to another woman, 50 cents to the woman next to you at checkout who has not quite enough to pay for her food.
I have been that woman.
These are all profound acts of kindness ... and this is how we connect with each other. The power is in, just doing it.
We are women and this is what comes naturally if we activate it.
So don’t hold back ever with your giving. A smile, a compliment, a random act of kindness. Do it with no expectation of anything in return.
Hold your hand out and help another woman up. Do it right now ... turn to the woman on your right or your left, or in front of you or behind you and give her a compliment and/or one of your award winning smiles.