WordFood - how we feed or starve our realtionships

- Julia Hubbel

Julia’s ability to get this group of type-A executives to engage in true networking was incredible. She is truly skilled at motivating the group to engage and interact with each other, and her openness and honesty really come through.

— Shelley Stewart, Jr.,
Senior Vice President of Operational Excellence and Chief Procurement Officer, Tyco

August 25, 2014

Green WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 2:21 pm

Last Tuesday I was prepping my sweet little grey mare Calypso for my riding lesson. Now there’s a back story to this. About two weeks prior, I had attempted to learn how to inline skate. Suffice it to say that said attempt ended quickly as a result of two extremely hard landings on skinny butt on hard concrete. Since then those skates have been relegated to Craig’s List, and my patootie is slowly recovering. Now, fast forward to Tuesday.

One of the chores one does to prep your horse for riding is to clean the mess out of their hooves, the glop and dirt they pick up from being in their stalls or the corral. So you must work your way around the animal and pick up the hooves one by one and pick this mess out. I was dutifully doing this until I got to Calypso’s rear end. Then she started to balk. It was painful for me to lean over (a leftover from my aborted skating career). She’d dance away every time I went for her hoof. Bend. Dance. Ouch. Bend. Dance. Ouch. Three times. I popped her on the butt in frustration. Not hard. But enough to get her attention.

She leapt away from my hand and gave me that hurt LOOK. I have never popped Calypso. Ours is a most affectionate and loving relationship, made up of kisses and nuzzles and many handfuls of soft green grass. She was not happy with me.

However she did offer up her left back leg without protest so I leaned over and got to work.

Seconds later I felt, and smelled, a copious amount of reeking green wet material landing on my bare left shoulder, over my arm, onto my wrist, watch, fingers, leg, boots.

I started laughing helplessly. Looked over my right shoulder. Calypso was looking right back. “Got the message, cowgirl?”

I kept right on cleaning her foot. No water anywhere close by. I’d stink to high heaven my entire lesson.

Put her foot down gently. Eased up and walked to her head. We eyeballed each other. I reached up and nabbed her ears, and scratched them. Rubbed that sweet spot right over her eyes and then rubbed her eyes gently shut. Scrubbed her cheeks under the halter. She placed her muzzle into my chest and rested it there, then pushed me. “You’re forgiven.”

She gave me a lovely ride that day.

Her eloquent green WordFood was a fine reminder that it wasn’t her fault I was sore or irritated about my back. Not her fault I was stupid enough to try to learn a sport for six year olds. I wasn’t present for her and she knew it.  If I’m dumb enough to smack her and then sit in the landing zone, well then. I deserve precisely what I got.

What I loved about Calypso’s sweet lesson in humble green pie is that we don’t have the right to cascade our stuff onto innocents, be they animals, children, spouses, work partners, anyone else. It’s ours to process.  Let’s be courageous enough to deal with it ourselves before we find ourselves in the loading zone.

July 21, 2014

WordFood Silence is Priceless

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 6:48 pm

The water was sparkling in the Colorado sun, the temperature hovering around the mid-nineties. Eleven of us were scattered around the guides of Renaissance on our second weekend of kayaking lessons near Glenwood Springs, moving down the river in a rough circle. Some of us had been together on our first weekend in and around Denver, just building basic skills, being terrified of the slightest ruffle in the river. Here were Class II waters, not much more, but to most of us it was still BIG WATER given our experience levels. All of us had just taken a dip without our kayaks and were mostly at ease going over a rapid, and our guides urged us along.

As with many groups of sports enthusiasts, this one had its hotdog. Guy in his midthirties or so, eager to show off how he could roll (most of us couldn’t), he hit rocks, hot rodded the river, and mainly used his upper body to power around. He grabbed the instructor’s attention for feedback. They’re in every group. Maybe you’ve seen one, even been one. They are sometimes talented, sometimes not, but they almost always are demanding and loud and perhaps a little in your face. That’s all right.

Well, that is. Unless.

It was all fine until the last rapid. As we approached, this particular paddler was in front of me, and I informed him of my position to him in the water. Our guide up ahead told me to move to the left to enter what would be the biggest water of the day. I did just that, and suddenly the current swept both of us into the big wave at about the same time.

I kept paddling. Suddenly this guy is screaming obscenities at me: F–! God damn! F–! At the top of his lungs, a long ugly stream of them. We were right next to each other in the wave. I recall saying at conversation level that we were fine, just focus, you’re doing fine. Didn’t shout or yell, didn’t get upset or offended – I normally might have when attacked like that. We both got through the rapids just fine, I headed down the river a spell and went into an eddy on the left and he ended up on the right.

Two people tipped and the guides minded them until they were back in their  boats. One guide checked on me and asked me why I’d been cursing so loudly. I laughed and explained that it most certainly hadn’t been my contribution to the conversation.

Once we got onshore about fifteen minutes later, this man was stripping off his skirt when I approached him. He looked up and said, “That got scary back there.” To that I said, “You did great. You’ve got a lot of skills on the water.” He went on to explain that he couldn’t paddle because there was no room (funny, I had plenty of water) and other comments, but they went by. Like the river. I smiled and wished him a great day for the next morning.

One thing I’ve learned about hotdogs is that when it comes to crunch time they often panic. Getting angry, screaming back, getting in a fight won’t make things better. My first time on the river a few weeks back I spent a great deal of time with the kayak over my head, trying to remember how to get back upright. Very humbling.  This guy didn’t need my opinion to learn what his limitations are. The river will teach him just fine- as long as he doesn’t take anyone else with him. Simple truth is that the worst that could have happened that day in such easy rapids is that we’d have both tipped, and been rescued right away.

The other thing was that watching this hotdog struggle focused me on something I hadn’t remembered- a year’s worth of salsa lessons back in 1999. When I quit trying to force my way down the river with upper body strength like he did and used the smooth motion and snap of my hips, the river and I connected. Magic.  I have him to thank for that lesson. That’s why the rapids weren’t scary.

Like so many sports, kayaking has already taught me a lot about letting go, and let the river do what it does. It’ll humble both of us plenty more times. What’s important is to let him process things in his time.

So in his angry WordFood he had something wonderful to offer. It was up to me to find out what it was.

June 26, 2014

Wordless WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 9:01 am

It had been a very long journey of seventy miles up and down the Himalayas. The adventure had been great fun even though some of us hadn’t quite gotten to Everest Base Camp, thanks to a very late spring snow storm that dumped nearly three feet on our heads over the course of three days. As it was, the views were stupendous, the journey amazing, the company great fun.

However, at the teahouse at the top, I managed to pick up an ugly bug which chased me all the way down the mountain back to Kathmandu, and I barely made it back to the hotel to collapse into that big king bed before I succumbed to a combination of the Kumbu cough, a digestive “disorder” and whatever else attacked my innards.

For the next four days I spent most of my time in bed, sleeping. The cleaning crew, a group of very sweet natured Nepali women led by their supervisor Anu, came in every day and went about their business quietly and carefully, minding that I was ill. I had a supply of Snickers bars and dried cherries and made sure that they were distributed among the women. As I got well enough to venture out, I visited the neighborhood supermarket and bought more supplies, including Oreos (you can get them anywhere), which the women loved.

Anu took to spending more and more time in my room. Their office was right across the hall from my suite, so I saw them every day coming and going. We got to know each other a bit, and Anu and I had long conversations about work and life and women’s opportunities in Nepal. Over the course of that week I became very fond of them, and having them visit every day as I began to shake off the ugly bug with my antibiotics was some of the most fun of my time at the hotel.

Two days before I was scheduled to leave I was locking my room in preparation to head up to the top floor breakfast bar when I spotted Anu heading up the hall towards me with a small package in her hands. She made a beeline for me. In her halting English she gave me the bag and said that she and her crew wanted to express their appreciation for my being a kind client for the past week.

Inside the package was a pair of turquoise Nepali pants and a light cotton top, clothing far more appropriate for the 90+ temperatures than what I had been wearing during my Snickers hunting excursions. The items were lovely. But it wasn’t that.

These women, Anu and her crew, don’t make very much money. In fact, they make very little. For them to make such a gesture was a gift of great consequence, and it moved me to tears. I honestly didn’t know what to say, and Anu saw this in my face. She understood that sometimes, there just aren’t words. We hugged. We also agreed that I would dress in this clothing the next day and I asked her for a group photo.

The following day I was in my Nepali clothing- and someone had an excellent eye because everything fit perfectly-and we hustled the entire group together on my floor for a big group photo. Later, Anu asked if I would be willing to write her a letter of recommendation to her boss, and she provided me with paper and a pen to do so. Easy to do.  I wrote her and her crew a glowing letter. She was delighted.

While the adventure was an amazing trip, I consider these moments with Anu and her crew some of the highlights of my time in Nepal. Sometimes it’s what we don’t expect that moves us the most. Anu floored me with her generosity, humbled me with her gift.

To be graced in such a way, there are no words.

May 5, 2014

WordFood without Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 8:06 pm

The horse, Presente, stood tied to a post near the stables, partially hidden by a lush willow. Roberto the challan (Peruvian trainer) stepped aside as I walked quietly up to him and gently touched his neck. His muscles were quivering, energy was coming off him in waves. His long black mane hung down his neck and his liquid eyes took me in while I very lightly touched his face.  I’d never seen animal so fierce, so beautiful. Roberto led him into the riding ring, a long oval of bright green grass, the animal’s owner and his wife seated across from us.

Roberto mounted and rode Presente around the ring a few times for the owner, then stopped in front of me and dismounted. He offered me the reins. Having just watched this show animal stride around the ring in perfect form, floating like some ethereal being in the paso llano (a gait unique to the Peruvian Paso horse) I wasn’t sure I had the skills to ride him. Roberto gestured again and I got up. As soon as I took the reins I felt the electricity. For the next fifteen minutes I rode this exquisite animal around the oval, quite outside myself, but very aware of every movement of this remarkable horse.

Javier, the owner, whose horses I was riding every day, asked me a few days later which day had been my favorite. I struggled to answer this, having ridden multiple horses and for six hours each day. I couldn’t answer him. Later that day I told his wife, Blanca, that Presente was the crowning moment of my entire time at their stable. That night, when I came in from my long day’s ride, Blanca and Javier had Presente waiting for me, in full competition regalia, as soon as I came in the gate.

As a child of about 12 I had read The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, and had forever held the dream of someday owning, having, riding an animal like Farley had described. It wasn’t my journey. Yet here stood an animal just as slightly wild, just as furiously beautiful, waiting for me to get on and ride again. I was speechless with emotion.

The party walked with me, Roberto leading Presente to the oval, and they all watched as I took this animal from my wildest dreams around the ring once again. I had tears coursing down my face. Blanca was taking photographs. Roberto stood in the center to take over if something went wrong. The slightest butterfly’s touch moved him left or right, no need for a heel, and I spoke to him in a whisper.

Finally it was time to give him back to Roberto, who looked in my face and asked, “Bueno?” at which point I started crying. In my limited Spanish I told him that Presente was a magnificent horse, got off gently, and gave Roberto a hug.

The whole family, seeing my emotion, ran to wrap me in a group hug, and I had to explain that sometimes when God wants to punish you He grants you your dreams. I had no words to express my gratitude to these generous people for allowing me to ride on their finest animal. There are times that your heart is so wide open with joy that words don’t suffice. Such times are so humbling, be it at a baby’s birth, a wedding, falling in love, when someone survives an accident, we can only be deeply humbled and give thanks, and thanks, and thanks. Such times we truly understand what it is to be human, to know such emotion.

What Presente taught me was that at 20,30, 40 or 50, I would not have known how to receive such a gift. Perhaps would have wanted more. But 15 minutes of pure ecstasy was enough. That this family would give me such a gift was beyond words. And they knew. They most assuredly knew.

March 31, 2014

WordFood of Promises

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 4:56 pm

Promises are tricky things. We make them when we’re in love. We promise the moon and the stars,we make impossible promises because we’re hopelessly crosseyed. We make promises at work and to our family members. Daily, mundane things like “Honey, I’ll get the dry cleaning,” or “I promise I’ll get that paper done by this afternoon.” We make them, most of the time, with the intention of keeping them, unless we are being manipulative, and there is a tacit understanding on the other person’s part that the promise will be kept.

A promise is a pact. It involves trust. I will do this, and the other person believes that it will be done. When it isn’t, and there isn’t a good explanation, then something happens. A little trust is lost. Where there is a valid explanation, no harm done. Where there is a a string of broken promises, trust is also broken, so ultimately a promise from this source has little meaning.

A promise begins as WordFood to ourselves, something that we have committed to inside from a place of integrity. Most of us have a pretty strong sense of ourselves as good people, so when we make a promise we mean to do something about it, and do our best to make that promise happen. Where there are significant emotional ties it becomes even more important. A promise to protect our country, for example. A promise to have and to hold for life. A promise creates a relationship where there are expectations on both sides.

Nutritious WordFood supports our completion of our promises to others and doesn’t tolerate cheap excuses: “I forgot,” “I was too busy,” “It slipped my mind.” It places a demand on us to do what we said we would do, knowing that our personal integrity is on the line, and that someone or something is counting on us, and it matters. That feeling of knowing you can be counted upon for your word is important, something that defines your values.

There are times that people can’t or won’t keep promises because of conditions beyond their control. It doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person, but what it does require is a level of graciousness on our part to accept what we don’t know.

There is a person I’ve known for a number of years who repeatedly makes promises he doesn’t keep. Whether it’s to make a call, spend a weekend, be in closer touch, any one of a myriad of commitments that have never come about. Recently he offered to call at night over the course of three days. Despite the track history, I kept my phone close, because this particular conversation meant a lot to me. Of course, he didn’t call, and it hurt. His behavior was no different from the previous years, I has simply hoped for more.

I could choose to be furious or hurt, or realize that there are things going on in this person’s life that are beyond my understanding. Toxic thoughts about how he’s a jerk and doesn’t care jump to the forefront, but I know them not to be true. We don’t know what we don’t know. What’s probably closer to the truth is that my friend, like many of us, makes promises he cannot keep, and shouldn’t make in the first place. This causes pain, erodes trust, and makes any kind of deep understanding more challenging.

It’s wise to promise what is reasonable. And when we cannot perform, we inform. This is nutritious WordFood. Life is full of promise and promises- and we are guaranteed nothing at all except the opportunity have experiences. If we can keep the promises we make to ourselves first then we can best be counted on to keep our promises to others.

February 26, 2014

Noticing What’s Right

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 10:06 am

My mother was a perfectionist, and as such, my brother and I were constantly subjected to her observations of what was wrong with us. Whether it was a curl out of place or a pants leg too long, a public behavior that was unseemly or an unwanted comment at the dinner table, it seemed that we were simply flawed beyond repair. If you’ve grown up with such a parent, live with a partner or a boss like this, you know how this feels. And chances are, this behavior may well be cascading through you to others. It’s often tough to see ourselves doing it. We can justify it by claiming that we “want the best out of others,” or some other lame excuse for simply being over critical. The real truth is that it’s easier to look for what’s wrong around us than what’s right.

Looking to find what’s wrong sets up expectations for discomfort and blame. Kids, friends, family members, coworkers find us hard to be around when our critical eye lasers over them, searching for flaws. AHA! There, see it? You need to fix that! We turn in a paper that took us three weeks to complete. Our best work. The boss picks it up and in seconds takes out the red pen and starts to pick it apart. Not a word about how long we’ve been at it, nothing. We’re deflated, defeated. We can often feel like, what’s the point?

In personal relationships it’s the same thing. After the glow has worn off a marriage, we come home to a litany of household issues. Perhaps we walk in the door and bypass our husband who has, for once, dressed up for us after taking care of the kids and the house and making sure the place is in perfect shape. We complain about the day. We find things to nitpick about the kitchen. We don’t notice anything he’s done to make the house look great for us. How do you think he feels? Defeated. Deflated. We miss the candles, the flowers on the table.  All we do is complain.

We’d all love for people to do things for us- and maybe they already do. But do we notice? By noticing what people do right, complimenting those things, small to large, we highlight what’s good in others. What they’re proud of, what they did well. Their kindnesses. their goodness. We’re full of flaws and failings and things we’re not very proud of, and who needs to be reminded of those?
We already aware of them. But we do need to be noticed doing things right.

When you take the time to notice what’s right, people shine. Bloom. Glow. Smile. Their confidence builds. Be it a kid, a coworker, a granddad, a neighbor, man on the street, a lover. The most delightful part of this is that when you do this, it graces you, too. It’s a two way street. This is nutritious WordFood of the highest order, the kind that brings us together.

Save the criticisms, say the compliments. You’ll find yourself in the habit of finding what’s right all around you in no time.

February 17, 2014

WordFood on the Road

The SUV was pulling onto the main road heading north from the parking lot just to my right, just after I’d already done the same thing, just to his south. No traffic was coming, so I paused, gave him a quick beep, and waited until he finished pulling out onto the road and got going. Then he did something that surprised the heck out of me.

He waved in thanks.

Now that’s surprising only because I haven’t seen anyone do that in a long time. I try to make a habit out of traffic courtesies and by all means to acknowledge them with a wave. We’ve all seen the opposite end of the spectrum as road manners have devolved. I’ve gotten the one-finger salute even when I’ve tried to be polite. What delighted me was to get waved at myself. Made my tummy warm. And got me thinking about how we use WordFood- both nutritious and toxic- on the road.

Those of us who’ve lived in the country, who’ve gotten to know our neighbors, are all familiar with the waves or the simple gestures we use when we pass by those we know: familiar vehicles, faces, folks in the yard planting flowers. In some remote areas there’s a shared sign, like a single forefinger raise that everyone in a valley uses to say “Howdy.” This connects us, reminds us that we’re part of a neighborhood. I’m part of a generation who also used to raise a hand to firemen and policemen- and still do- because that’s how my folks raised me.  Mountain or farm, desert or forest, the hand on the wheel has a way of including you in the “family.”

At some point when getting somewhere fast, and certainly faster than the other guy became paramount, our ability to be courteous took a detour and a variety of other, less friendly gestures came into vogue. Language added spice and soon we were seeing road rage and guns and deaths, all of which have subsided because now we have smart phones and texting and televisions in our cars in addition to putting on makeup, shaving, eating, and all the other things we do instead of drive. Not only are many of us not looking at each other, we’re not driving either.

In other countries, we communicate by headlights, in some ways similar to what we do in the US. However there are some startling differences. Whereas in the US if someone coming at you flashes you, it could be a warning about a speed trap or an accident. In a country such as Vietnam, where I just spent a month, it could be something entirely different. They might be telling you that they are about to enter your lane, head on. So move over. I’m not making this up. You then have to flash your lights, and beep your horn, which the oncoming driver is doing as well, and both of you end up making way for each other by going off the road.

Now you must understand that there’s a good reason for this. Most roads in Vietnam are too narrow for two vehicles. So coming at each other head on around corners is common. Another factor to add to the fun are the millions upon millions of motorcycles that everyone drives, far more than cars. Cars and motorbikes are always trying to pass each other around blind corners in the mountains, especially if there are big slow trucks . This is happening both uphill and downhill.

That’s not all. Add to this the men and women who are walking their water buffalo and cattle on the road, the way they’ve done for millenia, long before there was a road there. They see no reason to move over. Then  there are the people walking with their carts, kids, grandmothers and crates for market, the way they’ve done for milennnia. They don’t see any reason to move over. Add to this all the cyclists, many of which are carrying massive loads so big the rider can barely see. This proliferation on the side of the road forces vehicle traffic into the middle of the road, so all the cars and semis end up playing chicken on the middle line. They flash their lights, beep their horns, and  hundreds of motorcycles weave in and out of the maelstrom. Yet it all seems to work.

They’re watching where they’re going, and watching out for each other.

WordFood is as much about the little courtesies that require no words- but are just as eloquent: “please, you first” for example, and the wonderfully unexpected kind wave given in return. These things bring us into community. Remind us that we care about each other- on the road as well as anywhere else. It says: ” I’m looking out for you. You matter.”

February 3, 2014

WordFood in a Public Forum

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 8:11 pm

Last Thursday I landed in Denver after a one month trip to Vietnam. It was one of those remarkable journeys full of discoveries and learning, surprising insights and flashes of empathy from places you can’t anticipate. Like the day I was hiking through a particularly tough bit of primitive Central Vietnamese jungle during a wet, cold day, stuck in the mud, struggling with creepers,  whacking my head on fallen trees. In that moment it suddenly dawned on me that these – and far, far worse- were some of the conditions that my fellow veterans had to deal with forty years ago during the war. Along with booby traps and jungle rot and so very much more. But the fleeting insight into that world was priceless. I was hiking back to a hostel. They didn’t. Most of us won’t see that jungle up close and personal, and for me it was a paid adventure. I’m a Vietnam-era vet, never been there before.

The warm welcome I received, the kindness, their laughter at my attempts to speak their language, well, let’s just say it was a cathartic experience.

While I travel I write on various forums. My style is to find the funniest things that happen and relay them along with observations about the country and its beauty.

It happened that on one occasion I had paid for an excursion which required that I give up the use of my own gear and use the company’s equipment, which was not very good, and that, along with very cold water and mud, caused me to take some pretty good falls. We crossed about eighteen streams both coming and going. By the time all was said and done, I’d thrown my back out twice and fallen on my knees on some nasty rocks three times, using shoes that had no tread and that were a size too big. My shoes are excellent hikers, good gear in any condition. I hadn’t expected so many stream crossings, and I should have asked about it beforehand, because I have gear up to the task. Good head’s up for next time.

The couple who were along on this trip were impatient when I couldn’t keep up with the very fast pace set by our guide and their kindness turned to condescension as they increasingly got tired of having to wait for me to catch up. The next day they left early. The guide, whose job it is to keep the group together, didn’t argue. This had consequences for us all. At 2:30, right on the nose when we were supposed to get our ride, my guide, two porters and I came out of the jungle onto the road, which was totally empty- no ride. The couple had taken it. It was cold, windy, wet, no cell signal, and a five hour trek back to town. We started hiking back.

When I did get back to town about two and a half hours later (a van finally did pick us up) I had found my funny again. I wrote my version of the story. I didn’t make a big deal of the dangers of being left in the middle of nowhere without adequate supplies or much else. But I had been angry. So I had a little fun at the expense of the other couple. Who ended up reading my post.

The woman’s response was probably the most bilious, angry, vicious character assassination I’ve ever read. It also went a long way towards proving every point I’d made in the post. She also pointed out that I’d have it removed. Of course not. The post was so extreme it was funny in its own right. However there were some good lessons to come of it.

The reason is three fold. It was an excellent reminder that those posts are public, and if I’m of a mind to poke fun, I need to be uber careful about how I do it. It’s fine if I do it to myself. But not to others. I did apologize. And I took the lesson to heart.

Second, if someone wants to put bile online, it speaks far more about their character than it does about their target’s. There are ways to disagree, ways to take issue, and ways to take someone to task. There are as many versions of a story as there are people involved including the butler. No right or wrong.

Third, it is a lesson in how important it is to sit on your words before you publish them.  This is like that angry email you write and should hold off on for 24 hours until you cool off. Had I taken a day to cool off about being abandoned by the roadside in the rain, the post would have read differently. By the same token, had she sat on her response for a day, she might have seen the contradictions in her angry claims.

Once we hit “publish” there’s no going back. Public forums can be entertaining and they can also be highly revealing in ways we really don’t care for them to be. Toxic WordFood has no place in social media. And I am most grateful for this excellent reminder.

December 31, 2013

Nourishing WordFood: Remembering Who Serves Us

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 12:10 pm

In the month since climbing Kilimanjaro it’s been busy. The holidays, trips to see friends, emails to answer. Among the work and preparation for yet another adventure trip, a couple of emails stood out: Ignas and August, the guides from my trip up that great mountain in Africa.

These two wonderful men from E-Trip Africa became friends and confidantes during the six day journey which took me to 19k’ and more to the rooftop of Africa. They also carried me most of the way down when, while sliding down the wicked scree that you have to navigate for nearly four thousand vertical feet, I badly twisted my left knee and needed help. Without them, I’d have taken painful hours to make my way down solo. We laughed, ate, talked together, solved the world’s problems. When I took a bathroom break at 3 am 17k feet, got up and began to hobble back to the group and couldn’t figure out what in the world inhibited my ability to walk, Ignas kindly pointed his headlamp at my knees and suggested that pulling up my underwear might help. I nearly fell down the mountain in laughter.

Ignas’ wide ranging knowledge of geology, astronomy, math and so many other subjects, and his deep sense of the important things in life in his early twenties made him lovely company. August, who chased us down in the early hours to check our oxygen and pulse rate, was a quiet, competent presence full of funny stories about previous climbers, mishaps and mayhem from his 308 ascents.

Their constant encouragement, checkins, reminders to eat and drink kept me and my climbing partner going. Never did they push, always did they gently encourage. At the summit, when my water line froze, Ignas spent fifteen minutes whacking the black line like a dead snake with ice flying in all directions until I could get the much needed liquids from my backpack.

Once we came down, and landed at our rest hotel, the goodbyes in the parking lot were emotional and joyful. When I got back to America, I found photographs and videos, some hilarious, that August had sent the day after we had returned. I sent both men recommendation letters and copied their boss. Then I sent them both personal emails about what the trip, and they, had meant to me.

So often people come down the mountain and later, it’s hard to remember the guide’s name or the cook’s name, and it’s easy to say that I climbed Kilimanjaro. Nobody does such a thing alone. It takes a community to get us up and it most assuredly took a community to get me down. It was an exquisite experience to learn to accept little gestures of help from being buckled up when I couldn’t find my belt buckle to being chairlifted down the mountainside to drink cartons of delicious mango juice at base camp. So my personal emails expressed my gratitude for being taught how to accept such help, for that to me was more important that the summit itself. That was their gift, my lesson from Kilimanjaro.

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day all of us have a terrific opportunity to thank those who serve us- those often forgotten workers and servers and support help who add untold value to our lives, but all too often go unnoticed in our world. People whose names we don’t know or don’t bother to memorize. Without them, our lives would stumble and come to a stop. Ignas and August reminded me to thank those to take care of us- and while you might not take on a mountain, the mountains of our daily lives involve everything from grocery baggers to baggage handlers to handy men to handicapped people who work at Goodwill. They are all doing things that serve us. Let’s notice, remember a name, leave a bigger tip, take the time to make someone feel visible. Important.

Now that’s a way to celebrate a New Year.

December 12, 2013

The Impact of Junk Food

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 1:32 pm

A few weeks ago in the bush of Tanzania I was on a six day horseback safari, not a couple of days removed from having summitted Mount Kilimanjaro. We were riding six to nine hours a day, and at the very least I was bone tired at night when we rode into camp. All through my trip to this point I had been warned by tour operators, fellow travelers and companions that I needed to keep an eye on my valuables, and had been diligent so far. I was traveling with a group of Swedes, and in this case, the patriarch happened to be the father of the young woman who ran the horseback riding outfit. We were all having a grand time of it.

At dinner on the fourth night I took a break and walked to my tent. I was quite startled to find a camp staffer inside, and he quickly made his way out and disappeared. The first thought I had was that I had left my money belt- with close to $800 US in cash- sitting on the table next to my cot. I grabbed it, hurriedly counted the money, and seemed to find about $300 missing. Angry as a mishandled beehive I marched back to the dining tent and demanded to talk Jo and Chris, the outfitters, and told them- and the table- that I had money missing. I was furious. They told me that this was unheard of, but I was convinced. They took me aside and ran additional questions. Chris went to talk to the staffers and Jo forced me to recount. The money was all there- but by now the damage had been done. I had embarrassed these two good people in front of their friends- and Jo’s father, and the staffers, who knew there was no theft, were offended.

The next morning when I realized the extent of the damage I’d done, I waited until all my friends were at the table and apologized to Jo’s father, Jo, and Chris. Then as soon as possible I tracked down the man I had accused and made my sincere apologies to him to which he said, quite kindly, “Be free,” which was a complete acknowledgement of my mistake.

I later found the camp manager, the man’s boss, and made further apologies, by which time word had gotten around, and all was good again.

What I learned from this was several fold. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re tired. Sure. But what’s worse are some of the cultural impacts. Despite having been repeatedly told by so many that I had to worry about my things, being calm enough to take the time to count my funds several times over would have prevented the whole incident. Instead, my mind had already been poisoned to expect money to be missing and that is precisely what it found. This is our insanity. We find what the mind says is there, right or wrong. I not only offended the kind group of Swedes who had allowed me to join their private party, but I also offended a tightly knit group of African camp staff who were duly proud of their honesty.

All were kind enough to allow me to clean up my mess, and to personally confront the people I’d hurt and to do so publicly. It simply points to how easy it is to be swept away by a part that expects to be taken advantage of simply because of toxic comments made by others. Junk food does that. This is what prejudice is, and how it poisons us to others. Anyone. A group, a class, a person. And unfortunately, everyone is subject to it, and it serves to be a student of when we fall down.

International travel, among its other great gifts, allows us to experience our humanity, and in doing so, allows us to touch deep emotions in ways that we may not otherwise be able to reach. This memory was a high point in my trip, because good people allowed me the space to process a wrong. That’s grace.

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