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

March 10, 2015

WordFood of Laughter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 12:27 pm

Babu gripped me with incredibly strong arms, his brown tinged eyes staring into mine, twinkling with mirth. His misshapen teeth, the only four he had left, showed in a big grin as we laughed at each other. He had just dumped an entire water bottle down the back of my neck, and he was waiting for me to make one last move. I didn’t have one. Ultimately I just hugged him, hard, and he hugged me back. This Maasai ancient and I, along with his three compatriots, had just taken me seven days and six nights across the Tanzanian countryside in 110 degree heat. I was the one who had started the water fight on Day One, and Babu had ended it by emptying the bottle down my back, and there was nothing left but to say goodbye, safe travels and good luck. All done in silence, with a look of love, a huge hug, and a wave. I don’t speak Maasai, Babu doesn’t speak English.Words were completely unnecessary.

The four man crew and the three camels picked up their slow pace and headed back out over the heat-shimmered lands, and my driver headed east towards Arusha. I watched, tears in my eyes, until they were mere specks. I would wake up for at least five more days convinced I was still in my tent, with Raymond  making his famous pancakes to begin the day at 4 am.

Mkuru Camel Safari was my final adventure in five weeks across three countries. Only Philip, the young Maasai man whose first son Christophe was born on day two of our adventure spoke even a bit of English. We traveled through all kinds of terrain, past Maasai bomas and lands, open territories and hills, and across vast lands where wild animals ran free. And always we laughed.

With little language shared, we shared the work. As soon as I sorted out the camp chores I began to help with breakdown and setup. I skipped the nightly showers, so that reduced the workload and gave us more water to drink (and throw at each other in the stifling heat). I used bath wipes at night, and slept with a wet bandanna draped over my body to reduce the temperature.

Early in the morning I woke up with Raymond, snuck up on the sleeping men in their tents, and shook the tents while yelling “ELEPHANT” until they woke up and groggily poked out their heads. The pranks earned me pranks back, and they nailed me with water mercilessly while I was trying to write, eat, rest, sleep or dodge the onslaught. And always we laughed.

One white woman, four African men, minimal language shared. We ate, walked, rode, slept and traveled together, marveled at the stars, chased each other around the campfire, dug acacia thorns out of each other’s skin and enjoyed Raymond’s cooking, teased each other without mercy, and laughed all day.

At the end of it, it was intensely hard to say goodbye so I doused them all with water. Through Philip, the only Maasai with a little English, they thanked me for the laughter, the pranks, and the shared work. I just cried through my smile. Then they threw water at me, and thus doused, we waved goodbye, laughing.

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.

June 3, 2013

Cultural WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 12:16 pm

This May was an immersion in Argentinean culture, and while most relate Argentina to great beef, Mendozan wine and the tango, my focus was on the traditional gaucho experience. In my backpack were a brand new pair of tall riding boots, a riding helmet and all the paraphernalia for as many rides as possible, especially in the high country around Bariloche and Mendoza.

In a country where mostly men are the riders and girls are not as encouraged to become horse experts, tourists are taken on group rides that are mostly walking tours on very docile horses. Great, unless you’re a serious rider, which I am. So the trip was a series of often funny moments when there was a bit of a translation between “soy experiencia”- which gauchos often heard and frankly didn’t believe, and then actually seeing you ride, which often meant you scored a better horse.¬† These guys have seen it all- the fat tourist whose last ride was for five cents on a circus pony being led around a circle and he’s saying he can ride, and he falls off at the trot. You can’t blame them for taking “experience” with a jaundiced ear.

So one gaucho I hired for a two-day solo excursion over a high mountain pass did what I wish they’d all do. Five minutes into our ride, we hit an open patch and before I knew it he was off like a bat out of hell. So was I, right on his heels. At the quarter mile he slid to stop, then turned to watch me handle the stop at a dead run. What I got was a head nod, and a curt “bueno,” which was exceedingly high praise from this man, and I count it as a high point on the trip. From then on, he was gracious, helpful, trained me on tack and saddlery and all aspects of my horse. And I respected him for testing me.

On my final stop, an estancia on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, a lovely family hosted me for nearly five days. Their young daughter Ro rode with me, and at the end of the first day I asked to switch horses with her, not knowing what I was requesting. She hesitated, then agreed. I’d been invited to help herd the horses from the far pastures into the other far pastures. Once I passed through the final gate and gave my animal its head, the next thing I knew my helmet was nearly blown off and I was gripping this plunging creature with all my strength, grinning like a banshee, as we ran flat out for the far stragglers. As they wheeled, we shot right, moving the herd towards the gate.

In an instant, the work was done and all the animals were where they were supposed to be. Delighted, I asked permission to ride this horse for the rest of my time. Ro nodded. The next four days, this smart, agile, lightning fast animal was saddled and ready to go every day, up to almost moments before my ride to the airport.

What I had not known, and found out on my last day, was that this magnificent creature had belonged to the long standing gaucho Don Juan, who had died just the year before. Don Juan was much loved, much revered and respected. His horse was part of the family and the only tie they had to his memory. And he was not available for tourists. For this family to have allowed me to sit on him, much less ride and work him for four days, was a gift of the highest order. Argentina respects history, its traditions and its gaucho ways of riding. Ro apparently had made a case for me and the family had agreed. I had been riding gaucho history, and it moved me to tears.

My Spanish still needs work, but between my pidgin Spanish and their pidgin English we patched together this wonderful story, and it became the single greatest moment for me in Argentina. Their kind words and trust, their gift, reminds me of the generosity of spirit that exists everywhere. Behind all things there is a story, and we cannot take what we experience for granted. Sometimes we don’t always understand what we are being given, and it serves to find out, especially when in another country. And when we do, it might just bring us to our knees- like when a very poor family gives you its only bed, or last bowl of food, out of courtesy. Often cultural WoodFood isn’t spoken outright, but it is there.

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