Zero Waste Adventures

Hello friends! I said I would blog through out my zero waste June challenge but that clearly did not happen. Here’s a summary of how my month of producing very little trash went!

I started off the month with enthusiasm for my new endeavor. Word about my challenge spread quickly amongst friends and family. I kicked off waste free June by giving a talk to my moms real estate office sales meeting and stood up in front of 25 people eating from paper bowls with plastic utensils. This sight negated all of my doubts about my challenge (Am I wasting my time? Is this dumb? Will people actually care about this?). I realized that people need to be aware of the impact that plastic and other waste has on our earth. Single use plastics (utensils, plastic wrap, water bottles, bags, etc) are completely unnecessary, there is almost always a more sustainable alternative. The sales meeting crowd was mostly receptive except for a man who practically argued with me the whole time. We won’t talk about him. The rest were inspired to start making changes around the office! We had a great conversation about simple ways to reduce waste. This made me excited for the rest of the challenge… Armed with my bamboo utensils, my stainless steel straw, my eco friendly togo container, and of course a plethora of mason jars I went off to discover how little waste I could produce in just one month.

If only this enthusiasm carried with me through the following days. I quickly discovered that plastic is most certainly inevitable. I can’t buy coconut oil without a plastic seal circling the top, nor buy kale from Weaver Street without a twist tie holding together the bunch. We are bombarded with packaging. It’s everywhere. Most of this packaging holds our chemically delicious processed food. Megan Kimble from Unprocessed: My City Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food states that “the primary reason we process food is to sell it. Processing improves texture, augments appearance, enhances taste, and makes better mouthfeel. We process food to preserve it not just seasonally, but indefinitely. Without context an outsider might guess that today the purpose of processing is to make the food less nutritious.” We feed our bodies chemicals just for the sake of convenience. It’s easier to buy a frozen dinner than it is to make your own delicious meal from fresh local produce. It’s easier to buy a bag of chips than it is to dehydrate potatoes to make your own package free one ingredient chips. It’s easier to buy a bottle of kombucha than it is to wait one month to ferment your own. Certainly there are some healthy packaged food options, but the majority of the time you’re better off just eating some local produce. As a society, we are addicted to overly processed packaged food, myself included. While I never actually bought any packaged food, I did steal some chips, crackers, goldfish, etc from those around me. It was hard not to. With every stolen chip and every sighting of unnecessary packaging or waste, my enthusiasm ran down the drain.

It’s almost like I have super vision now. Super vision that only detects packaging and waste. I can’t go into super market without eyeing down all of the people separating there apples from their kale from their oranges with mountains of plastic bags. I hyper aware of the people eating from their weaver street to go containers with plastic utensils AT weaver street instead of using the washable bowls and metal utensils that weaver so graciously provides and washes for you. Even at home I’m surrounded by my moms plastic starbucks cups and my brothers doritos. Plastic and packaging is everywhere and I can’t go anywhere without detecting it. Cucumbers are wrapped in a thin layer of plastic.. right over it’s green “packaging” that nature provides. Lemons are bundled up in plastic mesh bags. Bell peppers in groups of three are prepackaged in plastic bags. It may sound like i’m being overly cautious or overly sensitive but lets go back to some important stats. An average American is capable of producing 4.6 lbs of trash per day. In total Americans produce 230 million tons of trash every. single. year. Most of this waste goes into landfills or into the oceans. Lets not forget that our landfills are reaching their all time capacity. What will happen when we can no longer store waste in landfills? Where will all of that waste go? The food waste will decompose and the plastic waste will make it’s way into the oceans, breaking up into smaller pieces, endangering animals and polluting the earth. Every single piece of plastic that has ever been produce still exists today. Plastic takes 1000’s of years to decompose completely. This new found supervision is exasperating at times… but just what I need to become more aware. Change happens after you are able to recognize a problem and then become passionate enough to do something about it.

I have to remind myself to not get too caught up in the statistics and to just focus on the little things I can do to help make a difference. In my case it’s going waste free and educating others on the importance of sustainability. Others may find that buying a reusable water bottle instead of using single use plastic bottles is all that they can do for the time being. And that’s ok. As long as we make a collective effort to reduce waste, things will change. While my enthusiasm definitely went down the drain half way through the month, it still didn’t stop me from denying plastic straws at restaurants, making my own package free food, and practically producing no waste. While I did have my waste free lows throughout the month I was usually brought back up to a high thanks to those who are also passionate about zero waste.  People behind me in line at whole foods asked all about my mason jars holding my bulk goods, friends told me all that they’ve done to reduce waste, my mom came home multiple times with her groceries in reusable bags. Little moments like these gave me the energy and passion to keep going with this zero waste lifestyle. It’s so easy to get discouraged, but getting discouraged is not going to change anything.

It’s July 2nd, and practically the only waste I have produce since June 1st sits right in this mason jar.

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It contains a few receipts, a bunch of kombucha plastic seals, a few kale twist ties, some labels, tags, fake grass from a sushi restaurant, and one plastic straw.

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I did not include fruit and veggie stickers, a couple of used bandaids (gross), and a few other plastic seals. I did have one major slip up during this challenge.. one night I wanted to have a bonfire with friends but did not have anyway of chopping up my own wood so I had to buy a couple bundles of wood from a gas station. The wood came wrapped up in band of plastic wrap to hold it together. I justified having a fun night with friends around a bon fire over sitting around in my room. Fun won! Considering I hardly produced any other trash this month, I don’t feel much guilt.

For my first time attempting zero waste, I think I did a pretty good job. Definitely not perfect but it’s a start. I’m lucky that I get to attend a school this fall where compost bins are all around campus, and zero waste options are in abundance. I feel confident that I can keep a semi zero waste lifestyle.

Next challenge? Zero Plastic July. Join me and many others attempting to give up single use plastic for the month of July! Thank you to everyone who attempts to lessen their impact on the environment! Lets make our future a little more sustainable! Remember… we can’t recycle the earth!

30 Days. Zero Waste.

Hello everyone!

It’s so nice to be home after spending three months exploring tourist filled Cusco. Peru was quite the journey, a journey full of growth and learning. Next adventure? Moving to the rad town of Asheville for college! In the mean time I plan to make the most out of my summer. I have a lot of goals for the next three months, one of which includes transitioning into a zero waste lifestyle.

Over the past year traveling I’ve become super passionate about environmental issues & sustainability. Traveling through developing areas of the world and eeing immense amounts of trash fill streetcorners, watching plastic bottles run down beautiful rivers, and seeing waste surround incredible holy sites, has really made me take a step back and reevaluate my wasteful lifestyle. In India I got to spend time at a sustainable institute for compassionate living, Dharmalaya. Dharmalaya’s mission is to “unite the best of traditional wisdom with creative innovation to produce compelling possibilities for sustainable & compassionate living in the Himalayas and beyond.” I learned all about natural building, sustainable living, globalization, veganism, etc. One of the most profound things I learned is that India is literally a global trash can. Meaning developed nations produce so much waste they dump it on Indian soil. Shipping waste to India is 4 times cheaper than recycling it. I saw the evidence of this first hand while traveling through Northern India this past fall. My travels made me understand the impact that waste has on the environment. Parts of the beautiful country are practically swimming in trash. Most of which is completely unnecessary. If this waste is unnecessary, is it possible for me to live completely zero waste, meaning not producing trash? If it is possible, is it practical? Will it actually make a difference? These are questions that i’ve been asking myself lately, questions that I plan to answer during the during my 30 days of going waste free and plastic free.

The zero waste movement is up and coming thanks to a few people ready to make some changes! There’s Lauren Singer, a young woman living in NYC who has fit two years worth of trash in a 16 oz mason jar. A single American is capable of producing 10 times that amount of trash in a single day. Singer runs a blog called “Trash Is For Tossers” which aims to educate people on the importance of living zero waste. Then there’s Bea Johnson, a French woman who lives a zero waste life with her family of 4 in CA. She follows the simple guideline: Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. In that order. Her aim is to destroy misconceptions associated with the zero waste lifestyle, proving that waste free can be healthy, stylish, and cheap. You don’t have to have poor hygiene or wear raggedy clothes to live a low impact lifestyle! Last but not least, there’s Colin Beavan a man living in NYC with his family, who tried to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year. Meaning; no automated transportation, no electricity, no material consumption, no waste, etc. I highly recommend watching his documentary, No Impact Man!

I vow to produce as little waste as possible for just 30 days. If the people listed above can do it, then I can too.

Here are my self-imposed guidelines:
1. NO purchasing packaged goods. For example: sabra roasted red pepper hummus (sad face), almond milk, ice cream from a carton, chips, you get the idea. So much unnecessary packaging goes into putting ready-made food onto shelves and into your belly. Most of what you buy in packaging can be easily made right in your kitchen. For example: hummus AND almond milk. My two favorites!
2. NO buying plastic! This includes water bottles, plastic cups, plastic utensils, straws, etc. I’m allowing myself to use the reusable plastic already in my home until I’m able to go completely plastic free. I was originally going to go 100% plastic free but my mom got a little upset when she saw all of our plastic tuperwear & bottles in the dusty garage (oops).
Americans go through around 1,500 plastic water bottles every second. Well you can just recycle them right? In reality only 9% of plastic in the US reaches a recycling plant. The rest ends up in landfills, and worse, in the ocean.
3. NO food waste! Food waste is just as bad as other waste! Approximately 40% of food in the USA goes to waste. Imagine how many people that could feed! A lot!

You’re probably wondering how in the world I’m going to do this… well it’s simpler than you would think!
1. Buy in bulk. Whole foods & Weaver Street both have bulk bins. I’m going to bring mason jars to the store, have them weighed, and then fill em’ up! Anyplace that sells in bulk will gladly weigh the reusable jars or bags you bring to the store. You may even get a discount for bringing your own containers! You can buy SO much in bulk… nuts, seeds, flour, pasta, cereal, beans, peanut butter, candy, even liquid soap!
2. Bring my own reusable container to restaurants in case I have leftovers.
3. Deny the plastic straws offered at restaurants. I found reusable stainless steel ones instead!
4. Reusable mesh produce bags rather than plastic bags. I usually only use produce bags for loose items like spinach or lettuce. Who cares if your apples are touching your bananas?? Just in the USA, 12 million barrels of oil are used every year to produce plastic bags. Plastic bags take around 1000 years to break down and when they do, they release toxic chemicals that end up polluting our earth, water, and air.
5. Cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
6. Make my own food! Bye bye to packaged hummus, tortilla chips, almond milk, etc. Healthier, less preservatives, no packaging.. win, win!
7. Reusable shopping bags. Most stores will give you a discount for bringing your own bags.
8. Homemade beauty products. Toothpaste & deodorant are so simple! Just three ingredients: baking soda, coconut oil, and peppermint essential oil (toothpaste) or tea tree oil (deodorant). No unnecessary packaging, no added chemicals.
9. Buy castile soap from bulk bins or just purchase package free bar soap from whole foods.
10. Compostable toothbrush & dish scrubber.
11. Compost all organic food waste!

Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world. Where does all of that waste go?
-Landfills… which are currently at all time capacity levels. Almost half of that waste is unnecessary packaging.
-The Great Pacific Garbage Patch… a collection of litter (mainly plastic) twice the size of Texas located in the Pacific Ocean. Waste gravitates towards this area due to the circular movement of currents. The plastic in this patch does not disintegrate; it just breaks up into smaller pieces. Marine animals ingest in these toxin filled plastic particles.

I am passionate about educating others and helping the earth as much as I can. I believe the this challenge will help me achieve both.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” –Jane Goodall

Keep posted for challenge updates!

xo
Nina

Yoga training & Mother’s Day!!!!

Hola!
It’s been a crazy past month. A lot of cleansing, a lot of growth. Quite a journey… No journey is ever easy. First of all, I’m now a certified a yoga teacher!!!! Craziness. I graduated from my 200 hour 3 week intensive course yesterday. Those 3 weeks were incredibly challenging. I had a ton of goals for myself pre training that I had to continuously reevaluate throughout the those 3 weeks. My original goals were to really deepen my asana practice, incorporate more discipline into my life, and come out ready to teach classes. I also planned to give up a lot of my attachments (ie. sugar, social media, procrastination, etc). I was so motivated to achieve all of these during training… And then I got strep throat. For a week. And missed two and a half days of training. This was such a buzzkill because I wasn’t able to give training my undivided attention. After my strep passed I was super weak and wasn’t able to partake in a lot of the physical asana practices. I didn’t give my body adequate time to heal before jumping into training… and got at least 5 fevers within a two week period causing me to miss more practices… So I wasn’t able to work towards my goal of deepening my physical practice. Now I realize that yoga is a life long journey, training was not the only time to deepen my relationship with yoga. I have my whole life to deepen my physical practice. Training was more about working through my emotions, incorporating yoga philosophy into my everyday life, deepening my understanding of alignment and how to teach a class. I’ve learned so so much, it’s going to take me awhile to process all that I have learned. Yoga training was very challenging and super hard at times but I received so much support from everyone in the house and from my incredible momma. Which brings me to my next point… MOTHERS DAY!
Since I’m not at home and I’m unable to give my mom a big bear hug, a blog shall suffice 🙂 id like to pay tribute to the most important person in my life. My rock. My best friend. My shoulder to cry on. I think we often take mothers for granted which is why I’m so glad a day honoring all of the mothers in the world exists. I’ve been through so much the past few years and I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the support and love from my mother. Senior year I came crying to her completely overwhelmed with all things school related. “Mom. I just want to travel the world, I don’t want to go to college right away.” She told me to go travel the world, to go to India, to follow my dreams. She supported me 1000% and I couldn’t feel more grateful. I know whatever I do she’ll support me (within reason, of course). She does so much for me, my brothers, her friends and family. Everyday I’m just astounded by her willingness to give. She’s always doing something for someone else. Giving advice, helping out a friend, listening to my needs. Let’s be real, she’s basically Wonder Woman. I realize how lucky and privileged I am to have such a supportive mother. Mom, thank you for everything. I don’t know how I can properly thank you for everything that you do for me. I hope following my dreams, respecting others, and making a difference is enough. I wish more than anything that I could be with you today… But we’ll be reunited soon!!!!! On Friday!!!! Oh yeah, she changed my plane ticket so that I come home a week early! What would I do with out her….
Love you more than anything ❤️
Nina

Trust the Journey | Salkantay Trek

Last week, I had the opportunity to trek to Machu Picchu via the Salkantay Trek. AKA one of the most challenging treks to the fabulous world wonder. Known for it’s immense beauty, I decided to take the plunge and go for it. I was fully up for the challenge… and boy was it hard.

DAY 1 | Mollepata to Soraypampa | 19 KM 

I woke up to the sound of my alram at an ungodly hour, wiped the sleep from my eyes, and stumbled down the stairs to the bus stop. I waited about 40 min for the bus to pick me up… Peruvian time, always late. In the mean time, I started to anticipate the next 5 days. I started to wonder if I was physically capable of completing this strenuous trek. The only phsyical things I do are yoga and walk up the 5 billion stairs to get to the Healing House. The ridiculous wasted English tourist stumbling around the bus stop did not help ease my nerves.

I was the first person to be picked up by the bus. After about 30 min of driving around Cusco to pick up the rest of the group, we journeyed two hours to Mollepata, the trail head, to eat breakfast and start our hike.

Our group of 13 gathered to give introductions, meet our guide, and brainstorm a group name. Final verdict? The Sexy Llamas. Just go with it. There were five guys from Lima, two Danish gap year students, my lovely friend Stacie from the Healing House, two sweet Columbian chicas, a French girl, and a 60 year old missionary dude. A quite diverse group.

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I started the day with intense chills and a low fever, both of which vanished as I started sweating profusely. 3 hours into the hike I started to get a sense of what I had gotten myself into. I was a steady 30 min behind the group the whole day. This really got me down, admittedly I had a pretty bad attitude. At last, I reached the lunch site and was able to refeul before walking another 4 hrs to camp. My spirits lifted upon sighting the first snow capped mountain, beauty at its finest. The rest of the day was flat, thank god. I didn’t have enough time to digest lunch before jumping back on the trail… almost puked before camp. Joy. Upon arrival to camp I could hardly walk, so I just passed out in my tent until tea time. Day one and I already had two knarly blisters and a sunburn. I thought for sure that I would have to take a mule on day 2, supposedly the most challenging day. I went to bed on the cold, hard ground exhasuted, sunburnt, and sore from head to toe. Ready to take on day 2? Not so much.

DAY 2 | Soraypampa to Chaullay | 21 KM 

I woke up bright and early to a man shoving a cup of coca tea in my face. Tea delivered to my tent? Hey, i’ll take it. I waddled over to the table to eat my breakfast and chat with the Sexy Llamas. The option of taking a mule kept floating around in my mind. My feet were cold and sore. I decided last minuet to suck it up and hike the 5 hrs uphill. The hike started off pretty steady. I kept a solid rythym, stayed present and positive. I discovered that trekking is VERY mental. Your mind often wants to give out before your body does. I just focused on the click clack of my trekking poles hitting the rocky ground. Instead of taking breaks, I kept a steady pace and ended up in front of the group. Not that its a race, but it definitely boosted my spirits considering I was trailing 30 min behind everyone on day one. Arrival at the Salkantay pass was a tremendous victory. I was so proud of myself for pushing through and reaching the top. What goes down must come back up! 4,650 meters. 15,200 feet. I was really lucky and had no problems with the high altitude. After soaking up the awe inspiring scenery and taking a few moments to give thanks to my body and mother nature, I made my way down the mountain. I made a couple of stops to boost my blood sugar with a granola bar and a piece of victory chocolate. The group descended down almost 2,000 meters into the jungle to our camp. It was strange to be surrounded by snow and then 4 hours later be in a jungle with mosquitos. After a long challenging yet successful day of trekking, I drifted off to sleep to the sound of the roaring river beside my tent.

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DAY 3 | Chaullay to Santa Teresa | 13 KM 

I got a full nights sleep for the first time on the trek. Victory. Breakfast was extra delicious – great way to start the day! We began our trek over a waterfall, accross a river and through the jungle. Absolutely gorgeous. I loved stopping for a few moments just to soak in the incredible view of the mystical valley. By the third hour of the hike downhill, I had copious amounts of blisters under my toes. I was also still sore from the previous days of hiking. Arrival at the lunch site was a glorious moment. I gulfed down some delish lunch and a chocolate bar. We then took a bus to Santa Teresa to swim in hot springs. So lovely. The hot water totally soothed my joints. That night we had a roaring camp fire. Unlike at typical camp fires in the USA, we listened to dubstep and club music? It didn’t really fit with the mood but hey it was still fun. We then proceeded to have a dance party around the campfire. Dangerous? Probably. Fun? Oh yes.

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DAY 4 | Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes | 21 KM 

We had the option to zipline or walk 14 KM. I chose to zipline considering that I could hardly walk due to my exhasuted muscles and huge blisters…. my hiking boots failed me. Ziplining was so. much. fun. Whats better than pretending to be superman flying over a breathtaking valley with a roaring river below? Nothing. This was a great way to take a break from intense trekking. After, we took a train from Hidro Electrica to Aguas Calientes. AC is where Machu Picchu resides! It’s a sweet little town filled to the brim with tourists. I could hardly walk anywhere without being bombarded by restaurant owners asking me to come in and “try their dinner specials” or “drink up.” That night we had our last dinner as a group before heading off to bed in our hostel. Yes hostel. No more camping!

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DAY 5 | MACHU PICCHU! 

I woke up at 4.30AM to catch the 5.00AM bus to Machu Picchu. We had the option to walk up 3,000 stairs to get there but I opted out. Self explanatory. I mainly wanted to save my feet for exploring the Incan city.

We all excitedly followed our guide through the gates only to see a layer of dense fog lingering over the famous Wayna Picchu mountain and ruins. While we waited for the fog to clear up, Ruben gave us the sweet history of MP.

After, we all went our separate ways to explore. It was nice to have some time to myself just to sit and reflect. I could hardly walk because my hiking boots were killing my feet, so instead I just sat at a lookout point for hours to take in the immense beauty and soak up the strong energy lurking among the ruins. I needed that time to just slow down and reflect. A lot of emotions came up and ended up feeling super lonely but was able to work through it and meditate. Once it started pouring rain I took a bus back to Aguas Caliente. The rest of the group had gone their sepeate ways and I was alone. Being with a group for 5 days made me think a lot about my travels in India with the OctaJis. It really made me feel nostalgic. I had a hard time being alone after returing from MP. Luckily I ran into the group of guys from Lima and hung out with them for a bit. They all reminded me of Brandon and his best friends which was super comforting. Their train left at 6PM and mine left at 9.30PM so I just wandered around and found free wifi to fill my time. I got to skype my momma! It was nice to hear her voice.

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At last, my train departed for Ollantaytambo! A small town in the Sacred Valley. On the train I met a girl who’s also a gap year student travelling through South America alone. It was nice to exchange travel stories with a fellow gap year student!! From Ollantaytambo I took a bus back to Cusco. I got home around 2AM and snuggled up in bed, exhausted, sore, but really thankful. I had such a fantastic five days trekking. It was challenging but I just trusted the journey and all was well. Nature is very healing for me. It really pushed my reset button. I feel so refreshed! I’m so grateful that I’m able to have these amazing experiences. I recognize that I’m very lucky to have a healthy body and the opportunity to travel. Overall, this trek was 100% worth it and I’m so proud that I successfully completed it!

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Until next time,

Nina 🙂

Heal. Create. Inspire. 

I can’t believe that I’ve already been at the Healing House, a holistic living center, for one month. Time really does fly. 5 months ago I was at orientation feeling jittery with anticipation for my group semester and contemplating various options for my FVP. Now, my group semester is over (still kind of in denial) and I’m one month into my FVP. Craziness. Sometime I have to stop what I’m doing and express gratitude for where I am in life. Not many young people in this world get to travel and volunteer. I feel really blessed. Whenever I start to feel down I just think of all of the things I have to be grateful for.

Anyhow, my days at the Healing House have been very low key. In India, I was constantly on the go, always experiencing something new. I had my group members to fall back on for support, to entertain me 24/7, to provide me with unlimited hugs. Being in Peru is a for sure change of pace… Yeah, I’m surrounded by an incredible community of people but I’m not constantly on the go like I was in India. I’ve slowly come to realize that’s it’s okay to spend days reading in the garden, cooking, deepening my yoga practice. It’s important to learn how to embrace stillness. I’ve had a lot of time to look at my thought patterns, emotions, and internal dialogue thanks to my slower pace of life here in Peru. There is definitely an ever present energy lurking in the Healing House, an energy that brings up a lot of emotions… The past few weeks have had a fair share of ups and downs but now I finally feel like I’m settling into a routine. I meet with my amazing volunteer mentors on a weekly basis to check in and brainstorm potential project ideas. One of the many cool things about the Healing House is that I get to create my own volunteer project!! Oftentimes I have trouble expressing my emotions with words so instead I use photography to express myself. I hope that I can help others express themselves through photography. To accomplish this, I have created a photo healing group. The themes for the series is chakras. Each week we will focus on a chakra and will take pictures that represent that chakra. On Sunday’s we will come together to share and discuss our pictures. At the end of the 7 week series, I’m going to share my pictures in a garden art show! I’ve never really gotten to share my pictures to the public. I’m very excited!

In addition to my photo series, I’m going to do something with sustainability. I’ll hopefully get to make a rain catcher to make the house my sustainable. It’s rains a lot here so why not take advantage of the rain and put it to good use?!
Other than spending time planning out my volunteer projects, I’ve been presented with a lot of other cool opportunities. I got a babysitting gig! I watch a 5 month boy named Ash while his mom goes to yoga class. I love getting to snuggle and laugh with him. Babies are so wonderful. I’ve also restarted the healing house creative kids program with the other two carpe diem volunteers at the house. The first meeting was such a success! We had the kids decorate the sidewalk with chalk. In addition to babysitting and the creative kids program, I get to teach photography to two sweet women. They love it!

Overall, the healing house is wonderful and I’m really happy to be here. I’m learning how to embrace the flow and how to be self motivated. My goals for the rest of my stay here include meditating everyday, developing my projects, deepening my yoga practice before my getting certified to teach, reading everyday, learning more spanish, etc.

I’ll try to blog more…. 

“…But I still must learn to lead my life with no regrets. All the time it all moves in the same direction, so don’t let it pass by ’cause it moves so fast there’s no time for perfection. So make the most of this life…” -Brett Dennen
Much love,

Nina









Buenos Días!

It’s a cloudy morning here in Peru, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a ton of rain today… rainy days are some of my favorite days. I get read, journal, practice yoga under the pitter patter of the rain on my sky light. Mornings are really peaceful! I wake up, make breakfast in the fully stocked kitchen with the food that I get at the market for really cheap. When I say really cheap, I mean really cheap. Like $2 a day for food. I’ve been making a lot of my own food because it’s much cheaper… If any of you all have any easy vegetarian recipes send em’ my way. Eggs, quinoa, and pasta gets a little old after awhile.
I’ve been adjusting pretty well. Settling into a new place with new people is always a little hard at first. It helps that the Healing House has an incredible community of people that live, work, and volunteer here. I’ve been hanging out with the other Carpe Diem students that are also in Cusco. Cusco was the most popular focused volunteer placement destination this year! It’s nice to have some familiar faces around! We all met at orientation before we went off on our various group semesters around the world.
The other day I went to Pisac with some friends from the House and Claire, another carpe diem student who lives with me. Pisac is a little Peruvian village tucked away in the Sacred Valley. It took an hour by taxi to get there… we spent the day exploring the maze like streets, bartering for hand made goods in the market, and eating delicious street food.
Next week I will officially start volunteering… I have to work at the desk for 18 hrs per week (6 hrs 3 days a week). I know I said that I’ll be teaching photography for a Creative Kids program, but that will not work out. I collected a bunch of cameras from family and friends (thanks to everyone who donated cameras!) but found out the night before I left that Peru has a two camera rule. Meaning you can only bring two cameras into Peru… not 10. I’ve been talking to my mentor Niki about what I can do with photography in the community. She has given me a bunch of amazing ideas which I’m pretty excited about! I will explain my personal volunteer project once it gets set in stone and I have a better idea of what I’ll be doing.
I’ve discovered that it’s pretty hard to communicate with the very little Spanish I know (I took three years in high school) so I’ve been taking Spanish classes with the tutor that works for the Healing House. She is amazing… she’s so clear, gives home work, answers all my ridiculous questions. One of my main goals for this trip is to be able to communicate effectively in Spanish. Cusco is a really touristy town and I want to be able to dig a little deeper in the culture. Knowing Spanish will for sure help me with that…
Overall, I’m really happy here at the Healing House! I definitely feel like I belong. I really connect with the House mission, all the people that walk through the doors, etc. I’m excited to start volunteering and find my niche!
xoxo,
Nina

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Muslim Lives Matter

I would like to take a moment to recognize Deah, Yusor, and Razan. They were murdered in Chapel Hill recently. Please send love and prayers to their families and friends… A horrible tragedy. NO one should be discriminated on the basis of religion. Our Three Winners facebook page.
I hope one day we can live in a world where everyone is treated equally no matter what religion, race, sexuality, gender, etc. Give love.

Chapter 2

Hola!
I arrived to Cuzco yesterday morning after a long night of traveling. I almost missed my flight from Lima to Cusco… But I made it! I was warmly greeted by the Healing House staff and was handed a steaming cup of Coca leaf tea to combat the altitude. Yes, Cusco is really high up. 11,150 feet to be exact. I absolutely love the community of people here at the Healing House. Everyone is so sweet and loving. There’s definitely an energy here. In the coming weeks I hope to immerse myself in a lot yoga, meditation, volunteering, cooking, exploring, spanish classes, etc. I am so excited to see where this placement has to take me! The Healing House has a wonderful garden, yoga hall, and a fully stocked kitchen (I can still cook my favorite vegan meals!). My room looks over all of San Blas… teracotta roofs and cobble stone roads for miles.
Much love to everyone,
Nina

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Reflection – How was India?

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Hello all! I’ve been back in the states for over a month (hard to believe) and I’ve had a great deal of time to reflect on the past few months of my life. I’m sitting here in Open Eye feeling ultra nostalgic, missing India, longing for my incredible second family, and drinking an unnecessary amount of coffee… typical.
Over the course of my time back home I’ve run into many acquaintances, I’ve caught up one on one with some of my closer friends, and I’ve spent much needed quality time with my wonderful family. Oftentimes, the first thing friends, acquaintances, and family ask me when I see them is “NINA! How was India??” I usually just respond with “India was incredible,” “India was life-changing,” or something else along those lines. Truth be told, my experiences in India cannot be expressed in just a few words as I run into you at a coffee shop or out in town. Answering this seemingly simple yet incredibly complex question requires hours of story telling, picture scrolling, pouring out my inner most thoughts, and of course… lots of chai. Obviously I can’t spend hours with each important person in my life, each acquaintance I run into at a coffee shop, or each family member… that would be exhausting for my introverted self! I’ve had a lot of trouble accurately depicting stories, expressing my life-changing experiences, and overall getting across the wonderfulness of my trip to the people I love. Oftentimes, my friends and family members get glazed over looks when I go on and on about my trip, which is completely understandable. Only my octal-ji family knows what India was truly like. Actually experiencing India is completely different than learning about it through seeing pictures, watching videos, listening to stories… My experiences were so raw, so humbling, so organic, and are VERY hard to put into words. I’ve realized that instead of getting frustrated with myself for not totally captivating my loved ones attention when pouring out details of my trip, I can just write a reflection post that attempts to go a little deeper into why my trip was so incredible, so life-changing, and so transformative.
SO… Nina, how was India??!!
To start, here is some background info~
Three years ago, during sophomore year, I developed intense social anxiety that came from a lack of self-acceptance and avoidance of my fears. By the summer before junior year, I could hardly go into a restaurant and order food much less give a presentation in school. After about 6 months of exposure therapy, I overcame a lot of my social anxiety and was able to calm my self down before a presentation or before going to a social event. A year later, I developed a panic disorder that left me afraid to go to school each day. Dealing with panic when I was trying to apply for colleges, make good grades, and have a memorable senior year was incredibly tough. I came to the realization that the pressure I felt in school to measure up to my classmates success and to make good grades in a highly competitive school system was one of the main reasons my panic and anxiety was so bad… not to mention I was avoiding everything I was afraid of. I wanted something more, something fulfilling. I was fed up with just going through the motions. I wanted to find a way to follow my passions, see the world, and expand my horizons before going off to college. For me, traveling felt like the perfect way to do this. That’s when I stumbled upon gap year programs – Carpe Diem Education in particular. At the time, I didn’t actually think taking a year off of school to travel was plausible. It seemed so far out of my reach… I was so worried about what family would think and was concerned about being a year “behind” my friends. The idea sounded so thrilling, scary, and exciting all at the same time. It took me months to fully commit to taking a year off. I finally realized that the only way I was going to get over my panic and anxiety was by going out and facing my fears, challenging my comfort zones, and living in accordance with my values. I knew that India would be the most challenging semester, so I chose it. Before I knew it, I sent off my application and shortly after, received my acceptance packet. I discovered the power that connecting with your values and dreams no matter how anxious they make you feel, has to heal panic and anxiety. For me, traveling to a far off land terrified me but I knew it had the potential to change my life. Once I made the commitment to proceed with a gap year, my anxiety and panic tremendously decreased. Coupled with my new discovery of mindfulness meditation and the many healing benefits of yoga, my struggles with anxiety increasingly faded. Through the simple act of sitting, connecting with my breath, and coming face to face with all my fears, I started to heal. Everything happened so fast… graduation came (aka one of the best days of my life. It marked the end of 4 years of being trapped in high school and the start of something new, something unknown, something so exciting that I could hardly wrap my head around), summer rolled around, orientation in Portland began, and at last I was on Indian soil. Arrival in India was exhilarating to say the least. I was with a group of strangers (soon to become lifelong friends!!! love y’all) in an intense country full of stark juxtapositions. It was all so new to me. I was finally out of my little bubble in Chapel Hill and in what seemed like a whole new world! I distinctly remember the first time I truly felt in my element in India. I was on my first overnight train ride, snuggled up in my tiny bunk, listening to Bon Iver, as the train rocked me to sleep. It was so peaceful! Before going to India, the idea of going on a train scared me. I’ve always been claustrophobic and sensitive to loud/tight places. The thought of possibly having a panic attack on a train and not being able to escape freaked me out! When the time came for my first train ride, I was admittedly really nervous. I let go and completely surrendered to my fears. I let the train rock me to sleep and realized that all was well. Turns out, travel by train was one of my favorite parts about India. Some of my most memorable experiences were on the dirty, crowded, and loud trains! As the trip went on, I was continually forced to face all my biggest fears. I really opened up and became vulnerable to my group, led a couple discussions on feminism, shaved off all my hair?!, taught a rooftop yoga sesh, and so much more. I made going out of my comfort zone my main goal for the trip. In addition to conquering my biggest fears and overcoming some of my struggles with anxiety, I cultivated more self-acceptance, discovered the awesomeness of Buddhism (impermanence, emptiness, reincarnation… cool stuff!), became more in touch with spirituality, learned how I can be a better citizen of the world (thanks Dharmalaya Institue!!), became more connected with the present moment by reducing the amount of time I spent on technology and social media, discovered that I truly am passionate about yoga and meditation (I’m getting my yoga teaching certification in PERU!), and more. All my experiences have changed me in some way, shape, or form. I have a new outlook on the world around me, which I am forever grateful for. I now know what it feels like to enjoy life, let go of suffering, find joy in the present moment, and spread peace, love, and compassion. Of course I still have so much growing to do… we all do! Life is about growing, letting go, helping others, and finding your purpose. I’m so thankful for all the people that made this journey so powerful… My horizons have truly expanded.
I encourage you all to go out and make your dreams come true!
Much love,
Nina
P.S: I leave for Peru on Feb 9th. So exciting! Admittedly, I’m a little nervous by the prospect of traveling with out my India fam… but this is just the next step! Adventure awaits!

Thanks Diem!

Hello again!

On the 16th I eagerly departed McLeod with the Octa-Ji team for our trek in the Himalayan foothills! I left my sweet Tibetan host family to meet up with the group outside of Pizza Hut (yes, India has Pizza Hut too) in the main square of McLeod. Saying goodbye to my host family was bitter-sweet… I only stayed with them for a week so we didn’t really make a very big connection. It was really great to live with a Tibetan family. It allowed me to learn a lot more about Tibetan culture and customs! In Tibetan society, women and men are very much equal. In my family, the Pala (father) cooked all of the food and worked as a taxi cab driver while the Amala (mother) sold hand made goods on the street. It was cool to see this couple work together as a team to provide for the family!

We loaded up the mules with our heavy packs and hiked to our first campsite. A luxury campsite. Our tents were already set up and food was quickly served to us. I was not expecting to have a glamorous camping experience! We spent the night around the campfire roasting marshmallows for our makeshift s’mores and looked for shooting stars in the breathtaking starry night sky.

Day two of the trek was definitely more challenging than day one. The hike to camp was all uphill… I injured my hip a couple weeks prior to the trek which caused me a lot of pain when walking uphill. I was also really struggling with the high altitude. My ability to stay present was definitely tested this day. I continuously had to bring myself back to the present moment after getting lost in thought about the future. Arrival to the campsite felt very rewarding after a long day of intense hiking! We all cuddled around the campfire, too cold to make s’mores. That night, I slept outside with a couple of my group mates to watch the meteor shower!

The next morning, I woke up to the breathtaking sunrise over the lake. We departed early for the trek back to our first glamp site. This hike was all down hill which was a nice change of pace. That night we listened to music by the campfire and exchanged back massages. I headed off to bed early, exhausted from the first two days of hiking and lack of sleep.

After a full ten hours of sleep, we departed the campsite and hiked up to our last destination, a temple tucked away in the mountains! This hike was short but challenging. At one point I got so lost in thought that I lost footing on the train and found myself dangling off the edge of the mountain. Benj and Joe quickly came to my rescue! I was a little shocked afterwards but quickly got back onto the trail and successfully made it to the temple. To be honest, I’m surprised that I didn’t fall earlier on in the trek. If you really knew me, you would know how klutzy I can be… walking in a straight line is a challenge for me. hah.

The last day of the trek was very easy…. It took us about two hours to walk down to the main road. We all woke up thinking that it was Thanksgiving. Throughout the trek, we planned out an extravagant dinner for “Thanksgiving” before realizing that Thanksgiving is next week. We decided to go through with our dinner plans and collected all the ingredients for our new holiday, Thanks Diem! Each one of us made a kick ass dish. I made a salad, Benji made sweet potato momo’s, Katrina made carrots with honey and ginger, Joe made green beans, Lucas made mashed potatoes, Sophia made apple crumble, Kelsi made key lime pie, and Jamie made an eggplant dish. SO delish. We had a wonderful time cooking in the kitchen while singing along to music blaring from Lucas’s speakers! I love little moments like this where I get to bond with my new family. I’m so thankful for each member of the group… We all get along so well! I can’t believe that I only have three more weeks left in India. Leaving my group (and India) is going to be really hard. I could continue traveling for many more months… I definitely have a travel bug. I’ve learned so much from traveling and want to keep on learning even more. Luckily, I get to go to PERU after coming home for the holidays! I will most likely be working for an organization called The Healing House!

We’re off to Bir tomorrow afternoon! We get to stay in a Buddhist institute to learn more about Buddhist philosophy and meditation.

Namaste!

Nina

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