Say Hello Gracie

(This is the third post in a series. The first We Are Not Alone and second Reid Honeywell 2018 Film Reel can be found here in preceding posts.)

And then there’s Sarah Grace, my middle kid who seems to have wings attached to her heels.

Folks who “think” they know our family often have a notion Gracie’s travel itch is scratched with private funding. This is entirely false. She has always made it happen on her own. Always.

Her first trip abroad to make fiddle music in Sweden and Scotland was financed by earnings from the local yogurt shop and high school graduation gift money she’d squirreled away for nearly two years. She combined her pennies with the generosity of foreign friends who took her in, fed her, included her in carpools squeezed between fiddle and guitar cases and let her crash on their couches. During that inaugural seven week exploration of the bigger world, her curiosity and contagious positivity opened doors for her in ways that can only be described as magical. She played folk tunes in Swedish fields, used music as a means to converse when language was a barrier, slept on boats in Scottish harbors and made friends with people from all over the world whose parting words were always “come stay with us.” (Chris, Holly, Adam, Alasdair, Galen……)

She returned home from that journey, finally declared herself an international studies major at the University of Oregon and literally doubled down on part time jobs (while also being a full time student) so that she could manage the anticipated costs of a future study abroad in Argentina.

And sure enough, the very next summer I found myself putting my bright eyed girl on yet another plane that was going a very long ways away.

Argentina was significantly different than the previous year’s musical escapade; this was school – and true language emersion – and living with a host family. It was challenging in all the right ways, and Gracie rose to the occasion. Her thinking about other-than-American cultures expanded, her awareness of privilege – or absence of it – deepened, and her sensibility regrading human rights and critical gender issues took on more global dimension. On a personal level, Grace’s way of moving through the world changed in subtle but significant ways. She went from acting a bit reckless to mindful bravery. Her communication style became more reflective; she transitioned from being a “look at me!” kid to being a “have you considered this?” adult. And while she was no less headstrong, she was now fired by a desire to open hearts instead of conquer opinions.

After nearly four months away, she came back wrap up her senior year, sling pizzas, graduate the UO, and come up with a plan for what to do what with her shiny new diploma. It was scary and sobering, and she confessed feeling none too keen on the immediate options of what she referred to as “adulting”: graduate school and debt, move home (ew) and do who knows what?, move to a city and grab a job and climb on the wheel of being a so-called-grownup. The choices didn’t feel right to her.

I was honestly more worried about Gracie then, when she was sitting in Eugene, Oregon trying to decipher the next move in her life, than any of the times she was thousands of miles away. So, when she called one day and excitedly said “I have a chance to teach English in Thailand” – I could only smile.

I asked, why Thailand? (I mean she speaks Spanish, right? ) She said she wanted to do something different. Of course you so, I replied.

I asked, will you be able to pay your bills? She said she’d have to get herself to Thailand, but once she got there she’d get a place to stay and a small stipend for food and expenses.

I asked, are you sure? She said, at least I’ll be doing something meaningful for the next year while I try to get my shit figured out.

Who could argue that? Certainly not her mother, a teacher and lifelong shit-figure-outer. And that was that. Gracie was on her way, again.

Fast forward to now. Grace has been living and teaching in Thailand for seven months. She lives in the rural town of Dan Chang (central Thailand) and teaches high school kids in a public school. Her cost of living (meals) is very little, so guess how she spends the rest of her stipend? Yes. Saving it up to travel at every opportunity.

Side note: The Thai are not wealthy people and their currency (baht) doesn’t carry much clout. There’s something ironically wonderful that nearly every Thai penny Grace is earning is going directly back into the country / region she is living in. (No. Online shopping isn’t a thing there!)

At this point in this lengthy reflection on my traveling kid, I’ve gotta turn it over to her. For those of you who are friends of hers on Facebook, her periodic posts about teaching in Dan Chang and traveling in SE Asia are worth the reading time. I think her Instagram page is accessible to the public, if not – simply request to follow @sayhellogracie to see beautiful photos (Gramps would be so proud that she is now using an actual film 35 mm camera) and accompanying reflections are funny, thoughtful and humble.

If you don’t care to go the FB or Instagram route, I’m attaching two of her shares that have particularly touched me. The first was a brief reflection following several days in Myanmar (a place few of us ever even consider) where her experience was eye opening and provoking. The second, a recent account of trekking in Saba, Vietnam.

I hope you find something good for your heart in her stories.

Grace Honeywell ~ March 18, 2018

“Recap post: Nine days in Myanmar later and I’m still trying to fully synthesize my experience. Myanmar is a place that is simply b u z z i n g with unique and enthralling culture, it possesses totally unreal landscapes (this photo being just one case in point), incredible food and fascinating people… at the same time however it’s also a place that feels heavy with complicated history, is clearly struggling with development, emanates a sense of political tension that’s palpable to even a visitor and is shrouded in the dark reality that exists between the Myanmar government and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority group. [Confused? Go here – https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/09/rohingya-refugee-crisis-myanmar-burma-spd/%5D. All in all I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to visit such a raw, vibrant and complicated place. I am also grateful to have had the chance to dig a little deeper into critically questioning my own role as a visitor in countries like Myanmar. Travel is about so much more than just pretty sites or foreign food. [Among many things] travel gives us a chance to expand our perspectives and ask tough questions about places that may be entirely new and challenging to us. Travel builds tolerance and empathy, it encourages curiosity, let’s us be story tellers and in turn listeners and forces us to keep learning about this complex world of ours.”

Grace Honeywell ~ Lao Cai, Vietnam, April 18, 2018

“SAPA. What a humbling and magical experience.

(And apologies, this one’s a long one folks)

In the last two days I had the chance to trek through the mountains of Northern Vietnam with a group of incredible local tribeswomen who regularly guide visitors through this breath taking area. The experience struck a chord in my travels in a few different ways that I felt compelled to share publicly for anyone interested…

Firstly, just as a little backdrop, I’m currently in the second half of a two month “summer” break I’ve had from school (teacher life am I right?) and I resume teaching again in the beginning of May. In the past four weeks I’ve gotten to travel, see members of my phenomenal family and friends and generally soak up pieces of this world that I never could have even dreamed of. I feel deep gratitude for all of this in a way that words can’t even begin to explain. However throughout my traveling, I’ve also been wrestling with something of an internal battle when I find myself reflecting on the “purpose” of travel. Because to me, the act of traveling can sometimes feel rather… self centered. Not to mention an undeniably, incredibly privileged activity. Traveling can often feel like a lot of: “I want to see and experience all these places so I’m going to organize my priorities so I can do it and here I am doing it… and…” I, I, I… And when I think about how I personally want to create positive impacts in the world around me it can feel troubling to be pursing something that sometimes feels so supremely self centered. It’s an internal battle I struggle with and yes, I know there’s way more factors involved than I’m briefly touching upon here. Factors that I’m still trying to sort out myself. However these are real thoughts I face and grapple with on a day to day basis as I’ve been on the road consistently for the last couple months. In the midst of this internal dialogue however, there are also these potent moments of traveling where I’m grounded in the unique opportunities that travel can create. For me, being in Sapa carried one of these moments. My friend Paige and I trekked deep into the mountains, following a nimble footed, beyond kind, patience and knowledgable local tribeswoman (and mother of four might I add) through bamboo forests, up mountains and in between rice terraces, learning about her local people, culture and tradition. We ate at her mother’s home, met both both her sisters and brother, slept under the roof of her friend’s home, shared food, sweat, laughter together. And in this experience I was reminded so strongly of how traveling and exploring and learning gives you an opportunity to be an access point. If you let it, travel can turn you into an access point between one people and place and your own people and place. Choosing to use my love for travel and my privilege to step into a culture that is so far from my own presents me with tools to be a communicator and connecter across boundaries that aren’t often breached and in a world where we desperately need more connection, communication and empathy. Travel CAN be self motivated but it also doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to stop with oneself. To explore and learn and ask questions on a world scale can equip you with tools that can be used ANYWHERE if you’re open to letting it. I’m so grateful for these opportunities of reflection. For these moments where I feel torn over what I’m doing and for experiences that trigger me to check my privilege and motivate me to channel these incredible opportunities in my life to BE more, and to be an open point of access from all sides. I am (and most of the people probably reading this) are lucky enough that we can, conceivably, buy a ticket, get on a plane (or train or bus) and go to a new place. However it’s what you DO with that beautiful shot at a broader horizons that can make travel so much more than simply “seeing the world”… Anyway, I could ramble on. But I just felt inspired to share a few thoughts from the brain of an infant world traveler who’s far from having anything figured out. Thank you Sapa for filling my heart with deep green muddy goodness, and a chance for some much needed reflection.”

PS (From Martha) Social media users have replaced emoticons with actual correspondence. If you would like to do more than give Gracie a thumbs up or a heart symbol and send her a longer email or actual letter, message me for addresses.

About Martha Phelps Studio ~ creative on purpose

...a meandering journal of a changing life and the unexpected graces it brings. Earlier posts may provide some history, but this series of writings aren't likely to follow a straight line as I explore topics such as raising kids, making choices, self discovery, the impact of change on a family and how to (hopefully) live with balance and purpose. www.marthaphelps.com
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