You know, I really don't like everything about travel.

There are some things I just can't stand.

Oh sure, these things can be great experiences. They can be a novelty that's fascinating, or fun to do... the first time.

But day after day, they start to get really old. And then annoying. And then sometimes downright unbearable.

I don't like bugs (I've become the 'fly nazi', patrolling my house in Pana with a swatter in hand). I don't like driving along roads with potholes, or riding in a tuc tuc as it bumps along cobblestone roads, and bounces you up and down so hard you can't even breath because your lungs are beating against your chest.

I don't like dodging fly-encased dog crap, or passing stagnant, sewage-smelling water overflowing with garbage each time I walk into town.

I dislike the overpowering noise that makes it impossible to hold a conversation, as you dart around people and between tuc tucs, while passing buses blow exhaust in your face.

I tire of the constant sob stories from passing beggars who believe that it's your obligation to give them money just because you're from another country.  I'm sick of the peddlers who practically beg you to buy from them, and get angry if you don't.

I really don't like riding in chicken buses, compressed next to complete strangers while you swerve back and forth along a serpentine highway.

And I really, really can't stand being sick. Being uncomfortable is bad enough, but it's ten times worse when you don't feel well.

But guess what? Who cares?

We visited our neighbors last week. You know, the ones I mentioned earlier, that live in a lean-to shack just next to us.

Maybe I should have told them about my 'troubles' - all my dislikes and discomforts. Do you think they would join my pity party?

Yeah. I doubt it.

They live on a dirt floor. They share the same nasty bed. They use an outhouse to go to the bathroom. They bathe themselves in a pila that's outside, next to the 'road' where people walk. Their yard and house is swarming with flies.

Six of them share two beds like this

The toilet with accompanying toilet paper

And I complain about being 'uncomfortable'? Shame on me. How DARE I.

I'm a despicable human being.

I'm pretty sure that when I finally meet God, he's not going to ask me, "How was your stay on Earth? Were you comfortable? Did you find everything to your liking?"

And if I answer, "Why yes God, it was perfectly lovely. Thanks for the pleasure cruise." He'll probably press the buzzer that says, 'Eghhhh, wrong answer."

I am sure He'll want to know what I chose to do with my unpleasant encounters. Will I hide away and pretend it never happened. "Poverty? Disease? Filth? Hunger? Where? I don't see any."

Or will I 'cowboy up' (as my husband likes to say), and accept the challenge of becoming a big enough person to actually overcome my own dislikes and discomforts, and do something that matters.

I hope I'm able to answer to the affirmative to the latter

New tools bought by our friends to do some work that matters

Digging out the 'gray water' sludge that smelled worse than sewage. The pila behind my husband is where they wash dishes, do laundry and bathe.

And creating this filtering, cleansing gray water circle to catch all the gray water waste

They prepped this space so we could help them plant a garden

We're teaching them the 'Square Foot Gardening' method, which provides for abundant harvests in small spaces

Choosing the food they want to eat

Giving instructions

Planting the seeds of knowledge. Affecting generations.

Becoming self-sufficient

This little boy LOVES carrots. He planted lots and lots of carrots.

THIS is why I travel. THIS is why I came.

I'm not here because I want to be 'comfortable'. I didn't come expecting to find a 'Little America'.

I travel because it FORCES me to grow. And provides opportunities for me to help.

It puts me into situations where I have no choice but to be uncomfortable and see the ugly and disgusting and disagreeable and unbearable.

Being in those situations I'm compelled to make a choice - I have to either grow up or go home. I have to either face the music or turn down the volume.

This is how the world is. It's ugly, and filthy, and filled with bugs. That's the reality of it. Hiding myself away only keeps me small, and it doesn't change what the world is really like.

Sure, I could go back to my bug-less, 'problem-free' comforts of the States, but all that proves is that I can't hack it. I'm not up to the challenge.

And if I can't hack it, it's only because I'm focusing on the wrong things. I'm focusing on the filth (and how much I hate it), I'm focusing on the poverty (and how uncomfortable it makes me feel); I'm focusing on the dog crap (and how I hate the stench).

If I choose to focus on improving myself, then suddenly those things seem to fade away, and the things that MATTER come into focus.

Because ultimately, it's not the filth or the crowds or the poverty that is the problem with my discomfort and distress. Millions of people deal with it - comfortably - everyday.

I'm the one that has the problem. I'm the one that 'can't' deal with it. I'm the one who gets bothered, or anxious or disgusted.

I have to be willing to 'march into Hell for a heavenly cause... and the world, will be better for this' - that at least one woman is willing to face 'uncomfortable' and ugly and not only deal with it, but do something about it.

Going home is not an option. Atrophy isn't a viable alternative. Growth is the only acceptable course of action.

Thanks to our amazing friends who are joining us in this quest

 This post is part of a series on Humanitarian Work:

Your thoughts?



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28 Responses

  1. Justin

    Excellent thoughts! Don’t worry, we’re all despicable. At least your not alone! 🙂

    So many questions and thoughts here. I saw something a few days ago that said something like: Those who are at the bottom have no chance of success. Stop saying everyone can be whatever they want. Not everyone can. Some are without hope.

    I get what the person is trying to say here. I don’t disagree. Some people can’t do it alone. The starting point is not the same for all of us. And this is why you do what you do. We have to believe everyone can “do it” or we will stop trying. We will look the other way. Inspire those who can to help those who can’t.

    Great job guys! Keep up the hard work!

    • Rachel

      Thanks Justin,

      Some great insights there. We all do what we can do. I guess that’s why I feel that those who have the greater opportunities (me) have a greater responsibility to do something with them.

  2. kerri

    Yeah, that one made me tear up. Keep up the wonderful journey, Dennings!

  3. A King's LIfe

    Wow Rachel, beautifully written about the realities of what you are experiencing right next door.
    What a great opportunity to make a difference, a real difference to a family.

  4. Heather Alicia

    Great blog! Great questions. It’s time we all asked ourselves some serious questions. The challenge is in what to do while remaining respectful of others and their way of living. I hope you and your family are enjoying Guatemala. Loved stumbling across your site today. I travelled with my daughter and it was an amazing experience for both of us. All the best!

    • Rachel

      Thanks Glenn. That’s totally become our focus – sustainability, and ‘feeding for a lifetime’ instead of just one day 🙂

  5. Living Outside of the Box

    As always…another perfect post to put another side of travel into perspective. I don’t have to love everything I see…but I can make a difference and grow from it!

  6. Rob

    Excellent post. Love how it’s “in your face” without smacking me too too hard. Hard enough, thank you very much. Love what you did to help those neighbors. It’s putting the “love your neighbors as yourself” commandment to work – practically. Well done, you’ve changed their lives for the better.

    I always have to laugh, though, that such poor people always seem to have a dog around. Never have figured that one out.

    Always look forward to your posts. You hit people in the heart with great writing.

    • Rachel

      Thank you Rob!

      I also laugh at the dogs they own for ‘protection’. I am starting to realize that one major benefit of owning a dog (no matter how poor) is that it keeps the other dogs off your property!!! (We need one just for that purpose!)

  7. Jen Kelly

    Thanks again for organizing this project, you guys! My kids will never forget this experience. I’ve always wanted my kids to feel like they are truly serving and helping people who really need it. This is what develops them into the kind of people we all want to become.

  8. JCov

    This was so profound! When I first started reading, I was like OMG she’s giving away all the secrets! All the things we travelers feel from time to time that we know we “shouldn’t”. I love your call to action to just “snap out of it”. Sure you can go back home but that would…how did you say it? Something to the tune of, that would be “personal development atrophy”! I love how this story ended up. I am ALL about sustainable solutions and you all really showed the power of community. Lives changes all around! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. Christina @ Interest-Led Learning

    These are the type of experiences I want my kids to have. This is why I love to travel, and hope to do tons more with my kids. We live so extravagently compared to so many people in the world. I want my family to really and truly know how blessed we are.

    • Rachel

      That’s one of our major motivations for traveling with our kids. They don’t totally get it yet ;} but that’s the end goal…

  10. Trisha Larken

    I hate you! You always you always me cry! “Teach men how to fish and they will never go hungry again!” instead of giving them fish.

  11. Grace Sevilly

    Now I actually feel guilty for the little things that I complain about, such as losing weight and maintaining my diet… when on the other side of the world there are people who don’t even have enough to eat… shame on me too


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