What Comes Next?

While my last post delved deep into my emotional state, it was also intended to motivate – you, readers and me. Writing, I find, helps me hold myself accountable. If I’m going to write about being a plastic-free, veggie-munching nomad, then I better actually be a plastic-free, veggie-munching nomad. In my last post, I talked about the desire, the urge, the need for me to “do something”. So, what exactly am I doing?

Well, for starters, I’ve relocated to Israel to spend time with my family, to help out with my little *4-years-old little* brother, and spend some much needed time with the folks. And aside from that, here’s how I’m keeping busy:

1- I’m applying for Master’s programs! My time in Southeast Asia only confirmed where my interests have been dragging me for a while: I want to get involved in active social change, policy making and combating climate change on the BIG scale. So I’m busy writing applications for a handful of universities in Europe to study programs surrounding climate change, environmental policy, and global environmental governance. I’m extremely excited about diving into this new level of education and a new sector of the field. Can. Not. Wait.

2- I’m reworking this blog! As an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer, who is temporarily settling into one place, it’s time for a change. There’s going to be more of a focus on plastic pollution/environment/climate change issues in real world situations and new suggestions and sub-pages on how to create a more sustainable life style of your own. But don’t worry, my quirkiness and photos and all things travel will stay… things are constantly changing and adapting, and so will I, and so will these pages. 🙂

3- I’m looking for jobs! Real, big, adult time jobs, with paychecks and lunch breaks and maybe a benefit or too. This girl’s got student loans to pay, time to put volunteering on the back-burner!

4- I’m starting a movement! Do something, do something, do something, I shall. So a couple of days ago I created Facebook and Instagram pages for a new community organization called Plastic Free Israel (click the links to check them out), where I’ll be posting about the plastic problem in Israel, ideas and ways to reduce it, creating calls for action to local community members, and organizing regular beach clean ups! Exciting stuff! If you know anyone in the area or are in Israel yourself, please check out the pages and share, share, share! The more hands, the stronger we are!

So in a nutshell, this is where I am in life; a little busy bee with exciting things ahead… and already, I have to get moving. Watch. This. Space.

Much love and thanks as always for reading,
S

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I am Stav, Hear Me Roar

Please bear with me here, I am going to be immensely open about my feelings: I have been having a hard time. Over two years ago, a series of tragic events — an unsuccessful  rescue of an endangered animal, the end of a 4 year relationship, the death of a colleague, and a mass shooting on the other side of the world — awoke something inside of me, a voice, so tired of being helpless, finally decided to speak: do something, it said, do something.

So I did. I quit my job. I got off the grid. I traveled, I ran from people I loved, I ran towards people I loved. I searched for myself. I searched for something that would give me meaning, purpose. I searched for something. Do something, the voice echoed within me, do something.

I joined the Peace Corps — a US government-based organization sending volunteers around the world to help developing communities. I went to the Philippines; I had big, romantic ideas about saving the planet. I was going to teach a community to love the oceans, I was going to get a ban issued on plastic bags and create marine sanctuaries that benefited both the people and the environment — I was going to do something. And I failed. I hit potholes and hurdles and roadblocks that seemed to have no means of bypassing. I couldn’t connect with the culture, I struggled to see eye-to-eye with people destroying something I loved so much, no matter how prepared I thought I was, with every angle and approach to the problem I slid slowly, seamlessly into a dark spiral of despair, a place where the walls were so smooth and black I couldn’t see light, and I couldn’t climb myself out. I was a solo sailor in uncharted territory and I was terrified.

It’s not to say I didn’t have moments of joy, of bliss on this journey; I encountered incredible people. People that shone like stars in the early night sky, little lights of hope in my inconceivably dark world. And there were the moments in nature that rendered me gasping for my breath like a newborn — beauty so striking, I would be joyous and melancholic and nostalgic all at once. The sunrises especially got to me (and thus, I often shared them); the pureness of their colors, their light yet to be adulterated by the events of the day. At sunrise, I was alive in a different way — refreshed, hopeful — feelings that I struggled to keep with me as the hours ticked by in my windowless office. The ocean also changed me. When I swam in the sea, when I surrounded myself with life — natural and innocent — such as the sardine run, the tens of thousands of fish that I glided through in a massive school, my mind would be clear, my heart would feel full.

But something was starting to gnaw at me: beneath the beauty of the natural would was this undercurrent of doubt and fear, a persistent whooshing in my ears, a sort of background noise of ‘what if’s and ‘oh no’s. What if we can’t reverse the damage we’ve done..? Deep inside of me during every interaction with nature, I feared it would be my last. Would these fish be there when I returned? Would I swim again so freely with my beloved sea turtles? Or the majestic giant whale sharks? Or the coral reefs composed of 1,000s of colors and creatures… would they be there next year? Or next month? Or even tomorrow? The answers felt so — and still are — uncertain.

I was doing some things, but hardly enough. I certainly wasn’t doing all the romantic things I’d set out to do… and when I couldn’t get a small, environmental office to reduce their waste output, I cracked. Hope was not lost, but became buried deep within a crevice of my heart that had frozen over to protect itself from the seemingly inevitable heartache and doom that was descending upon me and the world I loved so much. I found myself gasping for air again, and not the refreshing, sunrise kind. I was losing my purpose, my fight, myself. I felt frustrated, sad, stuck. And I was helpless, all over again.

I quit the Peace Corps. I bailed on my contract a year early. I wasn’t doing anyone any good by staying — it was and always will be the right choice. I spent a few months in Indonesia trying to re-calibrate myself; connecting to nature in the jungles of Sumatera, cleansing my spirit in the temples of Bali, and rediscovering the renewing powers of sunlight and salt water on the Gili islands. I met more stars to fill the dark skies of my mind, I conducted seminars on the state of our oceans, I cleaned what beaches I could, I swam with sea turtles. But still my travel was tainted. Underneath the glorious gifts of nature and the company of wonderful companions, was that whooshing, that undercurrent. Everywhere I went, I saw trash; scattered along the side of the streets, littered like a minefield along some of the world’s most remote and beautiful beaches, strewn about in the ocean like poisoned bait, waiting for unsuspecting marine life to bite. I couldn’t turn it off — I cannot turn it off: this third eye that seeks out what is wrong with the world. Nor could I quiet this other voice inside of me, the one that knows just how much trouble we are in: do something, it pleads, do something.

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I write this from a train on the other side of the world — Germany. I decided to postpone the rest of my Southeast Asian adventures until I was feeling more positive about the state of our planet. Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia; I wanted to enjoy the wonders and culture of these places purely, without that whooshing, without fearing for the survival of our planet and people. I needed to step away from the problem, explore it, examine it from the outside, before it consumed me fully. I needed to find solutions. I needed to reboot my system.

It has taken me so long to put these thoughts to paper because along with all the other things I lost in my fiasco in the Philippines, I lost my voice. I wanted to share my travels and traumas, be informative and inspirational, persistent but positive; desires rendered impossible when hope was hibernating so cleverly away. But I am here now, ready to find it.

For those who are wondering, I have no regrets in my decisions to both join and quit the Peace Corps. I needed to see firsthand the things I have read about in research, studied in school — the destruction of coral reefs, the devastation of overfishing, the multiple levels of pollution in our oceans. I needed to see it, experience it, to know just how big of a fight we are in for. And we need to fight. It is not just for the beauty of the big blue and the lives of the marine animals — that iconic sea turtle gliding seamlessly, soundlessly through salt water — it is for us, to breathe, to survive. We need the oceans and we need to fight for us.

Despite the darkness that has stained my often bright and beautiful blue world, I have not lost hope completely. Hope is like a little light, the pinprick of a star on the black sheet of the sky, and it is there ever so faint but alive, hiding in a crevice of my heart, reminding me that I am smart, and I am strong, and I am capable. Hope speaks to me still, reaching out to me with the tiniest of shimmers… a signal, a whisper. Do something, it says, do something.

So here I am.
This is my voice.
And do something, I will.

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BIG Drops of Happiness

Okay, it’s been a while… a long while! But I’m still here—buhay pa, as we say in the ‘Pines, still alive. The past few months have been a whirlwind of adjusting back to site after two months of consolidation, visits to Chicago and Israel for hugs with my family for the first time in 14 months, and more talks of turtles and trash and sustainable development. It’s A LOT to catch up on, and we’ll get there in time… or perhaps, we’ll just focus on the future. 🙂 But for now, I am going to share some of the best moments, the ones that have stayed with me and found themselves a little crevice in my heart in which they are home. Not little drops of happiness, BIG drops of happiness:

  1. Chasing waterfalls. There’s a 90s pop song that tells you not to, but here I’m telling you… DO IT. The fact that through randomness and chaos our earth managed to be shaped into something so beautiful, never ceases to amaze me. Last month while re-visiting the spectacular adventure island of Siquijor (where I once spent a day playing teacher), I spent an afternoon with a group of soon-to-depart volunteers exploring the natural wonders of the island. At the waterfall, we played chicken fight and swung like monkeys from a vine splashing, often ungracefully, with a laugh into the crystal blue waters. In a moment of calm, I swam beneath the waterfalls and sat on the rocks behind the veil, watching my friends play and listening to the water cascade over the cliff and into the pool in a steady tapping rhythm – tip, tap, tip, tap, tip, tap — like the earth’s heartbeat. And it crossed my mind how lucky we were to be here, sitting in this pool of water in the middle of this little, magical island in the middle of this country in the middle of the world. What a wonder it is to feel big and small all in the same moment, to feel at one with Mother Earth.

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    The view from behind the veil

  2. Little hearts, big smiles. There is something about children’s smiles that can warm your heart on any grumpy, tiring, day of frostiness (don’t they happen to us all?). I on my last stretch of travel back to site from Israel, some 30-odd hours of travel, and I was tired and cramped and hot and achy sitting on a rickety bus – too many negatives after such a wonderful visit filled with family (and food, did I mention grilled halloumi and hummus galore?). But at one stop the door opened next to me and a little boy was standing there, holding his mother’s hand. He instantly reminded me of my little brother back in Israel and my heart melted a little, missing him already, only hours after saying goodbye. The boy looked up at me and suddenly grinned the biggest smile, all teeth and rounded cheeks. I waved at him and he waved back, smiling like he was seeing someone he knew and was fond of, and I was so grateful for his brief but beautiful presence in my journey. If I’ve learned anything in the Philippines, it’s to never underestimate a smile.

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    Creamed asparagus pasta, grilled halloumi & mushroom salad, with fresh bread with olive oil devoured in Haifa, Israel (you know, just because I can)

  3. In July I helped my office organize and facilitate an enforcement and educational training for the Bantay Dagat in my town—quite literally the Guardians of the Sea, they patrol our municipal waters for illegal fishing activities. As endangered sea turtles are captured a couple times a month by local fisherman as bycatch (accidentally caught while fishing for something else), it has been an important initiative of our office to get the patrol and representatives of the island communities trained on sea turtle capture and handling. So at our July training, I taught my office, the fish wardens and members of the Fishing and Aquatic Resource Management Council everything vital on sea turtles and their proper handling – it seemed to be a success and recently it proved to be so!
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    Teaching the fisherfolk the RARE Fish Catch Game that demonstrates the effects of illegal fishing behavior on the local fisheries industry.

    Last week my office and I attended a sea turtle stranding training carried out by another sector of the government. They were pleased to hear that we were already making our own efforts to educate the community on sea turtles, but what really pleased me were the questions my office mates and Bantay Dagat Head asked the facilitators – hard, probing questions about the current protocol for sea turtle handling and if it was really the best way to do things. Questions that stemmed from our training this July and that were asked with true heart and concern… And I was so proud of them! Before I could raise my hand—or my voice—my office was fighting for the proper procedure of endangered animal care, something months ago they knew very little about and I sure felt like a proud mama hen (or turtle) that day. The day ended with a promising discussion with the officials and an opportunity to collaborate on adjusting the Philippines sea turtle protection protocol all together – knowledge power indeed!

Anyway, there were a multitude of other wonderful moments, big and small, over the past few months. Most recently, there was the International Coastal Clean Up Day which I co-hosted with my local friend, Jammy, of Plastic Free Bohol, and the next post (to be out soon this time – promise!) will be focused on that and the incredible work she is doing around the island!

Until then, happy travels, peace and love and thank you, as always, for reading (especially after so many months hiatus—no more of that, haha)!
Best,
S