Way back in the dimly-recalled shadows of the 1990′s an inescapable pop song called “Waterfalls” burrowed its way into my brain. Don’t go chasing waterfalls - implored the lyrics – please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to. My teenaged self took a serious disliking to this exhortation to play life safe: chasing waterfalls sounded like a much better plan. The song is barely remembered now, but the idea stuck so fast that I still think of following big, bold and slightly crazy dreams as “chasing waterfalls”, and lately that’s just what I’ve been doing.
If you thought perhaps I’d fallen silent because I’d had an attack of good sense and spent the winter relaxing and catching up on sleep, well you mustn’t know me very well. That may have been the sensible path, but this is *me* we’re talking about and if I’m not busy challenging myself and trying to do too many things at once I don’t feel quite properly alive. I’m curious, inquisitive and have a tendency to wander off poking at things that catch my attention.
For the last year or so South America has been a source of inspiration and fascination, particularly the mix of complex sustainability issues and welcoming culture I found in Peru. I came back from my last trip in April with a head full of ideas but no clue as to how to make them reality, so I did what I always do when I lack sufficient data and threw myself into learning how exactly one goes about trying to support sustainability management in a developing country on the other side of the world.
Weekends were spent reading research papers and NGO reports to understand the issues and governance frameworks. Free evenings were swiftly occupied by Google searches for programs and companies doing the sorts of work I was interested in. I enrolled in Spanish classes. I talked to my boss about opportunities for sabbatical leave and worked out how to go about packing up my life to follow a dream. I was all in.
I leapt, and as so often happens when you’re on the right path and making the right choices for all the right reasons, I found my wings on the way down. I have a job, for a year, in Peru, doing sustainability-shaped things!
I’m going to be light on the details to make sure I stay on the safe side of the code of conduct I’ve signed with its strict conditions for social media mentions, but what I can tell you is this:
- It’s a volunteering but with living expensed covered type of gig;
- I’ll be embedded with a Peruvian host organisation, the only foreigner working as part of a small team;
- I’ll be based in Lima and working in a Spanish-speaking environment, which is wonderful and terrifying in almost equal parts;
- I’ll be helping to develop environmental management processes and protocols for sustainable natural resource management for protected areas; and
- I may be lucky enough to visit and work in some of the most biologically diverse places on earth!
I am wonderfully, joyfully excited about it all, and just a little nervous and apprehensive too. Most of all, however, I am busy as I sort out my life and get ready to go.
I’ve got projects to finish at work, and I’m wanting to leave on a high note (especially since they’re letting me come back again) There’s background reading to make sure I’m informed and Spanish study to do, plus epic amounts of paperwork, medical and logistical planning to work through (I’m immune to rabies as of today, which feels like quite an exotic thing to be). There’s the huge job of sifting through my possessions and sorting out what to store, share or sell and still all the inescapable day-to-day work of running my very lovely but rather busy life.
Yes, I’m still harvesting veggies from the backyard (so much broccoli) and cooking myself proper food, still shopping at the market and the local grocer, still cutting more and more plastic out of my life, but I will admit that I catch the bus a little more often than I used to, and drive the car a tiny bit more to save time where I can. I’m not getting as much good sleep and rest as my body tells me I’m needing, and I’m not getting out bush-walking anywhere near enough. Sometimes I really can’t do everything I want to do, no matter how determined or stubborn I am, but I’m still doing ok. I’m still acting in ways that agree with my values, and I’m happy that even when going through such a big upheaval almost all the good changes I’ve made are being maintained. Certainly my learning to do without “stuff” is paying off in spades as I have so much less to pack and store than I did a few years ago: moving 4 times in 5 years really clarifies what you do and don’t need!
What good is material stuff, anyway, when you’re off chasing waterfalls?
Adventure called and I answered. I’m off just next month for a year of finding out what I’m really made of, trying to make a meaningful difference to this crazy, beautiful world. A year volunteering in sustainability management in Peru: that’s the shape of things to come!