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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fighting Fear with a Friend

Eight years ago I hired a shy girl as a sales associate at the store I was managing, Kendra.  I would never have guessed that we would end up being really good friends, let alone someone I consider a best friend.  I started out as her boss and quickly realized we had a lot in common.  We both had a desire to travel and I was envious that she had already been to Europe in high school.  I found her desire and drive to travel  motivating.  It was around that time I made the decision to go back to school and finish my bachelor's degree.

I was amazed by her determination to make travel a part of her life.  The first trip I remember her going on after I met her was a two week tour of Belize during her spring break.  I feel like this trip helped her start to come out of her shell.  At work I didn't have to push her as often to talk to customers.  It was also the beginning of her dropping her camera in water on her trips, something we tease her about. 

I ended up transferring to another store.  I was always good about keeping work and friendships separate but it was nice to no longer be her boss.  Plus she had been given the nick name KenKen which I had would have probably accidentally written on her review.  It was also around this time KenKen got really serious with her traveling and volunteering. 

Her next trip was a one month independent study in China.  During her time there they had the task of setting up a 'living museum'.  They went around and collected artifacts from villages for this museum.  I remember her being so excited to try all of the exotic foods.  I realized at that point I am not very adventurous and would have probably been very hungry.  Even if it tastes like chicken I don't think I could convince myself to stomach certain things. 

I want to kick myself for not having my ducks in a row and not visiting her on her final study abroad.  For her final semester of college she spent the three months in Europe.  The first month she lived and volunteered at homeless shelters in London.  During that time she not only worked in the shelters but interviewed the homeless, trying to discover and analyze the different circumstances that brought them there. 

The second month of her travels were suppose to be entirely spent in Malta but only lasted two weeks.  There was not as many opportunities as she had in London so she returned to London after spending two weeks in Malta.  For her final month she was able to travel around Europe with other students in the program.  She graduated that December with a Bachelor's in Sociology and a minor in Anthropology. 

I then saw a very determined person set her stakes on getting into the Peace Corps.  This was not an easy task and I on occasion saw her frustrated and overwhelmed.  She pushed through her fears and put herself out there.  One of the first things she did was get her certificate in phlebotomy.  Having experience in the health field would help in the application process.  She also increased her volunteering with the Minnesota Aids program and the Minnesota Literacy Council.  

Her life became a waiting game.  She would not have much time from the point of getting accepted, receiving an assignment and then leaving.  In January of 2012 we were all set for her to leave to Guatemala when her assignment got pulled.  I had to laugh because she was actually excited because she did not feel Guatemala was not remote enough.  Her wish came true when she got assigned to Uganda in May of 2012.

For the next 26 months Uganda was her home.  I missed her so much during that time but was so proud of what she was doing.  I was always excited when she was able to get to an area with cell phone service.  During her time there she organized and worked at six youth camps.  She also went around and provided education on malaria.  Her big project while being there was building a library in the village where she lived. 

Even though I know she was ready to come home she decided she couldn't be so far across the world and not take the opportunity it see a few more countries.  I remember her first Facebook post being about a twenty-four hour layover in Qatar, her traveling became a geography lesson for me.  From Qatar she set off on a world wind tour of India, Nepal and Vietnam.  Two things that she said stood out to her were vising the 'killing fields' in Vietnam and swimming with the plankton. 

The last two countries she visited were Cambodia and Thailand.  Once again her camera went for a swim while in Cambodia during a pedicure with fishes.  She was disappointed to not being able to take pictures while in Ta Prohm of the temples where Indiana Jones was filmed.  While in Thailand she had the opportunity to go bouldering, a form of rock climbing over water. 

I could be jealous of what KenKen has accomplished and gotten to see but it is hard to be jealous of someone you love and are so proud of.  She is a great example of how you can overcome your fears with determination and live out your dreams.  Kendra's example has given me the drive and determination to continue to travel.  Check out Kendra's blog and read about her experiences in Uganda first hand.