In just over a month, I took the BSW questions south to seven countries in Latin America. The whirlwind experience was full of so much warmth and hospitality, I felt like I could have settled down and stayed in each destination for over a month! The beauty of BSW is that the questions allow for me to meet people and interact on this uniquely intimate level so quickly.
What does a good life mean to you?
This question elicits a person’s most precious life elements whether it mean strong relationships with family and friends, a career that gives their life value and meaning, or the simple appreciation for having their basic needs met. This question wonderfully sets the tone for a warm BSW conversation about a person’s values.
In your opinion, what is the biggest threat to humanity today?
This question is where I most often hear, “wow, that’s a big question.” It’s not an everyday conversation. Sure, we here the news everyday and are impacted by global issues, but it is not everyday we sit and think about what the most pressing of those issues really is. When we talk about threats, we think about what exists in the world that can take away a good life as we know it. This taps into our fears for our own existence, the existence of our family and friends, and any other human element. This question provides a depth to the conversations that form the most personal elements of the BSW interactions for me.
What do you think the world will be like 50 years from now?
This question combines the first two in asking people to think if their own good life is going to be better, worse, or same in 50 years time, given the threats that humanity faces. It is here in the BSW experience where my own future outlook ebbs and flows as I learn what others around the world think our collective future entails. I hear the word “hope” a lot, with people differentiating what they “think” and what they “hope” the world will be like. For some, there’s a real feeling that we’re nearing end times, that we’ve exhausted our resources and lack the combined empathy and urgency to really alter the future path. For others, there is extreme optimism from the energy of the next generation across the globe that wants to be a part of making the entire world a better place.
For me, the recipient of these answers, I feel so much appreciation for each person who takes the time to give their honest thoughts and opinions. I learn something different from every single person, and I truly cherish each interaction along the way. Each place is defined by the people I connect with, which makes the whole experience overwhelmingly wonderful and gives my extroverted self the oomph to keep on going this incredible BSW Journey.
As a picture is worth a thousand words, here are the stories that help BSW Latin America take form…
In the overview of the journey below, each country is linked to the Facebook photo album.
BSW started mid-January in MEXICO with a stop first in Mexico City. While many questioned the safety of this massive city, I felt perfectly comfortable staying in an Airbnb in the beautiful Roma Norte neighborhood. Big thanks to Ramses, a friend I had met through my work with Who Cares? a film on social entrepreneurship. Ramses works with Ashoka U, the premier organization in promoting and aiding in the development of the next generation of change makers around the globe, especially through education. Ramses welcomed me personally, and introduced me to several other savvy, bright thinkers to learn from during my time in Mexico City. After a few days there, I flew to the coast city of Manzanillo where very good friends, Dave and Lani from Minnesota, have a place. The Minnesota hospitality traveled with them down to Mexico and I was delighted to spend time with them and meet their group of friends which included a large amount of Canadians who also seek warm refuge in the cold winter months. While BSW hasn’t made it to Canada yet, I definitely have some awesome new friends who opened the invite!
After Mexico, BSW took to South America starting in BRAZIL. I flew to Sao Paulo and was greeted by my old boss and good friend, film director Mara Mourão. After over a year of working together remotely over Skype and email, it was fun to see her in action and meet her colleagues and friends who have supported her efforts from another hemisphere. Also a treat, to meet her clever son Theo and spend time with her generous husband Wellington while staying at their home. From Sao Paulo I flew to Rio de Janeiro where I must say was one of the highlights of this leg of BSW. How can you not love a city that has a beautiful beach lining it for miles on end. From a friendly Airbnb welcome to my last hours in the city spent on a favela tour, I met some of the most kind hearted people during these days. A major highlight was dinner with Marcelo and his wife Daniela. I met Marcelo on an airplane flight from Chicago to New York five years ago and shared my enthusiasm for international development after working with a farming project in Kenya. This conversation changed the course of my life forever when a few years later he remembered my excitement while he watched Mara’s film and thought he would be missing something big if he didn’t connect us two. Long story short, I’ve been citing Marcelo as part of my most influential reasons I am doing what I am doing today, and he had no idea the effect he had on my life. It as a real treat to spend time with him and his family. I am very grateful for my 10-year tourist visa to this beautiful country – I will certainly be back!
From Brazil I flew to Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA . My first impression of this city came in 2007 when I spent a month studying abroad in this gorgeous place. Back then, I was swept away by the city’s intoxicating energy. Upon arrival, noticing landmarks and places I had walked before, I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered what an impact this city had on me. I was fortunate to stay with Mara’s best friend from childhood Gisela, who is a top diplomat for Brazil, currently posted in BA. The glimpse into her life was enough to have me questioning whether I should take the foreign service officer exam immediately or continue on with BSW as planned. I stayed BSW course and had drinks and coffees with several friends of friends who were all wonderful reflections of this magical place.
From Buenos Aires, I took a night bus to Mendoza, the main wine region in the country, and one of the best in the world. I enjoyed a vineyard tour literally right after I woke up and got off the night bus. The next day, I was thrilled to see the family vineyard of a friend from New York. My friend Laura’s mother Emma generously hosted me as I passed through and I enjoyed a charming visit to their Dolium Vineyard, as well as a lovely neighborhood stroll through downtown Mendoza. These are the moments that are truly surreal as I travel and am so kindly welcomed from extensions of the people I am lucky enough to know and call friends.
Another bus and I arrived in Santiago, CHILE. This stop was a highlight not only because the city is very beautiful and full of excellent dining and lineups of activities to keep busy. The highlight was really in spending my days with Roberto, a friend of Julio who I had met in Mexico City and asked the BSW questions of. It makes perfect sense that these two are friends because they both have such soft hearts and strong values, an excellent combination for a man. Roberto showed me around Santiago, and also a day trip to Valparaiso and Vino del Mar. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I’ve never seen a more colorful, artistic neighborhood in my life.
While I loved my experiences in major Latin American cities, I knew it was important to get some different places and perspectives to add to the BSW sampling. While looking on the map and asking people along the way, I decided on La Paz, BOLIVIA and was thrilled with my decision the moment I landed. Here was a capital city with so much buzz and life, but still so different from the cities I had traveled through in the previous weeks. My eyes were in heaven with all the bold colors of the hand woven tapestries lining the shops in the streets. Some of the people looked like postcard images of times past, especially the older women with their big skirts, blankets carrying babies or groceries on their backs, and some even in the popular miniature top hat. On the same street, most of the next generation looked plucked from any other place. The mix of old and new was stunning, even on a rainy day.
From La Paz, I traveled around Lake Titicaca, which is half claimed by Bolivia, half by PERU. The people who live along this increasingly popular tourist path have seen their communities change more in recent years than in many generations past. It is an odd feeling to be part of the very problem that seems to be bothering people – how to appreciate the benefits of a tourist industry while maintaining the identity and culture of a place steep in traditions. The epitome of this being Machu Picchu, which I was surprisingly able to include in my BSW journey and happy to cross it off the traveling bucket list.
The final stop of this whirlwind tour was COLOMBIA. With a best bud from DC flying to spend the weekend in Bogota, to new friends thanks to another DC friend sharing her family and friends from home while she’s living and working in the US. The hospitality in Colombia was the perfect hug goodbye from BSW Latin America. It left my thankful for all that had made up the experience, and also very excited to go back to some of these places in a different capacity one day…
And now as I publish this from Seoul, South Korea, it’s officially time for the next BSW chapter to continue!!!