August 5th, 2009

Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

August 5, 2009. Los Angeles, California

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Sky and I are at the airport in L.A., waiting for our flight back to Palm coast and the crew…we are shell-shocked after a whirwind visit home. We got in at midnight 4 days ago, and from early the following morning till now was a non-stop chedule of meetings, interviews, fundraising, meeting with members of our Advisory Board, and trying to squeeze in some time for our folks. Tonight, we came to the airport straight from the premiere of a play in Hollywood that was being generously put on to raise funds for our voyage, and we were interviewed by FOX News-exciting! It was amazing to be home in L.A. and feel the support of our home turf under us.

Sky and Ben and their folks Paula and George Interviewed by FOX
Sky and Ben and their folks Paula and George Interviewed by FOX

I think for both myself and Sky, the highlight of our trip home was our visit to the Wishtoyo Foundation’s Chumash Villiage, a working Native American villiage on a four-acre historical site at Nicholas Canyon Country Beach in Malibu. Founder Mati Waiya is a Chumash ceremonial leader who has re-built a village of aps (Chumash word for the dome-shaped dwellings in the village) and a Sacred Fire. He is also a powerful, powerful speaker.

Sky and I went with our mom and dad, and we had no idea what to expect. One of our supporters had told Mati about us, and Mati had invited us to come to the Wishtoyo to visit the village and to have a blessing said upon our voyage. The Chumash were a maritime people who thrived on the sea, plying the waters between the California Mainland and the Channel Islands in their long canoes (or tomols); in fact I once came across and arrowhead on Santa Cruz Island that was made of a type of stone not found on the island, or anywhere on the nearest part of the mainland either. Since we were born, Sky and I grew walking in the Santa Monica Mountains and plying the waters off Southern California. Everyday, we lived and breather the sage and dry grasses of the Santa Monica Mountains and smelled the salt of the deep swells rolling in across the great waters of the Pacific. Whenever we sat on the mountaintops of by the streams of our young mountain range (still growing!), or kayaked along with the gray whales making their annual migrations along the coast, we never felt that the experiences we were having we new–rather we felt like we were playing a role in a long continuum of people stretching back over 8,000 years of continuous human occupation of our land. I missed the smell of the chapparral every day of my seven years in Ireland, and I miss it every day I have been away from it in Florida. Sky and I are deepy tied to our homeland and sea.

In particular, the Chumas hold sacred the dolphin, A’LUL’QUOY. The Chumas believe that their ancestors came to the mainland over a rainbow bridge from Santa Cruz Island, but that they were told by the Grandmother Goddess Hutash not to look down as they crossed. Halfway accross the bridge, some of the Chumash looked down and became frightened and dizzy and fell toward the sea. Hutash, not wanting her people to be harmed, transformed them into dolphins as they hit the water.

Looking to the sea from my folk's house next to Topanga State Park
Looking to the sea from my folk's house next to Topanga State Park

The village is built on a small rise a few hundred yards from the sea. Mati greeted us with his nephew Emilio, and led us all down a path leading to an ap to tell us about the Chumas people and to conduct a cleansing ceremony before the blessing at the Sacred Fire. As Mati burned sage bundles and chanted Chumash blessings, he spoke to us of the Three Basic Laws the Chumash believe governs life: Limitatioin, Moderation and compensation.

Limitation: to realize that we are born and will die and that we cannot do everything. Thus everything we do takes on more meaning and significance because we only have this brief time to do it, and once we accept our limitations we can better accept who we are.

Moderation: My dad always said growing up “The secret to a healthy and happy life is everything in moderation–INCLUDING moderation!”. Take just what we need from the land and those around us, leave some for another day and for others.

Compensation: If you do something for another person, or the land, or your family, don’t do it because you expect something in return. Compensation will come of its own accord when you most need it and when you least expect it. As an example, Mati told us about the first ap they completed building at Wishtoyo. It was completed and he stayed the night in the ap, awakening (not lighting…to the Chumash, you awaken a fire) a fire in the center. After years of hard work fighting to reclaim and protect the ancient village site Wishtoyo is built on, Mati had many times imagined what the first completed dwelling would look like. Some of the compensation for his efforts and faith were realized that night, as a shaft of moonlight through the chimney hole at the top caught the rising smoke from the fire had been awakened and the Chumash once again dwelt on the shores of the Pacific, their culture reborn from pictures and stories into life once again. Mati got to see his people’s culture reborn..that is compensation!

Immersed in my  home waters last year
Immersed in my home waters last year

I feel the same feeling–compensation coming unexpectedly and when I need it most–from all the friends and support we have recieved in Florida; all the people coming by offering help and advice, and I have felt it every time I get the opportunity to have someone trust me with their heath and fight to do everything I can for them. I called my own bluff by starting the Floating Doctors; when I was a high school teacher, I told all my students–because although I had not yet put this to the test, I still believed it–that they should ALWAYS follow their passion. I told them that many people put away their dreams out of fear and seek money and security, but when their youth is gone and they realize the Limitations of a mortal life, they realized they missed their one chance to pursue their dreams. And many people would give everything they had to have the chance to go back and do things differently. I told them “if you truly, truly love what you do, you won’t care how much money you make”. By starting the all-Volunteer Floating Doctors, I put that to the test…and I would not change places with anyone on earth. Like Wishotoyo taking shape under Mati’s guidance and new life breathed into an anchient village, I have watched my crew breathe new life into Southern Wind and seen my dream of Floating Doctors become real. The manatees swimming past the Southern Wind as we work, the close bonds forming between the amazing people I have around me out here, the hands reaching out through us to help others, and soon the knowledge that where we have been, we have left less suffering and pain than when we arrived…these are my compensations, and more than I could ever dream would happen when I first started this path.

After the cleansing ceremony, Mati lead us all to the Sacred Fire. As the full moon rose in the East and the sun dropped below the Western horizon, we acknowledged the four cardinal directions and Mati blessed our voyage. He spoke of stewardship and ownership to the land to ourselves and to others. Of recognizing our place here and now to take responsibility to do our best in the time we have to leave this world a better place than we found it. We learned a song to Hutash, the First Grandmother, the Moon. Mati said that because hutash is a nurturing, compassionate force, when Sky and I are far from home we can sing our song to the First Grandmother and remember our own mother waiting for us in the mountains of Southern California. the blessing and offerings lasted over an hour and the experience was overwhelming. the place had power….I wanted to take off my shoes and press my bare feet against the ground.

Mati gave us bundles of safe he had picked and wrapped only that morning, and when we get back to Florida and set sail across half the world, we will carry them with us. When we feel the pull of our homeland we will breathe the chaparral scent of the sage and remember the thousands of years of those who came before us on the land we were raised on, and who ventured out to new lands and peoples across the blue-green waters of the Pacific.

Sky's portrait of a still life--me passed out asleep at LAX
Sky's portrait of a still life--me passed out asleep at LAX

I can’t wait to see the crew and see all that has been done on the boat these last 4 days…but right now I most want to have our flight over with so I can collapse into bed! Plane nearly ready to board…..