As I lazily wandered beneath a canopy of pine and cork trees, my attention was drawn to a set of animal prints on a nearby trail. I followed them down the narrow path which led to an old forgotten road. The paw prints were abruptly interrupted by a puddle of water that remained from a recent rainfall. I sidestepped to avoid it and its muddy rim and was reminded of my mission and the millions of women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.
I knelt beside it for several moments and watched an insect dance across the puddles surface and skirt the water’s edge.
The sad reality is that millions upon millions of women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa will walk several miles to a waterhole similar to the one I stumbled upon to fetch water.
And for all their effort, they are not rewarded with clean water, instead, the filthy contaminated water they gather for their family to drink, cook and perform household duties can transmit diseases such as: diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, polio, and dysentery.
In Africa, more than 315,000 children die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water.
In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized water and sanitation as a human right. And yet, 780 million people STILL lack access to safe drinking water.
Glass of dysentery, anyone?
I was exploring the blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco, when by fortuitous circumstance or fate, I met Dionne Haroutunian and Mike Cooks.
Dionne is a gifted artist and avid motorcyclist, from Seattle, Washington, and she aspires to foster world peace one friendship at a time by traveling the world by motorcycle to meet people, experience their culture, share hers and form lasting friendships, thereby forming a “human blanket.” Dionne strongly believes that personal relationships are the key to a better world. She is accompanied by Mike, a fellow motorcyclist, adventurer, and photographer, who is documenting Dionne’s mission
We spent many hours discussing our respective missions, sharing our motivations and our struggles, laughter and tears, and an adventure which led us to a remote Berber village. (More on that coming soon.)
To underestimate Dionne with her pink hair and wondrous spirit would be foolish. Her unwavering commitment to making the world a better place is to be commended and she will do it one friendship at a time.
Learn more about Dionne and her mission by visiting her website: 4artandadventure.com
We call it by many names: The loo, the porcelain throne, the john, the crapper, the turd tube. The toilet doesn’t get the respect it deserves. We take it for granted, yet according to Water.org, “No other invention has saved more lives than a toilet.”
The United Nations observes November 19th, as World Toilet Day, to highlight the 2.5 billion people in the world that don’t have access to a toilet.
Poo is a crappy subject, and while everyone does it, no one wants to talk about it. “This lack of access is a ‘silent crisis’ that has claimed more casualties through illness than any conflict.”(United Nations 2015)
Sanitation is a human right.
Yet, 893 million people practice open defecation, which is emptying the bowels outside in fields, forests, bushes, and bodies of water rather than into a toilet.
The practice poses serious risk to human health and the environment.
It contaminates water sources and spreads diseases including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and diarrhea.
Every 20 seconds a child dies from diseases caused by fecal contamination.
And not having a toilet at home is dangerous for women since each time a woman uses the outdoors to relieve herself, she is vulnerable to physical or sexual assault.
Providing everyone with access to a toilet saves lives, dignity and protects the environment.
I will end with this slogan from the World Toilet Organization:
I give a shit, do you?
When I was in elementary school a guest speaker spoke of the devastating famine that affected Ethiopia from 1983-1985. It was the first famine to strike the country in a century, and it claimed one million lives. She displayed distressing photographs of Ethiopian children with spindly limbs, large heads, and bloated bellies. I was disturbed by the images, and I couldn’t believe there were children halfway around world with lives so different than my own. I’d previously never given much thought to the world beyond my own backyard.
It was a defining moment that enlightened me to the struggles many people endure on our planet.
A visit to Nicaragua rekindled those emotions when I watched women collect water from a nearby river. Collectively, women and girls spend 200 million hours a day fetching water, or 22,800 years. It would be as if a woman in the stone age started with an empty bucket and did not arrive home with water until 2016. Water is a basic human right, and women and girls should not be squandering their precious time collecting it. Women need their time to do other things, and girls should be carrying school books instead of jerrycans.
Thank you Charleville Park Hotel, County Cork, Ireland for extending a free night accommodation. Your kindness and generosity is greatly appreciated and it was the perfect place to rest my blistered feet, soak my sore muscles, and enjoy a warm night indoors. Your generosity restored my spirit, and the room restored my body.
In Cashel, I was inspired to write. I’ve been writing a memoir for over a year and it’s been a very slow process, but surrounded by a castle, a ruined abbey, and green rolling hills, the words flowed easily from my pen and I spent several days hunkered down in my tent writing until hunger, thirst, mother nature and ultimately, the call of the open road beckoned.
In Ballylooby, I enjoyed a night at the Kilcoran Lodge Hotel. There I met Christine, an Irish American woman from New York. She was in Ireland visiting family and tending to the family home. She was incredibly engaging, and having spent the past several days in relative solitude, I relished the good conversation that continued long past midnight. In the morning, I packed up and walked towards Mitchelstown. Bernie, a woman I had met at the hotel, contacted the local radio station, Tipp FM, and as I entered the village of Mitchelstown, I was approached by Tipp FM producer, Ben Sweeney. He walked about a mile with me, while pulling my cart. We were soon met by two garda, John and Morris. After a few photos, he concluded his interview and we parted ways.
The next two days, Storm Callum brought lots of rain as I made my way toward Cork, but on Saturday, I woke to a beautiful, sunshiny day. I was grateful for the good weather, but the road to Blarney was a continuous climb. One hill followed by another, and there appeared to be no end in sight. During the last couple miles, my legs had become like JELL-O. I struggled as I pulled Magellan up the hill. I was halfway up when a woman stopped her car to ask me what I was doing. My legs quivered as I stood on the steep incline, clenching onto the handles of my cart, worried my legs were going to collapse from fatigue. Then, her husband Michael, gets out the car, and pulls Magellan the last half mile to the top of road. I was absolutely giddy. :)
After setting up my tent I was visited by a warm affectionate cat. It was a chilly night, so the two of us shared a sleeping bag until morning.
I will stay in Blarney for a few days to explore the area, and with a little bit of luck, and a kiss of the Blarney stone, I will be endowed with the gift of gab.
I arrived in Cashel, the City of Kings. The road to Cashel was a time of reflection.
The miles have become easier each day, and my mind is no longer focused on the physical demands of my journey, instead my thoughts have turned within.
In many ways, I am not the same person that began this trek. The road has molded and shaped me to survive, and at times, I feel a stranger to myself.
And while this trek has come at great personal sacrifice, I feel in my heart of hearts, I’m exactly where I belong.
I love Irish hospitality. I find the Irish to be welcoming and supportive of my cause. Many people will stop their cars to chat with me or honk their horn in support. When I arrived in Athy, I met two women, a mother and a daughter that lived in town. They saw me walking down to the river for a photo and stopped me. After a bit of conversation, I was invited to their home for dinner that evening. Over a nice meal of trout, beets, vegetables and potatoes, and the best homemade apple tart that I have EVER tasted, I learned Kate co-produced a documentary named Naledi, and it had been nominated for Outstanding Nature Documentary at The News and Documentary Emmy Awards. The film is on Netflix, so if you get a chance, check it out. The next day on my way to The Swan, I found the hills to be a challenge, especially an area known as Wolfhill. I was ready to ditch my heavy trolley, Magellan, as I made my way up the appropriately named hill. But I was soon rewarded for my efforts, when a woman named Carmel, and her mother, Anne, invited me into their home for tea and a sandwich. Carmel’s mother had seen me on the road earlier that day and it was a welcomed break. I didn’t stay long, as it was getting late and I needed to find a place to pitch my tent for the night. Someone had suggested I inquire at the pub in town about a room. When I walked in, George, the owner, was sitting at the bar reading a newspaper. I asked him if he had lodging, but he was hesitant, as he no longer operates as an Inn. But then, he led me back to a room. Later, when I tried to pay him, he refused. I departed in the morning, and I made my way to Durrow via Abbeyleix. It was a beautiful day on Thursday and the scenery was breathtaking. When I arrived at my accommodation in Durrow, I was welcomed with salt, soda and a basin to soak my tired feet. A nice way to end the day. :)
I set off from Kilcullen, Ireland, Tuesday morning with some students from Cross and Passion College, which also welcomed me to Kilcullen last May. My Newbridge friends Michael O., Noel H., Susan R., and John M. have worked tirelessly to bring attention to my mission. They have been a godsend, and I will miss them as I make my way to Cork. TD Martin Heydon stated my meeting with Minister Simon Coveney will happen sooner rather than later. I’m happy to be back on the road. :)