Reflecting Back

Bird of Paradise

2011: Maggie

I had high hopes the first day I met Maggie. I heard she was my age, she had a car, and she lived in a beautiful apartment close to Colegio Bolivar, where I would start working in a few months. We arranged to meet to see about housing together. The meeting confirmed that she was my age and that she lived in a beautiful apartment with a spare room for me.  But I found out that she had recently sold her car. That was my first disappointment of the meeting. No car meant no free rides from my possible roomie. The second was that Maggie told me she was looking for a roommate, not a friend. I was looking for both.

So we opted not to live together, but we still worked across the grassy knoll from each other at Bolivar for two years, both of us teaching tenth grade courses. For those two years, I learned a lot from Maggie.


Maggie doing her thing.

Maggie was one of my “go-to” people for information about cycling in Cali. She helped set me up with my first bike in Colombia and showed me the best bicycle routes to school. Even though I rode bikes when I was younger, I grew up on the flat Eastern Shore of Maryland, where the only place to go sledding was on the sides of the overpass over Route 50. Growing up at sea level, I never actually knew how helpful gears could be, and I struggled my first couple of rides in the headlands of Cali. With her Colorado expertise, Maggie explained gears to me, making my rides (a little) less painful. Also, drivers in Colombia are unpredictable, and I was nervous about riding in Cali traffic.


A demonstration of my confidence after Maggie’s tutorials.

But Maggie’s bicycle was her main mode of transportation. Despite the crazy traffic, she rode it two and from school almost daily, as well as around town, slapping the hoods of any cars that got too close to her. Getting advice from Maggie and watching her cruise around the traffic circle on Cañas Gordas gave me the confidence and inspiration to bike the 5k uphill to school about once a week, and ride my bike around Pance and Jamundi on the weekends.

Learning how to maneuver in tight squeezes and how to use gears opened up the world of mountain biking for me. I now try to mountain bike on any vacation that offers it (not so many mountains here in the Mekong Delta, though there is plenty of traffic to dodge in Saigon), and someday I hope to take a biking tour vacation. I love the challenge, the sweat, and being surrounded by the natural world that mountain biking provides. I also love any activity that requires pants that make my butt look bigger. (True fact – Schroeder, Torres, and Sam can tell you more about that 🙂 )

The "fruit" of our first shopping trip on T-1 day to the cleanse.

The “fruit” of our first shopping trip on T-1 day to the cleanse.

Maggie also made me pay more attention to what I consume. With her guidance, I participated in my very first cleanse in 2012. For three weeks I ate only fresh foods, nothing from cans, nothing processed foods, no alcohol, no caffeine – and I felt great. I learned how to cook, and I think most importantly I learned to think about food as nourishment, not something to do. To remind myself of food’s purpose, I repeated the cleanse in February of 2013. It is on my calendar for 2014 as well.


Maggie and her students. The sign reads: I will refuse disposable plastic.

Maggie didn’t just make me a more conscientious eater, she made me a more conscientious consumer, consumer as in shopper. She launched a plastic awareness campaign at Bolivar that was so successful students and Maggie have presented it at conferences around the Americas. That campaign has drastically changed the look of my shower – rather than filling it with bottles of shampoo and conditioner and body wash and facewash, I use bar products from Lush that do not come enveloped in plastic. I also use plastic-free Toothy Tabs and lotion bars from Lush. Luckily (thanks to all the great support I received when I was younger) I can now afford those products, because let’s be honest, Lush isn’t cheap compared to what I could be spending. But seeing those images of the Great Pacific Garbage patch, well that’s enough to make me spend another dollar, especially for a chemical free product that also smells good.

My plastic bottle free toiletry kit: toothpaste, deodorant, moisturizer, exfoliater, shampoo, soap.

My plastic bottle free toiletry kit: toothpaste, deodorant, moisturizer, exfoliater, shampoo, soap.

When Maggie wasn’t biking, advocating for Mother Earth, or inspiring students in her Global Studies class, she was offering free yoga classes to the staff at Colegio Bolivar. These classes got me back into my yoga practice after an eight year hiatus. They reminded me to be nonjudgmental, of myself and others; they reminded me to play, to be persistent, to take a moment to simultaneously disconnect and connect. They reminded me of the power of our bodies and our minds, especially when they work together. Since Maggie’s free classes at Bolivar, I have not only continued, but deepened my love of yoga and my yoga practice, trying different yoga studios whenever I travel, and practicing here in Saigon with Daphne Chua. This year I even tried acroyoga, flying yoga, partner yoga, and kundalini yoga.


Maggie’s redonkulous Bird of Paradise

Maggie taught me to be a more reflective, conscientious person. She taught me to honor my body, honor myself, and honor mother earth. Through her hobbies, she (re)introduced me to two that I hope will be lifelong pursuits of mine – cycling and yoga. Through her projects, she showed me the power and importance of activism.  I respect, admire, and am inspired by her.

Though Maggie wasn’t looking for a friend when she met me, sometimes we find something when we aren’t even looking for it. Thanks for being a friend Maggie, and thanks for awakening new ideas, interests, and possibilities in me. I had high hopes before I met you, and you exceeded them. Abrazos, Paz y Namaste.




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