I bless the rains down in Africa - said Toto and now, Jacki Carr

I have no idea how to even start writing this post. How to share with you the experience of being away with Imagine1Day in Ethiopia, Africa for over two weeks engaging with communities, loving the locals, visiting the children in classrooms we helped raise funds for, developing leaders with Susanne Conrad and the igolu content and crying, a lot of crying. And no, I was not crying because it was sad, because it was third world or because I had travel diarrhea (seriously). I cried for the experience that was so beautiful, the magic of human connection that happens anywhere and the ability to be in and of service.

As I know the learnings and experience will continue to unfold and these blogs will burst out of me at any moment and this will not be the only one I share about this trip, I have put together top of mind topics, heart moments and notes that come to mind when I think back and smile about Africa.  Here I go:

1) Hugging is Universal.  And smiling.  And high fiving.

2) I often times might forget the beauty in true human connection when I sit so much behind this computer screen connected to wifi and what I think are humans on the 'other side' of it all.  However, in Ethiopia, especially the rural areas, there are no computers, cell phones or wifi. You make eye contact and you hold hands and you dance with your elbows and shoulders (mostly).  It is truly magic.

2a) Hold hands more.

3) Language barriers means you have to listen closer.  Listen closer to the body, the facial expressions, the tangled English or follow the pointing direction. In the most radical way, there is always communication. Always.

3a) People notice when you listen closer.  And then they tell you thank you from the bottom of their heart with their hand placed on their chests and they tell you, I love you. Again, truly magic.

4) To be seen as who you truly are is a gift. I truly felt connected and aligned to myself fully there. And when you do that, people take note. Like my friend Amaha, who said I reminded him of Queen Latifah and that I should be a famous actress.  My other friend Teddy, who said there was a reminder of Mariah Carey he recognized in me.  Honesty, I am just going to call a spade a spade, I was winning in Ethiopia. The queen? Mariah (circa the Christmas album I am hoping)? Go to Africa immediately, everyone. And to be real, there was more. My (new which felt old) friends said they loved me like a sister, they asked me to come back, to send wedding pictures and visit again with my (future) husband. Be seen.

5) Let's talk blessings.  Every community we visited, the Elders would conduct a prayer or blessing upon our group.  They would wish well for us, share gratitude, make us coffee and serve this insane homemade bread with local honey.  One elder prayed that we live longer than him, he is 98!  I realize the culture of gratitude and I want to make a note to send blessings to my loved ones, friends and strangers much, much more. (I just did it, did you feel it?)

6) There really are rains in Africa, just like the song.  Every day around 1:30pm, the rain would fall.  Not just any regular rain, I am talking full on thunder crackle and lightning.

7) I wondered if all my friends I made in Ethiopia had an iPhone or a camera, would they take pictures of me? At times, I felt a sense of overwhelm with taking pictures. I wondered if this was allowed or even rude? I mean, how weird to take pictures of people you don't know their name yet, no? I believe I had a weird juxtaposition of being in the moment and capturing the moment. My dear friend Lyndsey Fryer reminded me to not take my camera every day, I loved this advice. I say, there is so much more to remember in a handshake over a snap of an image.  And yes of course, I still took photos, too.

8) I think there were moments, I mean, I know there were moments where I was trying to rush my thought process.  What am I getting out of this? Is my life changing at this very moment? What is the lesson here? Why don't you feel more sad when you pass that home and it has a dirt floor? Did you remember to throw the toilet paper in the trash bin, not the toilet? Did you capture that image of that one fox? What about the warthog?  Do you feel different?  I mean, can you imagine living in that headspace?  My friend, Mary Anna reminded me to be in the moment and perhaps that is the lesson.  My friend Chantey told me that sometimes, the body arrives home before the soul.  Allow space. And I will continue to do that, as I sit calmly and breathe deeper at home in my Denver home, I know now the unfolding will actually be a forever process.

9) Oddly, in the South region of Ethiopia, my mental alarm clock woke up every morning at 5am and told me to do  yoga. I would unroll my  mat in the dark, slip my headphones in my ears to awaken my muscles with Alexi Murdoch and movement. I have never done that in my entire life. It served me well.  Listen to the body, get up when she says get up. Move when she says move.

10) Clothes don't matter. I was just reading an article in Fast Company today about how we are all branded, the shoes we have on and the brands we wear do matter.  But on my trip to Ethiopia, they didn't. Period.

11) Get the prescription for travel diarrhea. Really, do.

11a) And on that note, careful with all the all-natural remedies your friends packed. I took some dandelion root pill that got me in trouble. And then some friend gave me some bovine bone liquid thing and another offered me some charcoal, everyone wants to help. And, you can say no way, Jose.

12) In all honesty, I was scared boarding the plane from DC to Addis Ababa. Media creates a message, and I believed it. I had thoughts in my mind, government articles I had read on repeat, different family voices and facebook messages of people praying for me that made me nervous. I am not naive and I was very safe and taken care of with the Imagine1Day organization. And truthfully, I never once felt unsafe. Not once.

14) I saw the Lucy exhibit in Addis Ababa and one of our trip group leaders shared her beautiful thoughts on being in the birthplace of humanity and how we are all truly African. I thought on this for hours and my mind was blown.  Wow, we are all truly African. Think about it, and then go feel the connection as a human being. It is real.

15) Education is a global matter, not country by country. Be a cause in the matter.

16) We would be driving along the rural roads for hours visiting different schools in different villages. Along the roads there were shepherds with their donkeys or cattle, children walking around or women walking together from here to there. Their faces full of inquiry as the Land Rovers passed by. Some times, the resting faces looked mad (to me). I immediately went to this space of self-conscious and writing stories that I shouldn't be here, oh they hate me...and then, I would wave to say hi from my window. The roadside strangers' faces would light up, smile and wave back almost instantaneously. A simple hello can shift an entire face, an entire connection, an entire story you might already be writing.  Say hi. And consider what your resting face might look like, too.

17) My sweet Dad. Any time we had wifi in our lodge or hotel, I would text the Daddy-o a picture or SKYPE to say hi. He was so beyond grateful for the call and I could actually feel him breathe easier knowing I was okay. While I tried to stay committed to being unplugged, calling Dad was top priority every time there was a connection. I love that I could feel his soul breathe for me in Africa. I tear up thinking about family love, it is so powerful. Thanks for loving me so much and letting me fly, Dad.

18) I could have never done this alone. I thought often of all the people who donated yoga classes, time, energy and money to support my fundraising efforts. It took a village to meet that goal and to be honest, I feel it was a miracle and a true testament of coming together to make something truly big happen.  And we met that goal, we raised the funds to build a school in the Dello Mena district!  Construction to be complete by September 2015.  WOW. So much of my life I have tried to prove and force that I could do it "all by myself".  I realize now, I never have done it truly alone, ever. Thank God.

19) When you say yes, go all in. I am talking 100%.

20) Of all the things I could have purchased, I bought African dresses to wear when I am pregnant with our first child. Isn't that so fun? I love that my heart was so ready to rock my future vision.

21) While I know this list is in no particular order and I hope you got this far because this is important. The song that played on repeat in my head the entire trip was Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" song. I hummed the chorus over and over again. If you don't know, I am actually getting married in 24 days. Leaving for Africa and returning home exactly one month to our wedding day was a pretty gnarly (and big) decision. My man, Mister Chris Hynes was all in when I shared that I wanted to do this trip, this year, right now. He was supportive, loving and just as curious as I was at how this trip would not only transform me but could also transform us. He is my higher love. My true understanding of partnership that makes you a better individual, my lesson in patience every single day and my ability to wake up in choice and choose him and him choose me, every single day. Give me a higher love...I got one.

22) Transformational leadership is possible, even with a translator on a microphone during a gnarly rain storm. Seeing my teacher, Susanne Conrad in action leading the igolu intensive to/for the Ethiopian leaders about to be igolu certified was exactly as it states, intense. Intense in the way that you can feel a paradigm shift actually happening and you are a part of it, you are in it. You shift, too. I was honored to be in the work with her, honored to facilitate small group breakout sessions with other igolu leaders, and honored to be in creation of a new possibility for Ethiopia and the World.

23) Go to Africa!