I am often asked how I choose the places where I lead cultural immersion journeys. The truth of the matter is that I bring guests to places where I know amazing people. They are special friends who I connect with and admire and who I know can connect with my guests and share a completely authentic and unique experience with them. My friends open up a door into their world and invite us in to experience their daily lives, beliefs, customs, and their pleasures and challenges too. I’d like to share stories of some of my experiences that have made me love these people and relatively unknown corners of the world. First and always most important, it’s the people. Join me!
Jonas, my non-verbal son who has special needs, was so happy to finally be here in Merlo, Argentina and felt instantly happy to be with friends who are like family. My dear friend Belen goes to a women’s creativity circle every Friday afternoon. They kindly invited us to join them and warmly welcomed us into their countryside home. After a little tour around the house that as much resembled an art project as a home, we explored the beautiful gardens. Before heading in, Marcela cut off a big branch of a lemon verbena bush. Once back inside, she placed a large metal pot of water on the stove and after it came to a boil, she pushed the entire piece of verbena into the water, as a lemony steam wafted up, filling the room with a delightful scent. Belen’s friends sat around a large dining room table, each working on different art projects, some painting, others sculpting clay they had gathered in the river, and others on wool work. They generously shared their skills by showing us how to spin wool into yarn with a spindle, not a foot operated one, but the old fashioned way, with a stick!
Jonas was happily eating WAY more than his fair share of home baked treats while I was chatting and not paying attention (oops!). Caedin and Quincy played with the kids outside and explored the surrounding wilderness. I went outside to check on Quincy, and when I came back, the ladies had seated Jonas at the table and set him up with a pile of clay, his beloved iPad set aside, and he was working with and squeezing clay to his heart’s content. He was thoroughly enjoying this super sensory, messy experience and was focused on his work until he noticed that his hands were dirty. Jonas does not like things messed up or out of place, and he started to get agitated and stressed by the dry clay on his hands. A ray of sun cut in from the window, right above his shoulder and as he cried and frantically rubbed his hands back and forth together, the dried clay came off in clouds that swirled in the sunlight. The clay was loaded with bits of mica (fool’s gold) that sparkled in the sunlight. He was instantly transfixed and his stressed mood changed completely. He was entranced and rubbed his hands together again and again, and swatted at the sparkling cloud in glee. The women around joined in, blowing the cloud, and helping it swirl. Everyone watched the shimmering magical experience! My instinct was to apologize and stop Jonas, as the yummy, homemade treats sat right to the side of this mica-filled, dirt cloud. The women didn’t mind at all, and instead they joined in and appreciated how important this was to him. A wave of relief and appreciation washed over me.
While we played with wool and clay, my oldest son, Caedin and Marcela’s daughter played violin together. The younger kids danced, the adults laughed and sang and chatted. Then, all of the children sat with Jonas on the floor in the living room, passed out instruments and they made music together. They tried talking with Jonas using his language, sign language, while he taught them signs. Throughout the afternoon, they frequently turned their attention to him and tried to make him smile. I have seen this happen with Jonas’s cousins often. I have seen it happen with adults at home frequently. But, this may just have been the first time I saw him so acknowledged and included by a group of same age peers. My momma heart was so happy!