Michelle Scott

Hands & Hearts: Women in Nicaragua

I'm actually in Greece with 10 women this week on a TravelCircle trip.  But before I left, I scheduled this post from the group of women that just returned a few weeks ago from Nicaragua.  Pulled together by Michelle Scott, one of our TravelCircles ambassadors for GirlFriendCircles trips around the world (she's also leading the one to Chile & Argentina this November!) she asked her fellow travelers to also contribute to the story. This group of 4 women was significantly smaller than most of our trips (which typically average between 8-12 women), but they proved that all it takes to have a good time are amazing women, an amazing country, and an amazing itinerary!  :)  Welcome home, GirlFriends!

Hands and Heart – Manos y Corazón

Four ladies chose to travel through Nicaragua on a GirlfriendCircles’ eco-adventure. None could have predicted how they would bond, how much they'd enjoy traveling together, or how inspired they would by the beauty of the country and people.

Chance, Wren, Erin, and Michelle travel Nicaragua together, coming home as friends.
Chance, Wren, Erin, and Michelle travel Nicaragua together, coming home as friends.

Chance: I met Wren through Girlfriend Circles a couple of years ago, and she encouraged me to travel with her to Nicaragua. Though I have traveled extensively, no trip has changed and inspired me like this trip. As we flew into Nicaragua, the clouds parted to reveal a vast lake (Managua Lake) and its many volcanoes; it was breathtaking and a perfect welcome to this enchanting country.

2014-Nicaragua-403
2014-Nicaragua-403

Soon, we were lunching with a famous Nicaraguan feminist leader and learning about the women’s rights’ movement and its interplay with the revolution - over fresh tortillas and gallopinto (red beans and rice).

Some of my favorite experiences were visiting an active volcano, a powerful waterfall, and touring two farms. We cooked nacatamales and tortillas over a wood stove in Doña Elsa’s open kitchen, toured the coffee, bean and rice farm, and received a hands-on botanical medicine tour.

The people of Nicaragua were the highlight. Our local guide, Nohelia, told us that Nicaragua is built (and rebuilt) with “manos y corazón” – hands and heart – and I witnessed this.

The four women who bonded through travel-- hearts and hands!
The four women who bonded through travel-- hearts and hands!

People work toward betterment for their communities and country, with pride, humility, and a focus of purpose that is tender and passionate. Nohelia is one of the best examples of this. As a young woman driven to improve her community, she saw the illiteracy in her neighborhood, designed and launched a radio show to teach literacy – a program that continues to graduate a class every three months and has made her a sort of local celebrity.

So, how was I changed through this trip? I took an open heart to Nicaragua, and throughout our journey, it was filled with love, inspiration and care. I hope I left love and respect there, and a deep caring for the people and places I saw, along with some deep friendships – with both my fellow travelers and citizens of this amazing country.

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2014-Nicaragua-459

Wren: I wear a black rubber bracelet, which states “No a la trata de personas” – No to trading people. I received the bracelet from Casa Alianza, an organization that provides food, shelter and essential services to homeless, trafficked and exploited youth. As a former teacher, children hold a special place in my heart. I wear this bracelet to remind me of where I’ve been and the people I’ve met. Nicaragua’s people and landscape hold such beauty, simplicity and friendliness that one cannot help but fall in love and promise to return.

Michelle: There are few places and people that sneak into your heart and forever change you. I went to Nicaragua to be re-charged and inspired and received that and so much more. Chance, Wren, Nohelia and Erin will be my lifetime friends. We are bonded through our experiences, our love for each other and the people of Nicaragua, and a fundraising project with Grupo MOES, an organization committed to respectful empowerment of women, affected by poverty, violence and exploitation.

Erin: Prior to this trip, I was asked, "Why go to Nicaragua?" My photos partially answer this question - trotting horses through a Nicaraguan jungle, while monkeys swung overhead, standing next to a smoking volcanic crater, and hiking behind a waterfall.

2014-Nicaragua-326
2014-Nicaragua-326

A few of the amazing moments included careening through a mountain town with my new girlfriends and a Bolivian man, who owns a waterfall and cemetery (neither of which I knew were things one could own), leaning over the edge of a boat and dipping my fingers into the world’s only freshwater lake with bull sharks, and hiking steep uphill climbs to meet an 85-year old artist, known as the hermit stone carver, who guided us through the jungle to his carvings, reciting poetry and picking mangos for us along the way.

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2014-Nicaragua-481

But the true answer to “Why [I needed] Nicaragua?” has more to do the spirit of the people we encountered than the adventures and excursions. I went to Nicaragua to learn that inspiring and world-changing people see a problem and work towards a solution. They teach literacy over the radio. They build a home and school for young survivors of abuse. They begin a sewing cooperative with women constructing the building from the ground up, where each worker is a co-owner. They realize that handpicking coffee beans allows them to organically remove bugs and guarantee high quality.

I went to Nicaragua because I needed to be reminded that you don't have to live in a tropical paradise to live a beautiful, fulfilling life. All you have to do is work with your hands and heart towards resolving a problem that matters to you.

All women over the age of 21 are invited to join any of our TravelCircle groups where women travel together to connect with one another and to go experience together the life and voice of women in their destination country.  Every trip has so many special elements in it including a local female guide, visits to NGO's to learn about the issues facing women in that country, cooking/dance/art classes, and a GFC ambassador to help foster connection among your group. 

Trips by women, for women, about women.  :) 

More info: www.WomensTravelCircles.com

Why Travel with GirlFriendCircles?

Michelle Scott-- the beautiful GFC TravelCircle host and author of this guest post.
Michelle Scott-- the beautiful GFC TravelCircle host and author of this guest post.

Welcome home to the 15 women who just returned from our 2nd TravelCircle to Cuba!  And a huge thanks to Michelle Scott for not only being the GFC ambassador on this trip, but also for writing this guest blog that gives us a glimpse into the amazing experience you all had!

Also, Michelle is leading TWO of the 9 scheduled TravelCircles in 2014-- GirlFriends Eco-Adventuring in Nicaragua in August and the Women Dancing & Sipping through Argentina & Chile in November. Check them out--you'd be lucky to be in her care!  (All trips are highlighted at the end of the blog and can be found at www.WomensTravelCircles.com)

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by Michelle Scott

Planning an adventure is an interesting thing. You can spend months preparing an itinerary, but you never know when those magical moments will occur, or how, and with whom connections will develop. Such was our experience in Cuba.

Our first morning in Cuba, we sat in a circle, looking at 15 unfamiliar faces. Who were these women, who had made group travel to Cuba a priority?

One of many amazing meals we shared, talking and laughing, with the yummy Cuban drinks!
One of many amazing meals we shared, talking and laughing, with the yummy Cuban drinks!

Each of us had chosen to invest and engage in this particular adventure at this specific time. Most came to learn, some came to be inspired or to find direction, and at least one came to honor the memory of a loved one, who valued travel and culture. All were united in our value of friendship and adventure.

GirlFriendCircles (GFC) began TravelCircles this year. While each trip is unique, all focus on two main components. 1) We travel together with the intention of connecting with each other in a meaningful and honoring way. 2) We learn about the lives of women living in that particular country/region.

Our Travel Through Cuba

Because GFC teams with Altruvistas, we are able to experience Cuba or any country we travel to in a deeper, more connected and invested manner. In other words, we’re not there as passive tourists. We show up, ready to engage and build relationships with the people we meet.

A dance class where we got a chance to watch the best perform and then learn to do some of the steps ourselves!
A dance class where we got a chance to watch the best perform and then learn to do some of the steps ourselves!

On this particular trip, we learned from Cubans with firsthand knowledge of history, architecture, politics, healthcare, literacy and education, music, art, community development, and social services. At times, our role was more like new students, soaking up information. Other times, we were colleagues, processing what we were learning and integrating it with previous knowledge. Because there was mutual respect and interactive conversations, it was an engaging way of learning.

We learned about The Cuban 5 and how Cubans view the U.S. embargo/blockade. We learned about diversity and prejudice. We gained new appreciation for murals and the value of art within a community. We learned how to make our own perfume. We learned to dance, laugh and fan our way through Cutumba. While much of our itinerary was full (because learning hours are required for our visas), there were times, when we practiced slowing down enough to listen, engage and experience. And we loved those moments that unified us with little to no effort on our part other than being present in the moment and accepting its gifts.

“Why are you glad you went on this trip?”

But don't just take it from me, I asked some of the other women on the trip to answer the question: “Why are you glad you went on this trip?”

  • Kate S. from Chicago shared, “I have never been on a trip where I connected with so many different people. This trip provided the ability to have personal interactions with Cubans in a way that would not have been possible had I traveled independently. The stories we heard, the culture we experienced, and conversations we had will stay with me forever. The group of girls from GirlFriendCircles were the best people to share this experience with; I truly believe some of the friendships we made will last a lifetime.”
  • Our group!  We love each other.  What fun!
  • Amy from North Carolina responded, “I'm glad I saw Cuba just before what I anticipate to be a period of great change. It's amazing to be surrounded by such history and so little of our ubiquitous consumerist culture.”
  • Jennifer from Wisconsin replied, “I loved the feeling of truly being lost in another time. Some of my favorite moments were in Old Havana, with the bustling streets, amazing cars, music playing in the air, and the colorful patchwork textures and buildings all around. It was a treat for my senses. Cuba has a kind of raw energy that you don't see much elsewhere.”
  • Kirsten from British Columbia shared, “Cuba deserves so much credit for surviving as it has for so long against such overwhelming odds. I was grateful to be exposed to a different truth than the one many of us have learned. In the end I think there is truth on all sides. I was impressed by a different value system, one that places the emphasis on taking care of each other, rather than on individual achievement.”
  • Kimberly from Florida responded, “Mostly glad to meet such an amazing group of American women, but so glad to have seen the resiliency of the Cuban women and people. The countryside and architecture were beautiful!!”

Are you considering travel with GirlFriendCircles? Now is the time to express your interest. Many trips are planned for 2014. (See the list of all 9 trips below!) These adventures are full of great activities and opportunities to meet wonderful people, who also value friendship. What could be better than experiencing a new culture while building connection and friendship?

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travelCircle
travelCircle

Ready to Travel, GirlFriend? 

Scheduled TravelCircles that Still Have Availability in 2014:

GirlFriends Eco-Adventuring in Nicaragua August 2-11, 2014

For adventurous and active women this trip is filled with hikes, learning, and beauty! (Also, optional 2-day surfing lessons)

Women and Goddesses in Greece Aug 29-Sept. 9, 2014

Ready to explore the Parthenon, Acropolis, and the Temple of Zeus? This is trip with spirituality, myths, beauty, art, and the divine feminine.

Women of Compassion on Safari in Kenya September 27-October 6

Combine the best wildlife of a Safari with amazing opportunities to learn about social causes and regional issues affecting women in Africa.

Women & Current Affairs in Afghanistan October 4-13, 2014

Ready to understand a country in a more real way than just what we see on TV?  Watch history unfold in an intimate and local way.

Women Dancing & Sipping through Argentina & Chile Nov 1-11

Get ready to dance, cook, sip wine and inhale all the beauty, culture, and history of two amazing countries: Argentina and Chile!

www.WomensTravelCircles.com

brought to you by:

GirlFriendCircles_logo
GirlFriendCircles_logo

New Friendship Making in NYC: Two Real Stories

Note from Shasta: This week's blog highlights two short pieces from actual members of GirlFriendCircles.com in New York City.  They have hosted events on our calendar and started many new friendships, including with each other. I asked them both if they would share a bit of their experience for you.... My Experience With GirlFriendCircles.com

This post is written by Laurie Wicksman, an active member of GirlFriendCircles.com.

Wow, I met Shasta Nelson (who's a knockout by the way) at a Channel 7 news interview, along with Kelly (aka. Nashville) and Michelle.  Besides her successful career as a life coach, Shasta is responsible for connecting me and thousands of others with some talented and sincere women, such as Michelle (a PHD student), Laurence (a French Professor) and Larice (Coordinator at Prominent Broadcast Cable Company).  Unlike, Kelly and Michelle, I wasn't starting over in a new city.  I longed for quality friends, not simply the people I was friends with purely because we had a shared history.  My boyfriend, Tim, and I had gotten "pre-engaged" for our four year anniversary in September.  At last, I had found love.  Now, I needed a real friend.

Michelle, Kelly and I originally met at the first event I had attended.  Although my palms were sweaty and I was nervous, it opened doors to a whole new world.  Being that my fiance, Tim (my mad scientist), is away quite often at MIT, he suggested that I throw an event of my own.  As mentioned on my GirlFriendCircles.com profile, Max Brenner's is a NYC hot spot.  He asked me, "What do women love?"  That was obvious.  "Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate."

Using her great social and organizational skills, Michelle brought a successful turnout of an event to life, at my favorite restaurant. Thanks Michelle, for making it happen!  For those of you who don't know, Max Brenner's specializes in chocolate dishes, including cocktails.  So of course, as I had said to my fiance earlier, nothing comes between a girl and her love for chocolate.  There was nothing more thrilling for me than seeing thirteen women from very diverse backgrounds come together, sharing two common interests: dessert and finding friendship. I finally felt like I was part of something fun and exciting!

At the end of the day, however, what truly matters isn't who did or did not come to the party and why.  Nor is it, marital status, religion, or income level that is relevant.  But, meaningful relationships are inspiring one another to be the very best that we can be and not letting each other down.   That's what friendship means to me.

Laurence, a lovely woman of French extraction, attended my Serendipity event as well, and loved both events!  These are two amazing women that I've met through GFC, and hope to stay in touch with for a long time.  This was just the tip of the iceberg, however.  GFC has opened the door to countless other possibilities and friends for me.

Most importantly for me, it's about sharing those life experiences, that although alienating and painful, ultimately, have changed my life.  What I've learned from GFC is that we're not alone in our unique situation.  Whether you've lost a loved one or suffer from chronic pain, like myself, there is someone out there who has gone through it too.  Somehow, you meet that person who brings you out of the isolation to simply let you know that you're not alone in your physical or mental challenges.  They can provide you the strength to go forward.  I am reminded of a quote from my friend Larice, who inspires me everyday by overcoming obstacles, achieving success and persevering in her own life.  “The deeper your scars, the more room there is to fill them up with love.  Don’t hate your scars, appreciate their depth.”

What’s next in the chapter of life?  I don’t know but, GFC has certainly helped me along.  How many of us have a true friend?  "A diamond in the rough" is priceless and difficult to come by.  You just have to keep looking and you'll get lucky.  I did.  Thanks, GFC!  I'll never forget you!

Note from Shasta: It was a privilege to meet you Laurie! I'll never forget that you brought me a bag of yummy snacks (including chocolate!) while I was traveling-- your heart is made of gold. Thanks for sharing.

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A Year After GirlFriendCircles, I Have Real Friends

This post is written by Michelle Scott, an active member of GirlFriendCircles.com.

Last year was the most challenging year of my life for a number of reasons. I moved from the Midwest to New York City to live with my husband, who had already been living and working there for two years. I moved away from a home and life we had built together. I left a fulfilling job in which I felt valued and needed. I left wonderful neighbors, long-term friends, and family. I knew life in the big city would be different. I knew selling and giving away the majority of our possessions in order to live in a small, furnished NYC apartment would be quite an experience in surrendering and adapting. I knew making new friends would be a critical part of enjoying my new life in this new city.

One surprise was my first-ever challenge in finding a job. With a graduate degree and over halfway through a PhD program, I thought landing a job would be a cinch. Enter the importance of encouraging friends. When I preferred not to express my frustrations to my husband, I could seek the advice, comfort, and encouragement of friends. They helped with networking and shared stories of how they and their friends had struggled and succeeded in the Big Apple. It was a camaraderie that I did not expect. While my friends “back home” were encouraging, there is something unique about leaning on those who live and strive in this city that never sleeps.

Almost a year after the move, I am working various jobs, nearing the finish line of my education, and am better settled in New York. I now have several circles of friends I can call on to meet for coffee, share a laugh, or ask for prayer or advice. Unless you have lived in New York City, especially Manhattan, you cannot understand the pull for and limitation of time. As a student, working multiple jobs, volunteering and attempting to maintain friendships can be challenging. How does one find enough time and energy for everything that is important?

My main goal this year is to be more generous with my time and my heart. I believe Woody Allen is credited for saying “90% of life is just showing up.” While showing up is extremely important, it is not always enough. I need to be able to give of myself to others. It is possible to show up and still be stingy with our time. It might come through with checking our watches or phones, giving the impression that something or someone else holds a priority over the current activity or person with whom we are engaged.

A secondary goal for this year is to become more organized. Glancing through the 2012 IKEA catalog, I came across a small quote: “Fika (fee-Ka) is something all Swedes love to do. Simply put it means grab a friend, some coffee or tea, and something sweet to nibble on.” This little quote jumped out at me in the midst of the kitchen section. I’ve never been to Sweden, but I think this is what we long for: joining a friend for coffee, a sweet, and a time of togetherness. No matter your challenges or what you hope to achieve this year, let’s join together in our intentionality to show up for our friends and treat them and ourselves to the joys of great friendship.

Note from Shasta:  Michelle-- thank you for being a Connector in New York City, a woman who joined and immediately started scheduling events and reaching out to other members. Thank you for helping foster friendships right where you landed.  Best to you in your goals for the upcoming year!

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If you aren't yet a member of GirlFriendCircles.com we invite you to join! And if you already are-- I hope you'll go RSVP for an event (even if you're nervous like Laurie admitted she was) or that you'll jump in and host an event like Michelle did!