Take a moment to watch this, listen to this, feel this… the happiness of being in love is one of the most unique and magnificent feelings in the world. I had my heart broken earlier this year and although it hurt so much at the time, it was worth every ounce of the pain. Love as if you have never been hurt. Throw all caution to the wind and give yourself completely to someone. Its worth the risk. ♥ Good night!
Having left Malawi a few days ago, I am now in small town North Carolina ahead of a big water-related conference taking place next week. Its quite a change from the life I’ve been living overseas the last few months, and as usual, makes it easier to notice things that might otherwise seem quite ordinary.
Yesterday morning, I had just finished running an errand and was looking for the bus stop to get a ride home. I saw a lady sitting in a parked car and asked her if she knew what direction I should be going in. Lucky me. She knew the area like the back of her hand and told me exactly what I needed to do. Her voice had a strong Southern twang to it and she was eager to help. I thanked her, barely noticing the brightly coloured vest she had on.
As I stand at the bus stop, a woman and child approach and sit down on the curbside. The boy is not a day over two years old; the mother in her mid-30s at most. They are of Asian ethnicity (from Thailand or Vietnam perhaps). The boy is shy and looks at me with big eyes. He looks away and burrows into his mother’s lap; she rocks him in her arms. I chat them up and discover they are in fact from Cambodia. The woman speaks in broken English with a bright smile and a soft voice. It makes me happy, somehow. I’m not sure why.
Waiting for the bus, small-town life passes by. There is something very pleasing and comforting about the slow pace of life. The interactions of the townspeople betray a familiarity and a security not often seen in the big city. A Ford Mustang roars by and honks his horn at a boy on a bicycle. An elderly couple, the man pushing a walker, shuffle by without saying anything – that comfortable, understanding silence that comes with time, communication that needs no words. The mother and son duo beside me, enjoying the sun and blue sky on their faces. Two strangers, one of whom asks the other for the time – to which the response is: “I’m not sure, but I just came from the post office and the lady had come from a late lunch. Maybe it’s about, ehmmm, 2pm?”
Then, I notice the woman from the car, the one who had given me directions, walking across the street. She is carrying a stop sign in her hand. She is a crossing guard and she is about to start her shift. Oddly, there are no children around and I look around searching for a crowd of kids from around the corner.
A woman with a stroller approaches the intersection. Suddenly, the crossing guard blows her whistle and strides confidently out in to the street. She raises her sign and signals for drivers to stop. The woman and her baby are waved across. They smile and thank her.
I get up and walk over her. “Hello”, I say, and introduce myself. Her name is Willa Mae. I tell her that I have been admiring her doing her job and am wondering where all the kids are. She points to a building and says that they are about to finish class. Is she a volunteer, I ask? She proudly declares that no, she works for a nearby elementary school and has been doing so for about two months. “I took over this job from another fella who recently passed on”, she says in a matter of fact way. “Bless his soul!”
As we stand there chatting, a man begins to cross the intersection. Willa Mae excuses herself and hurries out to stand between him and the traffic. He says hello to her. A woman from the opposite side crosses him, and they nod. All seem to know each other. I realise that although Willa Mae’s role is to ensure the safety of children, she is really an asset to the community. Traffic gets busier during these peak hours and she helps any man, woman or child cross the road safely. People meet and greet each other, perhaps partly because of her. She is a bridge, so to speak, between people and points. I feel somewhat self-conscious standing there, an outsider. Moments like these feel somewhat voyeuristic. An intimate glimpse into the personalities of strangers.
I spot the bus approaching, call out a quick goodbye to Willa Mae, and sprint back to the bus stop. The door opens and the driver grins at me, saying hello. Buses are free of charge in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. They have been for years. Feeling “bridged”, I return the smile and the greeting and sit down.
You can travel the world as much as you want but you can never run away from the person you are in your soul. So be yourself wherever you go and embrace all that it brings you.
“For evil to flourish, all that is needed is for good people to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke, 18th century Irish philosopher
This article was originally published in Rotary Canada, the quarterly supplement to Rotary International’s monthly Rotarian magazine. Click to visit the original article. Republished here with permission.
Deep into water
by Paul Engleman
Rotary Canada — October 2012
As a child growing up in Montreal, Ryan Rowe resented his parents’ requirement that he learn a second language. “I hated having to learn French,” says the 2010-12 Rotary Peace Fellow, who earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May, along with a certificate in peace and conflict resolution. “I never expected that I would come to love learning new languages.”
Rowe, 34, now speaks Spanish and Portuguese in addition to English and French, and he’s recently taken up Mandarin Chinese. Learning new languages is something Rowe does as a hobby. His official line of work – the stuff he’s really serious about – is water and sanitation. That was his specialty at UNC, where he studied at the internationally acclaimed Water Institute. Today he is a part-time communications officer at the institute and quenches his thirst for volunteer opportunities on water projects in Africa, with Rotary and other organizations.
“A lot of people think the water crisis is just too daunting,” he says. “I believe if we work together and remain committed to investing our energy, our skills, and our money, we can have a positive impact.”
To hear Rowe tell it, that blend of optimism and determination has been part of his outlook at least since college. While an undergraduate at Concordia University in Montreal, Rowe took a semester off and travelled by bus through Mexico and Central America, immersing himself in the language and cultures to prepare for an exchange program in Colombia, where he took most of his courses in Spanish.
That bus trip, he says, is what opened his eyes to the impoverished conditions that many people face. “But instead of seeing poverty,” he says, “I saw opportunity. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial quality, and I saw how the issues of poverty related to lack of infrastructure.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in commerce and finance, Rowe pursued an international master’s in strategic management at York University in Toronto. He studied in Brazil, taking a third of his courses in Portuguese and conducting an independent-study project on private-sector investment in water infrastructure in Latin America.
Rowe recalls that during his childhood, he heard tales of world travel and service projects from an aunt and uncle who are Rotarians in Ottawa. “But I wasn’t clued in to Rotary’s impact on the world,” he says. That changed in 2009, when he was living in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and working in infrastructure development for the Australian investment bank Macquarie Group. While doing volunteer work, Rowe learned about the Rotary Peace Centers program and saw an opportunity to help address water issues with some of the world’s best experts.
“The public health program at UNC is fantastic. This is an amazing partnership for Rotary,” he says. “Applying to the Rotary Peace Centers program was the best decision I ever made.”
In June, just four weeks after completing his fellowship, Rowe packed up his laptop, strapped on a backpack, and set off on his latest adventure: a six-month working tour of Africa that began with stops in Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique, where he spoke at a conference sponsored by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. He plans to visit Nairobi, Kenya, where he serves on the board of trustees of the Tabasamu Education Fund, a nonprofit that provides funding to help children stay in school.
While Rowe continues his work for the Water Institute, his goal is to create a social investment fund to provide sustainable financing for infrastructure and development projects that improve the health and welfare of people in vulnerable areas.
He also expects that his career path will lead to collaborations with other peace fellows. “We’re all in the same army,” he says. “I’m following my passion, and I think that may be the most important thing a human being can do to be successful. I thank Rotary for enabling me to do that.”