By Kristi Kates
Boyne Spas Director Sean Handler says that there were four significant events that led up to he and his wifes recent life-changing trip to Kenya, Africa.
One, my father gave me your editors book, Planet Backpacker, by Robert Downes, Handler says, the travelogue of his journey got me thinking, if he can do it, why cant I? Two, Dr. Wayne Dyers book, Excuses Begone, also became a reference point; Solace Spa (at Boyne) was sponsoring Dr. Dyers CMU Public TV special, and the timing was perfect as it allowed me to see the excuses of my past, which had been creating a roadblock from this trip becoming a reality.
Three, I placed a large map of the world on the wall with marker points, he continues, every day I would look at it and tell myself reasons why I would travel soon - and four, the inspirational moment when Camryn and I finally just decided we are doing this, no more excuses, let the planning begin!
The Handlers will share their experience with the public in their Kenyan Dreams presentation this Tuesday, June 22 at the Crooked Tree Arts Center.
Camryn Handler explains that she, too, has loved traveling since she was little, when she and her brother would accompany her parents on trips.
Sean and I have dreamt of taking months off to roam different places in the world, she says, Kenya grabbed my attention because of the exoticness of the travel and the wild animals; and I like seeing things that are completely different from what I know. Stepping out of this comfort zone, for me, really allows time to take a personal inventory of whats important in life.
The Handlers, who both work at Boyne, took a two-month sabbatical from their jobs this past February and March, and booked three weeks in Kenya and five weeks in India.
I am so grateful that Boyne also values experiences, and graciously allowed us to take the time off to explore, Camryn Handler says, this was a great opportunity.
Using frequent flyer miles, consulting Lonely Planets Thorn Tree Forum (I was surprised when I discovered how expensive a safari truly was, Sean Handler says) and placing their trip in the hands of native Kenyan Peter Mburu, the sole operator and guide of High Peaks Safari Company, the couple planned their trip via email, wiring cash to Kenya.
This was a tough decision for us to make, especially on our small budget, Camryn Handler says, trusting someone we have never met halfway around the world.
The Handlers flew from Traverse City to Chicago to London to Nairobi, and their immersion into the new culture began the second they disembarked the plane.
Traveling within the country of Kenya was a bumpy ride, Sean chuckles. But he and his wife agree that their leap of faith with Mburus company was one of the best decisions they made going forward to Africa.
While their time in India was also a unique experience, it was the first three weeks in Kenya that really impacted the Handlers, especially the visit that was set up for them by Peter Mburu to a small rural school.
Our original goal was to go to the Furaha Primary School to hand out pencils and paper to the children as an act of confidence and support for their education, Camryn explains, we had no idea what to expect. It was in the middle of a barren plateau surrounded by Mt. Kenya; 250-300 children in six classrooms with five teachers. Once we learned about this community, we wanted to bring them more joy and happiness; our goal became to raise money to support the planting of trees and the building of play equipment.
The Handlers will be hosting a community event in Petoskey, Kenyan Dreams, for this very purpose; donations for the evening will benefit the school. Another goal for the couple developed gradually over their trip, and took a more focused form when they returned to Michigan.
So many people we visited had so little, Sean Handler explains, little to no material objects, little food; yet they possessed a heart and a passion to share what little they had in a big way.
With that in mind, both Handlers have aimed at a much deeper appreciation towards living in quality every day since they have returned.
We actually removed our television from our home, purchased a community-supported agriculture share from the local farm, and have brought a more dedicated yoga practice into our lives, Sean says, Returning has been transformational and inspirational, yet challenging. It is easy to slip right back into habits one had before traveling - from junk food to working too many hours to not making time for oneself.
Our values are different here at home, Camryn agrees, keeping the balance of work, play, home, family, and friends is challenging. On sabbatical I found a calm quiet place of strength and courage that surprised me. I hope to keep bringing this forward everyday.
The trip wasnt all serious contemplation, though. While the Handlers found a depth of renewal and purpose in their travels that they perhaps didnt expect, they also simply had a lot of unforgettable experiences along the way.
There were the moments that one might expect from an African journey, based on what most of us have seen in documentaries or read in travel books, including the scary-yet-inspiring sounds heard while camping in tents surrounded by African animals; and there were some other moments that were impossible to prepare for.
When we visited the school, many people had not seen a Mzungu (white person) before, Sean explains, they kept rubbing Camryns arm to try to remove what they thought was white powder on her.
An upset elephant who had been rejected by his family group also threw the couple a scare when he charged their safari vehicle... and the vehicles wheels got stuck.
We werent moving, Handler says. Tensions got high, our wheels kept spinning, and the elephant got within 10 feet of us before our wheels found a connection to the ground and moved us to safety.
FUN AND INSPIRATION
There was humor, too, in primate form.
One day we stepped out of our van and locked the doors, Sean Handler recollects, and we realized only moments afterward that monkeys had hopped in the vans open safari top and stolen the bags of pencils that we planned to give to the school - it was a comical sight watching us chase the monkeys to get the pencils back!
But perhaps most inspirational was the fact that the couple were, as Sean puts it, swept off of their feet by the vast size and scope of the African lands.
This element of space felt phenomenal, he says, tents without walls, houses with open doors and windows, sounds that fill the air and heart.
He quotes African lodge owner Fiammetta Monicelli: I never knew about space until I came to Africa... this feeling of freedom has reshaped my life.
Kenya was inspiring in so many ways, Camryn agrees, the sheer vastness of the beautiful landscape and feeling so small; the cycle of birth and death and survival of the fittest. The drastic differences in daily life and the pure joy and strength in the Kenyan smiles - no matter where we live, smiles speak volumes and happiness creates an infectious connection.
Robert Downes states on his book, Warning: Reading this book could cause your feet to wander, Sean Handler points out, Guess what - it really does! The stories will live inside us forever. And we hope that our experiences may inspire an internal reflection for everyone.
The Handlers event, Kenyan Dreams, an evening of stories and photos from their trip, will take place on Tuesday, June 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey. Donations for admission are requested to benefit the Furaha Primary School in Kenya, Africa.