Eyes Wide Open

| October 29, 2012 | 10 Comments

KerriSubmitted by Kerri Elliott

It is funny how when bad things happen to people they try to make changes to their lives.  They get a new haircut, buy some new clothes, decide to take up running, quit their job, date few random people, or in my case they travel.

When my husband of 5 years and partner for 9 years, asked me for a divorce after he came to a conclusion that I loved volunteering in Africa more than I loved our marriage at home I thought my world came to an end.  My first thought was that my life was over, and my immediate second thought was well now I can travel without feeling guilty.

Suffice to say that our marriage was not as important to me as it should have been.  So how did I make a change?  I sat down two days later and divided up our house into what he wanted and what I wanted and I started selling off all the things I “wanted.”  I had an estate sale, a few garage sales; I tried to sell stuff on Craig’s List and started planning my year away from home.  It sounds very “Eat, Pray, Love” but I did not have the luxury of a fancy book deal and unlimited funds to find myself.

I buried myself into as many jobs as possible, pretended the depression I felt from my failed marriage didn’t exist, and worked myself to the point of a breakdown in the middle of my doctor’s office when she asked me how I was during a routine physical.  That lead to a prescription of Zoloft and Zanax, that was happily discussed by some of my family members, and a purchase of my around-the-world plane ticket.  I made a list of all the places I wanted to go in my life and all the friends I had around the world.

After living in London for a 18 months of my life before getting married, traveling to Africa for 3 years during my marriage, starting a non-profit that provided educational opportunities to others, that list of potential friends to visit was longer than most.  With my lists I started planning my course.  I would spend 11 months in Tanzania and I would spend 3 months before traveling to visit friends (which helped cut down the costs of the trip).

My plan was to start couch surfing in New Zealand (home to cousin Mae and husband Mark) then head to Melbourne, Australia (home to London friend, Sarah her husband Juergan and their 3 kids under 4, Xavier, Finn and Amalia).  After that I would head to Sydney Australia (home to friend from Africa-Kat and her family) and spend time on their farm in Orange Australia.

Since I was fresh from a divorce everyone offered for me to read the Eat Pray Love book, which I couldn’t seem to start or finish but from their descriptions of the book, Bali sounded awesome.  And I was quite intrigued by Hindu culture so I thought South East Asia? Sure!

I booked a homestay in Ubud, Indonesia and then a surfing camp for a week on the west coast.  I definitely thought, “Hey how is a plus size woman going to do that?” but I had never been one to stop myself from trying.  After that, I thought, “Why not hit up Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos while I am in the area?”

My plan was to then arrive in Tanzania ready to do work for our non-profit but also to use it as a home base to travel to some areas around Africa.  I always wanted to go to Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa and Kenya so I decided to check it out a bit while I was there.  I am not going to lie – in my mind this trip was going to be a way to find myself, meet new people, possibly find a real prince charming and see the world.  Luckily my job gave me a sabbatical from work and away I went.

Throughout this last 12 months I have travelled to New Zealand trekking mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, and hot springs.  I have visited Australia to see kangaroos, dingos, penguins, the Sydney opera house and the culture of Melbourne.  I have surfed the green waves of the Indian Ocean, road a bike down a volcano in Bali, ate fried spiders in Thailand, cheered on dragon boats at local water festival in Laos, and stood in awe at the amazing buildings of Ankor Wat in Cambodia.

I have learned Swahili in Tanzania, stood at the Southern tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, and climbed Table mountain in Cape Town South Africa.  I have hiked through a jungle to stand next to Mountain gorillas in Rwanda, toured an ancient sacred forest in Kenya, and stood at the source of the Nile River in Uganda.  I have also spent 11 months in Tanzania working on EdPowerment.org, the non-profit organization I helped build, which provides educational opportunities to those who lacked access.

Each and every day of this adventure I have thought back to the day my husband presented me with divorce papers and my thought that life was over and I think, “Wow, my life was only beginning.”  Traveling the world alone and working in a developing country has opened my eyes to the amazing things life can bring. I have discover new things, met new amazing people, and seen so much more of the world.  But the most important lesson I took away from it all is that life is not a cookie cutter mold where everyone has a husband, house, kids, and a good job.  Life can be different for everyone.  It can be a place where insects are eaten as snacks, multiple languages are spoken by children, and even plus size woman can surf.

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Kerri Elliott is a special education teacher from Wheeling, IL who worked with a few other teachers to form EdPowerment Inc. in 2010. EdPowerment works to provide educational opportunities to students in northern Tanzania that lack access. They provide sponsorship opportunities, fund educational programs, and support a special needs awareness group called Autism Connects Tanzania. For more information check out their website at www.EdPowerment.org or email her at kerrielliott@edpowerment.org

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Comments (10)

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  1. Tanya says:

    Great story! Makes me want to travel more!!

  2. Susan says:

    It’s sad to see that she found traveling more important than relationships.

  3. Becca says:

    This article reminds me a lot of me! It also took a divorce for me to see some of the world. Once I picked up all the pieces I spent a few months in Africa and then several weeks in Europe too. So many more places I want to see but instead I travel in my heart and my feet stay at home with my new wonderful husband & two tiny little boys. I will get back to Africa one day, all of us together will! <3

    • DJ says:

      Though I understand what you are saying Becca it really sounds like you pursued travel *after* your divorce while the author’s initial wanderlust is what led to her divorce (and subsequent additional travel). I normally find these ariticles inspirting but this one, not so much… just as I did not find eat, pray, love inspirational. Do hope the author and her ex have found happier paths though.

  4. Jess says:

    It takes two to make or break a marriage. If two people have different values and outlooks on what they want out of life, it’s difficult to make it work without patience and acceptance and the challenge to meet in the middle. Some can do it, some can’t. I’m part of the can’t and am reworking my life to include more adventure and do it as a single mom of two kids.

  5. ZJK says:

    Being in my mid-20s, I find it confusing as to what I should take away from this article. I find it exhilarating to travel as I went to Kenya by myself in 2009 for 2 months to set the stage for my postgraduate endeavors which may include international research. I, also, hope to continue to be able to visit other countries with the guy I’d like to marry (shh! he doesn’t know yet, lol) even though he is a little tentative about me wanting to travel often or even go by myself for months/years at a time. What I find confusing however is should I take from this the lesson that when life moves your cheese you should just accept the change and press on? Or should the moral it’s ok to not pay attention to my commitments and relationships now though they might be in jeopardy because I’ll be free from these things if I ignore them long enough and be without the burden of guilt and I can be happy? Personal happiness is what’s best. I’m all for traveling but I guess I am also against investing 14 years of my life in someone and then call it quits when so many things could have been done better. =(

  6. Erin says:

    my questions are these: what are you going to do with your life now, and is that sustainable?

  7. lisa says:

    I am very happy for Kerri. As a wife and mother, I too dream of traveling and experiencing different cultures. My husband is happy to stay at home and strum his guitar. We were different people when we met and I sure as hell am not going to sit at home because he feels uncomfortable with me traveling. I already have plans to travel and if he wants to come great! I don’t need my husband to be with me all the time. I just wonder what Kerri’s husband had against her traveling? She didn’t mention children at home. Was he worried about her? Did he want her to be “normal” and just be at home like a good wife should? Is it because she was learning and experiencing the wide world- was he jealous, insecure?

    I want my husband to do whatever his heart yearns for. I am not here to tell him what to do with his life. We enjoy each other daily and respect each others’ differences. He is open to travel with me but there are times when I want to go alone or with girlfriends. There is absolutely nothing wrong with living by your own lights, authentically, wether you are married or not. Kerri is just going to keep living- doing what she needs to make it. She will also have a very rich life and hopefully meet someone who shares her dream. Everything doesn’t have to be so in a box- husband, house, children, job- for pete’s sake just live!

    yay for free women! They make better partners and world citizens.

  8. Mira Ahipara says:

    Thank you for sharing your life story, Kerrie! I am sure lots of women around the world will find it empowering. I remember when my mom divorced her second husband, she buried herself in work. Frankly, I do not think she has ever fully recovered from that relationship. I think good women take too hard on themselves when a relationship fails. I hope reading stories like yours, Kerrie, more women will understand that staying true to yourself and follow your noble dreams is as important as being with someone your truly love. I am sure one day you will find a man who will fall in love with you for what you are, for your beliefs, integrity and dedication to make the world a better place.

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