Happy World Rhino Day!

Happy World Rhino Day!

I wrote the piece below at the very beginning of the year, when over 100 travel bloggers, sponsors, and Travelers Building Change gathered to help Rhinos Without Borders to raise $45,000- an effort coined #JustOneRhino.

While this campaign has ended, I am ecstatic to share that Rhinos Without Borders was successful in transporting 100 rhinoceros from South Africa to Botswana. The organization has since teamed up with &Beyond and Great Plains Conservation. They are now focused on relocating its second batch of 100 rhinos- both black and white.

Even though 100 rhinoceros have been saved, this is a small triumph, and the challenge has just begun. These animals are still very much in peril, and we have much awareness to raise in regard to poaching.

How You Can Help Save One Endangered White Rhinoceros

Photo by Beverly Joubert

Photo by Beverly Joubert

If it were in your power to save just one animal species on this earth, would you do it? Not just because your life depended on it, this species was cute and cuddly, or you’d receive instant fame, but because you could help the planet preserve its wild diversity in a major way?

The white rhinoceros is in serious danger of becoming extinct in the next twenty years. According to WESSA, over 1020 rhinoceroses in South Africa were killed, specifically due to poaching, in 2014. In the same year, only 344 arrests were made in association with these slaughters. When the rhinoceroses are killed, their horns are taken, and the rest of their massive bodies are left to decay. This is an incredibly substantial loss for the environment, not only in terms of squandering an entire species, but also because of the micro-ecosystems these animals maintain.

Photo by Beverly Joubert

Photo by Beverly Joubert

Some people consider the rhinoceros a realistic unicorn, others regard them as dinosaur-like beings, while still others believe the rhinoceros to possess curative powers within their horns. These errors have led us to a misunderstanding of this powerful, yet fragile, being. There are five species of rhinoceros- the name coming from the Greek, meaning “nose horn”- endemic throughout Africa and Asia. They are believed to have descended from the Woolly Rhinoceros, which date back to the Miocene era.

Nowadays, the endangered white rhinoceros, or ceratotherium simum, spends its days grazing in African plains, taking cover from the sun in water holes and under the shade. Weighing up to four tons and measuring up to 14 feet from head to tail, there are only about 20,000 of these magnificent herbivores left in existence. Females merely reproduce every two and a half to five years. With their gestation period lasting an average of 16 months, and the rearing of each calf lasting three years, their state of endangerment is an extremely urgent matter.

Photo by Beverly Joubert

Photo by Beverly Joubert

According to National Geographic, one rhinoceros in South Africa is poached every seven and a half hours. Believed to cure everything from cancer to impotence, one kilo of white rhinoceros horn is sold for $65,000 USD on the black market. Given that the horn is made of keratin- the same fibrous protein that makes human hair grow- this is a ridiculously fatal superstition. As Beverly Joubert, co-founder of Rhinos Without Borders, stated, “Really, [consuming rhinoceros horn] is like chewing your own finger nail.”

This leads us to the question of what can be done. An estimated 80 percent of the species reside in South Africa, mostly in Kruger National Park, where the white rhinoceros is inarguably in peril. We cannot sit back and watch as these creatures become extinct due to a sophomoric, erroneous, selfish belief. This is where Rhinos Without Borders comes in. Beginning this month, one hundred white rhinoceroses will be transferred north to Botswana, with the intention of repopulation. Not only does Botswana border South Africa, reducing the risk of relocation, but it also has the lowest poaching and corruption rates in all of Africa.

Photo by Beverly Joubert

Photo by Beverly Joubert

While this genius plan sounds completely pragmatic and achievable, there is one immense hurdle: this is a very expensive operation. It takes an average of $45,000 just to move one rhinoceros, which covers costs such as security and medical expenses. Travelers Building Change, various sponsors, as well as 120 travel bloggers, have gathered to support Rhinos Without Borders in order to raise $45,000. This will help to save one rhinoceros, hence the campaign name, #JustOneRhino.

This is where you come in. Aside from sharing this information, you can also help Rhinos Without Borders achieve their goal by making a donation. One hundred percent of the proceeds is contributed to the cause, and your charitable donation gives you the chance to receive something wonderful in return. Aside from Rhinos Without Borders’s own prizes, your entry makes you eligible to receive a trip to over 10 different countries, cruises, luggage, cameras, gift certificates and more. It’s a win-win situation! Who wouldn’t want to help an endangered species and get the chance to go on the trip of a lifetime?

Photo by Beverly Joubert

Photo by Beverly Joubert

There is no going back on these exploitative “mistakes” in nature. Once the white rhinoceros is gone, there is no reversing the loss that extinction will gravely present. An entire ecosystem- affecting plants, animals, and humans- will be forever damaged. For more information on the huge impact losing the white rhinoceros would have, see Jason Goldman’s article in Conservation Magazine.

Many thanks to these Platinum Sponsors, without whom the #JustOneRhino Campaign wouldn’t be possible: International ExpeditionsAdventure LifeCobblers Cove Hotel, Barbados, Yemaya Island Hideaway & Spa, Nicaragua, and Secret Retreats.

Pic 6 JustOneRhino Sponsor GraphicAn earlier version of this article was originally published in TravelPulse.

 

Stalking Old Bull Lee

Shit. I’ve missed the bus stop again.

I gaze out of the window and it’s clear I’m far past Santa Monica. I’m far past my old frame of mind, too. A bright yellow book lays open in my lap, a Bic pencil in my hand as I furiously underline, star, and scribble notes on the margin of the pages. I’m absorbed, intrigued, repulsed, and slightly confused. Never before have I read a book so full of strange, deep idiosyncrasies, characters depraved unto their needled eyeballs, antiquated gutter slang, and a rich depravity of human behavior. The entire book is a huge middle finger not only to chronology, but also to the way we are taught to live. This is Naked Lunch, and I remain insatiable.

It’s the year 2002 and my life is changing. I’m studying American Literature and Culture at UCLA, something I’ve known I was going to do since age eight. As I step off of the bus and toward my shared apartment in Santa Monica, my head is flooded with images and words urging to be set down to paper. “First thought, best thought,” said Allen Ginsberg. I continue reading as my feet tread the sidewalk, not wanting to waste any minute when I could be reading.

At this point, I’m arguably manic (the doctors just haven’t told me so, as of yet). But I believe it’s passion. I want to live life as deeply and intensely as possible. I sleep about three hours a day, reading, writing, exercising, and attending class the rest of the time. I want to meet everyone, to get to know their stories. I want to read everything I can get my hands on, especially if it’s written by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, or Chuck Palahniuk. He isn’t part of the Beat Generation, but damn he’s good. I saw him read from his new book, Lullaby, the other day, and something he said stuck with me. “You have to write for yourself, because in the end, even if you don’t make money, at least you’ve enjoyed yourself.” And this, of course, is paraphrased. He gave me hope for my future career as a fiction writer. He even said he liked my metallic, steel blue nail polish as he signed my well-loved, overly-read, scrawled-all-over copy of Fight Club.

But this isn’t about him. It’s about Burroughs. It’s about all of those dudes in the 1940s and 1950s who rejected domesticity and the hamster wheel of life our square, law-abiding, perfect-citizen parents shoved down our throats. The Korean War had jolted them. They knew that there was much more to life than settling down and doing what everyone else was doing, just because. No. They wanted to philosophize, road trip around the US, travel on down to Mexico, farther south in Latin America, and beyond. They wanted to smoke hash, write novels on bennies, stare at their toes while a needle expunged of heroine lay on the dirty floor. They wanted to love who they really loved, to be in the arms of other men because society couldn’t tell them they couldn’t lay with another hairy, endowed member. (Well, not all, but Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Cassady sure did.) These visionaries wanted to listen to music until their ears bled, to drive until the pedal crashed the floor, to dig all that life had to offer, to talk until their tongues were sore, to see the world through other cultures’ perspectives.

And I love it. I want this, too. Shit, I’m almost 21 and I already feel the years flashing before me. I’m considering leaving UCLA because there’s just too much in life to be stuck in a god damn classroom. Education- learning- is out THERE. There aren’t enough hours in the day to write all the poetry that constantly fills my head. I haven’t even been to Mexico. I’m tempted to just hop in my black Honda Accord and head there, but I can’t find my damn birth certificate. I think my mom has it locked up somewhere in San Jose. Clever, mom. Very clever.

I walk up the stairs, turn the key, and enter the minimally furnished apartment. I throw my backpack on the floor, set Naked Lunch on the counter, take a deep breath, and put on some Bob Dylan. It’s time for some tea and getting these words out of my head and into my notebook.

* * *

Flash forward 12 years to 2015, because that’s what I like to do. I’m walking up the labyrinthine hills lined with decaying buildings. In my periphery, I see women in hijabs glide past me, holding their children’s hands. The eyes of Moroccan men stick to me like gorilla glue even though I’ve done my duty in covering my arms and legs entirely. They call to me in broken Spanish, because this is the international city of Tangier, and I’m obviously not from around these parts. Foreign women don’t have to wait until marriage to indulge in bodily pleasures, so this must be why we’re here, right? Isn’t that what female travelers do- collect lovers from all lands like stamps on their passports?

I’m not here for that; I’m here for William S. Burroughs. His words stayed with me, changed me.

After the bright yellow book there was Queer, Junky, The Soft MachineThe Cat InsideThe JobAnd the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, and probably more. He was a man I probably wouldn’t have gotten along with, but the impact he had on me is immeasurable. Sure, he was a paranoid, heroine-addicted, frail, cat-loving, women-hating, boy-seducing, hallucinogen-chasing, genius son of a bitch. He surely had his demons, as I do mine, but he wrote like a mother fucker and exploded my mind with his lewd, twisted words and way of life.

This is why I have come all the way to North Africa and now stand on the doorstep of Hotel el Muniria, where he wrote (and supposedly didn’t recall writing) Naked Lunch in the cut-up method that Brion Gysin invented. And, if it hadn’t been for Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, it would’ve remained as thousands of papers lying on the table next to his typewriter and drug paraphernalia.

I stare at the robust, green metal door that stands before me and the experience I’m about to have. Peeking into the window, I see nothing but a black staircase and bland, desolate white walls. What kind of energy will I feel once I enter? Is anyone even in here? Is the place shut down? If it’s not, will they let me in? I’ve come to witness where an old, dead junky used to shoot up, shack up, and tap on his typewriter, not to book a room. I’ve nothing to offer, but also nothing to lose. I raise my right hand, clenched in an eager fist, and knock boldly on history’s door.

Literary Heroes, Vegan Fare & Creativity in Europe (and a bit of North Africa!)

Mona the Mono hanging out in Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain

Mona the Mono hanging out in Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain

I’ve waited over half of my life for this trip. Its main purpose is to finally visit the first foreign country I ever longed to see: Spain. As someone who has dedicated her life to literature, learning Spanish, and understanding the roots of Latin American culture, this is a dream come true for me.

Over the years, I have fallen in love with the words of incessant travelers and serial expats. It’s not an exaggeration to say that reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises opened my eyes to the world of travel, and the mystical beauty of Spain. If I hadn’t read that book in high school, I may not have decided that I wanted to travel, or even learn Spanish. It was a pivotal time in my life, and it has paved the way of who I have become over the years.

A little bit about me:

I am a travel writer, aspiring photographer, and human/animal rights’ advocate currently located in Portland, Oregon. A native of the Bay Area, California, I possess a B.A. in American Literature and Culture and an M.A. in Latin American Studies. I also lead Portland Travel Massive. So far, my solo, budget adventures have led me to teach, volunteer, and travel extensively through Latin America, Asia, and now Europe (and a tiny bit of North Africa)! To say that I’m a travel addict is an understatement.

What this trip is all about:

My wish is to pursue the footsteps of my literary heroes throughout Western Europe and Northern Africa. I want to get to know Hemingway and Cervantes’s Spain, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Miller’s France, bits of Paulo Coelho’s Camino de Santiago, William S. Burroughs’s Morocco, and, honestly, get to know more about Portugal’s influence on expat writers. I want to sit at the cafes they frequented, drink wine from the same soil they did, to people watch, smell the air, dance to local music, to feel the beat of each of the cities and towns as they did. I want to know what about these places inspired and electrified them to write bold, poignant, immortal pieces.

There will be many firsts along this trip. Aside from discovering two new continents, and trying crowdfunding for the first time, I will be pushing the limits in terms of budget travel. For lodging, I will be relying on the kindness of strangers via couchsurfing and house/pet-sitting, both of which I’ve never done. I will also make use of rideshares as much as possible (which I’ve done in the US, but never abroad), trying to avoid paying lofty fees for taxis, trains, and so on.

Another main focus of this trip is traveling vegan. I’d been a vegetarian for the majority of my life, but I became vegan over a year ago and have never taken a trip as such. It’s ridiculously easy to maintain this cruelty-free diet in Portland, but I’m sure that my chosen destinations will be challenging. I’m on the hunt to find the best vegan options available in these meat-dominant cultures and share them with you, showing that a plant-based diet is possible anywhere you go.

The last, and ultimate, purpose for this trip is to write my travel memoir. It’s already been started, but it can’t be finished without closing the loop by going to Spain- the country that got me hooked on this exquisite travel addiction. I will spend most of my days site-seeing; photographing landscapes, architecture, locals, and daily scenes; and also typing out my thoughts and experiences of life on the road. What it’s been like to have such a strong fervor to be in motion. What it’s like to fall into lunacy disguised as love. What it’s like to give up everything just to experience one more day in one more foreign, unknown place. How I’ve grown as a human being because of what I’ve seen, the friends I’ve made, and the languages I’ve learned. And lastly, how tracing some of my favorite authors’ paths will influence me as a writer and a human being.

Here is a tentative itinerary for the next two months:

Spain:

  • Barcelona
  • Logrono
  • Pamplona
  • Madrid
  • Seville

Morocco:

  • Tangier
  • Chefchaouen
  • Marrakesh

Spain:

  • Girona
  • Lloret del Mar (TBEX!)
  • Barcelona

Portugal:

  • Porto
  • Lisbon
  • Lagos

France:

  • Paris

Italy (Hopefully?!):

  • Rome
  • Florence
  • Pisa
  • Venice

Please come along on this journey with me! If you’d like to help me realize this surmounting dream by donating in exchange for a cool souvenir, an original, signed photo, a postcard, or just for good karma, please visit my Trevolta page! Thank you!

Cristina

33 Goals, Desires, and Aspirations for My 33rd Year

world in my hands

Do I over-analyze age? Is it, really, just a number? In my opinion, it is not. Through the decades of our lives, we go through a variety of different stages. If we are living as we should be, we experience many things that throw us up to the highest altitudes and the lowest depths (hopefully literally, as well as figuratively).

As a solo traveler, and simply as a crazy travel addict seeking adventure, there have been many times I had a good, scraping, petrifying encounter with death. Being brushed by haphazardly-driven buses in Buenos Aires, getting lost for hours by myself in the Pantanal of Brazil, spinning ceaselessly in the ocean’s undertow in Costa Rica, and panicking underneath a raft while being asphyxiated by a damn GoPro that had been strapped to my helmet while whitewater rafting in the Padas River, Borneo- these are only a few of the examples. This is not to mention the many people I’ve loved- young and old- whom I have lost over the years.

Point being- our time is borrowed. It is so easy to take our lives for granted and put off what we really want until x, y, or z has been accomplished. Fuck that noise. The time is now. We will never have today or yesterday again. At age 33, I am more comfortable being who I am than ever before. I know what I want, am not sorry for the decisions I have made pursuing my Personal Legend, and trust even more that my path is leading me where I need to be. That being said, I am not getting any younger. My parents are aging, the majority of my friends are married and/or raising children, and I still contemplate the fantasy of living in a parallel universe.

These are facts of life I cannot change, but I do have control of my pursuits. As Tom Petty sang, “Well I won’t back down/ no, I won’t back down/ You can stand me up at the gates of hell/ but I won’t back down/ Gonna stand my ground/ won’t be turned around…” And so, the 33 goals and aspirations I have for the coming year are as follows:

  1. Spend as much time with my parents and family as possible.
  2. Get back into shape.
  3. Move to Barcelona, Spain.
  4. Travel to at least two more continents and 10+ countries.
  5. Improve my photography skills.
  6. Increasingly support eco-living- less consumption, less waste.
  7. Finally see my musical/poetic hero- Bob Dylan- in concert.
  8. Continue the pursuit of a minimalistic lifestyle.
  9. Explore as much of Portland (and Oregon) as I can.
  10. Go on a cross-country road trip.
  11. Learn a fourth language.
  12. Take my advocacy for animal and human rights to a new level.
  13. Start writing poetry, and doing poetry readings, again.
  14. Volunteer more both in the U.S. and abroad.
  15. Go skydiving.
  16. Spend (waste) less time on social media.
  17. Save more money.
  18. Finish writing my first travel memoir.
  19. Start playing soccer (futbol/football) again.
  20. Meditate daily.
  21. Run a half-marathon.
  22. Rock climb in the great outdoors.
  23. Read at least 33 books, including Ulysses.
  24. Put Portland Travel Massive on the map in a major way.
  25. Backpack to the remaining countries in Latin America I haven’t seen.
  26. Inspire as many people as I can to live the lives they dream of.
  27. Trek the Camino de Santiago.
  28. Interview homeless people around the world to gain a better understanding.
  29. Head to Tanzania, volunteer with refugees, and head to Uganda to trek gorillas.
  30. Start drawing and painting again.
  31. Become permanently location-independent.
  32. Sail the seas (instead of relying on flights and over-land transportation).
  33. Love.

What about you? What are your aspirations for this year of your life?

Streets and Scenes of Bogota

Colombia. Drugs. Violence. Guerrillas. Death. Corruption.

There is a common misconception within the US- and other first world countries- that these words are synonymous. I decided to write my Master’s thesis on La Violencia, or “The Violence”, in Colombia to prove that this notion was terribly false. From 1948 to 1958, the country experienced a massive genocide that could only be compared to Uganda in terms of devastating, continuous political violence. While the Conservatives and Liberals shed each other’s blood, did this mean that the Colombian people as a whole were innately predispositioned to kill?

Not hardly. I spent over two years of my life reading Colombian literature, non-fiction, and Political Science. I gazed upon photograph after photograph, painting after painting, trying to grasp what went on, and what Colombian identity signified. I talked to friends and strangers about their country. This was not enough.

After volunteering for a month in Managua, Nicaragua, working in the city dump, I headed south to Costa Rica with a couple of friends. Another friend met me in San Jose, Costa Rica, and we backpacked throughout the country, crossed the border into Panama, and did the same there. I wanted him to come to Colombia with me. He refused. So I went by myself.

When I arrived in Bogota, I admit I was nervous. I couldn’t shake the statistics or details of La Violencia from my mind. The images I’d seen of torture, disembowelment, decapitation, and other types of violence were etched into my brain like a horrible prison tattoo. I breathed deeply, pushed those thoughts into a corner of my mind, and went about exploring the city as I would any other. All of that heinous cruelty was a thing of the past.

As I walked throughout the city, I realized that what I had told myself was true. Men sold ice cream on the street, children fed pigeons in the Plaza de Bolivar, families danced in sprinklers, city life bustled, churches towered into the sky, and people gathered in the park to buy artesanias, or hand-crafted items. It was like many other Latin American cities, and I felt safe.

There was a difference, however. Bogatanos were some of the warmest, most open people I’d met on that trip. They spoke candidly about their past, about the media, the stigma placed upon them, and their daily lives. I fell in love with the city and its people, architecture, food, art, fashion, and surrounding mountain scenery.

After Bogota, I continued on to Medellin, where Pablo Escobar used to reign, and Cartagena. Each place was distinct, but a common thread ran within the people. They would always remember their history, but this did not define them. Like anyone else in the world, they were living in the present, hoping for a better future.

I was never more sure of the widespread misunderstanding of Colombian people than when I was walking the streets of Bogota, each scene being absorbed, happy that my suspicions were right. While every single country in this world has problems, the media is quick to inspire fear in others in an attempt to maintain control. The vision of Colombia has been greatly misconstrued in many foreigners’ eyes, and this perspective couldn’t be further from the truth.

International Women’s Day: My Heroines

Today I was reading through my personal Facebook feed and found some men questioning the purpose of International Women’s Day. What, should we stop what we’re doing simply to revel in women’s beauty for an entire day? Um, excuse me?!

This is only one of many issues that irk me. Women are not here on this earth simply for their physical beauty. In fact, the world population would not be possible if it weren’t for women. Duh. Nonetheless, women continue to be treated as second-class citizens all over the world, regarded only for their sexual appeal (or productivity), physical appearance, and/or ability to cook and clean. Sure, in the first world, us women have many more rights than our sisters in places like the Middle East, Northern Africa, Asia, and Latin America (though the latter has made many strides over the last decade or so). Still, equality between the sexes has a terribly long way to go, as do gay rights and the elimination of racism. Maybe we will never attain absolute equality, but we should never give up trying.

I was born in the early eighties to a lower middle class family where both of my parents worked extremely hard to put food on the table and clothe their children. I am the youngest of three; both of my older siblings are males. Our family had an undeniable hierarchy, but, as a young female, it seemed that I was the only one who noticed it. Early on, I got tired of being told that “I was too messy for a girl,” “I wasn’t being ladylike,” “I shouldn’t burp or fart because I’m a female,” “I’d look a lot better if I wore make-up everyday, like my mom,” and even “Men are superior to women.” It drove me nuts. What the fuck does gender have to do with messiness, bodily functions, or even the idiotic notion of superiority? 

Perhaps not so ironically, I became the most outspoken of my siblings. I stood up for my beliefs, and continue to do so. I feel a personal obligation to voice the wrongs in society. It takes a lot of courage to point out the misogyny (or, at the very least, gender discrimination) in others, and sometimes people are so blind to it that all they can do is laugh. So, yes, I am absolutely a feminist, and completely support a day celebrating all that women are and have accomplished over the years.

I grew up with all the heroes in history being men. I didn’t think twice about 90% of the writers I read being men. I had been conditioned to think that it was okay for people to joke around that a boy “throws/cries/bitches like a girl.” In a male-dominated society, we all should take a moment to reflect on the women who have positively influenced our lives. It doesn’t matter if it was your mother, Joan of Arc, or your first grade teacher. We all deserve appreciation.

Now, I will share with you a few women who have made my world a different place. Some of these brilliant human beings have changed my creative path in life, urged to be a better individual, and challenged me to dig deeper for strength and perseverance. Without a doubt, they have all inspired me and provided me with an example of how to live an authentic, meaningful life.

Maya Angelou

mayaangelou

Photo via PBS News Hour

I first read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was about 16. I was instantly hooked. This brilliant, African-American woman had been sent on a train, alone, at the tender age of four or five, to a place she knew nothing of. After sexual abuse, forced prostitution, and single motherhood, this woman has come to inspire millions of people with her resilience, never-ending wisdom, and hope for a better future. I took my mom to one of her presentations in San Jose a few years ago, and I couldn’t help but hold the tears back. The late Maya Angelou made my life look like Sesame Street, and I continue to gain inspiration from her to persevere, no matter what.

Bjork

Around the same time in my life, I came across the Icelandic creative genius, Bjork. I think it was through the old BMG CD program (Buy One, Get Ten Free!) that I discovered her album, “Debut.” I ordered it only because I thought the inlay’s artwork looked cool. Little did I know, she would change my life. I continued to buy any and all of her albums I could get my hands on, and told all of my friends about her. Not only was her accent mysterious and appealing, the topics she covered were so alien and so familiar at the same time. She embraced her own sensuality and experimented with various musical instruments and gadgets. Bjork promised a completely new side of her being when a new album came out. (She had also been the lead singer of the Sugarcubes years before, taking dumps on stage if the audience didn’t like her band’s music. How bad-ass is that?) After reading several of her biographies and watching her perform live a handful of times, I can honestly say this: If I had to be another person, I would be Bjork.

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo- Photo via sanmiguelwritersconferenceblog.org

When I went to UCLA, I majored in American Literature and Culture, a subdivision of English. I vividly remember the first day walking into a particular Native American Literature class. The professor was sitting quietly at the desk, her head down, thick dark brown hair covering her face. Her arm was extended beside her notes, her skin scattered with a labyrinth of tattoos. She instantly had my attention.

Professor Joy Harjo had a soft, yet powerful way of communicating with the class. She told us of her musical background, her past shyness, and what her Muskogee Creek heritage meant to her. I enjoyed learning about her, listening to her intricate web of history, and reading her poetry when class was over. Harjo is a true warrior in my eyes.

When the day came that our first essays were returned, my opinion quickly changed: She gave me a B! This was ludicrous. How was it that I was getting As in all of my other classes with the same amount of effort? I approached her, and she explained that I needed to dig deeper, to work harder. She said that I wasn’t living up to my potential as a writer.

My ego was crushed. But after reviewing her comments several times, I knew she was right. I could do better. I remember sitting with her after class a week or so later, reading my revised essay to her out loud. She taught me to pay attention to how the written word sounded to the ear. Joy Harjo challenged me in a way I’d never been before- she openly criticized my work and did not just hand out a “You’re a Great Writer!” badge. Her advice forced me to put in more effort, revision, and concentration. Needless to say, this woman had a lasting impact on my writing.

Frida Kahlo

One of my favorite photographs of Frida Kahlo, by I. Cunningham, 1931

One of my favorite photographs of Frida Kahlo, by I. Cunningham, 1931

It was in high school that I discovered Frida Kahlo’s paintings, but it wasn’t until much later that I started to realize just how strong this woman truly had been. When I was living in San Francisco, I read Hayden Herrera’s Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. I was overwhelmed by the amount of tragedy she endured. From the train accident to living in a cast, bed-ridden a good portion of her life, to dealing with her husband Diego Rivera’s infidelity and anger, not to mention her own infertility, her story was one of pain. And though it seemed that her life was filled with nothing but suffering, she still continued to paint obsessively, to write, to love, and to hope for better days. Even the act of her dressing up in traditional Tehuana dress everyday was an affirmation of her will to live, and to celebrate the beauty in her life.

Frida Kahlo has been, and continues to be, an exemplary figure of what it means to live. While she dealt with more hardship than most- physically and emotionally- she still flourished in various aspects of her life. She was not only a prolific painter, but also a political activist, a traveler, an intellectual, and a survivor. Everyone suffers; that’s common knowledge. What really matters is how a person responds to that challenge- you can either wallow in your pain and feel sorry for yourself, or fight through it, be grateful for what you have left, and move on. Frida Kahlo’s legacy inspired me to travel to Mexico, to study Latin American Art, and to not give up on myself as an artist. Most importantly, she taught me how to become a stronger woman, a guerrera.

Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall with Freud- Photo via disunplugged.com

Jane Goodall with Freud- Photo via disunplugged.com

Jane Goodall knew that she wanted to go to Africa since the time she was little, and she followed through with her dream. She moved from England, at the age of 26, to live in the jungles of Tanzania with chimpanzees and study their behavior. This was unheard of at the time, especially for a female. Yet, due to her determination and tenacity, Goodall became one of the most prominent primatologists ever. Among other things, she discovered chimpanzees’ use of tools and modes of communication, while demonstrating their similarity to humans.

Recently, I watched the documentary, “Jane’s Journey,” which chronicles Goodall’s life and immense contribution to animal and human welfare. I continue to be floored by this woman’s lifelong commitment to raising awareness, educating others, improving the world, and obtaining world peace. In addition to writing several books on chimpanzees and nature conservation, she founded the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots and Shoots, and is a UN Messenger of Peace. At the age of 79, she continues to travel the world working on her global projects. I hope to achieve 1/100th of what this woman has in my lifetime.

Those are just five women, out of many, who have inspired me to be more courageous, to chase my dreams, to never give up, and not to listen to others’ mindless scrutiny. I believe that International Women’s Day, as well as Women’s History Month, is very important for males and females alike. It gives us the chance to reflect on the large contribution women have made in this world- whether it be in the form of writing, art, music, science, politics, or human rights- and to make our knowledge of history a little less unbalanced. Yes, we women are beautiful, but we offer so much more than our physical appearance.

What do you think? Which women have inspired you the most? Is it important to have a day specifically reserved to celebrate women? Should we have an International Men’s Day? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!