Today I turned 28 ...& it's the first time I’m exposing my vulnerable side.

 

Today I turned 28 years old and am celebrating another wonderful year of life. It's a day where I like to set a community goal, watch people come together and refresh my heart on how we are all equal, loving and giving beings.

Prepare yourself...this is where I begin to talk about myself far too much and become vulnerable - A quality I struggle with most. 

I have seen, I have been, I have witnessed...i .... i .... i... 

Social media shows my highlight reel. "Life is perfect, I'm always happy, I love animals, I am healthy, I am having fun all of the time and everywhere I sleep and stay is glamorous and beautiful."

The reality is that yes, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I am experiencing an opportunity of a lifetime, with amazing people and going through the biggest learning lessons and self growth I may possibly ever go through. I'm also fortunate enough to have some of the most incredible people’s support in my life. I wouldn't change any of my experiences for the world, but I don't think my lifestyle is for everybody.

I have been asked by many people "Look's like you're having the time of your life, but what's it really like?"

The reality is...(and please don't misconstrue any of these as complaints, this is far from that. I'm just opening up about my personal experience that I have yet to post on my social media.)

...Most days are the best I've ever had and some, very rare days are unfortunately not the greatest and end up in tears... I am only human. I've experienced pain in my cheeks from smiling and laughing so much and also uncontrollable tears from seeing first hand how much help this world is in need of. At the end of each day I am extremely grateful for my fortunate life. 

You have seen my highlight reel, so here is a glimpse into the behind the scenes of the past 4.5 months…. 

 

I have been to the most populated countries in the world and have seen children who have no home or food running around without shoes on. Their cute dirty faces, sorrow filling their eyes but somehow they still have the power to smile.

 Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

I have witnessed animals we consider family members being mistreated, over populated, sedated and sold on the side of the street from puppy mills and other times offered on food menus. Knowing that in some of these countries they are being eaten as the main course is hard for me to swallow.

I have had to wrap my mind around families left homeless because Mother Nature proved how strong she was and all they were left with was rubble, sever injuries if not death and less opportunity than they even had before. Standing helplessly as a collapsed home lay in front of my teary eyes. Families no longer having a safe place to sleep, eat, continue making memories in or to call home.

 Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I have spent time with animals we love but selfishly want to ride not realizing how we're supporting an inhumane industry of torture because we're uneducated about the process. I have learned that because an animal looks like it's smiling doesn't mean that it is. 

I have witnessed both women and men being objectified and used possibly against their will for peoples sexual guilty pleasures or for pure entertainment. 

My heart grows and softens through experiences each day. Sometimes I wish I didn't see things because ignorance is bliss. Although, I believe that education is the most valuable asset we all need to make this world a better place. I’m not referring to the text book education... I’m referring to the real life experience through your own eyes where you can feel the emotion the situation has engraved into your heart. I have learned more in the past 4.5 months than I think I have in the last two years. 

 

…and then there’s my first world problems… 

 

I have days where my accommodations water doesn't work and I can't shower, or even flush the toilet which in a particular circumstance has led me to throw up in the sink from the unbearable smell and surprise I found in the toilet. (sorry for sharing)

Wearing flip flops almost every time I shower and changing beds every couple of days isn't necessarily ideal.

Changing locations multiple times to try and find half decent wifi can be frustrating and in some locations absolutely hopeless. 

I have had a countless amount of days where my stomach can't handle the food it's taking in.Feeling defeated after a month of having a stomach infection and every thing I ate causing an excruciating pain in my stomach. Although, there are those memorable moments like projectile vomiting on a dirty bathroom floor in India during the heat wave…super hot, I know.

I have learned that I have a lot of hold ups with food I didn’t know I had. There are times where food smells and looks so unappetizing to me I settle for not eating at all or living off of chips and candy to fill my body with nutrient-less fillers to get me through the day, hoping there will be something delicious the next.

I have slept on mystery stained sheets of an 11 hour bus that smells like a porta potty pretending like it doesn't bother me too much so I don't come across as a diva.

I have learned that peeing on the side of the road In front of people is a luxury compared to stepping foot into some of the toilets I have been in.

I have also learned that vomiting may be an unintentional hobby of mine. Whether it's during a beautiful sunset yacht in Sri Lanka, a smelly bathroom or from getting heat stroke on a gorgeous day swimming with manta rays in the Maldives… Let's just say I don't do well with motion sickness. 

I have a massive fear of being in front of the camera but I’m now in front of it daily. There’s something about video that makes me even more awkward than I usually am...  Something I’m working on. 

My fear of spiders quickly had to be transformed into a mentality that they are my friends because they're not going anywhere. As a matter of fact, they're only becoming more common and bigger by location.

I have discovered that I can very easily borderline have a panic attack if I'm in a confined space like tubing in a small cave watching the water level rise during monsoon season. 

While carrying around 50lbs on my back and 30lbs on my front, my body develops weird pains from shock of so much excess weight. …(thankfully, I have now downsized)

Privacy has become a special occasion for me as sometimes I have shared a room with up to 40 strangers. ...anytime you have 40 strangers in a room weird smells can easily develop.

The weather is not always ideal. Monsoon season will usually never show you blue skies but I like to embrace and accept it because it's still beautiful and I'm one of a few that love the rain. 

 Train in Sri Lanka

Train in Sri Lanka

I can tell you that being immobile for up to 30 hours because we're on a bus or train and sleeping on airport floors during long layovers after two days of transportation by train can be draining.

We have gotten cut, bruised and hurt and sometimes I just want a good snuggle. I’m constantly surrounded by people but there are times when I get lonely. I want an excessively long hug from my mom, a great chat with my dad and to share unconditional laughs with my sister and loved ones.

I only show my highlight reel because I would do the above all over again in a heart beat.  Some of my personally most uncomfortable moments have hands down been my best.

I think that the beauty of the world is that through many of our struggles and deepest fears and discomforts we learn we can over come many things we mentally set boundaries on. I find that I have created comfort zones because I'm fortunate to live in a place of mass opportunity, cleanliness and beauty... I'm usually not exposed to many discomforts and if I am, I can easily remove myself from the situation.

I base my discomforts on subliminal comparisons of what I'm used to and sometimes I'm unable to wrap my mind around why some countries do it differently. I go in with an open mind, set judgement aside and accept each culture as it is because I don't think there is a right or wrong, there are only differences. 

I have surrounded myself with a community of people who look out for each other. Backpackers who care and want to learn about the world and experience it one day at a time. People who put themselves in uncomfortable situations because they are curious, open minded and are eager to learn. 

 Anantara Kihavah Resort, Maldives

Anantara Kihavah Resort, Maldives

I have stayed in some of the most beautiful resorts in the world and have met some of the most wonderful people. 

I have seen people who In our eyes "have nothing" but are happier than some of the wealthiest people I know.

We have been taken in by complete strangers to sleep on the floor of their home because we accidentally booked our accommodations for the wrong night and had no where to sleep. On top of that, we were made breakfast in the morning and taken directly to our train to make sure we get there without getting lost.

I learned that two complete strangers, even though so different from each other can quickly become family...that people are looking out for each other and want to help one another.

I have learned that with the right people, romantic or not, I can maintain amazing long distance relationships. The key is to genuinely want happiness for one another and know that sharing experiences from afar is very special.

I have experienced a ton of new things and have had endless unforgettable adventures.

The older I get, the more life experiences I have and the more I grow. This is why I enjoy getting older. It's truly a blessing. I see my smile lines getting bigger each year and somewhere along the way society has brainwashed us to believe that these are ugly. ... I think smile lines are beautiful and a sign that you're a happy person. Each year I find myself becoming happier in life and more comfortable in my own skin.

We don't live in a perfect world but we do live in a compassionate one. 

There are many things I am passionate about but my biggest passion and goal is to help others.

 At a local wedding playing with the kids in Sri Lanka.

At a local wedding playing with the kids in Sri Lanka.

I love knowing that we as humans can very easily change another persons life…even if it's with just a smile. We can transform tears into a big bright smile, create opportunity for one another and inspire each other. I think it's beautiful. We are such powerful beings and some of us don’t even know it.

This is why each year I like to set a goal. This year, I want to raise $5800 to feed 500 kids in Trelawny, Jamaica for an entire year so they can have an opportunity to be healthy, happy and focus at school. (100% of the proceeds go directly towards feeding the children) Most of these kids families can't afford to put food on the table so these children rely on the Project Solution Jamaica Breakfast program for their daily meal. 

So if I haven’t bored you too much about my personal ups and downs and you’ve made it in reading this far, I'm surprised and I applaud you. THANK YOU. If you are also passionate about helping others, please take a moment to view my campaign page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/feed-500-kids-for-5800#/

I've met my fund raising goals for the past 3 years. This year I have challenged myself and trying to double my goal and I have no doubt that it's possible to reach. $5800 is a lot to ask of people but it's a very small amount compared to how much opportunity it will create and how many kids it can feed. Only $16 can feed a child for an entire year, that's HUGE! 

I'm excited for another wonderful year of manifesting an unbelievable life. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the journey so far.

x’s & o’s, 

Natalia Anja