Risk averse adventurers

Tonight the kids are happily gathering their electronic devices and books, extra batteries, packs of gum, and knicknacks they think will  keep them entertained on the airplane. Earlier this month, though, they were expressing some anxiety about our upcoming trip.

We’re traveling to Guatemala for a tour of Rotary projects produced by Semilla Nueva, a nonprofit founded by Boise native Curt Bowen, that helps rural communities gain economic independence and rejuvenate their land through hands-on education and collaborative sustainable agriculture projects. We’ll have about four days to explore rural communities and talk to farmers, then a few days on Lake Atitlan, exploring the Guatemalan rain forest and Mayan villages.

When the prospect of this trip came up, Mike and I had been talking about wanting our next trip to involve some sort of service or education. We loved experiencing Europe with the boys last summer; visiting our former foreign exchange student, Saara, and getting to know our future student, Henna, and learning about their homeland and the surrounds. Now that we know the boys are resilient travelers, we had begun to think about a broader array of experiences, showing them more of the world while we discover it ourselves.

Groups from my Rotary club regularly schedule such international service-related trips. They’re people who are enjoy adventure and are easy to travel with. I couldn’t imagine exploring a Central American country, kids in tow, without the security of such company. After checking in to make sure the prospect of dragging kids along didn’t freak anyone out from their end, I checked in with Curt.

Curt is closer in age to my kids than to me. His organization frequently hires young, energetic interns whom I’d love to think represent the boys’ own, near futures. Curt’s enthusiasm for the boys’ joining us on this trip shows me he understands the impact this experience could have on them.

“I’ve really wanted to organize a trip for kids of that age, and haven’t had a chance to. I was a Scout in Boise, and I know how much service at a young age can mold character and also just be a blast,” he told me when I asked if it would be appropriate to bring them along.

Cool. The next step would be to warm them up to the idea. I told Colin we’d be looking at agricultural projects, learning about compost and trudging through the dirt.

“That’s the trip for me,” said my future, Future Farmers of America student.

Jack wasn’t so sure. I told him what we could expect in Guatemala (more than 75% of the population falls below the poverty line). He said he’s anxious about seeing so many people living in such dire conditions. Jack has an abundance of empathy and I could imagine seeing people suffer was something he would be concerned about. After talking to him for a bit, I realized he equated poverty with the people we see here panhandling on the street. I explained that that I thought we’d see working families, and people who were working to actively make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others. He agreed that it would be a good experience.

So, next was the array of vaccinations. It turns out the boys are good with what’s required for public school enrollment. I had to catch up on my Hepatitis A and B, which was a drag. When it comes to the potential for malaria and rabies, however, I decided, with the agreement of our doctor, that I could draw the line on immunizations that would have cost us more than the entire trip. Instead I explained to the kids that we’d wear bug repellent and avoid petting stray dogs, cats, monkeys, racoons, or, you know, anything. Don’t touch anything. And don’t drink the water, or eat anything that ever touched the water. Don’t even look at water.

I may have gone a little overboard.

“Why does this trip involve so much RISK?” Colin asked.

Jeez, really? What part of life doesn’t involve risk? Whether it be the type of risk embodied by a dinner-plate sized spider in your hotel shower, or the jerk speeding through your neighborhood in his SUV while your 10 year-old is riding his bike to school, every part of life involves risk, whether or not you recognize it at that moment. There are just some types of risk that one chooses to acknowledge, and others one recognizes are inherit with adventure.

What I can’t express to Colin is that every single second of every day since we found out I was pregnant with his older brother has been filled with mind-numbing anxiety at the risks we face by, to paraphrase Elizabeth Stone, deciding forever to have our hearts go walking around outside our bodies.

So I’m backpedaling now on anything that may communicate risk. Dengue fever? Pshaw. Did Indiana Jones worry about bleeding out his eyeballs? This is an adventure. We’re going to see volcanoes and Mayans and we’re stocking up on antibiotics and Imodium … just in case. And double AA batteries for the camera.