On Thursday November 6th, 2014 I flew into Winnipeg for the first time. I had never been to a MEDA Convention and had never met any MEDA members. I was excited and nervous. I've met staff members from my internship in Nicaragua and other interns from the first week of orientation in Waterloo.
I need to start at the end of this story for you to understand why I was sad after Convention. I came home Sunday night, not technically home because I am currently living in Quebec City to improve my French. When the plane was landing there was snow falling. It was 1am, cold outside and no one was waiting for me at the airport. I took a taxi home and this was the start of me feeling sad. Monday I was on the brink of tears all day. I immediately missed all the connections I had made at the MEDA Convention. I didn't want to be far away from this positive energy. I found compassion and such admiration for members and staff.
I wasn't as sad on Tuesday and I am personally uplifted from the weekend. I want to be closer to God based on the passion I saw from individuals at convention. For example, Mary and I were talking on the last day about the plenary talk Laura Ling had given the night before. When Laura was in detainment in North Korea, she had paced around her room for exercise and also meditated. What hit home for me in Laura's talk was that she gave thanks for something before she went to bed, "Thank you for letting me see this butterfly today." How can someone stuck in North Korea and being isolated for 140 days have the energy to be so positive? Mary and I decided that during the bike tour that we would say what we were thankful for at the end of each day. As well, after my day of mopping around the house on Monday, I realized that I need to have a positive outlook and good things will come. In Matthew 21:22 it says, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." I can still keep this positive energy from the MEDA Convention and spread it to others.
"Never judge a book by its cover" should be the MEDA slogan. No offence, but it didn't initially occur to me to ask MEDA members questions about their lives. I couldn't have been more wrong. I am not exaggerating when I say I met the most interesting people at MEDA that I have ever met in my life.
First, I need to say that I am amazed by all the work that MEDA staff does. To work somewhere, continuously traveling to different places for some, and still be energetic about the work you do is astounding. I also met many MEDA members who own businesses, have demanding jobs, and families to look after all at once. Yet, they make the time to come to the Convention and be apart of it through giving their time, effort, and donations.
I am an early bird, so I have no idea where I got the energy, but I was running on 5 hours of sleep a night at Convention. I never wanted to go to bed because I was so genuinely intrigued by people's lives and I was mesmerized when they talked. Saturday night I decided I would have an early night. Thursday I had gone out with the students and Friday I had some amazing bonding time with my mini Bike to Grow Team, Ethan and Mary. I would have a relaxing Saturday night. There was a group sitting in the lobby area. I pulled up a seat and joined the conversation. I was the last person to leave with Lisa and Abe, Mary's parents, at 1:30 am. I don't know how I can explain how greatly intrigued I was by the conversations that night. Since the Convention, I repeatedly refer to one individual, Wilmer Otto. I believe everyone to have such stories and I want to use Wilmer as an example. He owns companies in the States and Ukraine. When he was 18 he decided he was going to drive from Illinois to Costa Rica. We were talking with two other men all night about history in Ukraine, trips, and good jokes. They all asked me questions about the tour, how I was preparing, why I'm doing it, and when I will go. Out of nowhere Wilmer says, "and after your bike trip I'm inviting you to stay at my hotel in Romania. It is my gift to you and Mary for doing the tour." First of all who has a hotel in Transylvania? It was surprising news, but he explained why he bought the place and what there is to do there. He sounds like he is in love with the country.
There were 500 people who attended the MEDA Convention and each individual was as interesting as Wilmer and had an open heart, which was shown through their interest and generosity. An example of this is when Mary and I did our Bike to Grow seminar on Friday morning. Ethan Eshbach led a Q & A with us and thanks to him, it flowed perfectly. Afterwards, everyone came up to us and offered us their home or contact information for someone they knew in the area where we were biking through. People did this throughout convention. Some people had biking experience and gave us tips and advice. Keith Kuhl from Winnipeg took us to Bikes and Beyond where we spend a few hours getting information on clothing and gear. It was nice of Keith to take time to give us advice and take us to the store. The staff was wonderful help! Also another lady named Agnes got my email and gave it to someone she knew in Winnipeg who has biking experience, Arvid Loewen. Arvid is in the book of Guinness World Records for being the fastest cyclist across Canada in 13 days and 6 hours. Agnes gave my email to Arvid and he contacted me the very next day. Now, someone in Guinness World Records has been emailing back and forth with me the last few days with tips.
I'm still amazed and somewhat shocked by everyone's love and generosity. To illustrate this a great example is Andrew and Jim who are MEDA members in Pennsylvania. Jim came up to me on Thursday and said "See you in April." I had no idea what he was talking about and I had to ask Ethan, our liaison with MEDA. "Oh ya, what are you doing in April?" he asked. Andrew and Jim have planned a fundraising event for Bike to Grow. People will bike 32 kms (20miles) together and then have dinner and a bonfire. They have decided that we need to be there and are paying for our flights and for our bikes to be there so that we can bike with everyone and then give a talk.
I wrote out this summary of Convention because it is incredible the amount of loving people there can be altogether. It was perfect that Ziauddin Yousafzai talked Friday night at the Human Rights Museum. To me, he brought together the whole weekend and represented everyone. He is a humble man with a passion to make a difference. This can be said for everyone may they be MEDA staff or members. Thank you so much for showing us your kindness and the wonderful potential of human beings.