Guest post by Lisa King
Holidays are the worst right after you get divorced. Everything reminds you of traditions you don’t have or places you don’t go anymore. My ex wasn’t a big fan of turkey dinner, so for Thanksgiving, I would cook a prime rib roast at his parents’ who lived about 15 minutes away. Family and friends would gather for a day of watching the Macy’s parade, football, and eating.
I couldn’t imagine spending Thanksgiving with a friend’s family—I had several invitations, but I didn’t want to watch someone else’s happy Thanksgiving family tradition. I felt like I needed to do something completely different, ideally in another country where they don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving.
A chance comment about how I should go to New Orleans to volunteer in the post-Katrina clean-up efforts returned to my thoughts. One evening I Googled some volunteer opportunities and discovered Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program—the chance to travel to another country, work in a local community, and help build a house.
“Give thanks by giving back.” I can do that.
“No construction experience required.” Check.
“Fundraise for your trip costs.” My friends can help pay? I’m in.
After a call with the team leader, I signed up for a trip with 12 teammates to Actopan, Mexico in the Hidalgo province—a small town about a four-hour bus ride outside Mexico City. Even though I didn’t know anyone else going, I consoled myself by thinking that anyone who would give up their Thanksgiving to go build houses for strangers would probably be okay people.
Before I knew it, I was on my way. On my Aero Mexico flight, I realized that I was about to meet 12 new people—people who didn’t know why I was so eager to be somewhere different this Thanksgiving. I didn’t have to be the “newly divorced person.” I could just be an eager traveler back on the road seeking a new adventure.
Happily, my exchange student Spanish came back to me, Guatemalan accent apparently intact. I learned to mix cement and lay bricks—just the right amount of mindless concentration I needed.
The week went by in a blur of playing with the kids, shoveling sand and more sand, laying bricks, running from a bull that broke free when our truckload of bricks was delivered, and getting to know my teammates over a cold drink or a walk through town at the end of the day.
Suddenly, we were done. At the end of the week during a dedication ceremony, we officially turned the house over to the new homeowners. One of them said to me, “You will go home and think of your trip and of us once in a while. I will think of you every day, because you built my house.”
I realized I wasn’t sad about not having the Thanksgiving tradition I used to anymore. I only thought, “I need to do this again.”
Lisa King is a member of the SpeakeasyDC Social Media team. She is now a Global Village team leader preparing for to lead a team to Ethiopia – her 9th Habitat trip. She works at CDG Interactive in Dupont Circle.
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