Chance Encounters

Chance Encounters

So many of us dream of travelling, writing, and sharing our amazing experiences, but Colorado-based journalist, editor, and producer Janna Graber has done more than just dream. In addition to writing for publications such as Redbook, Reader’s Digest, The Chicago Tribune, etc., in the interests of travel and gaining invaluable life experiences, she’s gone dog-sledding, saddled up for excitement and riding at some of Colorado’s dude ranches, and even toured my ownOntario Wine Country to sample our finest wines in the Niagara Valley! But for Janna, it’s more than just the travel that drives her; it’s the personal connections she makes with people all over the globe that resonate most deeply with her. Now, she’s written a book, Chance Encounters: Travel Tales From Around the World (World Traveler Press, 2014) that focuses on experiences and personal connections she and other globe trotters have enjoyed. To learn a little more about this fascinating woman, her newest book, and what inspires her, read on.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q: Tell us, Janna, how did you get the idea for the book?

A: In my travels, I often crossed paths with extraordinary people — people who lived in situations different from my own, but who touched me in some way. Some of those encounters enriched my journey, inspired me or even changed my way of thinking. I knew other travelers experienced this as well, so I decided to create a book that would celebrate these unique and incredible travel encounters.

Q: How many authors were featured in the book?

ANineteen top international travel writers were featured in the book.

Q: How were pieces selected?

A: We received hundreds of submissions from writers around the globe and selected 23 final stories. I looked for well-written pieces that followed the writer’s internal journey, as well as his/her external experience. Each story in the book provides a you-are-there feeling, allowing the armchair traveler to experience a unique part of the world from the writer’s perspective. The stories are all very different from each other, which makes reading the book so enjoyable. 

Q: What are some of your own stories that were included?

A: “My Friend, the Enemy” was actually the story that inspired the idea for the book. In 1987 while on a short student trip to East Germany, I met a young East German student who reached out in friendship, even though it was dangerous for him to do so. After I left, we had to write in secret through this grandma. It’s been 25 years now since the Berlin Wall fell, and we have been close friends ever since — simply because we crossed paths long ago.

Another story of mine, “The Parisian Angel” tells how a young French woman helped me after I had been robbed in Paris. She reached out to me when I needed it most, and helped to restore my faith in Paris.

Q: Tell us about some of the other tales in the book.

A: Christina Hamlett writes of a treasured encounter in Hawaii that she has never forgotten. Kimberley Lovato’s tale of an elevator ride with a courageous woman in Paris packs deep emotions into a matter of minutes, from recollections of childhood memories to profound realizations of life.

Nithin Coca’s conversation with a taxi driver in Dubai leaves an impression that he won’t forget, and during a hike with a young monk in Bhutan, Shilpa Gupta learns a lesson not about Buddhism, but about herself.

Cece Romanyshyn is moved by the strength of three young Kenyan sisters who are faced with a heart-wrenching local custom, and Rob Woodburn marvels at the resourcefulness of two young men from Malawi in their quest for a decent pair of shoes.

These are just a few examples. The book is packed with incredible tales of chance travel encounters that touched or changed someone’s life.

Q: Travel writing isn’t something most people just jump into. What is your background?

A: I began my journalism career covering women’s news for Chicago Tribune, Redbook, McCall’s and other publications. When the Columbine tragedy happened in my own backyard, it was very difficult for me to write about. These were my neighbors, and I couldn’t help but feel their sorrow. After that, I decided to turn my energies to covering positive stories of travel and the strength of the human spirit.

After 9/11, travel writing changed. I was told that Americans weren’t interested in international travel. But I knew that wasn’t true. In 2003, I started GoWorldTravel.com, an online magazine devoted entirely to world travel. We work with travel writers around the world covering stories in more than 90 countries. I’ve been covering travel ever since.

Q: When you travel, you do much more than visit resorts and tourist attractions; you learn about the native cultures and people of the places you visit. What is the most interesting fact you discovered about a place, people, or thing on your travels?

A: What I’ve learned is that people are more alike than they are different. Yes, I may have a different home or lifestyle than a mom living in Shanghai, but deep down we are still mothers who hope for the best in our children. I always find so much in common with those I meet on my travels – and that provides a genuine connection that cultural differences can’t erase.

Q: Most of us choose to travel the paved roads, but you go off-road all the time. Can you share with us your most funny, or difficult, travel situation?

A: I love small towns and rural and rugged landscape. Some of my favorite travel experiences have been snorkeling with belugas near the Arctic Circle in the 800-person town of Churchill, Minnesota, and going on safari in the Outback on an Aboriginal Reserve at the northern tip of Australia. The people who live in these kinds of rugged environments fascinate me, and I enjoy being around them.

Q: What inspires you to write and travel, Janna?

A: I’m always curious and eager to learn about new places, people, and cultures. Travel allows me to step out of my comfort zone, broaden my view, and experience new things.

Q: Although travel writing looks exciting and glamorous, I’m sure many, many times it isn’t. What advice would you give to writers who would like to learn more about or get involved in travel writing?

A: Ten years ago, it was possible to make a passable living with travel writing, but the media world has changed. Fewer print publications cover travel, and online writing just doesn’t pay as much. Nowadays, travel writing is a good second career. You have to pursue it for the passion, not the money. It helps to have another source of income while you do that.

Q: How do you choose the places to visit and write about?

A: Since I went to university in Vienna, I feel at home in Europe. European destinations continuously draw me. I’m also in love with Australia, so travel there whenever I can. Generally though, I simply look for opportunities to travel and experience new things. I’m open to almost any place where travel is safe.

Q: Is there someplace you haven’t been to yet that you are determined to go to? If so, why?

A: I’d like to go on safari in Tanzania and Botswana; Mongolia is also on my wish list. I’ve never been to any of these places, but have read other writers who have inspired me to put them on my Bucket List. 

Q: What book projects are you working on next?

A: My next book in the series, called “Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the World”, is also now available. Like the name says, the book includes 24 incredible travel stories from some 20 top travel writers.

My own story in the book is called “Filling in the Holes”. It’s about searching for family roots in Latvia that were tragically lost during war. It was an incredible adventure. Latvia is an undiscovered treasure.

In mid-2015 I’ll start work on an anthology devoted solely to women’s travel stories. I’m really looking forward to that one.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Janna. I, and I’m sure many of our readers, are looking forward to reading Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World, and your future works as well.

LINKS

Amazon link to Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World
http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Encounters-Travel-Tales-Around/dp/0990878600/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1420764694&sr=8-1

Amazon link to Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the Worldhttp://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Lifetime-Travel-Around-Traveler-ebook/dp/B00R5NJZQA/ref=dp_kinw_strp_exp_8_1

World Traveler Press: www.worldtravelerpress.com

Go World Travel Magazine: www.goworldtravel.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Go.World.Travel

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GoWorldMagazine

Website: http://jannagraber.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Godless

Jeff_Rasley

Stretch your limits and shake up your boundaries! No one does this more or better than writer, philanthropist, mountaineer, husband, and father than Jeff Rasley. Having written and published his eighth non-fiction book, Godless, Jeff goes deep into the discussion of humanity, and what it means to be a believer and non-believer of any religious or political doctrine. As a man who has travelled the world, trekked mountains, and swam with whales, Jeff encourages us to examine our lives and where we’re going. It’s a pleasure to interview this intrepid spirit and share some of his thoughts to the questions posed. Welcome Jeff!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q     How did your early life as a child, then as a lawyer, prepare you to undertake life-altering global and spiritual explorations?

A   My family encouraged curiosity and intellectual exploration and that has been as aspect of my identity since childhood. Practicing law demands rigorous questioning about facts and evidence. So, both of these influences influenced me to have open eyes and open mind to different and new ideas and spiritual growth.

Q   Who has been your greatest life coach or mentor, and why?

A   Many teachers, professors, coaches, pastors, and friends have had influence on me, and friendships developed with my Nepalese sirdars have been inspiring. But, I can’t name one as being the greatest. The constant love, forgiveness, and understanding of my parents and wife have been more important to me than anything I’ve gained from other people.

Q   What inspires and drives you?

A   I want to take good care of myself, live life as an adventure, and offer what I can to others who ask for and need my assistance. I want to enjoy life and affect the world with pragmatic philanthropy.

Q   Some would say climbing a mountain is the ultimate physical manifestation of spiritual seeking. What did you discover about yourself during your first and subsequent climbs in Nepal?

A   That I could endure a lot of pain even to the point of being barely conscious. There are moments in mountaineering when your body, mind, and will are in sync or flow, which is beautiful. When you are able to stop, look around and savour the view, it’s movingly beautiful. But, most of the time actually climbing is hard slogging, putting one foot in front of the other while trying to maintain steady breathing, and maintaining a focus on staying balanced.

Q   You’ve written eight books now, each dealing with issues of self-discovery, philanthropy, and seeking. What drives you to delve so deeply into yourself and our current societal beliefs, then write about them?

A   The admonition of Socrates, to “know thy self”, is, I think the first step on the path of seeking wisdom. We are our own interpreters of reality, so we need to be self aware of how we filter information through our subjective experience. Then, we can participate in family, community, and the world more intentionally and productively. I discovered during adolescence that it turned me on to figure out how, and then to implement, ways to improve communal relations, to help people get along better. So, I’ve tried to do that in various ways from my own local communities to international philanthropic development projects.

Q   Clearly travel plays a large role in your life, but why?

A   I grew up in a small city which didn’t have much cultural diversity. Whenever my family did a driving trip, it thrilled me. So, when I was 18 I walked to the edge of town, stuck out my thumb and hitch-hiked across the country. It was a wonderful experience of meeting people utterly unlike those I knew. And, I loved seeing different parts of the country both urban and rural areas. It lit a fire in me that still burns. (I’m leaving in a few days for another cross-country driving trip with my wife out to CA.) Every trip, whether it’s just a weekend of outback camping, cultural tour of a city, or solo-kayaking Pacific islands, is an opportunity to learn and grow, so long as it’s understood as an adventure.

Q   Can you share with us a particularly amusing or scary story about your mountain climbing?

A   How about an ocean story, instead? This is excerpted from Islands in My Dreams:

Fifteen times we approached the mother and calf when they surfaced, and then we jumped in the water and swam as fast as we could toward them. Each time they sounded before we reached the whales. The boat captain gave us one last chance as he was low on fuel and it was time for us to get back on the slower boat to be taken back to Neiafu.

The three of us dove in with fins kicking as hard and fast as we could. Anjo told us splashing bothers whales, so we kicked with our fins below the surface and didn’t stroke with our arms to minimize splashing.

The mother and calf didn’t dive this time. They swam just below the surface staying about twenty yards ahead of us. Tashio, the Japanese guy, tired from the fifteen times we had already swam after the whales, gave up the chase after about fifty yards. Kevin, the Floridian, broke off after one hundred yards. I kept kicking. After another fifty yards of pursuit, the whales stopped.

The mother let me swim up beside her, but kept her baby on her other side away from me. I swam up beside her huge eye, turned on my side and looked through my snorkel mask into her eye, which was as big as my head. She looked back at me. Our eyes locked. Time stopped. It was if we were looking into each other’s souls.

She rolled and nudged her calf with her flipper to encourage the calf to swim over to me. The baby whale swam up to me, swam under me, then circled around me, and let me caress its tail. It was surprisingly smooth to my touch. The calf returned to its mother’s side.

They began to swim off slowly. I swam with them for about one hundred yards, but then another whale-watching boat approached. The mother gave one great flick of her tail and they vanished deep into the dark water below me.

I stroked back to the speedboat and clambered up the ladder and dropped over the gunwale. I could barely stand. My legs were vibrating and shaking. Electric current (or adrenaline) was coursing through me from the thrill and power of the encounter.

For a few moments, the otherness separating the mother whale and me had vanished. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw trust and acceptance, instead of fear and danger. She trusted me to caress her baby. I trusted that she would not crush me like a minnow with her gigantic tail.

I can still see her awesome eye in my mind’s eye. And I remember how she trusted me with her calf. It would be a good thing for our finite planet if humans could see the soul of all other species, especially the endangered ones.

Q   What does your family think of your travels, books, philanthropy, and growing ideologies?

A   That it’s all pretty cool.

Q   You say that your wife encouraged you to go “climb a mountain”, so clearly she supported that first climb, but does she ever travel or climb with you?

A   We travel regularly together, and used to do hiking and camping trips. But she has MS and is medically restricted from strenuous physical activity.

Q   On returning home to the United States after your various travels, you must be met with many conflicting emotions regarding (global) economic waste and excess. What else do you struggle with in your integration back into your everyday home life, and how do you deal with your emotional conflicts?

A   I’m really not bothered by the vast discrepancies in material wealth anymore. I was the first few times I experienced “third world” poverty. It felt very weird coming home, caring for our kids, going to the office, and just living my life which was so different from that of the people I had been around in Nepal, India, and other “exotic” places. But the other cultures I’ve spent time with are more wealthy than ours in other ways. I’d like to bring back to the US the emotional and spiritual maturity I have found in Nepal (which it the poorest country outside of Africa). What I still wonder and sort of worry about is whether my own efforts at infrastructure development in Nepal are actually helping or hurting the villages I’ve worked with. But, we do the best we can, and then, “so it goes” (per my fellow Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut).

Q   People often feel helpless to “do something significant” to improve our world or find meaning to their lives. What suggestions would you give to others perhaps not so adventurous as yourself?

A   Consider deeply what you care about. When you understand what you truly value, then guide your life in a way which promotes the values you care most about.

Q   Your recent book, Godless, is a very provocative title and offers what others may consider controversial insight into religious doctrines and dogma. Have you received any negative feedback or misunderstanding regarding it, and if so, what would you want to clarify for potential readers?

A   “Godless” is explained in the book on several levels. One of the points it makes is that making gods out of religious doctrines or political ideologies has caused much harm throughout human history. Believers tend to divide humanity into us and them, believers and nonbelievers. But what you personally believe or don’t believe probably won’t harm other people so long as you value tolerance. Unfortunately, religious and political zealots tend not to value tolerance and many are led by unscrupulous leaders to treat nonbelievers as less than human. The book makes the case that we would be better off to ditch the whole God-thing and admit we really don’t know whether God exists, or, to think that everything and every moment is sacred.

Q   What’s next for you, Jeff?

A   After finishing writing a book, I take several months to try to promote the book, as I’m doing now. And, the last thing I want to think about is writing another one. Eventually another seed will germinate. In the meantime, I run the Basa Village Foundation, serve on 5 nonprofit boards, teach a class on philanthropy at Butler University, and organize trekking and mountaineering expeditions.

Q   Where can our readers discover more about you, your philanthropic work, and your books?

A   My website has all that info: www.jeffreyrasley.com

Amazon Author page is http://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Rasley/e/B004Q3D6B2

Other social media sites are :

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jeff-rasley/12/984/619

http://www.pinterest.com/pinner362436

https://twitter.com/jeffrasley

https://plus.google.com/u/0/104731913652844816663

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4114763.Jeffrey_Rasley

https://www.facebook.com/JeffRasleyAndMidsummerBooks