It's become my Year of Awesome Travel rather unexpectedly, and when friends hear about my wanderings there are frequently jokes that fall into a couple of categories: my willingness to do anything to get away from Phoenix heat, and my status with the CIA. So consider this an official statement that yes, I'll go anywhere to escape summers here, and no, I'm definitely not a spy.
The Cuba trip was my reward for years of saving money and dreaming of visiting a place I had loved since the first moment I heard about it, and it was possible because the Tempe Chamber of Commerce provided the opportunity.
The Africa trip was a totally unexpected opportunity that I'm not sure I deserve at all, and it's possible because of a program called American Council of Young Political Leaders. (Makes you want to sit up straighter just saying it, right?) It's a non-governmental organization that works to bring political leaders from many nations together to "promote mutual understanding, respect and friendship and cultivate long lasting relationships among next generation leaders." (I quote because there's no way I could say that better than they do.) The list of people who have participated in the program is lengthy and impressive - among the highlights are former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer.
Now those are big footsteps to follow!
To be nominated for the program you have to be "young," defined as between 25 and 40, you have to be an elected official, policy maker or advocate, and you have to demonstrate that you're a leader with future potential. GULP. I still have no idea how I made it into any category except the age one, but I'm grateful someone gave me enough credit on the other criteria.
I completed my application almost two years ago, then heard stories from many impressive people who had applied and then never heard back from ACYPL (the application is only valid for two years), or were offered trips that didn't work with their job schedule and responsibilities. To say that I had given up on the program does not imply a lack of faith or confidence in myself...it reflects the reality that there was a very small possibility I would get selected or be able to leave work if I was. I really do love it when the seemingly impossible becomes possible. Exactly a month before I left for Cuba, I got a call telling me I was going to Africa less than a month after I got back from Cuba.
The facts I know are limited: I'll travel to South Africa and Namibia, I'll be with a small delegation of local elected officials and fellow policy wonks, and I'll be handing out somewhere in the range of 150 business cards. (Seriously, they don't tell us how many days we'll need to wear business clothes but they do make sure we know they're not kidding when they tell us to bring business cards!) But I do know that I am fulfulling yet another lifelong travel dream.
And I didn't even have to be a spy to do it.