A Snippet from Chapter 2:
The hour flight to LAX was a piece of cake. It was my third flight since January 3rd, and I hadn’t yet needed to break out the Xanax the travel doc prescribed to help ease my anxiety. See, I am incredibly fearful of flying, but I give myself the same pep talk every time I have to fly: “If it’s your time to die, it’s your time to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You are not in control of this plane. So, trust God to keep you safe and… Get. On. The plane!” I pray and then plunge forward because I know there’s no turning back. In this case, it worked, and I was cool, calm, and collected the entire flight to LA.
I marched through the airport and quickly found my way to the terminal, not before exchanging currency to get a few notes for the first four countries I hoped to visit: Japanese Yen, Indonesian Rupiah, Malaysian Ringgit, and Thai Baht. At the terminal, I found a charging station to power my phone. I’d never been on an international flight and was unsure if the planes were equipped with charging ports, so I needed to make sure I had enough juice to listen to my music for as much of the twelve-hour flight as I could.
I instinctively called my mother to tell her I had arrived at LAX and was awaiting the boarding call. We were having a lovely chat, talking about randomness like we usually do. All was well until the Delta attendant raised the microphone to her mouth and, with the perky enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader, informed us that the flight to Tokyo was open for boarding. Suddenly, I lost it! To this day, I don’t know what happened to me in that moment. I promise I was perfectly fine before the announcement. I was excited about starting this journey and didn’t even cry when I left my family in Oakland. I was good until the attendant made the trip a reality with one simple, routine announcement. I was now past the point of no return. I’m really doing this, I thought, and I was petrified.
For the first time since I declared I would travel the world, the reality of “traveling the world” set in like a thunderous roar, reverberating throughout my entire body. Every fear, every worry, every anxiety you could imagine set in my bones and made me weak. I literally cowered on the floor because I could not stand. I was weak with trepidation. There I was, this grown-ass woman crouched in an upright fetal position, weeping inconsolably on the phone. Did I mention I was thirty-seven at the time?
At that moment, I finally understood what my mother had comprehended a week earlier. This was real. I was about to get onto a plane, the largest plane I’d ever stepped foot on in my life, and travel tens of thousands of feet in the air for twelve hours. Twelve freaking hours! Nothing between me and the ground but air. Air! The same stuff I can effortlessly glide my hand through. Air was going to hold this beast of a plane in the sky for twelve hours. What’s more? I would disembark from the plane in a strange land surrounded by people who looked nothing like me and didn’t speak my language. Correction: I wouldn’t speak their language. All I knew was I would struggle to communicate with others.
“I’m going to be alone,” I cried to my mother. I would be all alone with no companion to accompany me. I would be thousands of miles away from my family, friends, and comforts. I had no job. My thoughts raced, Oh my God, I gave up my jobs to go gallivanting around the world like some kind of hippie nomad. So, the money I saved up to that point was all I had to cling to. Oh my God, please don’t let another recession plummet the market and screw up my stocks! That’s all I have to live off for the next eight months, enough for the trip and a little something to tie me over until I start working again. I had no home. My Lord, strange boys are living in my house! What the hell have I done?
An avalanche of emotions flooded my body as I shrank onto the floor in that busy airport terminal. I didn’t care who saw me. There was no containing my anxiety, fear, and regret. On the other end of that phone call was my rock. She understood what I was feeling, and, like any Mama Bear, she desperately wanted to ease my spirit and cloak me with peace. She questioned, “What is it that you’re afraid of?” I couldn’t answer but was thinking, Everything. I was afraid of everything, anything. She reminded me, “This is what you wanted, Jessica. You knew what you were getting yourself into.” I know, but maybe I changed my mind. Maybe I thought I wanted this, but I really only wanted the fantasy, the idea of world travel. Maybe I just wanted to live vicariously through Miles and pretend his tales were my own.
The weakest part of me sobbed, drowning my strength and courage. Then my mother admonished, “You’re stronger than this, Jessica! C’mon, sweetie. Don’t do this.” What if I wasn’t? What if I didn’t have the courage to step on that plane? I contemplated going back to the counter to purchase a ticket to Atlanta. Maybe I could do this in a few years or with a companion. Not right now. I’m too afraid, were the self-doubt messages circling my brain.
Eventually, my mother did what any spiritual woman would do. She stopped talking to me. Her love for me was strong, but she understood her limitations. She was my rock, my earthly rock, but she knew that what I needed was beyond her ordainment. She stopped talking to me and called upon our Heavenly Rock. She pleaded with Him to pick me up and put me on my feet, to give me the strength and courage to walk onto that plane. She insisted that He cover and protect me as He guided my steps throughout the journey. Then, my mother thanked Him for His enduring mercy and expressed her gratitude for Him giving me this opportunity, this conviction to follow my heart and live out my dreams. She begged that He keep me comforted and embrace me with the same loving vigor she would if she were in my presence.
My mother spoke to God with a commanding familiarity, for she knew Him, and He knew her. She trusted Him, and He loved her for that. There was nothing under the sun that she couldn’t ask of Him. My mother was at work during our phone call, but by her tone and volume, you would have thought she was praying from the comfort of her home. She didn’t care who heard her because she wasn’t ashamed of her faith. All she wanted was for her baby to be ok. She concluded the prayer, and with the same authority and conviction she had when she prayed, she ordered me to get up and get on that plane.
Canteen, Jessica. "LAX." In The Finding Series: A Journey to Healing, Self-discovery & Purpose, 18-21. Atlanta: ElevenEightyOne, 2023.
A Snippet from Chapter 5:
Bali | Finding Courage
The wind streamed refreshingly past my body as I rode on the back of the bike, clutching tightly to my driver’s waist. He was half my size, pound for pound, but that little guy zipped through the roadways at top speed, headed toward Uluwatu. It was about a forty-five-minute drive with traffic, but it took us over an hour because we blew a tire while climbing a steep hill. It was the rear tire, at that! What a great way to make me feel fat!
We had to trek on foot to a nearby garage to get the tire repaired, him pushing the bike while I trailed behind, laughing in embarrassment and recording the debacle. Once we were all patched up, we zoomed right back up that hill and made it to the temple in no time. My driver could not speak English very well, so he stumbled with his words and reverted to hand gestures once we entered the parking lot. He was trying to tell me something about the pickup, that much I could discern, but we struggled to fully understand each other. He then pointed to an area down the hill, seemingly trying to establish the pickup location. So, I said okay, and he nodded.
Uluwatu Temple, or Pura Luhur Uluwatu in Balinese, is one of the six Hindu spiritual pillars and one of nine directional temples in Bali. Located in Uluwatu, an area on the southwestern tip of the Bukit peninsula, the temple is uniquely situated atop a cliff roughly 230 ft above sea level, making it the ideal place to watch the sun retreating into the Indian Ocean at dusk. The grounds were adorned with sculptures of Hindu figures, pebbled pathways leading to courtyards colored with beautiful vegetation, traditional Balinese architecture, and stone stairways ascending to the sky where the temple sat.
The temple's origin dates back to the tenth century, and it has since undergone several restorations, the most recent being in 1999, after it was set ablaze by lightning. Balinese Hindus believe the site is where the three divine powers of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva united to become one force. Thus, as a directional temple, Pura Luhur Uluwatu is thought to protect the province of Bali against evil spirits invading from the sea.
Just behind the temple grounds was a rainforest. No, let me be more specific; Pura Luhur Uluwatu was built in a rainforest that has always been a monkey haven! There is no partition between the temple grounds and the Uluwatu Monkey Forest, at least no barrier intended to keep the monkeys contained. The monkeys are sacred, so the people do not want to keep them contained. Just as Uluwatu Temple is believed to protect the province from evil spirits, legend holds that the monkeys protect the temple similarly. So, they’re everywhere. They. Are. Everywhere! I cannot emphasize that enough.
In fairness, I was warned about the monkeys by the elder at the hostel. He cautioned I should not try to engage them, feed them, or look a monkey directly in the face since eye contact is perceived as a threat. He told me to keep my belongings secured under my garments because the monkeys are known to steal. What? These are thieving monkeys? What is this… Aladdin? He told me to keep my phone and camera concealed since those are the prized booty of every monkey heist. He pointed at my dangly earrings and sunglasses, then shook his head in disapproval. “Don’t wear that,” he advised.
I heeded his guidance and was mindful when preparing for the visit. I knew the monkeys would be there, and I was ready for them. I wasn’t afraid of the furry critters; I just wanted to safeguard myself from their thievery by obeying all of the elder’s instructions. The first thing I did after hopping off the GrabBike was scan the grounds and the trees in search of monkeys. To my surprise, I saw none, so I relaxed.
There was a huge crowd at the ticket booth and an even longer one forming at the massive split gates. All I saw was a sea of purple since everyone was required to wear a royal purple sarong to show respect when entering holy grounds. I followed suit, tying the sarong tightly around my waist so the silky cloth flowed down my jeans to mid-shin. I maneuvered through the massive crowd inside to make my way to the cape. According to the weather app, the sun was scheduled to retire at 6:47 pm. I had plenty of time to meander, but I felt an urgency to get myself into position for that magical sunset.
I scurried up the stone steps leading to the temple. There were so many tourists it was hard to move around on the platforms near the temple. Plus, the structure was closed off to visitors, so people crowded along the lower landscapes to get as close as possible. I surveyed the area and found a distant trail that bordered an adjacent cliff facing the temple. I hustled to claim my spot before anyone else caught on to its vacancy. Score! I strapped my camera to my wrist just in case a monkey appeared with boosting in mind, checked my Fitbit for the time, and excitedly looked out into the abyss in anticipation. I saw nothing, absolutely nothing, except for some doggone rain clouds! Damn.
While it was well before the scheduled time, there was no hope of seeing the sunset that evening, with thick gray clouds blanketing the entire sky. Instead, it looked like we were all about to get rained on, which we did. I can laugh about it now, but I was pissed then. No magical sunset for me. However, you’ve got to make lemonade out of lemons, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how mesmerizing the view of the temple atop the cape was against a backdrop of raging seawater crashing against the cliff’s rocky base some 230 feet down. The seascape was stunning.
I was deep in reflection when I was interrupted by the resounding beating of drums, signaling the start of the Kecak Fire & Dance show, held nightly on a clifftop stage. It was just before 6 p.m. I looked to the sky one last time, searching for the line where it meets the ocean, in hopes of a glimmer of a possibility of a chance the clouds would recede and reveal that fiery orange star as it prepared to kiss the sea goodnight. Nope. Nothing but clouds. Oh well… next time.
Fast-forward past the performance, which was excellent; it was now nightfall, and the crowd was ushered back toward the split gates to exit the facility. The attraction was now closed, and it was time for everyone to vacate the premises. It was only a bit after 7 p.m., but pitch-black outside because we were in the jungle and it was cloudy. A few lanterns lit the pathway, illuminating just enough for us to see our immediate surroundings.
As I walked, looking left to right and right to left, admiring the statues planted along the path, my Spidey-senses started buzzing. Something deep in my spirit told me to look up, and once I did, I saw a gang of monkeys perched in the trees directly above my head. OMG! My life flashed before my eyes as I pictured myself being attacked by these monkeys. There was nothing I could do to avoid the blitz I feared was inevitable because they were in all the trees lining the path leading to the exit. The monkeys had us outnumbered and out-positioned. So, I cried a desperate prayer, “Oh God, puh-leaaaaaaaze, don’t let these monkeys get me!” and hustled for dear life out of the gates.
Now I’m paranoid. I was like an owl, moving only my neck to surveil my surroundings. I pulled out my phone to call a Grab and couldn’t schedule one for some reason. There was no signal. Duh, we’re in the jungle! I walked around the parking lot like the “Can you hear me now?” man trying desperately to find a signal so I could call a Grab and get out of this place. No success. I marched to the ticket counter to inquire about taxis. The merchant either didn’t understand me or was too preoccupied with something more important because he shooed me, motioning with his hands as if telling me to go away. As I scoffed at his rudeness and indignantly turned my back to him, I noticed a sign posted as clear as day informing patrons that Grab services are strictly prohibited in the area. Crap!
How did I miss that? That sign was damn near the size of a billboard; it was so huge. And it was displayed right at the entrance for all to see. How in the world did I miss that? It all made sense to me now. That’s what my driver was trying to tell me; he could carry me in but couldn’t transport me out. That’s why he asked me what time I was leaving and pointed toward the bottom of the hill where he’d be able to retrieve me. That’s why I couldn’t book a Grab. It’s not that I didn’t have a signal; they didn’t operate in the area, so there were no drivers available. Got it. Holy hell, how am I going to get home? I thought as panic set in.
People cleared out in droves, packing chartered tour buses and personal vehicles. I saw a warung across the street and headed over to inquire about taxis. I fumed, “Someone in this damn place must know where I can get a taxi.” The guy at the stand attempted to point me in the direction, but I didn’t understand what he was saying or where exactly he was pointing. By now, the parking lot was nearly empty, and I was panicked that I would be stranded in the dark, in the jungle, by myself.
I forgot all about the monkeys just that quickly; that was until I saw―with my own eyes―a monkey jump down from a rooftop to the ground, creep up behind a guy who was scrolling through pictures on his camera, reach up from behind him, and snatch the camera from the man’s hands. The monkey then darted across the street, shimmied up the ticket stand to its rooftop, and disappeared into the trees. The guy shouted, “Hey!” and took off chasing after the monkey. I lost my mind.
What in the National Geographic did I just witness? I had never seen such a thing, and it happened so fast. To say I was scared is an understatement. I don’t know the word for what I felt the moment when the reality of being stranded by myself at night in the jungle with a thieving monkey gang set in. If this monkey was bold enough to straight “Debo” someone’s camera from his hands, what would it do to me? And there were so many of them, and they were everywhere. Everywhere! I panicked.
Canteen, Jessica. "Bali: Finding Courage." In The Finding Series: A Journey to Healing, Self-discovery & Purpose, 57-62. Atlanta: ElevenEightyOne, 2023.