Charyn Pfeuffer traveled all over the world during her year-long voluntour — raising thousands of dollars, clocking hundred of charitable hours, learning dozens of life lessons — and put all of her newfound love into one sweet and furry souvenir.
GUATEMALA – Like a true methodical Taurus, I dote on anniversaries, round numbers, and dates of significance more than I should. So it isn't surprising that the 20-year anniversary of my mother's death and her end-of-life regret, "I never went to Europe," spurred action of big proportions.
I honored my mother's unrequited wanderlust and embraced my desire to give back with more than my usual gusto. I handed in my travel writer all-access pass to luxury, fundraised $20,500 via social media, and volunteered with twelve community projects dotted around the world. I turned 38 during the year-long endeavor, , the same age my mother was when she succumbed to lung cancer. Another nod to my obsession with numbers.
I volunteered more than 900 hours and took friends and followers on a virtual "do good" trip around the globe, raising awareness, educating about the beauty of our world, and giving people new perspectives. I dealt with crime, mudslides, and dengue fever. I spiced organic quince jelly in Portugal and built smokeless stoves for indigenous Panamanians. Despite getting booted out of the Catholic Church, I shared eyeliner with girls that missionaries rescued from the mean streets of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I even smiled through my partner's conniptions when three weeks at a Guatemalan animal shelter netted us a surprise blue-spotted puppy.
Manchas (Spanish for "spots" or "stains") was a lanky pup with mange and malnutrition. She had been brought in by some young boys from the neighboring village of Sumpango because their grandfather had been kicking her and threatened to poison the poor dog. Despite my best efforts to find her a home during poorly attended Sunday adoption fairs, the Guatemalans who showed up seemed to prefer purebred rescues. They repeatedly called her fea, or ugly, which was enough to propel me into fierce champion mode. (I blame it on my Philadelphia upbringing, where pretty much every baby born in the '70s was ejected from the womb idolizing the Italian Stallion and humming "Gonna Fly Now.") Manchas, now called Mimi, was going home to Seattle with me one way or another.
I jumped through all sorts of legal hoops, braving chicken buses and a handful of break downs along the Pan American Highway on the back-and-forth trips to Antigua to file paperwork with the U.S. Embassy. The day before our departure, I hired a driver to take us to Guatemala City and schlep from pet store to pet store as I tried to find a TSA-friendly dog carrier, a most difficult retail endeavor. Then I sweet-talked a hostel owner into allowing Mimi to board with me. He kindly offered us a private room at no additional cost and even drove us to the airport at some ungodly hour the following morning. I was hellbent on delivering this beast from the rural mountain highlands of Guatemala to sweet domesticated safety in the States. My boyfriend expected coffee. I brought home a feral street dog from a developing country.
Less than one month after I hung up my backpack, I faced the sudden loss of my father — on Father's Day, no less — and grieved with my estranged family. I drew on the familiarity of losing a parent and called on reserves of strength I didn't know I had.
As I struggled with sadness and what it meant to be an orphan, she struggled with trust and health issues. (For months I was the mayor of our vet office on Foursquare.) We were both in pretty banged-up shape. Slowly, we began to heal (and continue to do so).
We just marked Mimi's one year anniversary in the States. I embarked on The Global Citizen Project as a way to give back and honor my mother, but what I brought home was something far more meaningful, from the humbling experiences and lessons learned to an unexpected spotted source of comfort.