Week 1 - London
After spending a month in New York City and then another 5 days in Washington DC I am once again surprised at just how magnificent this world truly is. From the sunny west coast, to the concrete jungle that is New York City, to our nations capital I am excited every time I enter a new place. I have always been that way too. Ever since I was a little munchkin my imagination and thirst for adventure has always been volcanic in comparison to anyone else. My mind never stops and the possibilities never end. I see travel and opportunity almost as the exact same thing. Now that I have quite literally toured most of the United States, I have taken to the sky once again to meet the international cleft community. I gotta admit though, I am 100% terrified.
I have lived in the comfort of the U.S. Walls for the last 20 years of my life. I don't remember life in rural Germany before moving to the states. I have never been in a situation where I was the only one speaking English. Where I was the tourist.
And now, I am sitting on a WOW Air plane (Icelandic airlines) where I am the minority. Where the safety instructions are read in English second. Where everyone has accents, some I have no idea where from. I realize, I have lived in a bubble. I have watched from inside the safe zone that is America and in many ways I am ignorant to how the world works abroad. Now that is all about to change.
As I sat down at my gate at Baltimore International, I felt pure panic set in. I was, for the first time in my life, about to lose all sense of purpose and mission because I was scared. I start hearing all of those negative comments people have said to me about the magnitude of this project. It was like I had headphones in and all that was coming out was discouraging rhetoric. I start to write emails to distract myself before I see this tall (Thor looking) man walk in front of me, down the isle of seats I am in and sit directly across from me. He immediately strikes me as some kind of kin. We are both a bit fidgety and by the look of our passports, both very new international travelers...but there is something else. He smiles and guess what I notice. He has a right side unilateral cleft lip and cleft palate. I almost fell on the floor right then and there. If that wasn't God, the universe, or whatever you believe in sending me some sort of sign, then I don't know what could be. I struck up conversation after getting a bit choked up with joy and then, of course, pulled out my camera and photographed him right there in the terminal.
As I get on the plane, my nerves don't subside much. Take off is bumpy and it's like my mind is finding every excuse it can to FREAK OUT. I ordered a beer and put myself to sleep. Next thing I know I am opening my eyes 5 hours later to these gorgeous Icelandic flight attendants announcing our final decent into Reykjavik. Whether I was ready or not, my journey had officially begun.
We landed at this itty bitty airport just south of that city of Reykjavik at around 5am Iceland time. Which meant it was midnight in New York and 9pm in Los Angeles. The time change was absolutely going to be an adjustment. I was insanely hungry so I searched for anything that looked authentic to my setting but also something I knew I would like. I found this open faced sandwich with arugula, hard boiled eggs, and salmon topped with this honey mustard type of sauce. I grabbed a water off the top shelf and proceeded to check out. Cashed out and thankfully my card worked just fine, but I looked at the total and WOWOWOWOWOWO. $20.93 for a bottle of water and sandwich. At first I was just disappointed in the price (I am always worried about fundraising) but then I took a bite.... it was the most fresh, crisp, and unique tasting sandwich AND water I have ever had. After a couple of minutes and minimal breaths between bites, I realized something... I wasn't scared anymore. My hands weren't trembling with apprehension and I had finally stopped sweating for no reason. I began to feel excitements warm embrace. This is what I have been working towards for two years. This moment is what I have been dreaming about since "1IN700" went from idea to an actual manifestation. I was doing it -- I AM DOING IT!!! And I owe it to the thousands of supporters all around the globe. For sharing my work on their page, for donating whatever it is they can, for sending me pictures of their cleft cuties, and for believing in me. I don't know what comes next after this, heck I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring...but I know that whatever it is, I'll face it head on and I will always know that I have family on every continent that all have my back.
So much gratitude and love for you all. Europe, here I come!!
I wrote this blog post while sitting in the terminal waiting for my connecting flight to the U.K. Little did I know that the next few days were going to be one the toughest transitions of my life. I would lose my debit card, I would make the tragic mistake of incorrectly booking my hostel, my phone would die while I was on the tube looking for my new place to stay. I have never felt such exhaustion but I endured. I pushed through and rolled with the punches. I found myself wanting to give in, to throw my hands up and call it quits. Then I discovered this new resilient Zack. I was disappointed in myself for even thinking that for a second. I had all of these people counting on me. Not to mention the fact that I knew I could do this, I was just off to a rough start. I wiped my tears, tightened my back pack straps, and pulled it together. As for my first week in the U.K. I can confidently say, I turned it all around. Not without the help of of other travelers of course.
I met a Brit that has started something called The Pansy Project where he goes around the world planting pansy's in the place of homophobic hate crimes. Not only is this a beautiful initiative, but it is also an international one.
I met an American that was also solo traveling and we spent two days together exploring the city have sharing our world experiences. We spoke about how hardships, our future plans, and how incredibly open minded all of the Europeans we met are. We also talked about how we both are feeling more and more how we may belong abroad.
I was outside of a pub when I stuck up conversation with these very friendly Germans. A rather intoxicated British man was sort of giving me a hard time and would not simply leave me be. This group of beautiful (inside & out) Germans came to my rescue and little did I know this was the start of a wonderful friendship. We spent the next three evenings together celebrating Steffi's birthday, which is why they were on holiday in London. We drank, we laughed, we sang, we connected on a deep level and a kinship was discovered. They all met while working in an advertising agency in Munich where they developed these relationships with each other that was much deeper than the surface. They showed me the true meaning of friendship, brotherhood, and authentic camaraderie. It was so incredible that I decided to go to Munich in two months to celebrate my birthday!
To wrap up my first week here in the U.K. I hopped on a coach and headed south to connect with one of my long time social media friends - Ryan Trower. He and his family welcomed me with open arms here in Cornwall. Cornwall is by far one of the most green places I have ever been. I also haven't heard silence quite like this in years. The small town shuts down by 6pm and all you are left with is the soothing sound of soft rain and the crisp, fresh breeze of the coast. Once Ryan and I returned from the Plymouth coach station it became very clear that I was about to have a very nice change of scenery and some wonderful company. Also, I will get to sleep in big comfy bed. This weekend is going to be great.
Reunited after 6 years with some old family friends. The Torres family!
Steak pasty just became one of my new favorite things in the world.
The beautiful Jana - See you in July for my birthday!