Smells Like Madagascar Vanilla

By Meghan Tschanz

My breath hangs in the air, frozen but alive, twisting and turning into shapes unknown before disappearing into the cold Nepali atmosphere. A hot cup of tea warms me from the inside out as I step into the morning light. The sun is coming up on this Nepali rooftop, and I can see colorful Kathmandu come alive. The elderly and young alike bundled up in colorful knits and sweaters, soaking in the warmth of a new morning.

Once she knows she has my attention, she rushes out the door again, knowing I will always give into the chase. Her little legs expertly navigate her way through the Indian prostitutes and the lifeless clients that follow them. At last, I catch her, hugging her tightly while she wiggles and giggles, until she squeezes me back. I think that maybe if I can hold her long enough my arms will say what my words never can, that she is never alone.

Music blares and flashing lights blind. Tourists flood the street in search of some sort of fulfillment. Thai girls dance on bars to the same song, night after night, hoping to get picked by a wealthy westerner, hoping that the purchase of one night can lead to a lifetime of happiness.

I breathe every third stroke, my eyes hazy from the chemicals in the water, my eyes unaware of my new visitors. I surface to an eruption of dancing and clapping – twenty Cambodian children have hopped the fence to cheer on their new hero, the crazy white girl that swims and swims. Small splashes transform the surface of the water as they throw their school supplies in the pool to show their admiration. Smiles and laughter make me feel more buoyant than the water I float in.


There is this perfume, Madagascar Vanilla, that I bought in South Africa right before New Year’s. Today I put it on again, and while everyone else tells me it smells like Oreos, to me it smells like something entirely different. It smells, to me, like living.

I put it on and all those memories come rushing back like a freight train, staggering me where I stood. It awakens something in me that had begun to slumber.

For the last year I found myself in the most extraordinary of settings, new homes, new families, new professions each month in eleven different countries. My agenda with World Race was simple: I was to show that extravagant love has no bounds, that it loved the beggar, the businessman, the prostitute, the criminal, and the orphan fully. But now I’m home, and there is something about the comfortable life of America that is like quicksand, pulling you under into complacency before you even have a chance to register what is happening. Why did my dreams feel so much bigger when I was living abroad? Maybe it was the rice and beans that I ate every day, or the squatty potties and all the critters that came with it. Maybe it was the refreshing bucket showers or the adventures of public transportation. Maybe it was because every day was so unpredictable, the day could lead you to a trash heap or an orphanage or a hospital, but I never seemed to live the same day twice.

When I sleep in a bed that is entirely too big for a single girl, or when I get to have a whole bathroom all to myself. When I can indulge in any food under the sun and when it’s a challenge to find a place without Internet. When I start to forget what a cockroach looks like or when I drive a reliable car where everyone predictably follows traffic laws. When I’m comfortable, that’s when my heart is the least at peace. I feel it screaming to be noticed above the distractions, above Facebook, TV, movies, cookies and brownies, above iPhones, above Pinterest. These distractions are just not cutting it, and the longer I find myself swimming in comfort, the harder it is to hear my heart.

But when I catch this scent of Madagascar Vanilla, I dream.

You see, we all have dreams – big dreams and little dreams, dreams of writing, singing, teaching, speaking, preaching, leading, dancing, mothering, acting… you name it. But the thing about dreams is that they’re real and scary.

I have this theory about dreams: I believe that they are as unique as a fingerprint and were planted by God. I think dreams represent a projection of the soul unto the world, what our souls would look like if they had clothes. I think dreams are our soul’s way of affecting the world in the way that only it can. So, naturally, dreams are intimate and vulnerable. And if you speak them out, it kind of feels like you are naked in a crowd. After you do, you hope that no one heard you, because what if it doesn’t happen? What if your dream doesn’t come true? Won’t it look like you are kind of broken and don’t really fit in this world?

But what if your dreams do happen, can you imagine the impact you would have? The love you could bring? The lives that would be changed?

You see I have a fear of failing, of looking like a fool, or appearing just plain stupid. But my biggest fear is that I would settle for a life that doesn’t do much of anything. I fear living a life without passion.

I have a dream that I can change the world, that through my writing men, women, and children will believe in God-given dreams. I have a dream that everyone’s dream can come true, that everyone will step into their destiny and love fully. That this world will come alive in the color of people no longer afraid to live.

That’s a pretty big dream – a colossal dream actually – because people are afraid of so many things. And people are always telling other people that their dreams are unrealistic, too hard with too many obstacles. So people lock their hearts away, trying to ignore the beckoning to something greater. It’s sad. If people were courageous enough to live out these dreams, this world would be so much more beautiful. There will be obstacles, difficulties, failures along the way, but perseverance makes dreams all the more beautiful. I truly believe that. It’s why I write. It’s why I dream up ways to rescue women from trafficking – I believe it’s worth it.

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