By Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a sense of adventure and a love of travel that led Olivia Martin to ride a camel through the Sahara Desert in Morocco.
And it led her into a strange situation, too.
Martin and a small group of friends were coming to the end of a 12-hour van drive when they reached the rendezvous spot for a planned camel ride at about 5 p.m.
But by that time, the wind had picked up and was blowing sand around, even entering the closed van. Visibility was marginal.
Suddenly, a man with camels appeared out of the storm.
The camel wrangler and the van driver had a long, animated conversation in Arabic, with many emphatic hand gestures.
“I thought, ‘Are we really going to do this?’” said Martin.
Indeed, the camel ride was on.
Martin and the others donned sunglasses and face scarves, and mounted the camels. Off they went, mouths firmly shut, through the storm.
By 10 p.m., the winds died, the skies cleared, and she was treated to the awesome sight of a desert night bejeweled by uncountable stars. The next day, it snowed.
“It was especially rare,” said Martin.
But Martin, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” knew “there’s no place like home.” And so, eventually, and without the benefit of ruby slippers, she returned to Kansas.
She became a reporter for The Leaven on Jan. 29.
Martin was born and raised on farms just east of Salina. She and her family belonged to Sacred Heart Cathedral, where seeing the bishop of the Diocese of Salina was a regular occurrence.
Her late father Michael Martin, an agricultural loan officer at a bank, raised beef cattle and some crops. Her mother Clara Hilger is a physical therapist. They had three children, then adopted one more.
After Michael died in 2016, her mother remarried, and Martin gained six step-siblings.
Martin was home-schooled according to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton curriculum until the seventh grade. Then, she attended Sacred Heart Junior High and Sacred Heart High School, graduating in 2012.
Martin got her first taste of foreign adventure when she and her mother joined a Wichita pilgrimage group to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid.
“It was quite overwhelming,” she said. “We were there for two weeks. During the first week, we took day tours to nearby towns and stayed with families . . . in southeast Spain.”
“That was my favorite part,” she continued, “because you got to meet with the people and be with the people, and live in their communities and see what their lives were like. They were extremely welcoming.”
When it came to choosing a college, the choice was easy. Martin was sold on Benedictine College in Atchison — the only college she visited — during a visit on a beautiful, sunny fall day.
Benedictine offered her study abroad opportunities — which she embraced wholeheartedly. She studied in Florence, Italy, in the spring of 2014, and in Seville, Spain, in the summer of 2015.
It was during the later trip that Martin, who had joined the Communion and Liberation movement at Benedictine, met and became good friends with Archbishop Don Francisco Javier Martinez of the Archdiocese of Granada.
Martin is still a member of Communion and Liberation.
“I continue because the people I’ve met, who follow the movement, are the happiest people I’ve ever met,” she said, “and I want what they have.
“I want to live the way they do and see and experience reality the way they do.”
Martin graduated from Benedictine in spring 2016 with a bachelor of arts degree in English literature and Spanish.
After graduation, she taught at a primary school for six months in northern Spain. Her instruction was in English, according to the European method of language acquisition.
While in Europe, she traveled a bit, raising her “countries visited” total to 15.
When her contract was up, she returned to the United States, spending some time as a barista at The Roasterie in Kansas City, Missouri, where she learned a lot about coffee.
But she’s no coffee snob. Her favorite is the “Gibraltar,” which is like a small latte.
When Martin heard about an opening for a reporter at The Leaven, she applied. Thanks to her strong writing skills, she’s made a big impact from day one.
“It has been a smooth adaptation, mostly because, during the first two weeks, I got a lot of one-on-one training from [predecessor] Moira Cullings,” said Martin, “and because of my way of learning how to adapt to different writing styles from mimicking what other people do. It helps I had excellent articles from excellent writers to look to.”
She’s found a lot to enjoy about the job — which includes beating production manager Todd Habiger at basketball. It’s the most fun she’s ever had on a job.
“I really appreciate the way everyone works together,” said Martin. “The Leaven is filled with people who are very open to meeting others in just the best sense of being open. Everybody understands each other’s strengths and quirks, and accepts and integrates everyone for who they are.
“And it’s very clear everybody has something very specific that they’re good at and that the team depends upon.”
Martin will continue to write, translate and improve her photography in the months ahead, as she prepares to cover World Youth Day 2019 in Panama for the paper.