Thursday, September 27, 2012

God Bless you GodBlessy :)



It seems as if, in most cases, I have a remarkably easy time getting straight into the hearts of youngsters. I would assume this has something to do with the fact that I’m a big kid myself :).  The problem is, they seem to have an even easier path into mine. During this past year, I had the amazing bond with the kids in the Kolkata slum, the extremely loving and endearing connection w/ the neighbor kids in Nepal, a handful of delightful days w/ other children along the way, but this last experience, 24 hrs a day for 17 days living at an orphanage with 28 kids, this was a trip. A chaotic, entertaining, tender, bittersweet, magical trip. 

A great way "in". Photobooth. Works every time :) 
Parents, aunties, babysitters, anyone that has spend a good bit of time with a child, will relate to knowing how easy your heart can melt with all the sweet little moments that happen. (Also the crazy moments!).  One little cutie named Godbless (yes that’s his real name) was attached to me a good bit of every day. He takes my hand and says, “Becky, lez go” over and over. We do magic tricks, we karate chop, we make friction heat w/ our hands like Mr. Miyagi. I sing him “Godbless the USA” and ask him to sneeze so I can say, “God Bless you Godblessy” :). He loves butterfly kisses and to have me read the captions to him when watching the awful Korean soap opera.  My first day he was sharpening a pencil w/ a 7” knife. Holy geezuz. He’s extremely clever, super strong, and quite thoughtful for a 7 yr. old. Then there is Nasra. I thought she was a boy the first two days (she wore neutral clothes and has a shaven head- most girls/women do)..oops!!  Soon to discover she was the CUTEST little thing ever. At 7, she was so small, the 2 year old was the just inches shorter (granted the toddler is HUGE!). She loved to touch my face and we had this funny inside joke going where she’d ask for my camera about 10 times a day. I’d tell her to just hold it but not to take pictures (the batteries had to get recharged everyday. Within minutes she would be taking them, and then give me the, ‘I’m so cute I know I can get away with it grin’.  Ahhh I will miss her :). 

Godbless. The kids call him "King Kong" because of his cute lil' nose :) 

Nasra, "Becky, give me your camera please."  Okkaayy fine
The hardest thing I found w/ so many orphans is it’s a nonstop attention, approval and affection seeking environment. It’s heartbreaking actually.  There are always shy ones who you have to work to give more attention, and the rowdy ones intercepting you and snatching up your time, especially the young ones. And at +/-28 kids (it varied) It just wasn’t possible to connect w/ all of them. I see why parents say they could use more time, hands, eyes and energy :).  Even one is def a full time job (I still want twins;).

The logistics of how we lived was also difficult to stomach. There are six kids from age 16-20, the rest are all from 7-13 yrs old (and one 2 yr old), yet they are totally self sufficient. It’s quite a well tuned machine actually.  I’m a fam of giving kids responsibilities, but I battled feelings of WTF (where is there childhood?) and the fact that, well, an education, shelter, 3 meals a day and each other to love is much better than the street. There is generally 1 or 2 adults there, but often not a one. More than once the 7 yr olds were all left to care after the toddler. They seem happy, albeit pining for acceptance. When I ask them if they like it there they each say yes. Every morning they clean not only the house but the surrounding yard. The sweep the dirt, pick up the leaves, mop the floors. Organize all the shoes. The boys climb the trees and cut branches each day for the goats. With around 30 people (a few come and go), every day is a cooking and dish washing festival. Beans and Ugali (super traditional, a thick cornmeal dish), we have that for both lunch and dinner.  Also made each evening, is mandazi, a bread dough, that is fried in a vat of oil and saved for morning breakfast along w/ tea (no milk/no sugar). Everything is made over the open fire outside. The dishes are done throughout the whole of the afternoon and evening, in buckets outside. 30+ people x 2.5 meals (we don’t use a plate in the morning) equals a lot of dishes. A few times we had rice but that’s more expensive so it is considered a treat. Once a week there were cooked veggies and a dish called macande, beans and maize. Yum, that was my fav :).  It’s not the most balanced of diets, but it does the job for sure.  

Vumi making dinner

Vumi and Mwajuma serving up lunch, beans and ugali ;) 

Then there’s the clothes. It’s hand washed of course, everyone does their own. I love doing mine because I always have little helpers. You’d think if you ‘let’ a 7 yr old help you, you might need to redo their part. Heck no, they do it more thoroughly than I was doing for sure!  

Almost all of them sleep two to a bunk, and there are even 3 little boys that all share one twin. Even the 16/18/20 year olds. No one complains. No one has to be told what to do. Everyone helps one another. I’m actually quite impressed, considering the attitude of most kids I know that age. 

If you’ve every thrown away a shirt, and old bag, a pair of shoes because they had a tear, a stain, or you thought it was out of fashion and no one would want it, please, please, please, think again.   Every single one of them has something from the USA (and not just here, all over, everywhere you go, adults and kids alike). No one cares what their shirt says, nothing matches, and nothing is wasted.  I spent a good 3-4 hours one day stitching up holes just in their school uniforms. Had it been their casual clothes too, I’d still be stitching. I felt tears welling at a little shop that was selling dirty, torn, old stuffed animals. Seriously... please, donate everything. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. 

And the shoes. Let's talk about the shoes for a moment. First off, having a shoe on or not really makes no difference. Or if the shoes are matching for that matter. We don’t wear the shoes inside, so with 50 some shoes outside the door, finding a matching pair isn’t always a priority :)  Neither is have a gender approved color. I love this. Since when does a dude in women’s purple crocs mean he’s not a dude?  The thing about the shoes that kills me most... three of them wear cleats to school. Cleats as in soccer cleats, with spikes.  They are black (required at school) and they fit, so, cleats it is. My last day I started writing down some of their birthday dates. Somewhere a rumor started that I was going to send them each birthday presents and a few of them said they would want new shoes. Ohhh, so sad. I’m terrible at presents (please no one expect a souvenir from me, sorry!), so having 28 new ones to remember was just beyond realistic. My last day I printed pictures of each of them, wrote personal notes to each on the back, and attached each to 10,000 Shillings. That’s less than $7 dollars each, but enough for each of them to buy their own shoes if that’s what they chose. They were ecstatic. Pamela (one founder) told me they’d never had so much money. THAT was the best $170 I ever spent.

Shania, Tamia and Jamila.  Tamia's wearing cleats and Jamila's are falling apart :( 

Then there’s bath time. A dark room with no lock, an old shower head during water hours, a bucket when it’s not. It’s freezing= I shower only when I need to ;). The younger boys just bathe outside, everyday around 6, and I’m astounded that they don’t have to get pushed or prodded... especially when it’s dumping a bucket of coooold water on themselves!   We’ve got a couple streakers!! Gasper and Odemar are perfectly (and appropriately) comfortable with running around in the nude... and especially Gasper loves to come dance around me while I giggle and cover my eyes to him ;) haha. 

Everyday the water goes off for 5-6 hours (buckets are filled every morning for use during those hours), but a few nights the electricity did too. One such night I had all the 7 to 11 year olds w/ me and we went to tell ‘ghost stories’ with the flashlight held to our faces. This was hilarious. I made up some terrible one... then we started taking turns. Odemar’s was my favorite: 2 cows and a goat go walking in the night and they eat. hhahahah. Sooooo stinking cute!!! Then a grand idea came to me: to arm wrestle. Fast forward over an hour, every single person has come, competed, and now it’s down to the grand finale: Godfrey, the 18 yr old boy, and Collins, the founder of the place. They are lit up by flashlight and everyone is around cheering.  They tied. It was awesome.

Our days are filled with fun. There’s the reading and writing and math and ever-present english practice. But there’s also dance competitions (with judging scorecards in degrees of hotness- omg bumping and grinding here starts young), hide and seek, soccer (I lasted about 20 mins, they play for 150- ouch!) We play cards (well, I hold the cards and they play for me). We race, make zombie impressions, jump on beds, make funny faces, play dead, get hysterical over Mac photobooth. We went to church (gospel soul is the way to go for sure) and I attended a 7th grade class party. I take them to play on the swings or to get lollipops and sodas. I spot them doing back flips (scary, but I’m not one to slow a daring soul;). Some nights we’re out by the ‘kitchen’ fire, which so reminds me of camping,  sitting around and joking and being silly. Some nights we watch these horrrrrrible television shoes (on the tv that short circuits at least once each viewing), and all 30 of us (kids and the few adults) are squished into the one little bedroom where the TV is. All over the bunk beds, sprawled on the chairs, and the floor covered. Everybody leaning on everybody, most often on me :). If I take a nap I have partners. If I need anything I have a fetcher. If I go anywhere I have an escort (or 10). Everyday I have a new drawing or tattoo somewhere on my body. Peresi gave me cornrows (which became more like fuzzrows after a few days;) and I think they suited me quite nicely :). One night a bunch of us were playing something like “steal me/save me” across the bunk beds. Two of the 7 year olds started yelling “save me mommy”... omg it was heart wrenching. Every baby should have a mommy :(. I’ve always been an affectionate/ touchy person, but nowhere has it ever been so well received and subsequently sought after. Pretty much I was holding hands with, had an arm around, carrying, holding or being laid on by at least one, usually more, of them.  I’d say the most common phrase I heard was, “Becky, and me”, meaning, if I did something for one kid, I needed to be prepared to do it/show it/give it to all. Piggy back rides, swings, eskimo kisses. Even the most silly things. Like drinking my filtered water. Everyone had to have filtered water then. And trying on my goggles (“watch me Becky” as they take turns dunking their heads in a water bucket;). My nail polish. My lipstick. One night everyone wanted some on, as it started a kiss mark frenzy. Odemar cries to me that Ally stole the lipstick before he got some. I had to remind Ally to share. Odemar is a boy. It was hard to keep a straight face :)

Movie night. ET was on! 

Fists make funny face art :) 

Leg art. Who needs paper when my leg is available? ;)

Cornrows! 

Love these kids :)  

My nap partners after I woke and snuck out ;) Mwidini and Haruna

Godbless' super smart hide and seek spot. The laundry bin!

Math time. I love this pic because the question was 14-5... and Godbless is using his toes to figure it out ;) 

The five 7 year olds: Shania, Nasra, Odemar, Godbless and Gasper :) 

Gymnastics practice

Photobooth awesomeness! 



Kissy face. How many different pecks will fit? :) 
There was never a moment my watch, phone and camera weren’t being used. I (they) filled TWO 16gb memory sticks while I was there with mostly photos of rooms, books, and self portraits so close up they are just nostrils ;). From the older kids there were hundreds of different poses in my sunglasses or with peace signs or sexy faces.  And a zillions videos: singing, dancing, rapping, jumping, dirt. haha. Can’t wait to go thru all of those. 

I have 11 million of these shots ;) 

Every once in a while they'd get something I actually like! This one sums up my stay there :) 
They kept me in good shape there. My first day I wanted to go running, so the 16 yr old boy, Ezeboy, went along, and each day the # got bigger, with requests to go often. Only Ezeboy has tennis shoes, the rest run in sandals.  We do laps around these trails in an open field that is their “airport” near the house. I usually run 3 miles, and a surprising # keep up! How many 7 year olds do you know that can run 3 miles in sandals on their first try ever?  My favorite running day was the last one, just me and 6 of the really young ones. After a few laps, some 6 more gawking neighbor kids join in. It’s adorable actually. “Beckyyyy, help me!!” Screw good running form, it’s more fun holding hands on both sides, and seeing ear to ear grins when I shout ‘Good job!” :).  When we get back it’s exercises time. We do dips, squats, lunges, jumps, all sorts of goodies. They love fancy feet and planks are a big hit. Have you ever seen little kid pushups? Hilarious :) 

Tatu (one 12 year old girl) and I love to sing together. Our favorite is Rihanna, ‘You gotta make me feel, like I’m the only girl in the world’. It started a fever over the weeks, where everyone was in on it. One night we actually made a music video of everyone in the whole place singing it...priceless. Stay tuned for that if I ever figure out how to load my movies :). 

Tatu!!! Our singing career started right here, doing the dishes :) 

Most wonderfully is they all love to learn. Not once did I ask someone if they wanted to study and get anything but a yes.  A number of them (who go to private school) have pretty great english, but most are lacking, and a few very behind. I’ve got a major soft spot for one little girl named Mwajuma. She’s 12 and incredibly shy. She can read decently, but has no idea what ANY of the words mean. So I showed her. We walked around and pointed or I acted out. I love when she says, “oohhhh yesss!”. She really started opening up and it was sooooo cute. She wanted to read allll the time. She wanted me to give her homework. She wanted to hug and hold my hand and sit next to me at the meals. I would help her w/ all her chores, and ask all sorts of simple questions, like “what is that?”  ‘my foot’ and “what are you doing?”  ‘I am washing my cup’ she replies with such excitement!!! Soon after she was asking me what words were and running to Tatu (one of the better english speakers) for translation when we are stuck. Pamela told me she’d never connected w/ a volunteer before because she’s shy and couldn’t communicate. Towards the end I was hardly without her and the other kids were calling her my daughter. I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate but seeing the smile she gave every time it happened, I just went w/ it. One day we were reading before bed and I could see she was hoping to stay. I made a motion we could slumber and the next day everyone was chatting about it. I think she was proud :). A bunch of the kids made me cards when I left. She made me 5 :).

Making Mandazi w/ Mwajuma! 

Another young man named Rogart has my full attention. He’s 13, super sweet, and realllllly good at math. Math was my favorite subject way back, and I was the one pestering him to do more w/ me so I could relearn :). I’m proud to report I can find the square root of 1764 without just blindly guessing and checking! He has major potential to do something w/ his future. He’s a bit fragile, and although I don’t understand what is being said, at times I think they pick on him even though he is quite tall.  We was at school really late one day, and upon his return I told him I‘d missed him, squeezed his face and gave him a forehead kiss. He looked in my eyes and said the most sincere thank you :). Ohhhh it was just too....sweet/sad/happy/honest. 

I was there 11 days, then did my Mt. Kili climb, had a wonderfully warm welcome back, then had 6 more days to soak up as much as I could, and dole out as much knowledge and friendship as I could. On my last day I went to town for about 4 hours to sort, download and print pictures for all of them. When I got back, it was a mad hugging and “Becky, Becky” frenzy. We ate cake (which was a nice looking cake, but when I asked the store clerk to write on it, the lady pulls out a marker and in wretched handwriting, misspells and writes over the edge. Hhaha, I decided to ask for the pen and just wrote all over it to make amends ;) I passed out the cards and their ‘birthday gifts’. Then I started giving out all the things I didn’t need to take home. Lots of things. It became a rollicking mosh pit. “Becky, can I have this?” Yes. “Thanks, what is it?” hhaha. I love kiddies :) 

In the end, I think it was quite advantageous that this was my first live-in orphanage/last experience before heading home. In fact, I don’t think it’s wise for me to go to any others for such time periods... until I make a fortune that is.  You can’t get to know underprivileged children, see the innocence and untouched spirit in their eyes and not feel the need to do something. Fast forward 6-7 years and I wouldn’t be coming home alone. There’s a craving for attention, approval, love. It’s exhausting w/ so many of them, all competing for your time, but it’s incredibly fulfilling to know you have the ability to change the course of someone’s entire life.  I took Mwajuma and Rogarti off to the side just before I left and told them I’m going to sponsor them to go to the private school from now one.  Their reactions were just priceless, I can find the $ somewhere. Expect a fundraiser;).  That’s a huge advantage these kids have... they all know education is their key.  Thank goodness many others already have sponsored or I’d be in way over my head. I made them promise they would send me letters so I can see how their english is coming. They did. They made me pinky swear I’ll come back again. I did :). 

Rogart and Mwajuma! Amazing kids 

The whole SWIWSCO Family
Faheem:2, Nasra:7, Odemar:7, Gasper;7, Shania:7, Godbless:7, Rabia: 8, Haruna:8, Jamila:9, Nurdin:9, Ally:10, Mwidini:10, Severa:10, Hassan:10, Elizabeth:11, Tamia:11, Abdul: 11, Eliasi: 12, Tatu:12, Mwajuma:12, Rogart:13, Vumi:13, Peres:16, Ezeboy:16, Nakundaeli:16, Godfrey:18, Zulfa:18, Sigfred:20, Pamela:34, Collins:32, Becky:30

I went to a christian service at an Assemblies of God church on Sunday, my last morning at the orphanage. The entire thing was in Swahili and I didn’t understand one word (except once the pastor yelled, “he is coming for you” haha).

It was perfect. I sat there feeling the immense energy and love coursing through the room, it was thick like molasses in the air. All the while I didn’t have to worry about agreeing or not agreeing with the pastor.  Whew.. It was a wonderful 3+ hours actually.  Gospel & soul & a grand feeling...and completely incomprehensible chatter. A perfect combo for some heart to heart w/ my God :). 

I was thinking of it as an analogy to going back to the states. Why was I wasting energy feeling nervous?  Fearful of my reaction to the excesses? Are there not problems everywhere?  Dwelling on them only exacerbates them.  Insteadddddddd... my goal is to be like the church congregation!! I want to let my happiness consume me. Radiate off me, so much so that people don’t know what’s going on, but they can feel something so palpable around them they have to stop and look around. I’m dumping all my fears and skepticism and concentrating on what I know to be true.  Life is wonderful. Love is all around. Happiness is a choice. Everything is what you make of it... and I feel like making brownies and cosmopolitans :).  I’m totally and utterly excited to come back to the states!!!  One of my besties, Jill-do-ram-ulus, is gettting married. Marrieddddd!  To a truly great guy no less. Woohooo!!!! What a great transition back, to be part of their love shin-dig :)  I am soooo requesting the electric slide at the reception :)



I can’t wait to have a hot shower. Better yet, I can’t wait to take a bubble bath!!! I can’t wait to stay up all night and drink wine and get all nostalgic w/ Jill!!! I can’t wait to talk about men and walk around in skimpy pj’s and go to a bathroom with toilet paper and a towel to dry my hands on in it!!!  And a sheet on a bed!  I can’t wait to make her seating chart cards and show her the sssswwweeeeeettt outfits I got for her bach party! I can’t wait to have a pumpkin coffee and a pumpkin muffin and a pumpkin anything!!!!!  YYAYAAAAA budddyyyy, I’m in the US of A!!!! 



I've got plenty to go around.. call me if you need one :) 


ps... if you would like to help me with the cost of the sponsorship, here's a link to my charity page with the logistical info.... and that would be AWESOME!! xoxoxo

Monday, September 24, 2012

On Top of the Free-Standing World


Many many many years ago I developed an itch to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Why? Because it’s an adventure and a challenge and those are two of my favorite things. Plus it’s a mountain, and I’m obsessed with those :).  I’d asked a handful of people over the years to join me, but most didn’t have the vacation time, the money, or mostly had no desire ;).  In hindsight, I think it worked out perfectly, that I got to do it on my own, the literal pinnacle of my Self-exploration/ Find-yourself/ Know yourself 2012 Journey. I knew it was the highest mountain in Africa. What I didn’t know, which makes it soooo much cooler, is that it is also the tallest Free-standing mountain in the entire World. Free-Standing: “not relying on or linked to anything else; independent.” Ahhh... this must be my perfect mountain :). It there's one thing I am, it's independent. At times even a lil' too much ;).  This climb gave me many reminders that being independent doesn't mean you have to be alone nor that you can't receive help, of which here I got plenty of both :).

Just a few weeks ago, when starting to schedule, my fancy was to do it totally alone. That idea was shot down over and over, it's not even allowed:(. I figured I might as well save $ then, and joined a group with an ill conceived notion that I would still be able to walk alone. The first day (of 6) was grand, hiking through the greeny, mossy, damp rainforest. I clearly had a need for some me time, seeing that within 2 minutes of departure I was off from the group, trekking solo. It was perfect. The sounds and smells of the forest, the freedom of pace, the joy of solitude. 


About 2 hours in I stopped for lunch. Just as I was finishing the group arrived, and that’s where my total solitude ended. One of the guides (we had 6) insisted I couldn’t be alone.  Uggh. Shortly thereafter (and for the remainder of the trek), I see it’s impossible to be entirely alone during the climbs on this mountain, being that there are 2-3 porters/cooks/guides for any one tourist. Our group alone was over 50, and there were probably 10 groups. Each camping night looking almost like a mini Woodstock festival. Each day was a constant stream of bodies, foot to foot hiking. At first I was cranky about it, but I gave myself an attitude adjustment. Why am I so obsessing about being alone?  I can still do my own thing, which I did :).  If there was an alternate path, I took it, and when possible, I made my own trail :) I loved day three, it was my “rock hopping” day. Almost like a 5 year old at a hotel who pretends if you fall off the beds you fall into the lava... that was me if I fell off a rock :). Once I shook my anti-socialism, I got chummy with 3 Australians and an English guy, and they were hilarious.  I'm actually getting the best of both worlds!   It’s wonderful to have nice company, and then wonderful to wonder off and take in the scenes and silence any chance I got. I feel so balanced, just doing whatever I want, despite social dogmas. And, it appears people still like me!  Case in point: Just be yourself :). 

Traffic Jam hiking 

Camping on the clouds!

Planking Kilimanjaro! Uhuru Peak is the one just to the right of my arm :) 

Sweet view of Mt. Meru w/ the English speakers :)

Carrying all my own supplies would have been satisfying, but ohhh it was so nice not too! The staff guys were quite fun and suuuuper appreciated. When it's freezing cold out, it's the best thing ever to have your tent already made and hot food waiting for you!  I joined them often in their “kitchen” tent (the warmest place) daily. They sang lots. They flirted lots. I suppose I flirted back;). They taught me some good Swahili phrases. All day long you pass and are passed by people, and everyone says “Jambo” (hello) or more often “Mambo” (what’s up). The correct response is “Poa” (cool).  They taught me to respond “Poa kichizi kama ndizi” Which means ”Cool like a banana”. Lots of big smiles from that one :).

Singing all the way home :) 

The hikes were long and rigorous. The land became desolate. Barely anything grows that high up. Lots of rocks though, and I love rocks :). And of course the views were just amazing. Sometimes though, when the clouds were low and ominous, it was like walking for hours in like a barren gravel pit. These times were yet another reminder of why it's nice to have the option of company :). I love the hard, hand-required climbing parts. Not so much the simple trail on a huge incline kill-your-achilles parts. Either way though, I love the challenge. One day I got to side trail to the top of a 200 meter rock in about 5 minutes. We ate lunch up there and looked down on the ant-sized others. Sweet. The fourth day we passed a waterfall and a whole valley of these really neat plant/bush/palm type trees. I love green :).  The sunrises and sunsets make me stop and just stare everyday.  We’re so high, and being that this is a solo mountain, the views are just the tops of clouds and sometimes a peak thru. It’s like being in a plane, except not cramped and uncomfy. Rad :). 

I love this


Walking on Cloud 9 ;) 

Every sunrise and sunset was awesome... and freezing ;) 


Most of the trip was very dusty, and there were no showers. I prob wouldn’t have used them if there were. 0 degrees? No thank you. I’m just going to admit to myself that I loath cold showers. Even after a hard sweaty workout, about 2 seconds of cold is all I want and then hot please :). That’s one thing I'm looking forward to stateside! A few times I did a baby wipe bath, but often it was way too cold to even be bothered. One evening I snuck some of the hot water for tea back to my tent and spend 30+ minutes cleaning out my nasty fingernails, only to have them totally skanky within the first hour the next morning. Eww. Dirty fingernails = biggest turn off. To aid altitude sickness, I drank 4-5 liters of water a day, and subsequently peed 10-12 times a day. Behind a rock, behind a tree, or, in the middle of the night, right next to my tent. I really really dislike being cold ;).

Lets cut to the Goodies: the summit climb.  It was absolutely the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. Harder than any exercise, event, training, competition, triathlon, and even harder than my marathon. I actually cried from sheer exhaustion when we hit the first peak (it’s a dormant volcano, so we had reached the lower part of the rim). 
Here’s how it went: 

Day 4: 7:30am hike starting at 3900m altitude. Hike up to 4600m altitude, hike back down to 3900m altitude (ouch knees). Hike back up to another 4600m altitude (equivalent of climbing the empire state building 4 times today!), arrival at 3:30pm. It’s freezing cold. Rest. Dinner at 6pm, eaten with my gloves on.  Then “try” to sleep. I got about two and 1/2 hours in. Woken at 11:30pm. Tea and biscuits served. Bundle up in every single layer of clothing owned. Set off at 12pm midnight.

Day 5:  “Pole Pole”, Swahili for “slowly slowly.” They keep saying it as if you could even imagine going fast ;).  We’re in the altitude danger zone now, and oxygen is minimal.  You want to stop and rest often, but every break (only 5-6 minutes every 45 mins or so), takes your fingers and toes back to frozen, so we trek on. There’s a line of headlamps in both directions but that’s all you can see besides your feet (this is a good thing because if we’d been able to see how far and how steep, I bet most people would quit). My camelback’s water hose has frozen, my water bottle straw has frozen, and at about 3am, we’re all starving, so I share my two clif bars, which are also frozen so it’s like eating a rock.  One of the guides, Amos has taken me under his wing. He fixes/adjusts my headlight for me, he opens my water bottles for me, he takes pictures for me, he helps snap and unsnap my bag at each break (recall I have giant gloves on and fingers still feel frozen).  I could do all these things...but wow, it's oh so wonderful to have help!!!! At about 4 am, I’m going so slow and looking so apparently pitiful, he actually insists on taking my bag for me.  All of this he is doing of his own accord. Thank the Lord, it’s so nice being a woman!   On we go. This is seriously hard and dismal shit.On the other hand, it’s an amazing test of your willpower and attitude, plus as an added bonus there are more stars than I ever could have imagined. 23 million bajillion of them. They twinkle not just above but completely down to the horizon, only stopping where the land must start (you have to logically guess, because there is no line, it’s all just pitch black). About 5am, the most amazing thing happens. A sliver of red begins on the horizon. It slowly grows to red and orange and yellow. The beginning of the sunrise in a completely black scene. There’s a smaller mountain in view now, silhouetted against this rainbow streak in the sky: Mountain art. AHHHHHH, this is awesome. FUCCCKKK, I’m miserable. Haahah. I’m taking about one step (more like ‘shuffle’) every 3 second. and every 5th step I pause to lean on my walking sticks. Holy balls, are we there yet?? hahah.  The sun makes its majestic entrance. I’m in Love. 10 minutes later a dude in front of me (from another group) faints and a ruckus to rouse him ensues. Whoa, that’s a bit scary. I think I’ll slow my shuffles to one every 5 seconds :).  The last hour is a brutal 50+ degree incline on the most difficult gravel type soil. I’m using every single bit of my willpower. I have got almost nothing left. We reach the first crest, I crumble onto a rock, Im smiling but the tears just fall. I can’t even help myself... I am the picture perfect example of pure exhaustion. 

Looking hot
How awesome is that? AWESOME!!

Here comes the sun, do do do do

Are we there yet??




We’re not done yet. It’s about an hour from there to the actual peak. Luckily it’s a very slight incline, and also luckily I’m a finish line type girl. I get a little extra boost in my step, especially once we can see it. I’m yelling to the group, but mostly to myself, “We can do thissssss!”. We do. At 7:20am, September 16, 2012, we are standing on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, 5,895 meters above sea level. It feels phenomenal. I even do a one handed handstand against the sign (not the best idea for altitude headache). I take my gloves off but that was also stupid. A few minutes later my fingers feel like they might snap off. The sun is out and shining bright, but there are still glaciers all around us.  At 19,340 ft (that’s my new record), on top of Africa, an independent girl on a free standing mountain, with nothing but the tops of clouds all around you in every direction, and endless gratitude for all the people that made it possible.  Flipping awesome :).


Amos carrying my bag, and me amplifying my headache ;)
Infinity glacier to clouds!

Exhausted trekkers...
But it was so worth it :) 

So what now? Now I’ve come back down. Now I continue on life’s awesome ride of highs and lows. Ups and downs. Mountain peaks and River valleys.  And... I love all of it.  I love that when things are hard, It just means the eventual success will be that much sweeter. I love that having help and company can make life easier, better, and more pleasant if you want it to, and it doesn't have to take away from the achievement :). I love that everything is a lesson. I love that obstacles are simply opportunities to test your abilities, your power, your courage, your adaptability, your flexibility, you attitude. If the world were without mountains and roller coasters and valleys and ups and downs and we were all flawless, that would be waaaay too humdrum. :). 




LIfe is like this fun game of turning every single thing that happens into something good, something beneficial, something positive. I'll be back in the states in THREE days!!!! I don't know what is in store for me, but nothing can make me betray my plan for happiness ;).  What's my next challenge, life? Ohhhh I can't wait to see!! It's like a good book you can't put down because you just have to know what's coming next! Whatever the next chapter brings, I know I can deal with it.  Forget being physically fit, this crazy awesome horrid mountain was a 99% mental feat, and if I can get thru that positively, I can get thru anything, single-handedly or not, whichever way makes it the most pleasant :). 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ken-ya feel the love?? :)


I’ve been in Africa over a month already!!!! 33 days of a new culture, new language, new color, new continent, new everything. Im not complaining... I love new, it’s just a lot of stuff to try and cover! My best attempt at a summary is the single word: Astounding. It’s been 33 days of whoa, each one full of every spectrum of emotion from blissed to pissed.  I had the privilege and pleasure to play chaperone (they would approve of this term) to my aunt and mother who flew in to meet me! It was a joy to have them here...there’s something about blood that gives much more strength to a relationship.  History and old stories and common traits that bind.  We got the girly giggles countless times, and giddiness resulted whenever hot water, towels, toilet paper or even a toilet (as opposed to a hole) were supplied.  Neither of them had been in a third world country before (each only having been out of USA once actually) but they both did great-- troopers, adjusting to major out-of-box experiences. It’s not easy, at any age, to adapt to the visual accosting of poverty and despondency... or a glimpse into budget travel :). 

Hello Africa! 

My aunt Cindy was here the first two weeks, in which we did the safari, the tribal village, the slum visit, the orphanage, the cultural show, and the side trip to the coastal beaches. Basically an African adventure in a nutshell. We kissed giraffes, ohhed and awed over a 3 day old elephant, and rode camels on the beach! We tested our personal shock systems, up and down entire days in crazy safari cars and side to side bouncing our way thru 6 compartments of a moving train, twice (a hilarious feat :).  We even rode motorcycles, which ironically was Cindy’s only request NOT to do! haha. She was a major trooper, willing to try or participate despite being out of her comfort zone, which made it all the more impressive to watch her.  My favorite auntie moment was one day doing an ‘easy’ nature walk to the hot springs in Hell’s Gate National Park. “Easy” ended up being a 3 hour, rock climbing, butt sliding, tour guide piggy backing, canyon adventure! Despite fear and knee pain she bucked up and just did it like a pro, no hesitation! That’s more than I can say for some young bucks in equivalent scenarios. True grit, reminded me of our gramps (pops)!

hubba bubba ;)

Whoop, camel rides :) 

Auntie Cindy... I think she likes it!!!  :) 


One of the walkable section of the canyon :) 

The safari was 5 days of complete Africa immersion. I don’t believe there is any place as iconic as Africa. Animals, landscapes, and tribal people, it’s just like you see in the magazines. We saw more giraffes, elephants, zebras, baboons, buffalos, and wildebeests than one can imagine. Lions, rhinos, hippos, crocs, cheetahs, flamingos, jackals, hyenas all made appearances too. The lone acacia tree in the field, the golden grasses, the rolling hills, and the lakes filled with zillions of birds make it near impossible to not take amazing photos. There’s the rainbow beaded tribal woman with a baby wrapped onto her back. The big hole-in-ear, plaid blanket clad, club toting Masaai warrior.  Women carrying ginormous buckets on their heads, young babies carrying even younger babies, and my personal favorite: the Aunt Jemima lookalikes:).  The safari was not without it’s glitches (including the biggest beotch woman ever on our safari), but we all thoroughly enjoyed it. I do believe it will be the topic of conversation for years to come at family reunions, how we walked with zebras, jumped with the Masaai, napped under the acacia tree, and covered each other while squatting out the side of the safari van ;) 


Just after dawn... love the gold

Bird watchers paradise at Lake Nakuru






King of the jungle!!
Awww so sweet in a chubby gruff sort of way ;) 

Baby rhino, mama rhino, giraffe, acacia tree= awesome!
So Africa

Too cute. I love this way to carry your baby :) 

Beautiful

Honorary Masaai for the day!!

Sad as it is, this is extremely iconic Africa.

Back to the hustle bustle overcrowded overwhelming city is never as pleasant as leaving it. A day of pushy, overpriced souvenir shopping, and we all agree we should get back out. But first, a day of the real Africa, a slum visit. This is always hard, no matter how many times I’ve been. In this case it held even more empathy, in that it was a visit to the home of our friend Charles. I had met him (and Sammy both) my first day, they were trying to sell me a safari.  A five hour nonstop chatting lunch later, I just knew Charles was a great person, a smart, honest man, working hard here in the city to provide for his family back in their village.  I asked if if would be appropriate to see a slum, show my fam the real deal. He asked if I had a preference for which (there are many, including the largest in Africa, Kibera, population over 800k). Im not picky. We do it the local way, taking a bus, and boda boda’s (motorcycle taxis) to get there and around. We started out in a crazy market of makeshift tables and stalls, pull carts and staring people. I feel like an ass, I suppose you can imagine how we stand out here. We visit the slum school which is terribly dark, dirt floors and disheveled tarp walls, with only a few benches and tattered desks. Most of school is out, but there is a class of teenage girls learning about the digestive system. Wow. Education is what everyone wants here. It’s the key. It’s simultaneously an endearing and depressing visit. Then, an unexpected but special stop, we visit our pal Sammy’s house. Then Teresa’s, and lastly Charles’ own room... we got to enter all their homes and chat. Drink sodas. Talk about life and cultures and trade stories (like that men can (and do) marry more than one wife here still!). We even had a delicious local lunch in the dining/living/bedroom of Charles. Life here is living in a very dark and hot space, with soiled concrete (if even) walls and floors and a few posters of Jesus or Mama Maria scattered about. An assortment of random furniture, a few trinkets and a dangling light bulb in the center.  Life here is second hand clothes, no kitchen and no bathroom, a sheet hanging to separate a bed ‘room’. This is crazy. Charles lives here? Charles? Who is clean, smart, friendly, charming, hard working- he lives here? And Sammy too?. Sammy, who has the biggest brightest smile and the kindest eyes? All these people live here- surviving day to day, working at whatever they can to feed their families. Why does this exist? Why does malnutrition exist? Why does disease exist? Why does it happen to some but not all? Why does it not seem to matter if you’re good or bad?  I feel like everywhere I’ve been the last 6 months is the more/less the same :(. Hmmm....the weight of the world is haunting me. 



Sammy goofing off with the sardines lady :) 

The slum school. Show this to your kids that don't want to go ;)

The slum's view :( 


Later on Charles took us to spent an entire day at an orphanage. This day pulled at your heart strings but was overall extremely pleasant. These are all kids whose parents have died (did I mention the life expectancy here is in the 40’s??). This place provides them a place to live, food to eat, and an education.  Simple, but sufficient. It was mostly just a day of joy and bonding. We helped the boys with their chores: collecting and chopping up corn stalks for the cows to eat. That was all the intro we needed, the rest of the day was drawing, tattoos, games, singing, laying in the fort, and video interviews :). We ate lunch with them, rice and beans, and got a tour of the grounds. The place also employs older girls and women, making felt stuffed animals. We got to see the process and took a few home as souvenirs. It takes an entire 8 hour day to make one, and they sell it for the steep price of around $6. Really?


Cynthia and Cynthia! 

Hand art :) 

I love forts ;) 

Next we head to the beach. It’s a double edged sword for me. My mom and aunt are here on vacation, but this whole journey to me is life, not vacation. Not to mention that right now I’m in this place where I’m totally over sensitive to injustice, to illogic, to  greed and ego, and to people who follow or enforce idiotic rules.  These last 6 months have largely just been exposure to the harsh reality of the world, and without much means to change it. There is so much need. Real need. Need for food, for water, for shelter. and for some, a swift kick in the ass. A few I’d like to punch in the face. Corruption seems to be a common thread in these third world countries.:(  How do you show people you want to help them, that you are equal to them, but without tons of $? Leading by example? But where do you draw the line?  Obviously I don’t have to live at the poverty level, but for some reason that’s what I feel comfortable with. When we arrived to the beach, we checked into the budget hotel I’d picked: no fan, no towels, no real windows. Hot, smelly mosquito nets, 30 min wait for hot water. Let’s just go to the beach. Within an hour we were back, holed up in the room because we had about 20 people try to sell us things. Not even 5 minutes went by without a new salesman approaching, so much for peace and quiet at the ocean. It was frustrating for sure, moreso for me because I’m feeling responsible for these two cute lil’ ladies. I could see we were going to need an upgrade, and the girls decided an escape to a neighboring resort was just the thing. Not in my $45 daily budget :(. They offered, and I cried when they booked the room. It was one of those awfully timed outbursts of uncontrollable tears. It’s not even about me not having or not wanting to spend the money, it’s just lavishness in general.  I can see that right now I’m out of balance in this topic. Treating yourself isn’t a bad thing. Having nice things isn’t a bad thing. Right now it just feels unnecessary, unfair. The resort was full of white people doing cheesy activities, myself included.  I tried volleyball, water aerobics, step class, and archery. We gorged on amazing buffets, and took in the nightly performances, while outside their fences a vast majority of people are slaving away just to have dinner.  But guess what? It was nice. Really nice. We all eased up and were able to relax. Admittedly, it was heaven to have AC and TP and be surrounded by the constant pressure to help the needy.  It was an escape from the craziness.  Is that the problem? It makes me nervous that it’s too easy to just go back to the suburbs and just forget. What does one regular citizen do to help end world hunger? To end entire continents of corruption? To provide water to Africa, to India, to all over the world??? Holy shit, I’m thinking way too much. 


White sand beaches, and solicitor #23 ;) 

Okayyyy... so it was not so bad ;) 

The second two weeks was just me and my mom, my most favorite person in the world. Life always knows what it’s doing. How perfect, during this time when Im insanely sensitive, to be with the one person who always knows exactly what to say?   Who loves me no matter what and who makes everything better. I wish my mom had a ‘twin’, a +/-35 yr old, male, unrelated, soul twin :) haha.  


Such a cute momma :) 

We decided to go on an adventure. And what an adventure it was. 57 hours on buses and matatus (minivans) covering over 3000km. We went from Kenya down to Tanzania, thru Malawi, to the southernmost border of Zambia. That’s like driving from Las Vegas to Atlanta mind you. In between rides we had little adventures, but mostly it was driving!  This was real Africa- no such thing as a deluxe bus. The longest single ride was 19 hours. The most people in one little minivan was 24. We rode with chickens and breast feeding and one baby that was absolutely terrified by us! Stopping for food or bathroom was almost non existent, thank goodness (sortof) for french fry and boiled egg street vendors (although once the eggs were brown and scary)! More than a few times we stopped the entire bus so we could run out to the back and squat pee. Nothing like mother-daughter bonding!!! Sometimes our feet and legs were contorted and jammed, often times our bags on our laps. A few times even with a little kid on our laps! People were just like sardines standing in the aisles. It’s commonplace to take up a child if he lands in the aisle near you. One cutey was Sampson, about 5 yrs old, and he was suuuuper shy (probably scared of us strange white folk;). His shyness didn’t extend to the food we gave him, which he devoured, and once he got tired, all modesty was lost as he sprawled all over me. I loved it.  He sat on me for more than 6 hours and it was nothing but pleasant:). My mom said I looked peaceful. It was. I think adoption is a serious option for me :).


We love riding the bus!  hahaha

Our interludes included a wonderful mini camping safari near the amazing Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, home to an estimated 25,000 animals just within the crater! We spent the most splendid day (we both agree) waterside of Lake Malawi. Malawians take the cake for most friendly at this point!  We ended at our destination, spending a few days at Victoria falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and it was soooo worth it. The falls are massively impressive, 108m of drop, 1.7km long! This is ‘dry’ season, so the falls still have lots of water, but even more rocks. Luckily we both love rocks and concluded its much better this way :). Dry season allowed us to not only view the falls from the opposite side of the gorge, feeling the spray, but we got to tour the top of them (until we got brought back but a gun-waiving pissy security guard!).  We took a beautiful sunset cruise, and my mom sweated while I did my first ever bungee jump!!! I’m in love! I did a running start jump, grinning ear to ear (as opposed to the inching, crying, terrified others), and the crew said it was a jump worthy of their next promo video:).  I also went for a dip in the Devil’s pool, a natural infinity swimming hole at the edge of the mighty rushing falls (freakkkyyy!). They call them the ‘smoke that thunders’ because of all the mist and the roar. Awesome.  The guided walk to get there was one of the neatest nature walks I’ve done, having to rock hop, jump and even swim thru this river that appears to fall off the edge of the world meters away. The best was this amazingly perfect rainbow that graced the sky and the gorge the whole time. Wow, people, I tell you, it was unforgettable.  


Doesn't this look fake? It wasn't!!!

Baobab tree. Awesome


Cooking fish on the beach in Malawi!

This day at Lake Malawi was amazing :) 

Pretty falls, pretty rainbow, pretty momma!!

'Tree' and rocks and water :) 

Sunset was happened right at the gorge. Photo does not do colors justice!

Yyeeeaaahhhh budddddyyy! Bungee jumping, officially checked off the list!!

111meters over the Zambezi River!


Looks like I liked it :)

En route to Devil's pool! 

Nature's first infinity pool :) 

Pretty much it was an amazing African road trip. It may sound crazy quick and uncomfortable (and it was, it fact we teased about our next ‘bus from hell’ ride), but no doubt, I loved it. Watching out the window was a bit like stepping back in time. The vast majority of people still live in mud and thatch huts and walk everywhere. Poverty is everywhere. Ramshackle buildings are everywhere. Old, worn out, unmatched clothing is everywhere (I find this awesome actually). Religion is everywhere, the common thread of hope. There are horse drawn carriages, women washing in buckets, men working barefoot. A Masaai man or a young boy out in the field w/ a herd of cows or goats. Even more little kids trying to sell some fruit or snacks. We saw a bunch of boys in black blankets with white paint on their faces. Come to find out this means they are getting ready for their circumcision rituals. We also saw around TEN different wildfires, some just right on the side of the road, and we just drive on by as if it’s nothing! Accckkk! The best views from the bus though, were the sunsets. No kidding, they were perfect rainbows, ROYGB, and the sun just this magnificent hot orange/red mix.  Silhouetting the hills and acacia trees, the baobab trees.  No better sunsets ever, seriously, even from a squished in seat on a bus ;) 


The "bus from hell" ride. HHAHAHH

OMG sunsets (this one is from the cruise... bus pics sucked)
But it still doesn't do justice.

It would be hard to characterize the people here. Many are quick to help, some quick to glare, generally friendly, and you’re almost certain to be returned a smile if you give one first. A great big pearly whites one too, not just some smirk ;). There’s a similar frankness here that I enjoyed in India, but a bit more crass at times. I can’t help but feel a little guilt over what our forefathers did, and wonder if there’s not the opposing pissed off feeling when a ‘mzungu’ comes around (a white person). Personal space and the seemingly logical sense of a queue seem lost here. But beautiful smiles, awesome hair-dos (although the majority of both men and women are bald) and over the top colors and patterns abound, which I love. Something else I love? I feel average size! even small!  Coming from Asia, where I was a giant, the women here are hearty and robust- and it’s awesomely appreciated! I find the men particularly attractive--- big lips being one of my fav features. It’s too bad the HIV rate is what it is or I might have been more willing to accept one of the zillion advances ;). ha, jk. One Masaai did offered 25 cows and 60 goats to my mom for me!  Don’t worry, Im not getting a big head, especially since most of them start with some form of this: “I want to marry a white woman, how about you?” ha. Gotta love honesty and no fear of rejection!


Great smile from Joseph... I would have been his third wife if my mom had accepted the cows and goats ;) 

There have been random acts of zero courtesy, but a few selectively amazing acts of pure kindness. One morning was particularly unpleasant, our taxi was late, Deb wasn’t feeling well, and we stared down a 12 hour ride with shitty back middle seats. I nerved up and asked a solo guy, Banda, in the best seats on the bus, if he wouldn’t mind trading us so we could sit together, and he did!!!! Freely, openly, unexpectantly! I can’t fathom why he would do it, but it was exactly what we needed. Gotta take care of my momma ;). Of our own accord, we ended up spending a good bit of time with him and giving him enough to have made it worth his while :). That ride got termed “bus from heaven” haha.  

The most undeniable reason this adventure was awesome though? My mother!! Mudda Debba as I like to call her :). She’s hilarious, she’s supportive, she’s fun to talk to, she’s willing to try anything, she’s positive, and just as perfect as perfect can be :). If you want to be reminded how awesome she is, read this previous blog :)

I’ve seen many things on my journey. Many things that boil down to the fact that there is an absolutely insane amount of inequality and unfairness in the world. It’s depressing, revolting, and just plain wrong. There is absolutely enough food and money in this world, no one should be hungry or without decent shelter. More than any other time on my trip, I got jaded and confused about what I’m supposed to do, for some reason feeling all this weight of the world on my shoulders. I was battling between this feeling of wanting to just go be a hermit in the woods, living obliviously with my art and trees and crazy colors, versus this feeling that I need to do something really significant. What is significant though? Giving up everything, moving to a third world country and starting up a charity, like Hemley? (you rock btw Hem)  Giving up all luxuries or adventures and donating any money you have above the bare necessities?  I’m a compassionate person but neither of those appeal to me. (Major kudos to the many many many people that have). With all this despair around me, how convenient then to have my mother here, who just so happens to be the best listener ever, the voice of reason, and a shoulder to cry on. She reminds me that there is great Power in One. 

‎"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do." Edward Everett Hale

Each one of us alone may not be able to adopt every orphaned child or find a job for every man, but we can give what we can give, and mostly importantly we can be kind. Kindness is contagious.  I’ve learned so much on this whole journey of mine (almost 9 months now-whoa). The hands-down, absolutely most important thing I’ve learned, is that how we treat people is what really matters.  I believe that many of the world’s problems start from greed and ego. What if they seised to exist? What is corruption? It’s greed and ego. What is racism? It’s ego. What is poverty? Greed. What is depleted natural resources? The greed off companies making money off of them.  Even when I look at myself, when I get bitchy, every time it stems either from $ issues or my ego. It may be seriously overgeneralizing but really, there’s some truth behind it. Imagine a world where no one was on a power trip or stepped on other people in the name of money. Awesome, right? Right :) 




So, for me, I believe my significance (for now) is to be compassionate, maybe even teach it if I can think of a way! I can spread love and joy and hope. This last month was such a whirlwind of go go go, it felt more like watching than helping. Even though we bought all sorts of souvenirs (even when we didn’t want them) and gave away lots of money, there was some element of connecting that was missing. Then I went to a goodbye dinner with Charles.  He told me he was “not just saying it to make me feel good” but that I was unlike any other tourist. That I seemed to care and he would miss me and keep me in his heart. Wow. We have so much power in the way we treat people. It’s like that saying that ‘to the world you may be one, but to one you may be the world’.  Find your power and use it.



This may sound cheesy, but this is the only way I can happily go on because my heart full of pain, bogged down by injustice, or stressing over how much $ I can spare doesn’t help anyone.  I have managed to create a very nice life for myself. I’m not rich, but I’m not poor. I worked hard to get where I am. I had opportunities and i seized them. I’ve been inexplicably blessed and it’s absolutely essential that I do something in my lifetime to better the world.  Right now it’s not going to be monetarily, so it begins with spreading cheer :) Just giving away a little money here and there is certainly appreciated, and I’ll keep doing that, but there’s something about it that doesn’t satisfy me. I suppose it’s like that old adage, “Give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime.” The other thing about giving away money... there’s so many that need it and not enough of it to go around. Do you give $5 to 10 people or $50 to one? Do you put a bandaid on it or fix the root problem? Do you further feed into the belief that white skin= money by just giving handouts? What if you sat down with the person who was asking for money and talked to them? What’s their situation? What do they really need? Can you brighten their day by showing them some simple kindness?   I’d rather spend quality time with someone, give energy and share happiness (and then help monetarily if I can or am moved to). I have a very inspirational friend who is just finishing the entire Appalachian Trail, a 2000+ mile hike. I spoke to him just a few times in 6 months, but I could draw on his motivation and enthusiasm anytime just by thinking of him.  My mom is the same way. I get happy jut thinking how lucky I am she’s my mother. So what if we all became like this? If we inspire people to always be better? If we place how we treat others above all else?







This I think is a way to start a change in the world. Make compassion and kindness the utmost goal. Be, act, lead as the best possible being you can be.  Leave every place you go better than it was when you came, even if just for one person. :)

The next two weeks I’ll be living and teaching at an orphanage down in Tanzania. Im stoked to settle in a bit and make some connections! My last week I intend to have one last adventure and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro before I head back. I touch down in WADC on Sept 27. Im a little scared to be honest. I may become annoying, giving lectures about wasting food, or throwing out a shirt for one little stain. I’m scared of overreacting to starbucks and prada purses and teenage girls with fake boobs and mercedes benz’. Can I apologize in advance? Feel free to remind me if I get too ridiculous. I’ll never live ostentatiously that’s for sure, but depriving yourself isn’t good either.  I’m searching for balance :).