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