Sunday, February 23, 2014

Running is not a Religion, it is a Place.

So if you haven't heard of this amazing runner, Dr. George Sheehan, you should read a bit about his story and his passion for running - and living.  He ran the world's first sub-five-minute mile by a 50 year old and went on to run an impressive laundry list of runs in his lifetime...but was more impressive was his philosophy on running.  During my Peace Corps service I started running,  Throughout my life, I was always interested in health and wellness but my love of running was rekindled during my time living in a remote South African village.  I can’t really say what sparked this love affair with running but I do know running helped me stay sane during my service.  I loved getting up early in the morning and running along the village roads in the quiet mornings.  It was my time to really clear my head and create some space.  When I was feeling frustrated or stressed out or happy or sad, I would lace up my shoes and run.  George Sheehan once implied that running was a religion but what he was trying to say was that it's a place where you can completely lose yourself and commune with God and yourself.  Here's the short essay if you are interested -

When I started running, I randomly was participating in a few marathons here and there…South Africa is rich with running events.  Not so much in the villages but in the large communities.  So I did a few marathons and then this crazy ultra marathon (which is where you run the distance of two marathons).  I loved all of these events – not because I’m really any good but because it gave me a chance to be part of a community of like-minded people who love running as much as I do.  Anyway, when I left South Africa I have continued running. I typically run here in the mornings before most people are up and before there are cars on the road (because there aren’t that many sidewalks so your risk of dying is much lower).  I haven’t really done any races because, well, there aren’t any here in Zambia.  So a few months ago I decided I would go back to South Africa and run a couple this year.  Thus, last weekend I traveled back to Johannesburg to run in my first marathon in over a year.  It gave me the chance to see old friends, get my hair cut (very important since Zambia is not to connected to good hair stylists) and ultimately run in this marathon.  I was pleased with the run but really I don’t care how I do…I run because I love it.  Because it's sorta like my religion.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Obrigada, Brazil.

Happy 2014!  I was lucky enough to ring in the New Year in one of the most beautiful places in the world. This was my first time in South America and without a doubt I am already anxious to come back and see more - our time here was too short.  I am reminded every time I travel how very little I know about the world, really.  One of my biggest regrets is probably not starting to travel earlier in my life.  I feel like being able to visit other places and see even just a small part of the world is such a valuable opportunity.  Yes, it can be a bit daunting to leave your comfort zone and try to figure out how to move around but it's worth the time and effort.  I hope that I continue to have the opportunity to travel around this crazy world as much as I possibly can...

Anyway, Brazil.  Where to start?  Heather and I tried to explore as much as possible of the two cities we visited.  We spent our first week in Salvador which is the capital of Bahia and sits on the Atlantic Ocean in the eastern part of Brazil.  We stayed with a friend there who had previously lived in Lusaka and was gracious enough to let us stay in his summer home (he lives in Brasilia but is from a small town outside of Salvador so goes there to visit family).  We didn't have a car to get around and since his place was located outside of the actual city centre it was a bit difficult to get around but we managed after a few adventures. Unfortunately, neither of us speak Portuguese (Heather can manage much better than she will admit and could at least get us food and taxis which proved to be very helpful) but I was of no help.  I did figure out a few key phrases like "thank you" and "do you speak English" and "I don't speak Portuguese" but to have a meaningful conversation?  Impossible.  But, we were able to visit the beautiful beach of Barra and also went to the historic centre of Pelourinho which was spectacular.  We spent Christmas on the beach in Salvador (one of many days spent on the beach)!  But on Christmas day the beach was packed with families playing, drinking and making merry.  It was fun to be part of the celebration!

After leaving Salvador, we made our way to Rio de Janeiro to spend a week. Heather had been there a couple of times before so had a friend who graciously allowed us to stay in his home.  We spent New Year's Eve among hundreds of thousands of people who sit on the beach in Copacabana and watch fireworks and drink champagne.  Then people just walk along the beach basically all night!?  It's like a giant moving party with people's really amazing to see.  We joined in for a while and then took refuge at a house party.  Turned out to be a truly memorable night.  This night was among many other nights in Rio which were filled with fun adventures and drinking caipirinhas (Brazil's national cocktail made with cachaca, lime and sugar).  Quite tasty and a drink I will try to recreate when I go back home.

During the day we visited Sugarloaf Mountain which offered spectacular views of the city, the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemor) which is this huge statue of Jesus Christ that overlooks the entire city of Rio de Janeiro and is considered the largest art deco statue in the world, visited amazing neighborhoods like Lapa and Saint Teresa, and made our way up the Escadaria Selaron (stairs of Lapa) which are beautifully decorated stairs.

I have to tell you though that it was hot.  Basically you would shower to go out and end up covered in sweat within 5 minutes of being outside.  The lovely thing about this city though is that everyone is free.  Meaning they wear what they want and no one is uptight about their appearance.  So even if you are sweating away at least you are doing it among people that don't seem to mind too much...

I loved my time in Brazil.  I definitely want to come back again...I mean the World Cup is right around the corner??  And there is also Carnival??  So many good times to be had in Brazil.  I've tried to put up a few pictures so please take a look.  And, again, wishing you all a happy, happy new year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. But not in Africa.

I’m sorry for my lack of posts.  Life has been hectic.  Anyway, I’m getting ready to leave on another adventure.  Surprisingly this one will not be in Africa.  I’m going to be spending the holidays this year in South America.  Brazil to be more exact.  I decided to tackle another continent.  Not because I don’t love my beautiful Africa.  It’s just that the cost of getting anywhere within the continent is crazy.  It’s almost cheaper to move off of the continent than to move within (at least trying to fly anywhere).  So, a friend talked me into meeting her in Rio de Janeiro (honestly, it wasn’t that hard to convince me…)!  We will spend a few days in Rio and then fly to Salvador where we’ll spend Christmas.  But, of course we have to go back to Rio where we will spend New Year's at one of the "1000 Places to See Before You Die."

I will report back in January with lots of pictures and stories but until then…sending my love and wishing you all a happy holiday season!  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Liuwa Plains.

This past weekend I made a whirlwind trip back to the Western Province.  It was a crazy undertaking but worth the effort.  Last year I had failed to see this mass migration of wildebeests (the 2nd largest in Southern Africa) which happens in the Liuwa Plain National Park (this game park is situated about 3 hours outside of Mongu  near the Angola border) and I was bound and determined to make the journey this year.  So, with a 3 day weekend in front of us my brave friends Simon and Shannon agreed to accompany me to find some wildebeests.

We got up at 3:30AM Saturday morning and proceeded to get lost trying to get out of Lusaka.  Luckily, Simon is a good navigator and led the charge so we quickly found our way to the very straight and boring road to Mongu.  We had to meet our guide into the plains by 11AM in Mongu so we were a bit under pressure but we successfully managed.  Shannon was already in Mongu so picked up provisions (complete with tomato sauce, cutlery, green peppers and other random items).  Unfortunately, we later learned we had nothing to cook with but we managed to beg and borrow from other campmates to make a one-pot wonder meal…but I digress.  Anyway, after successfully arriving in Mongu, we immediately left on our next leg of the journey with our guide (you need a 4x4 to maneuver in the park) and headed south to Kalabo.  The road was…let’s see how do I describe the road to Kalabo?  A bit bouncy?  It’s this crazy road that’s being constructed through the plains and it keeps getting washed away during rainy season.  We had fun being launched around the land cruiser (no napping for me) and then bargaining with the construction workers to cross the somewhat constructed bridge because the pontoon was broken.  We ended up giving them a half-eaten loaf of bread in return for allowing us to cross the bridge which may or may not collapse at any moment as cars cross.  Ahh, this is Africa.

Pulling into Kalabo we paid for our campsite in the park (after chasing down the worker who was supposed to be working in the tourist information center but was off attending church) and boarded another pontoon to get into the park.  This park is remote…but beautiful.  It’s just open space.  I don’t think my pictures will truly capture the beauty.  And we quickly found wildebeests.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see thousands of them as anticipated (just hundreds).  Apparently their journey into the park from Angola is delayed a bit…but it was still pretty spectacular.  We also saw the largest hyenas I’ve ever seen.  And a jackal.  And bubble fish, a water monitor and amazingly large birds (I have no idea what kinds).  There are lions in the park but we failed to find them?  Those sneaky lions. 

We had a great time camping with very little equipment, skewering green peppers to try to cook over the fire, and drinking some wine under the stars.  The best part was showering after arriving back in Mongu (we were pretty disgusting) and then watching the sunset over the plains and getting to see old friends who I miss terribly.  It was a good weekend.  I feel lucky that I get to continue to have these adventures in Africa.    

Monday, October 21, 2013

Going back to Mongu.

So this past weekend I went home. Back to Mongu.  So I say I went home because as we were driving into town, that’s what it felt like, going home.  It was this overwhelming sense of nostalgia.  And it’s not like I’ve been gone for that long.  It’s only been a little over a month.  But I have all of these feelings wrapped up in Mongu.  My friends, colleagues, much as I have loved making the move to Lusaka, I've missed living in small town Zambia this past month.  I went back for my friend’s going away party.  She was one of my closest friends in Mongu and I will miss her ‘too much’ as we say here.  We had a crazy weekend dancing at the Mongu clubs, having a braii on the plains, watching the Makishi perform and just generally enjoying a weekend away.  I’m grateful that I can still go back occasionally to visit.  I'm sure as more time passes it will be easier.  Lusaka will start to feel like home.  But, for now, I still love this little western town.

Here are a couple of pictures from the weekend.  In Zambia, the Luvale people hold the 'Makishi festival' to mark the end of the an initiation period. We had the opportunity to see some of the Makishi perform the afternoon of my friend's going away party in the Mongu plains which was really interesting.  Boys (usually ages 8-12) are taken into the bush for 1–2 months where they undergo several rites of passage into manhood. These involve learning certain survival skills, learning about women and how to be a good husband, learning about fatherhood, and also they are circumcised. To celebrate the boys' completion of their initiation the Makishi festival welcomes them back to the village as men. The night before boys from the village take their masks to the graveyard and sleep there, allowing the spirits of their ancestors to enter them. The following evening they appear in the village with their masks. Although the other members of the community know roughly who is taking part, they do not know who is under which mask. The masks represent specific characters.  I've posted a few pictures in my photo album if you get a chance to take a look (more to come soon so keep checking back...)!

The plains of Mongu.  
One of the Makishi.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My new home in Lusaka.

I have been in Lusaka for a week now.  It’s such a different experience and feel from where I have lived in Africa during my last several years (i.e., small communities in much more rural settings).  Sometimes it hasn’t even felt like I’m in Africa this past week.  Lusaka is a big city.  With traffic.  And restaurants.  And people don’t care that you are a foreigner.  Most people who haven’t been to Africa can’t imagine it could be like this in Africa…the perception is that living in Africa is hard.  And, of course, outside the major cities it is a different world.  But in a place like Lusaka it’s almost like being in America, really.  I mean if you look hard enough you see the cracks (and no you can't get everything you could get in America).  But, for the most part, it’s quite sophisticated.

I have moved into my new home.  It’s a small rondavel…how to explain a rondavel?  It’s a round house with a thatched roof and everything is contained in the one room (there is a small kitchen and bathroom).  It’s great because the high thatched roof keeps the temperature quite cool and it’s perfect for me.  My move was pretty easy because in Mongu I didn’t really have anything (except my clothes and a few essential items) so when I learned that this place was fully furnished I figured we were a perfect match.  And I’m loving the space so far…it’s close to a small shopping complex and my office is about a 20-30 minute commute.  The one problem might be the ants...because of the thatched roof the ants seem to want to share my space.  I'll have to figure that one out.  I suppose this a reminder I'm in Africa.

Other than that, I’m trying to get into a groove with my new job, learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road, and make a few friends (while still keeping in touch with all of Mongu friends…yes, I miss them terribly).  One of my closest friends left the country on Saturday (she finished her contract here in Zambia) and I’m learning the transient nature of this work is going to be difficult as many great people come and go. 

Here is a picture of my new little home (I'll try to take a few more).  I hope you like it as much as I do. J

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Going back home.

I’ve been looking forward to returning to my Peace Corps community since I left in March of 2012.  It’s just one of those moments you imagine when you say goodbye because the reality is you never know if you will get the opportunity to go back? 

But, I am one of the lucky ones (at least I feel like one of the lucky ones)!  Last week, I had the opportunity to go back to South Africa to visit my community, my friends, my family.  Yes, these people were, and are, my family.  I will never forget those initial moments of being reunited.  It was simply fantastic!  I got to see so many people who had made a profound impact on my life.  Women I worked with who had become friends.  Children from the Phedisang centres who I had played with every day.  The youth from  my intern project and girls from our camp.  The family who I spent countless Sundays with baking and going to church.  All such amazing people.  And, of course, the family I lived with although one of the saddest parts of my return home was not being able to see the man who had supported me throughout my time living in the community, Piet, my host father.  In June, he passed away.  It was difficult to be back and not see him.  But I got to spend some time with other family members which provided comfort and allowed for a bit of healing since I hadn't been able to go back for his funeral and memorial service.  I sure do miss him though.  

The reason I went back was to help with a project very close to my heart.  The Roedean-Phedisang Residential.  Through an amazing partnership with a school in Johannesburg called the Roedean School, every year a select group of girls are brought to the rural community where I stayed to help at the organization which I supported during my Peace Corps service, the Phedisang Project.  The girls (who are all in grade 11) meet the children who visit the centers every day, play games, help with various projects, and just generally get to see what it’s like to live in the rural areas of their very own country.  South Africa is a strange and complicated country (as are most places).  The poorest of the poor live in the same country with some of the most wealthy.  So the girls are able to learn and appreciate what it’s like to move around in a world that is usually very different from their own.  I helped organize and participated in this project during my Peace Corps service but going back was an amazing opportunity and allowed me to continue to support the project.  I feel lucky to have this rare opportunity and look forward to staying involved. 

I have to also say that I am so proud of the work that continues at Phedisang.  The people working there are doing some fantastic things.  If you are interested in supporting their work, please let me know and I will tell you how you can help.  There is still lots to be done!  I have put some pictures up so that you can see the girls from Roedean in action and of course my amazing project and community - which I will always consider home.  Also, you can visit the blog which the girls updated during their stay (it’s one of the links on the right).