Category Archives: Kenya and Tanzania

Happy Birthday, Book!

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It came into print the same way it came into my head: calmly and quietly, with only myself.

Technically, I began writing In the Place of Many Zebras: Stories From Kenya on Culture, Courage, and Change about 5 years ago, on a cool, foggy morning on the edge of the Rift Valley in Kenya.

I didn’t mean too.

But, as the first line of the book tells us, I woke up early one morning, before the sun, writing a story in my head.

I remember that morning vividly, laying on a top bunk in the dark, my mind thinking like it was writing a story.

I don’t know how I was processing my time in Kenya in any kind of sensible way while I was in the middle of it, but my brain woke me up that day with it’s own agenda. And the lines that were there that day became the first lines of a story that shaped my first book.

One year ago today, I sat alone at a back table in the same library I am sitting in now. It was after school hours; all was quiet.

I clicked a button, and a message popped up, congratulating me on publishing. I smiled to myself, and remember my breath catching.

That was that. It was a book! It took four years to figure out what to do with those lines that rolled through my head early one morning in Kenya, but I am proud of what they became. Now, a year after publishing the book, I am happy to say that I have had the opportunity to share it with hundreds of people (not thousands, or tens of thousands…but that’s okay 🙂 ), and to talk about its subject matter with some of them. I have connected with others who have spent time in Kenya and other countries in East Africa. And I can say confidently that I grew more as a writer while writing that book than at any other point so far.

So, I take this opportunity to say Happy Birthday, Book, and thanks for the journey so far!

Typing notes under a tree in Kenya

Typing up interview notes under a tree in Kenya, 2010.

Tuesday Talk: March Nostalgia

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It’s always around this time of year that I get super nostalgic for East Africa. Five Marches ago I was preparing for my first trip to Kenya and three Marches ago I was preparing to go back and stay a bit longer. Last March, I published In the Place of Many Zebras: Stories from Kenya on Culture, Courage, and Change, finally bringing my time in Kenya full circle. This all makes me feel like one lucky gal. And, somehow, every year my internal clock realizes it’s March, and I find myself aching for Africa for a few weeks. This year, it seems particularly intense, as we are starting to think about our preparations for returning to eastern Africa for Peace Corps.

Birds chirping bring on the nostalgia, as I remember hearing the Yellow Weaver birds in Kenya and thinking about American springtime. The smell of diesel fuel, Vaseline-brand aloe vera lotion, and….trash all conjure instant feelings of being in Kenya, even more-so this time of year. And just something about March makes me painfully nostalgic for my time spent in Kenya, for the feel of cool, misty mornings and warm afternoon sun, for the silly girls of the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center, and – a bit more existentially 😉 – for a more naive me.

Here’s to good memories! Happy Tuesday 🙂

The group of girls at the GRC in 2010

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan "little sister."

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan “little sister” in 2012.

Me with, Eunice, my Kenyan "little sister" in 2010

Me with Eunice, my Kenyan “little sister” in 2010.

Kenya Sunset

Stopped the car to watch this gorgeous sunset in rural Kenya in 2010.

Tuesday Talk: Journeys, and the East Africa Connection

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In the past two days I have thought a lot about journeys. A journey is the act of getting someplace physically, emotionally, spiritually, and so on.  It’s the things you see along the way and the detours you take. It’s also things learned and people met.

Do you have any clearly traceable journeys in your past? Things that you can look back on, and see every step that led you there? Things that kind of make no sense, but happened anyways, all in a perfect and obvious string of events?

For me, this is a connection to East Africa that is going on 6 years now.

It may not seem so to you, but to me it’s super weird. It’s one of those things that makes me believe in the plan of the universe and larger forces that be. Truly.

Here’s what has happened:

In 2007 I went in to journalism school. Although I never wanted to get into newspaper journalism, through a class I was introduced to the editor of the Greeley Tribune newspaper. I later wrote a sample profile article about him for class. After reading this, he told me to get in touch whenever I was ready to do an internship.

In 2009, I was interning at the Greeley Tribune newspaper and sat down with Mark Hagen to write about him, his wife, his partner organizations and a Girl’s Rescue Center that they are building in Kenya. He said I should come to Kenya with them sometime.

I said ‘Sure!’…even though I never wanted to go to Africa and thought it was scary. I thought maybe I would go in two years, after graduation.

A month later he called me with an offer: to accompany him and his wife, plus a PhD student doing research, and one other to Kenya in 5 months.

In April 2010, I got a plane to Kenya-with literally $30 in my bank account-after raising money, getting help, and spending lots of my own. My fellow traveller, Phyllis, paid for an unexpected baggage fee of $50 because I didn’t have enough money…don’t worry, the rest of the trip had been prepaid and went splendidly 🙂

I spent two weeks in Kenya and wrote 3 stories about the Center when I got back.

But what really shook me was three sisters that I met there. All three had incredible stories and had faced early marriage and circumcision. I knew immediately that I wanted to go back, and spent a lot of time researching these tough issues and trying to save money to go back.

In September of 2010, my best friend left for the Peace Corps. I had told her from the start that I would go visit her wherever she ended up. She ended up in Tanzania!

In April of 2012, Alex and I went back to Kenya for a month; I spent a good amount of time interviewing women and girls at the Center and one other women’s village, and we spent the rest of our time gallivanting and carrying out a DIY Safari. After Kenya, we went to Tanzania for about a month and spent 2 weeks at our friend’s Peace Corps site. During this time I realized that I  could see myself doing Peace Corps…but knew we’d have to be married to go together.

Two days before coming home, Alex proposed!

Next, we moved to Grand County, Colorado. I jumped into writing my first book, In the Place of Many Zebras,  a narrative nonfiction project about the girls in Kenya. We also got to work planning our wedding.

In October 2013 we got married!…and almost immediately started researching options for married couples to teach abroad.

On March 1, 2014 we applied for the Peace Corps. On March 25 I published the book!

Right before leaving for a trip to Ecuador last summer, we got nominated to go to Peace Corps Malawi in June 2015.

I thought to myself ‘First trip to East Africa: two weeks. Second: two months. Third: two years….what is it about that area of the world?!’

Then, in Ecuador I learned some Spanish. We thought that Peace Corps might switch us to a Spanish -speaking country since we both now had Spanish experience. But secretly, I really wanted the opportunity to go back to Africa. I felt, and feel, an incredibly strong ‘tug’ and kind of a painful ‘want’ to go back there.

In January, Peace Corps contacted us saying because of both of our ‘Spanish backgrounds’ and other experiences, Peace Corps Mozambique would be a good-fit program for us. That program needs Spanish speakers…because we have to learn Portuguese. That makes perfect sense right?….Send some Spanish speakers to Africa instead of somewhere Spanish-Speaking.

Fine by me 🙂

But…I had to pass a Spanish test first! So I did that.

And finally, we received our invitations to Mozambique for this September! Yay!

Maybe this isn’t as weird to you as it is to me, but for someone who thought she’d never go to Africa, it’s strange to feel a constant tug to go back, and to have things work out in a way that keeps allowing me to go back! I look back on all that I have learned from my past two trips to East Africa, and I can’t wait to see what this new country has to teach us.

Here’s to journeying! 🙂

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan "little sister."

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan “little sister.”

Why I want to be a Chapatti Mama

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My first try at making chapattis. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn at www.alrophoto.com

You might ask, “What the hell is a Chapatti Mama?” Well, two things.

 
First: Chapattis are a simple, delicious, and dirt cheap flatbread that you can find in the morning in East Africa. A Chapatti Mama is a woman who makes really good chapattis. In my experience a really good chapatti can start an African day off right. The mamas wrap the chapattis up in newspaper when they sell them and you unroll it and super-hot steam hits you in the face and you tear off a perfectly soft piece and the world just seems right. Why wouldn’t I want to try my hand at making a food that has such amazing effects on my mental well-being? I’ve seen mamas do it: roll out your pre-made dough, let it sizzle on an oily pan, flip,sizzle, and voila! I knew it wouldn’t be that easy, but it takes practice to become a Chapatti Mama.Yesterday I mixed up flour, water, and pinch of salt until the dough seemed to be the right consistency: stiff but still moist enough to manipulate. Then I needed to roll my dough out flat on the countertop. Having used up all the flour, I decided to sprinkle the counter with Belgian Waffle Mix and roll them out on that so the dough wouldn’t stick. Next, I needed to let them sizzle in an oily pan. I poked around the oil varieties available in the kitchen and couldn’t find any vegetable or canola oil, which seemed like the logical choice. So I had to use peanut oil. The result was a crispy chapatti- probably because of the sugar in the waffle mix- that tasted a little like peanut butter, a little like flatbread, and a little like waffle. It wasn’t a total flop, but I think I can do better. And I’ll have to do better if I truly want to become a chapatti making pro/ Chapatti Mama.

 
Second: Chapatti Mamas are independent business women. My observation while travelling in East Africa was that many of the people survive off of small businesses that they start. And Chapatti Mama’s are no exception. In Iringa, Tanzania we had breakfast at a place deemed “Mama Chapatti’s” by the Peace Corps volunteers we were hanging out with. “Mama Chapatti’s” was in the main marketplace area of Iringa, but was a little tricky to find. We were walking there with people who knew the way. From the main road we saw typical market stands selling food, shoes, watches, brooms, yogurt, etc. We turned left between two stands onto a path that I never would have assumed was a path; it was inches wide. I few yards back was “Mama Chapatti’s.” It resembled a small warehouse, with people moving efficiently while cutting meat, rolling chapatti dough, wrapping chapattis, pouring tea, and washing dishes. Mama Chapatti herself stood behind a table, her hands glistening with ever-present oil. She had a charcoal stove in front of her and flipped the chapattis with her bare hands while she smiled and joked with her customers, who sat on benches around the table. Sarah, my friend who is in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, informed me that this is her business; She runs the restaurant and has chapattis delivered all over the city every morning. In this way, she makes a living and has put a couple of her kids through college already. Pretty amazing! And she’s not the only Chapatti Mama supporting her family this way. In 2010 I saw a woman in Kenya come to the construction site of the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center every day to sell chapattis to the crew for lunch.

 

When I set out making chapattis yesterday it was pretty much because I was extremely hungry and because I, of course, really miss Africa sometimes. It was as I rolled out the dough that I realized not only would I like to learn to make this amazing food, I would like to be a creative, independent, entrepreneurial woman like all those East African Chapatti Mamas. I don’t think my chapatti-making skills are good enough to send my [unborn] children to college, but I sure can learn from the resourcefulness and skill of Chapatti Mamas.

How it took me 2 years, 2 trips to Kenya, and 2 glasses of Chianti to be as wise as a Kenyan girl

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In April of 2010 I skipped college for two and a half weeks and followed an odd instinct to Kenya to complete a freelance newspaper story about the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center. On one of my first days there, I found myself in a small cement dormitory, crowded with black bunk beds and the stuff of girls: some shoes, a few outfits, school books, combs, blankets. I had just finished interviewing three sisters who fled home to avoid being married and taken out of school. The oldest two were teenagers, but the youngest, Eunice, was still childlike at 11 years old. I took a liking to her, and she to me; I was one of the first people to ever hear her story. It was a secret we now shared, as I sat with her and another girl in the dorm. We were talking and joking and playing when they stopped speaking English and suddenly left me out of the conversation.
“Silantoi,” Eunice said, turning back to me after a few seconds.

Me with, Eunice, my Kenyan "little sister" in 2010

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan “little sister” in 2010.

Smiling, I asked her for clarification.
“Your Maasai name,” she said. “Silantoi.”
The girls at the OGRC are mostly from the Maasai tribe, which means their first name is a Christian name that they choose when baptized, their second name is a Maasai name that is chosen by their father’s mother when they are born, and their third name is their family name.
I asked Eunice what my Maasai name meant in English and she told me: courageous.
Courageous? Wasn’t she the one who faced threats of circumcision and marriage? Wasn’t she the one who had to leave home to avoid these and continue her education? Wasn’t she the one who took two younger siblings with her when she fled to keep them out of harm’s way? And me? I had never faced anything as difficult as her trials. Yes, I had seen people close to me face physical illness and depression, and, between suicides, drunk drivers, and school shootings, I was exposed to a lot of death at a young age. But I was always a bystander, a witness. Plus, she didn’t know any of this. How could she call me courageous? I didn’t get it.
After the trip, I passed the summer working in Yellowstone and constantly thinking about Kenya, and still didn’t get it. I finished my last year of college with multiple honors and still didn’t get it. I spent 8 months working and writing in the mountains…still didn’t get it. Three more months in the city..no new insights on this courage thing. Then, two years after my first trip to Kenya, I was headed back there to travel and do research for a writing project

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan "little sister."

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan “little sister” in April 2012

. When I arrived at the OGRC, the girls remembered my Maasai name and occasionally called me by it. I still didn’t know why they thought I was courageous and, for some reason, I didn’t ask. I spent this past April in Kenya, and May in Tanzania. I’ve been home a month now and have felt culture shock work in me the way it did after my first trip to Kenya: subtly and gradually, with time. I don’t always notice every little thing as being a shock. It’s more that I absorb things and then become ridiculously overwhelmed and have inexplicable crying breakdowns, sometimes in public. I have days where I feel lighthearted and happy and so lucky to have the things and people and adventures I do, after seeing a lot of people who don’t have a tenth as much.
But I also have days when I am heavy-hearted because I know things that are difficult to think about. I have new knowledge, which means I don’t have the option to be accidentally ignorant anymore. And I am a more troubled person overall after two trips to Kenya.
Two days ago I was lost in thought after a couple of glasses of wine and, suddenly, I understood why the girls at the OGRC called me courageous. Both times I got on the plane to Kenya, I was in it for adventure and fun and to learn new things and teach others about them. I did not go into it thinking that it is brave of me to seek out knowledge and write about the difficult issues that the world’s women face. I was just being my curious self and doing what I enjoy; personally I don’t think I am all that brave of a gal! But what I realized was that travelling to a third world country, which so many in our generation do or want to do, takes courage. And I don’t mean the kind of courage required to get around on public transportation, poop over holes in the ground, eat weird food, or speak a different language. I mean the kind of courage it takes to enter deeply into the way other people live, to not ignore the sights and sounds and struggles of other humans, to hear firsthand what it’s like for a girl to be circumcised or beaten. I mean the kind of courage it takes when you’re trying to make sense of the world a little bit.

The group of girls at the GRC in 2010

The group of girls at the GRC in 2010.

Walk With Me Through Stone Town, Zanzibar

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Walk toward the ocean. Turn left. Turn left. Turn right. Dead end. Go back. Where is that motorbike you can hear coming? Glance over your shoulder. Take a wobbly step to the left to avoid him hitting you as he turns down the alley. Look up: Electrical wires, black mold encroaching on white buildings, laundry hanging limp in the choked air.

“Sister, come into my shop. Looking is free. I will give you a special discount. I will give you a good price.”
Keep your head down. Keep walking.
Say “pole sana (very sorry)” when you walk through children’s street soccer game.
Notice how deflated their small ball is. Turn right. Turn right. Buy a sliced mango from a street vendor and put chili salt on it at the insistence of him and another man.
Say “Shillingi ngape (how much) ?”
“Elfu umoja.”
Be thankful that he speaks slowly in Swahili. Try to be sneaky about digging in your bra for the money. Pay him, and keep walking.
Say “Asante (thank you)” to compliments on your dress. Step into a shop.
“Karibu sister. Welcome. I have the lowest prices.”
Absentmindedly say “Aiya.”
Browse quickly and try to see more than one thing at one time so you know if you’re going to buy before the salesmen hassles you relentlessly.
Say “Asante sana kaka (thank you very much brother).”
Try not to feel too bad when he tells you you’re his first customer and begs you not to leave the store. Come out of the maze of narrow streets and onto the big one….where cars actually drive comfortably.
“Sister, do not forget us. T-shirt? Tanzania? Zanzibar?”
Say, “Baadaye (later)..maybe,” and realize how amazing it would be to know the word ‘maybe’ in Swahili. You don’t want to make any promises.
“Listen, sister, we are having a party tonight. Playing Ragaae music. We will show you a good time.”
Say “Okay, poa (cool),” and just keep walking.
“ Unatoka wapi? (Where are you from?)”
Say “Mericani.”
“Ahhhh Obamaland!! Very good. Obama is very good. Good country.”
Say “Aiya.”
“Where did you learn Swahili?”
“Rafiki yetu. Walemu Secondaria Sciencia (Our friend. Teacher Secondary Science)”
“Ohhhhh. She is muzungu (white person)?”
“Aiya.”
“You speak very good Swahili, sister.”
Laugh at this. Say “kidogo Saaaaanaa (veeerrry little).”
As you’ve been doing, keep walking.
“Taxi? Taxi?”
Say “Hapana, asante (no, thank you).”
“Maybe tomorrow. You are going to the beach tomorrow? Nungwi? Kendwa? We have a shared van. Tomorrow.”
Say “I have just been to the beach.”
Keep walking. Greet a shopkeeper you met yesterday. Try to look like you know exactly where you’re going. Turn left back into the narrow streets and remember reading that the buildings here were built tall and close together to provide shade on the hellishly hot days. Pause for a split second to look around.
“Sister, you are lost! Are you lost? Where are you going?”
“No, I have been here. Not lost.”
Ignore this helpful man approaching you to show you the way. Realize he probably won’t show you the way to anywhere you’re trying to go and realize also that he will want you to pay him for his made up services. Keep walking. Realize you’ve been smirking the whole journey. Revel in that carefree feeling of being lost. And just keep walking.

 

 

 

Stone Town’s Street Market and Spice Tour

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Boys are splashing into the bay, running in out of nowhere, more every minute. The older ones are lined up on built-up brick walks of Forodhani Gardens, running and jumping off the edge and into the water in dare devil stunts. An old man in a long white robe and prayer cap stands in silence amidst the chaos, with one foot up on the edge of the brick walkway, watching the sunset. Kids are crawling over and under a small playground that was completely deserted just hours ago. Muslim women stroll in colorful head scarves and high heels, texting and chattering with their friends. Boats bump over the small waves and a wooden dhow with its sail up crosses the burning-orange ball of sun. Suddenly, the stiflingly hot daytime park is cooling and becoming Stone Town’s social center. The grass is green and trimmed, trash free and comfortable to walk across. As we walk toward the central plaza of the gardens, I can smell popcorn popping at our favorite snack shop, the one we go to every day. The one where one of our waiters introduced himself as Mr. Super Handsome and introduced the other waiter as Mr. Lova Lova.
“You know, like the song?” he said.
We pass them and say hello.
In the plaza food vendors are setting up for the nightly street market. We wander through to see the selections: pizza, dessert pizza, fresh juice, beef, various fish, naan, chapatti, corn, salad. I can smell the beef grilling, and I am wishing there were park markets like this in the States. Right in front us pizza dough is being rolled out, meat is being grilled, a man is running thick stalks of sugar cane through a hand-powered press to make juice. And, for once, somewhere in Africa smells good. We order and twilight falls quickly. After we finish our dinner and juice we wander through the other stalls, checking out the dessert selections. We settle on pizza with banana, coconut, and Nutella. The men cooking work quickly, their hands flying in the light cast by a kerosene lantern. The noise and chatter around me falls away as I start to speak to them in Swahili. It is fun, but I am concentrating. Genuine laughter fills the space between their questions and my broken answers. It’s the same laughter that all the Africans we’ve met can emit; it’s the only kind here. Orders before ours are handed out, money is paid, and finally our delicious dessert is ready.
“Lala fofofo,” I tell the two men as we walk away. Sleep like a dead person.
This one guarantees a laugh.
The next day we leave the hotel at 9a.m…well almost. Our spice tour guide is running late (no big surprise) and we head out of Stone Town a bit to a spice farm. Zanzibar is a spice island and I was excited from day one of this trip to learn more about how the heck you grow a spice…I had never really thought it through. With a large group (the most white people we’ve seen in months…forgive my political incorrectness and notation of skin color please) we go walking through the farm, stopping to learn about the various trees, bushes, roots, and grasses along the way. First up is lemongrass, which gives off a delicious lemon scent and can be used to repel mosquitoes. A slew of information and plants follow: ginger root used for stomach problems, cinnamon taken from cinnamon tree bark and sticks made from the branches, nutmeg from a pit inside a fruit, green vanilla beans growing on a tree, coffee cherries on trees, unripe cocoa, ylang ylang flowers, star fruit, oranges, coconuts, a pepper plant producing red, green, and black pepper. Ginger was the spiciest, making me cringe after I hardly touch the root to the tip of my tongue. I suck in my cheeks at the sour star fruit and delight in the fresh citrus scent of the lemongrass and the sweet smell of ripe vanilla beans that makes me think of home and holidays and summertime ice cream.
We proceed to the old Persian bath houses of the main wife of Zanzibar’s old Sultan Seyyid Said. During his time on Zanzibar, the Sultan had nearly forty wives and a few of their old palaces in Stone Town are now historical museums. At the end of the tour we buy some coffee and spiced tea and we all sit on mats on the floor for a traditional Tanzanian lunch of chapatti, spiced rice called pilau, curry sauce, and cooked pumpkin leaves. We chat with some of the other travelers about their journeys and we are soon headed back to sweltering Stone Town.

We got no troubles. Life is the bubbles. Under the Sea!

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“Don’t be nervous. Your instructor is waiting there for you.” As these words left the mouth of another Buccaneer Diving instructor – and after my slight agreement – I was gently pushed backwards off a boat. It was just the bit of encouragement I needed for my first time scuba diving. There were a fair amount of rolling waves on the ocean surface, but within a minute we began our slow descent to 12 meters. Underneath the surface of the Indian Ocean the water was still and turquoise. It is rainy season on Zanzibar, so visibility in the water is not as high as at other times of the year. Still, I could see around me enough to feel comfortable and be fully satisfied with the creatures seen on my first dive. There were unexpectedly purple coral reefs, Finding Nemo fish of various striped and colored varieties and some with oddly shaped fins, big drab fish, sea snakes, small gray fish with neon colored stripes, lion fish, a flounder..and the list goes on! Scuba diving has a truly strange and otherworldly feel to it. Something about being engulfed by water, the constantly and noticeably moving environment, kind of made my mind spin. To this, add all the beautiful creatures and the fact that you can get face to face with them and you’ve really got a weirdly cool situation.
Scuba diving is something I never thought I would do. Then again, so was travelling on the African continent and here I am. Before deciding to scuba dive just days ago my fears went something like this: what if a shark eats me? What if I drown? What if the boat forgets me and I end up as the main star in an episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive? On the morning of the dives, my worries were more like this: What if my lungs blow up? What if my brain explodes? What if my ears won’t pop? What if I drown? What if I have a panic attack?
“You’re not going to go all Buster on me, are you?” Alex asked, referring to the nervous behavior and frequent panic attacks of the youngest brother in the brilliant TV series, Arrested Development. I answered an unsure ‘no’ to this.
As we walked to the dive center with the tune of all my worries ringing in our ears I was reminded by Alex of my recent personal conquest to cut out a good majority of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘buts’ in my life. Of course it is a good idea to be cautious and knowledgeable of the legitimate risks of any sport, but I tried to suppress the more outrageous concerns. I knew that the reward for overcoming (or just ignoring) my nerves would be worthwhile. I was doing the PADI Discover Scuba Diving course, which involves pool instruction and then at least one open water dive. With this, the participant is awarded a diving certificate that is good for one year and also counts toward any future coursework in getting full certification. After a skills session in the pool with my instructor, I was still feeling nervous and, honestly, unprepared for an open water dive. In the pool I learned how to clear my mask of any water that might get in, how to find my regulator (the mouthpiece supplying air to you on a dive), and how to share my alternate regulator with my dive buddy if they ran out of air. Learning all of these skills, and at a measly 2 meters, had me kicking for the surface, gasping for air, and blowing water out my nose. I couldn’t seem to get the hang of pacing my exhale if I lost my air source and of not trying to breathe through my nose (odd, because this is a general rule of swimming and I’ve done plenty of swimming). At the bottom of the pool I thought at least once that I would just pay the instructor for the pool time and skip out on the open water all together. My new knowledge of the risks and skills needed had me more worried than before. Sure, knowledge is power. But also…ignorance is bliss.
In committing to the PADI Discover Scuba Diving course, the uncomfortable pool skills were required and I was therefore forced in the direction of ‘knowledge is power.’ In reality, of course this is a good thing. I quickly asked my instructor if we could just swim around close to the ocean surface for a few minutes before descending. I am sure I sounded nervous and shaken and he assured me that we would descend slowly. Alex, who is certified in open water diving, also assured me that I most likely would not lose my regulator or have to clear my mask on the dive. So away we went in the bumping boat!
We reached our dive site within minutes and were, much to my surprise, still within easy sight of the shore. There goes my fear of ending up on I Shouldn’t Be Alive…it certainly looked close enough to swim if I had that kind of life or death adrenaline! As we swam under the surface, my curiosity finally trumped my nervousness and I was at ease, free to go about as I pleased. The 40 minutes of the first dive passed so quickly that when we returned to the surface I was asking, “Are we done already? It’s been 40 minutes?” I had planned on doing one dive but was definitely playing with the idea of going down with Alex and the instructor on the second dive. As does any good Tanzanian salesman, our instructor insisted gently that he would give me a very good price. Unlike most Tanzanian salesmen, though, he actually did (I would have done it without the random 10 percent discount!).
When we got back to the hotel after diving, I was lazing around and thinking about the odd things that happen in my brain when I am out of my usual routine and comfort zone. Of course, certain unpleasant things occupy spaces of my mind that wouldn’t be there at home, like being on the lookout for someone who might rob me, having to watch my bags, not walking very far at night, and trying not to think about the fact that the people who cook the food in local restaurants also wipe their butt with their hand. Moving on….
The deeply fun part about travelling, or living, somewhere outside my comfort zone is that my curiosity perks up a whole lot, I am more relaxed, and I tend not to be concerned with the same things I am concerned with at home. With just a dash of caution, these changes in thinking have led me to some of the best places in life: up mountains, across hundreds of miles of Yellowstone’s trails, and, now, down into the Indian Ocean.

 

Here a cow, there a cow, everywhere a moooo cow

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Just for fun, here’s a quick list of all the places we’ve seen cows in East Africa.
1) In a traffic jam in the middle of Nairobi.
2) Walking down the beach on Zanzibar.
3) Tethered to a tree in the woods at Lake Malawi.
4) Roaming freely in the woods below Mt. Kenya.
5) Next to you as you bike along a dirt road in Madibira, Tanzania.
6) In the river/ crossing the river in Archer’s Post, Kenya.
7) In a field, naturally.
8) Hanging wholly but skinned and beheaded in the unrefrigerated window of a “hotel/butchery.” It took me way too long to learn that hotel here means restaurant. Dah.