Wednesday, March 28, 2012
A Day of Rest and Reflection
The day after expedition is dedicated to rest. No plans are made, nothing is required, and time is dedicated to peaceful activities. It was the perfect setting for quiet reflection.
On our return from Lake Nakuru there was a time for playing car games. Someone had Mad Libs with them (if you do not know this game, please discover it!) and admittedly the next few hours were full of crazy laughter. The dialogue was between a man and wife discussing a coming baby, and one line states, “just think, in so many months we’ll have either a girl or a failure.” The guffawing in reaction to the line was swift and loud.
A happenstance today brought me back to that statement, however, and the reasons weren’t necessarily sidesplitting. It occurred to me that, after hearing an extensive listing of petty complaints by a colleague, that in the world, there are those who look beneath, and those who look beyond, and these can be girls or boys, male or female. While not automatically a “failure,” people who look beneath a situation tend to focus on the negative aspects. In this instance, there are those who tend to poke and prod at occurrences that are little, if not inevitable, when living in the wilderness of East Africa. One should not walk into an excursion into East Africa without expecting cold showers, mosquito bites, dirt in their bags, doors that are a little difficult to maneuver, and baboons stealing your food. But what’s so unappealing about looking beneath these things is not being able to see the beauty of the whole picture. In most cases I try to avoid listening to a litany of negative feedback, because it is hard for me to believe that a person would willingly choose to venture out of a constructed western civilization and into a program based in the rough country of East Africa without acknowledging all of the amenities that would be missing. It is not the fault of the center or the country that you are without air-conditioning, or a grand spread of food for meals. We’re in Tanzania and Kenya, and here it’s considered a blessing to have enough ugali and cabbage to eat.
But isn’t the appeal, the attraction, and – I dare say – the exquisiteness of this experience the utter lack of amenities? The simplicity of living here is astoundingly comforting. Instead of being upset over baboons constantly interacting with me, I rejoice at the chance to live so close to an animal that many only see in picture books. Hyenas wander aimlessly through our campsite at night, their cries echoing into the stars above, and there are those worried about the bugs crawling into their banda?
I came to East Africa with no expectations, and will walk away with so many wonderful stories and a completely new appreciation for myself as a person, because I have come to realize that I am an individual who looks beyond. I can adapt to strange or challenging situations, such as language barriers and cultural practices different from my own. I can laugh at a flat tire acquired in Serengeti because it’s an opportunity to be stranded in a totally wild environment, surrounded by zebra and wildebeest. I am no longer aware of the dirt constantly clinging to my feet, because I don’t want to miss a minute of what’s happening if I am caught worrying about dirty toenails. And if I can live in a country where life is the complete opposite of mine in the U.S, and leave feeling fulfilled, educated, and utterly happy, I feel that my capacity to grow and enjoy all situations is immeasurable. Being here has only helped prove to myself that I can accomplish goals that I set my mind to with pleasure, and learn from all experiences, good and bad. I can go without shaving my legs or worrying about my hair, and revel in the pride I feel as I help to cook dinner with the staff – rafiki zangu, my friends – and have them tell me that my cooking is great. I can ignore the pressure of having to keep in contact with those who only cause me stress by keeping away from my cellphone, and I find that I hear so many new things when that little electronic box isn’t constantly stuck to my ear!
I’m growing here, and each day brings a new piece to shape the puzzle that is myself. Who I am is open to change and new experiences. And I’m excited to be rediscovering my quirks, interests, and dreams because for a time they were placed on hold for something undeserving. But, as I said before, I’m looking beyond those troubles and leaving behind things I find only to be a hindrance… and it’s a crazy awesome notion that this personal renaissance began when I stepped onto a plane bound for Africa.