Tag Archives: africa

The Whole Cheesy Story, Part 4

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First read Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Finally, the end of the “how we met” saga!

When we last left off in my long, drawn out love story, Zach and I had finally said the big “L word”, and the next day I got on a plane to start my two years of Peace Corps service.  I went off to Tanzania to learn Swahili, live in a village, and do my best to contribute something, and he stayed in Ohio, working on his degree.  We left our relationship undefined and I had no idea what would happen.  I honestly expected him to forget about me and find a new girl who wasn’t an ocean away.  But he didn’t.  And the trouble was, I couldn’t forget about him either.  I did my best to adopt a “whatever happens, happens” attitude to the situation and focus on the present.  But I couldn’t stop dreaming about the future, imagining us ending up together.  Every time I got an email or a letter or a super-expensive phone call from Zach I would smile all day.  I had never wanted to be in a long-distance relationship while in the Peace Corps, as I imagined missing someone would make it even harder than it already was to be so far from home.  Well, even though our relationship was unofficial, missing him was still incredibly hard.

My Tanzanian life

So, when my bestie got engaged and told me I had to come back to be MOH in her wedding, I was unbelievably psyched!  Not only would I get to be in her wedding and eat American food I’d been missing, I’d get to see Zach!  So I booked a round trip flight home.  I’d been away for nine months and despite the ups and downs of Peace Corps life, I had every intention of sticking it out and returning for 17 more months.  In the weeks leading up to my return, I couldn’t concentrate on anything besides counting the days and wondering if Zach and I would still have the same chemistry.

Boy did we.  The sparks flew so intensely during that whirlwind two weeks.   The morning after the wedding, I suddenly found myself sitting in a Tim Hortons, hours before my return flight, sobbing that I didn’t want to go back.  Thus began the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.  I was an emotional wreck, and Zach was amazing.  He never once asked me to stay.  He told me that all he wanted was for me to be happy.  After a few gut-wrenching hours, crying conversations with my family and best friend (yes, I called her the day after her wedding, I’m horrible), and general stress over the prospect of ruining my whole life plan, I realized that I just couldn’t leave again.

I swallowed my pride and I quit the Peace Corps for a guy.  Honestly, there were other reasons why I wasn’t super happy in Tanzania, but Zach was definitely the biggest one.  If I hadn’t met him, or if I had never come home for the wedding, I’m sure I would have stuck it out for the whole two years.  Like I said, this was the hardest decision I ever made.  Life was all of a sudden full of uncertainty, and I was plagued with guilt and feelings of failure for quitting.  To this day, I still feel badly for leaving.  I never, ever envisioned myself becoming the kind of person who would give up her life plan for a romance.  But, Zach was the first guy I was ever with who I was willing to do that for, and maybe that’s how I knew it was right.  Looking back, I don’t regret any of my Peace Corps service, and I don’t regret my decision to quit either.

Anyway, all of a sudden I had the man of my dreams, no job, no plan, and a scarily insecure feeling about the future.  “What should we do now?” I asked Zach.  “Let’s drive to California.” he said.  So we did.  And the rest is (recent) history.

Pacific Beach, San Diego, a week after I quit the Peace Corps

Did anyone else make an impulsive/irresponsible-seeming/risky/life-changing decision for love?  How did it work out?

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The Whole Cheesy Story, Part 3

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First read Part 1 and Part 2

Sorry, this story is dragging on forever!  I haven’t had enough time for blogging what with the huge transition of moving back to the USA, finding a job and a place to live, etc.  Excuses, excuses, I know.

Where I last left off, Zach and I had had a wonderful first date and really connected.  I was hope hope hoping that we’d hang out again.  Well, sure enough, the next day (Valentine’s Day, in fact), he texted me “Happy Valentine’s Day,” and we made plans to hang out that very night, after we both got done working.  I even dragged my BFF and her now-husband, then-boyfriend out to the bar to be wing(wo)men so it wouldn’t be too Valentine’s-ey with just Zach and I.  What a good friend, right?  In short, we had another amazing night!

Still one of my favorite pictures of us from the early days.

What followed after this was us quickly becoming inseparable.  We hung out every chance we got, he met my friends, I met his friends.  The whole time, however, the specter of Africa was looming on the horizon.  Zach even asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend and make our relationship official, but I said no because I didn’t want to “start something that had to end so soon.”  But of course, official or unofficial, it had already started.

Our first ziplining adventure!

As my departure date got closer and closer, I found myself getting less and less excited about leaving for the Peace Corps.  I knew Zach and my attempts to keep things relaxed were failing when BFF called me out on being in love with him.  “If I were you, I wouldn’t go,” she even said once.  But I HAD to go, this was the Peace Corps, this had been my dream for years!  I knew that if I gave it up I might never forgive myself, no matter what happened.

And so, on June 13, 2009, only four short months after our first date, I found myself gathered in Zach’s embrace, both of us sobbing.  It was the hardest goodbye I’ve ever said.  As I stood there crying, wondering how I was ever going to get up the courage to leave, all of a sudden I knew I had to be honest.  “I love you,” I blubbered, for the first time ever.  “I love you too,” he said.

And the next morning, I got on a plane.

Physical Challenge Life List

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As our time here is winding down, I’m overwhelmed with mixed emotions.  Partly happiness about going home to friends, family, grocery stores and farmers markets, microbrews, and a kitchen!  But a big part of me is very very sad to be saying goodbye (for now) to all the adventures, the constantly-changing scenery, the daily challenges of travel, the cheap street food, and the gorgeous hiking.

Feeling victorious after climbing the highest peak in El Salvador!

I do feel like I’ve matured a lot on this journey, and one of the ways I’ve matured is in regards to my outlook on health.  I used to say that I wanted to die before I get old.  I don’t want that anymore, but I do want to be a super healthy, on-the-go old person.  I think it makes sense to say that accomplishing that goal depends a lot on the investments I make towards it now.  I’ve preached about the organic, vegetarian diet on here before, so I don’t need to go into that again.  And yes, I will always have a sweet tooth and a baking addiction, but moderation is the key.

I’ve kind of gotten over drinking on this trip.  I think an occasional, special-occasion, in-moderation drinker is what I would like to be.  I’m just getting too old for the college-type shenanigans!  The less I drink, the healthier, happier, and more alert I feel.  I’m sure this is a normal transition that most people go through, otherwise there would be a lot more 40-year-old running around doing kegstands.  But still I read what I’ve written and think, “Oh my gosh I’m becoming a lame old lady!”  C’est la vie.

Also, all the hiking, pack-carrying, and occasional surfing we’ve done here has gotten me into better shape than I’ve ever been in.  I’ve still got a spare tire but I am stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.  And it feels great!  What sucks is that with our return to Ohio looming, I’m already missing all the awesome hikes, mountains, beaches, and activities available here.  I really want to maintain, and hopefully improve, my fitness level once we get home.  It’s going to be hard in Ohio, because I’m not a big fan of running, and gym workouts are just so boring compared to mountain climbing!  Our time in Ohio will be brief, however, and I’m committed to finding ways to stay moving somehow.  Once we head west again, fitness can become a lot more fun.

Because I love lists so much, I came up with a new goal list of all the “physical challenge”-type activities I would like to accomplish in my life.  This will probably get added to a lot as I think of new things.  Not all of them are super-physical, some are just outdoorsy activities.  Hopefully I can check one or two within a year of getting home.  These are the things that get me excited and motivate me to work out hard (well, other than wearing a wedding dress next summer)!

Physical Challenge Life List
1. Master surfing

2. Master rock-climbing

3. Master snow-boarding

4. Climb Cotopaxi (Ecuador)

5. Climb Mt. Whitney (California)

6. Climb Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)

7. Hike the Grand Canyon, to the river and back

8. Bungee jump at Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe/Zambia)

9. Ride in a hot air balloon

10. Really give yoga a try

11. Learn to swing dance

What do you think of my list?  Way too ambitious or do-able?  Has anyone else ever made a list like this?

Yosemite

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A quick Yosemite recap is on Zach’s blog.  Perhaps I’ll add more later, but for now I’m relishing the clean feeling I got from my last shower until next week.  Bringing back the Africa style, yeah!  We are just chilling near Lake Tahoe and trying to sleep well tonight before heading to Burning Man tomorrow!!!!

Nevada Falls at Yosemite. I'm pretty proud of this photo!

Photo Favorite: Tattoo Idea

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I took this picture in Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya, in 2007.  The camera was a crappy point and shoot but I think to this day it’s one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken, compositionally.  This Acacia was the only tree in the middle of the enormous plain.  In my time in Africa I’ve seen plenty of Acacias (I had one right behind my house in Tanzania and have some cool pictures of it too) but I still think they’re the coolest trees in the world.

So, getting a tattoo is on my Thirty by 30 list.  I’ve been set on the location (shoulder-blade) and the words in my envisioned tattoo for a long time, but I keep waffling on the picture.  Lately I’ve been thinking that an Acacia tree would be perfect!  It could have color, meaning, and even be based on this picture that I took!  Including the road would be awesome and meaningful too.  Plus, it’s African-themed without being obvious (my first idea was an outline of the continent of Africa) and fits perfectly with the words I want:  “Tupo pamoja” meaning “We are together” in Swahili.

What do you think?????

Missing My Love

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In Swahili there’s no word for “miss” as in “I miss you.”  It’s a language distinctly lacking in words to describe emotions, and “miss” is one of the words that just isn’t there.  This made it so hard to explain my feelings to Tanzanians when I was there, because a lot of the time I was consumed with the loneliness of missing my friends and family.  I thought of Zach every single night as I fell asleep and often dreamed about him.  The missing was a constant ache despite how much I tried to ignore it.  I realized that the loneliness of KNOWING there’s a perfect person out there for you and not being with him is worse than the loneliness of just being single.  And you can’t tell people how much you miss the guy you’re in love with back home because their language has no words to describe it!

Fast forward a year and a half.  We haven’t spent even a week apart since I got back from Africa.  Now, Zach is working on construction project that is 2 HOURS AWAY from home.  It sucks!!!  We keep hoping that he’ll be offered a job closer to home, but so far no such luck.  This puts us in quite a pickle.  If he wants to come home at night he basically loses half the day’s money in gas costs.  Argh!  So he’s been camping out, sleeping in his truck in 100-degree desert heat most nights and just coming home once a week.

I miss him!!!!!  I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a partner who will endure such annoying circumstances to make our dreams a reality.  But I’m just so used to being with him that the world seems duller when he’s not around.  I can’t believe how much I miss him when he’s just gone for a few days at a time.  It’s crazy.  All I do when he’s gone is eat ice cream and watch Grey’s Anatomy, lol.  Regressing to the sad, single girl life.  Ultimately, though, it helps me realize how blessed I am to have a person I never want to be without.  Being able to miss someone like this is extraordinary.  It’s kind of a gift.

New Series: Photo Favorites

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I was racking my brain for inspiration today and I thought of a cool, easy, post series idea.  I love looking through my old photos because so many of them tell great stories, are super silly, or just bring back good memories.  So every once in awhile I’ll just post a photo I’ve taken, tell you the where/when/why, and maybe say a few more words.  Hopefully this will also encourage me to take more pictures so that I have continuous fodder for this series!

Here’s the first one:

Me and MoMo, one of my Peace Corps besties, during one of our “under-the-mango-tree” Swahili lessons.  Probably still our first month in Tanzania (June or July 2009).  What do you think of my braided hair?  I actually really liked the result, but it took HOURS of sitting still while my host aunt pulled on my head to get it done! ❤ Kibaoni (the name of our homestay village, where we lived with host families during Peace Corps training).

All our world maps are outdated now!

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Today was a remarkable day as South Sudan celebrated it’s independence and became the world’s newest nation!  Click here for some amazing pictures from BBC News.  Let’s all pray that things will continue to grow more peaceful and that South Sudan will succeed as an independent nation!  Just thinking about what people in that part of the world have gone through for decades now is incredibly sobering.  Celebrating this momentous victory with them today reminds me not to sweat the small stuff!

Source: BBC News

Easter/Gross Sensory Memories

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Zach and I started a new tradition today…an Easter picnic!  We drove down the mountain to Sedona after I got off work at 3 and had just enough time to find a nice trailhead, eat a delicious picnic dinner (deviled eggs mmmmm!!!), and go for a short hike among the red rocks.  It was peaceful and lovely.

On to the second half of the post title…we saw a jeep tour vehicle drive by and joked about the company name: “Arizona Safari Company.”  I was like, “Ha, I wonder how many animals they saw on their ‘safari’!”  A moment later the jeep zoomed past us and kicked up a ton of dust from the dirt road, flooding our car with it before I got the sunroof closed.

As soon as I felt the layer of dirt settle over the seats, my forehead, everything, I thought, “Wow, it kinda does feel like Africa now!”  I remembered something my friend Kristie said when we were in Kenya about how her boogers were black from the inside of her nose being constantly coated in dust.  I totally felt that way after that jeep gave us a dust-bath and it did bring me back to Africa in such a quick, sensory way.

So yeah, black boogers and a sweaty layer of dust on your face.  That’s the feeling.

Aid vs. Development

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This article from time.com provides a really good example of the unintended negative effects of blind, thoughtless giving to developing countries.  I’ve encountered this issue so much in my time in time in Kenya and Tanzania.  I don’t agree with those who say that all aid should stop, but there is definitely a huge problem with BAD AID in Africa, and a difference between aid and development.  In all of east Africa that I’ve seen, donated western clothing is sold for so much cheaper than locally-made textiles.  This really does undermine local industry and business.  There’s no easy answer to this debate but it is of huge importance to discuss.  What do you think? 

Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!)

by  Nick Wadhams / Nairobi

In the history of foreign aid, it looked pretty harmless: a young Florida businessman decided to collect a million shirts and send them to poor people in Africa. Jason Sadler just wanted to help. He thought he’d start with all the leftover T-shirts from his advertising company, I Wear Your Shirt. But judging by the response Sadler got from a group of foreign aid bloggers, you’d think he wanted to toss squirrels into wood chippers or steal lunch boxes from fourth-graders.

“I have thick skin, I don’t mind, but it’s just the way they responded — it was just, ‘You’re an idiot, here’s another stupid idea, I hope this fails,’ ” Sadler, 27, tells TIME. “It really was offensive because all I’m trying to do is trying to make something good happen and motivate people to get off their butts, get off the couch and do something to help.” (See TIME’s photo-essay “Commerce Comes to the Aid of Haiti.”)

Little did Sadler know he had stumbled into a debate that is raging in the aid world about the best and worst ways to deliver charity, or whether to give at all. He crashed up against a rather simple theory that returned to prominence after aid failures following the 2004 Asian tsunami and 2010 Haiti earthquake: wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you’re doing. (See a brief history of “We Are the World” and other music for charity.)

Sadler has never visited Africa or worked on a foreign aid project. To his critics, his pitch seemed naive with its exhortation, “Share the wealth, share your shirts — we’re going to change the world.” Millions of Africans who have no trouble getting shirts, and who never asked Sadler for a handout, might object to the idea that giving them more clothes will change the world. Stung from watching people donate old, useless stuff after the tsunami and earthquake, aid workers bristled. “I’m sorry to be so unkind to someone who has good intentions, but you don’t get a get-home-free card just for having good intentions. You have to do things that make sense,” says William Easterly, an author and New York University economics professor who is a leading critic of bad aid. “If a surgeon is about to operate on me, I’m not all that interested in whether he has good intentions. I hope he doesn’t have evil intentions, but I’m much more interested in whether he knows what he’s doing. People have a double standard about aid.”

But why gang up on a guy who just wants to help clothe people in Africa? First, because it’s not that hard to get shirts in Africa. Flooding the market with free goods could bankrupt the people who already sell them. Donating clothing is a sensitive topic in Africa because many countries’ textile industries collapsed under the weight of secondhand-clothing imports that were introduced in the 1970s and ’80s. “First you have destroyed these villages’ ability to be industrious and produce cotton products, and then you’re saying, ‘Can I give you a T-shirt?’ and celebrating about it?” says James Shikwati, director of the Nairobi-based Inter Region Economic Network, a think tank. “It’s really like offering poison coated with sugar.” (See a video of the Haitian schools supported by Ben Stiller.)

People looking to help the poor often think so-called goods-in-kind donations are a way to help, Easterly says. They’re certainly an easy way to inspire potential donors. There was the boy in Grand Rapids, Mich., who collected 10,000 teddy bears for Haiti’s earthquake victims. Soles4Souls.com is sending shoes. The list goes on: old soap from hotel rooms, underwear, baby formula, even Spam (the pork product, not junk e-mail). “Years — decades — of calm, reasoned discussion do not seem to have worked,” an aid worker who blogs under the name Tales from the Hood told TIME by e-mail. “People are still collecting shoes, socks, underwear … T-shirts … somehow under the delusion that it is helpful. Sometimes loud shouting down is the only thing that gets heard.” Then there’s the matter of cost. Money spent shipping teddy bears to kids might be better spent providing for more pressing needs. The same goes for T-shirts.

Sadler says he never planned to dump a million shirts on the market at once. With his two partners, HELP International and WaterIsLife.com, he wanted to send a few thousand shirts at a time to orphanages in Kenya and Uganda that asked for them. Widows would sell the shirts and make a little money. “We’re looking at bringing in several thousand shirts and it being a yearlong process of distribution,” says Ken Surritte, founder of WaterIsLife.com. “The goal is not to hurt the economy in these areas but to be an asset and to be a blessing to these people that otherwise wouldn’t have jobs.”

Sadler has proven flexible: he says he is listening to his critics and no longer plans to send the shirts to Africa. He says he will find another way to use the T-shirts he collects, possibly for disaster relief, giving them to homeless shelters or using them to create other goods. He says any profits would then “go back to the company’s goal of helping foster sustainability.” And judging by the response on the Web, he’s getting a lot of donations. “I’ve since listened to a lot of these people,” he says. “I want to change this thing into something that’s better, that’s more helpful and that listens to the people that have the experience that I don’t have.”

There are some critics who argue that all foreign aid — whether from individuals or nonprofits or governments — is keeping Africa back. A vast body of research shows that foreign aid has done little to spur economic growth in Africa — and may have actually slowed it down. “The long-term solution is not aid. It may seem cruel that aid should stop, but really it should,” says Rasna Warah, a Kenyan newspaper columnist and editor of the anthology Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits, a call to arms against aid. “Africa is the greatest dumping ground on the planet. Everything is dumped here. The sad part is that African governments don’t say no — in fact, they say, ‘Please send us more.’ They’re abdicating responsibility for their own citizens.”