Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movin' on Up to Wordpress

It didn't take long once I made the La Aventura Project blog on for me to realize I liked it a lot better.  And change is good once in awhile.  So, I bid adieu to blogger and you can continue to follow my adventures on wordpress HERE.  I hope you'll make the switch with me!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My American Year

It's been exactly one year since I left Tanzania. Wow, time flies. I'd be hard pressed to decide if this year or the year I was actually in Tanzania was crazier. Probably the year I was there, but this year has been pretty darn close. So much has happened. I think I'm finally at a place where I can celebrate all the awesome things I've done this year that I wouldn't have gotten to do if I had stayed in the Peace Corps.

1. I watched my best friend get married and stood beside her as Maid of Honor. She was the first of my group of friends to tie the knot, and I'm still oh-so-happy for her! Her marriage brought a lot of changes to our friendship and a lot of learning about this new phase of life we find ourselves in. Marriage changes all your relationships and married/very committed friends seem to live increasingly different lives from single/still-mingling friends. It's taken some getting used to and kind of makes me feel old that many of my friends (and myself, kind of) are settling down. But it's a good thing.

2. I went on so many awesome road trips! First, there was the super spontaneous "I'm-not-going-back-to-Africa-so-let's-drive-to-California" road trip. Before we left, Zach’s mom (who I had just recently met) commented, “Well, I guess you’ll know if you really like each other after 2 weeks in the car together.” Our response: “I think we already know that since we spent 9 months on opposite sides of the globe.” Hahaha. Needless to say, we survived 2 weeks in the car together. Highlights included our first couchsurfing experience, my first visit to California, falling in love with the city of San Diego, and spending time at the house in Williams, AZ (Zach starting to sneakily convince me to move there).
Then for Memorial Day weekend we drove to Chicago and took in that ginormous city. We went to Cleveland for the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros show and talked to the lead singer on the street. We had an awesome camping/rafting trip with lots of friends in West Virginia.
The second big road trip was the Northeast and Canada. I got to catch up with many dear old friends from college days and introduce Zach to New York City. Then we hit all the great cities in eastern Canada, learned a few words of French, and met awesome people through couchsurfing.
After that was another drive to move to Arizona. Since here we have visited Lake Havasu, Sedona/Jerome, Durango, Colorado, Verde Hot Springs, San Diego again, and Tijuana, Mexico (for a few hours).
And the road trips will only continue!!!!!!

3. I’ve learned about cultivating and sustaining a loving relationship. For the first time in my life I’m in a relationship that I know is totally right. I’m not worried about getting bored and I don’t miss being single. I’m in it to win it and loving that “I finally found my person” feeling. It doesn’t mean that every day is hearts, stars, and rainbows though. Living together has definitely taken some getting used to. I think it’s been made harder by the fact that we’re new in this state and don’t have friends close by to turn to when we need to release tension. I have nowhere else to go with my moody side and he doesn’t have the alone time he used to get sitting on his roof in Columbus. So yeah, we get on each other’s nerves sometimes. But we’re learning to understand each other more and more each day. I’m realizing that I may just have to get used to telling him to do the same thing 100 times, and he’s realizing that sometimes him cleaning the kitchen means more to me than a hug.

4. I’ve become more honest about who I am. I’m definitely still a bit of a people-pleaser but I think I’ve become a lot more open over the past year, especially with those closest to me. I’m allowing myself to accept that many disagree with me but it’s okay. If I was exactly the same as all my family and friends what fun would that be? I’m genuinely happy with my life and my choices, even if they are “against the grain.” I no longer hide anything about my life in an attempt to keep everyone happy.  The people who really love me will love me no matter what.

5.  Not to pat myself on the back too much, but one quality I think I've exhibited this year that I'm proud of is "actually doing  what I say I'm going to do."  I know so many people who are always saying "Someday I'll go here..." or "Yeah, I said I'd find a new job this year but then x and y came up..."  I hate that!  Don't talk about it unless you're really going to WORK to make it happen!!!  I said I'd drive to California and back on $600.  Check.  I talked about the east coast road trip for months before and then did it.  Check.  I said I'd move to Arizona and find a new job.  Done.  And this will continue!  I've talked a lot about going to South America now and I am not full of hot air!  It is happening, October 2011!  Just 8 short months from now!  Because you all know I can't stay put in America for too long!  ;-)

I'm sure the next year will be even crazier than this last one!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

La Aventura Project website

Hey everyone!
Please check out the new blog/website for my awesome new documentary project!  CLICK HERE to go to the official website with it's own domain name and everything and then bookmark it!!! 
The project is going to be amazing and fundraising will be starting soon!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Food Blues

I love to eat.  I am vegetarian, but meat is pretty much the only thing I won't chow down on.  I especially love bad-for-me foods like cheese, french fries, chocolate, and ice cream.  This love of food is (I believe) the main reason I've struggled to lose weight ever since the dreaded "freshman 15" took hold of me six (ahhh, can't believe that number!) years ago.  Well, I also love beer and margaritas.  Those definitely don't help.  Additionally, I have come to believe that my metabolism moves at a snail's pace.  No matter how much I work out, I could never just eat whatever I wanted and not get fat.  I loathe those people who can munch down on anything, never hit a treadmill, and stay skinny as rails.  How are they so lucky???  Zach (my boyfriend) is one of those people.  AHHHHH!!!  He has always been skinny and he actually loses weight without trying.  So now that we live together it's a constant struggle between trying to fatten him up and slim myself down.  Since I love baking, I bake him all sorts of goodies and then try not to eat them while they hover under my nose.  Does this work??  Not very well.  Case in point, the delicious Grandpa's Chocolate-Rum Cake with Mousse Frosting that I made for Zach's birthday cake.  It was AMAZING.  I wish I had a picture.

A couple nights ago we watched a documentary that highlighted another food issue that's related to but ultimately more important than my weight-loss problem.  It was a saddening but welcome reminder of how my food choices have an effect that extends far beyond myself.
I had been wanting to see this for awhile but part of me kept putting it off because I knew it would challenge me.  And it definitely did.  The film illuminates the scary reality of large-scale, corporate agriculture.  Rather than go into all the arguments it presents myself, I'll just highly recommend that you rent/Netflix it.  But be prepared.  For me, the documentary reinforced many of my reasons for choosing to avoid meat entirely.  But the HUGE problems of the food industry extend way beyond just meat.  The overriding message, of course, was that local, organic, sustainably grown food is the only way to go.  Yes, it's often more expensive, but the only way to bring change in practices and prices is to use your money as your vote.  Zach and I both felt guilty about repeatedly choosing the lower prices of non-organic Safeway/Kroger groceries over the ridiculously-priced organic alternatives at Whole Foods-type.  Food, Inc. made us realize that although we might be saving money now, the savings are not worth all the health risks, loss of jobs for small farmers, and environmental destruction caused by factory farming. 

So, we are challenging ourselves to buy everything organic and (if possible) local for at least the next month.  We want to see if we feel any health changes in such a short time. I bet we will (even if it is mostly due to the "expensive organic cheese=eating less cheese" effect).  Unfortunately we had just done a big Safeway haul the very same day we watched the movie.  So it will take some time to phase out all the cheap non-organic food we have in the house (c'mon, I'm still not going to give away food I spent $ on).  But everything from now on is going to come from either the wonderful Flagstaff Farmer's Market (which actually has a storefront that's open every day year round) or New Frontiers Natural Marketplace (our version of Whole Foods...and they always have samples!).  I'm actually really excited to begin this challenge.  I know that changing my food purchasing habits is absolutely the right thing to do both for my health and for the earth.  I'll be excited to report back on how things are going with our new food mindset!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looking to the new year

When I was an emo high-schooler and had a xanga blog at the end of December I used to always fill out and post this super-long questionaire about all my firsts, achievements, highlights, song lyrics describing the past year, etc.  Since I'm trying not to be that emo anymore but I'd still like to write something to conclude the year, I've decided to go with a list of PLANS (not resolutions, because I never keep those) for 2011:

1.  We'll start with the obvious one:  weight.  Ugh, I hate this.  Over the past few years I've pretty much realized that my natural "eat-whatever-I-want-and-occasionally-exercise" weight is a good 20 pounds more than I would like to be.  That sucks!  Oh, how I hate those people who can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound!  (Like my boyfriend, argh.)  I am SO TIRED of fighting my cravings and trying to lose it.  I know that if I could just suck it up and stick to a diet it would only take a few months to lose that pesky 20.  I've done it before, around junior year of college.  But of course I gained it all back a year or so later with my pre-Peace Corps feasting.  So this year, I've gotta do it!  I have the gym thing down (surprisingly, I never thought I'd be able to make myself a morning exerciser, but I've gotten in the habit thanks to sharing a car and Zach's early work schedule) so the diet is the missing piece.  I'm going to try to really discipline my calorie intake and only splurge for special occasions.  My goal is to be high-school weight again by the end of March.  So now it's on the internet!  Anyone who reads this better hold me to it!

2.  Get some nifty camera equipment.  It has been far too long since I've done anything with my major and my passion for documentary.  Now that I've at least got a steady paycheck, the goal is to pick up a few big things I need in order to start churning out work again.  This plan is also an integral piece of my latest big scheme (below).

3.  Be happier and less whiny.  I'm afraid to say the tumultuousness of the past year has too often made me into an unpleasant grump.  Zach faces the brunt of this, which is not at all fair.  Sure, my life took a complete 180 this year and I went through a lot of huge changes and emotional turmoil.  But I'm feeling more settled now and focusing a lot less on what I gave up (Peace Corps).  Sure I don't love my job now but at least I have one!  And, I have a grand escape scheme (below) to look forward to so I'm going to start looking on the bright side and being more cheerful in my day-to-day life!

4.  Study Spanish.  I have so much free time at work that I need to use for something other than internet surfing.  This also relates to the upcoming big shebang (below...don't you love how I leave it to last?).

Okay, here it is:
5.  Continue planning and begin LA AVENTURA PROJECT!!!!!!!  "What," you may ask, "is that?"  Well, friends, La Aventura Project is the latest, greatest, and biggest travel scheme which Zach and I have come up with.  As you all know, I can't stay in the US for more than a couple years straight without going nuts, and Zach has never really left the country (I don't count Canada and the Bahamas).  Add our good friend  Melissa, who is also feeling a bit bored with the 9 to 5 and itching for an adventure.  Then add the cheapest other continent to fly to from the US, and thus, most appealing destination at this time.  You guessed it: South America!  Here's what's going down:  In October of 2011 the three of us are going to take one backpack each, my camera equipment, our (sure to still be) very limited knowledge of Spanish, and $6,000 each and fly from Columbus to Colombia.  The rough plan is to spend an entire year and travel around the whole continent on $17/day each.  We will volunteer on organic farms (through, orphanages or other NGOs, and couchurf in order to get free accomodation and spend less money.  I will also make a sweet-ass documentary about our travel experiences and all the awesome stories we're sure to find.  So yeah, that's the big plan.  It's going to take a lot of fundraising, saving, and planning.  And it's going to be awesome.  We are setting up a blog for the trip, which can be found here.  So bookmark that now, yo!  I'll be sure to post updates as we get more prep done and get closer to the trip.  It's gonna be awesome.

So those are my basic plans for 2011.  Let's get to it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Arizona Adventure: Verde Hot Springs

Last weekend Zach and I took a mini-trip 2.5 hours from home to the Verde Hot Springs. The springs are located just outside of Camp Verde but the dirt forest road you take for the last 30 miles of the journey takes at least an hour to traverse. The road was not at all well-maintained, really rocky and full of potholes. Also the fact that it ran up and over hills right on the cliff's edge made it quite white knuckle! To say that it reminded me of roads in Tanzania would NOT be an exaggeration at all.  The only difference was at least we were not in a huge rickety bus packed with people and chickens!  We saw one abandoned car that had run over the edge and crashed into a tree part-way down a hill. Who knows how those poor people fared? We had a truck and I would say a high-clearance vehicle like that is totally necessary, although we did meet a couple people who somehow made it there in their compact rental car (they figured "it's a rental...we can trash it.")

The natural hot springs are right along the Verde River. In the 1920s someone built a huge resort and hotel right on top of the springs and it existed until being destroyed by a fire in the 1960s. It was never rebuilt and now all that exists is the concrete foudations along the river. We parked our car in the "campground" (no amenities and only a few other people) and hiked about 1/2 mile upriver to the crossing. Yes, the campground is on the opposite side of the river as the hot springs so you have to ford the river to get to them. No bridge! We found the best place to cross with the help of a random old man and plunged in. It was COLD!! This is December after all, even if we were in the desert part of Arizona. The water was a little above our knees and the current was stronger than we expected. On our first time crossing I totally fell in and got soaked up to my neck and Zach lost a flip-flop to the current. (He needs Chacos!)  As soon as we made it across we were totally breathless from the cold water! Luckily, the hot springs were only a few bends and steps away!  Here they are in all their glory, the Verde Hot Springs:
(the stone wall encloses another pool inside with lots of cool artwork all over the inside walls)

The springs were soooooo pleasant and relaxing!!!  The pool inside the stone structure was A LOT hotter, probably because it's smaller.  It was basically a hot tub.  The outside one was still plenty warm and the view from there was stunning.  So we basically had to alternate between one tub and the other every half hour or so to maintain perfect temperature.  We did meet a few other people there since this place is still quite popular among hippies.  Despite the resort being gone for 50 years now apparently volunteers still come down several times a year to clean and maintain the pools.  I'll try to post some pictures of all the cool grafitti and murals once we upload them.  One other note: this would be a perfect place to get rid of your tan lines, seeing as one of the steps has the phrase "No clothes required!" painted onto it, and people do indeed follow this instruction.  So be prepared.

Overall, we had a great time at the hot springs and I am excited to explore some more natural hot springs since they are all over the west!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The West is The Best

So I have realized recently that just because I'm back from Tanzania doesn't mean my blog has to die a slow death. There are many more adventures in my future and I intend to write about them so why not keep this going? I decided that I'll try to post more frequently, whether it be film reviews, blurbs about weekend trips, or whatever. So here goes...
Despite being semi-settled in full-time jobs in Flagstaff, Zach and I get "the hunger" to travel quite often. We try to resolve this with weekend trips to places we can get to in a few hours. Never having lived in the southwest, there is SO MUCH new stuff for us to see. This past weekend we had an awesome time in and around Durango, Colorado!
We left as soon as I got out of work on Friday at 5. It was about a five hour drive, straight through the Navajo and Hopi Reservations and diagonal across Four Corners from Arizona into Colorado. All we could see before it got dark was the reservations...which basically is super-desolate-looking land with a few "towns" which are basically clusters of shacks with a couple gas stations and liquor stores around. You can definitely tell the US government strategically picked the worst land possible and was like "Here Navajos, you can have ALL THIS!!!!" Go us. Anyway, we stopped and got a $5 Little Caesars pizza which filled us both up for cheap and drove on. We arrived at our couchsurfing host's house around 10:30, dropped our stuff of, and went downtown. It was FREEZING. But we found a couple cool spots to check out. Saw a band and observed the unique Colorado style...warm but trendy clothes, leather boots and knit hats. Everyone looked like "outdoorsy folk," for good reason. We went back to our host's house and finally met her when she got back slightly after us. We stayed up talking and getting to know each other then crammed onto the tiny couch where we slept like rocks despite the cramped space.
On Saturday we woke up and headed straight to Mesa Verde National Park. It was nice to actually SEE where we were in the daytime! We were basically surrounded by mountains and streams. The gorgeous San Juan Peaks were snow-capped and glorious. They looked so big it's hard to believe the Rockies dwarf them! We drove up this awesome windy road to the top of Mesa Verde with excellent views all around us. Being the off-season, there was hardly anyone in the park but we still got to drive around and see different cliff dwellings and archealogical sites around the park. We went on the tour of one specific dwelling and actually got to climb down into one of the lower rooms. It was awesome. I was super mad at myself for completely forgetting my camera (not at all like me)!
We got done with Mesa Verde around 3pm and booked it back to Durango cause we were STARVING!!!! We had only eaten the cookies and pumpkin bread I packed as snacks. Luckily Durango is known as "the Napa Valley of beer" and is home to four awesome microbreweries. We randomly decided on one because it was the first to pop up on my UrbanSpoon iPhone app. It must have been fate cause this place was AWESOME. It was called Steamworks Brewery and we loved it. Great decor and atmosphere. The floor was chalkboard painted so kids were coloring on it despite how shells from the free peanuts were dropped everywhere. They had more brews than any microbrewery I'd been to. And the food was AWESOME. I had a Southwest Veggie Burger with Cajun Fries and Zach had a Cheesesteak with Jalapeno Mashed Potatoes. SO GOOD!!! And every beer on the list sounded amazingly unique. The ones we tried were definitely stellar. The best one was one Zach was really unsure about getting but it turned out to be crazy good. It was called "Prescribed Burn" (southwest reference!!!) and was brewed with chiles in it. So it left this awesome subtle but spicy flavor on your tongue while still being refreshing. Seriously, we were in love with this place. I would drive to Durango once a week just to go there, haha. Steamworks, you won us over. After stuffing our faces we walked around town poking into all the cool shops. Lots of outdoors stuff and hippie-style jewelry and clothing shops. I got a good hat for snowboarding. We did hang out with our hosts a little at their house and tried to do stuff in town that night but we were SO TIRED we went to bed at like 11.
Sunday was another really awesome day. We finally got to spend some time with our hosts. Let me just say, I LOVE couchsurfing. I've never had a bad experience. Really, almost every experience I've had has been awesome. It's such a great way to meet awesome people and share experiences and make friends all over the world. Our hosts in Durango were no exception. There were 4 housemates that we really met: Naima-a really cool outdoorsy girl who had done a lot of traveling and WWOOFing and had great stories. Sage-what a CHARACTER! He was one of the biggest hippies I've ever met...he was literally like a yoga master and a self-taught herbalist. He had all these jars of herbs he'd gathered in the woods and he knew how to use them all for natural cures to ailments and stuff. He was really interesting. Matt and Brittany-they were two hardcore rockclimbers who had just gotten done living out of their truck for the whole summer and fall traveling around the west climbing. They were working for a couple months in Durango and then heading off on a drive all the way down through Mexico to Central America, climbing all the way. All of them did yoga to wake up in the morning and were the kind of crunch-granola-nature people that I LOVE. That's just scratching the surface. I love how many awesome people we've met in our couchsurfing travels. So on Sunday we ate breakfast with everybody and then went on a hike on the Colorado Trail. It runs from Durango all the way to Denver. It was Naima who took us and Sage came along "to gather herbs" (I'm not kidding!!!! He actually found a redroot bush and talked to it to assure it he wasn't going to hurt it then sang a Navajo song while digging up a root). So we took about a 2.5 hour hike that led us across this beautiful rocky Colorado creek then about 1 mile up switchbacks to the top of this mountain. There was a lot of snow on parts of the trail and it was beautiful. Words can't express how beautiful the view was once we got the top and sat with our feet off the cliff. I wish I had had my camera!!! But pictures can't express it either, really. It was breathtaking. We then jogged back down the mountain to warm up and get down faster, found Sage behind a rock and went to get free lunch in a Durango park thanks to the awesome organization Food Not Bombs. I had never heard of it but it's apparently a big organization present in most US cities that collects donations from restaurant leftovers and gives out really good free vegetarian food once a week. So we filled up on pizza, soup, and bread and met some of Naima's friends in the park before we had to jump in the car to head back. So all in all, Durango was AWESOME!!!! We were so grateful to our hosts for putting us up and showing us a good time.
We of course didn't want to go home so we turned the drive into another cool thing. We decided to add about 25 miles and drive through Monument Valley in Utah. Oh man, we weren't sure we would make it by sunset so we had to drive pretty fast and pray we'd get there. But the drive was spectacular. So many awesome rocks. We kept thinking "Oh, this must be the famous part" but then a few minutes later it would get even better. When we passed the Mexican Hat rock I remembered it! I know the last time I was there I was so young but that silly sombrero-shaped rock formation stuck with me. We drove through the Valley of the Gods and then got to the most famous area, Monument Valley, just as the final light was fading from the sky. The sunset made all the different layers of rocks on the horizon different shades of purple as we approached. So awesome. I sound like a broken record with my "awesome"s and "amazing"s but I really cant find words to describe it. Monument Valley, you gotta see it.
So all in all a fun-filled and refreshing Colorado weekend!! It reminded me of why I'm glad to be out here---so many new and unexplored (by me) western desitinations are only a few hours away!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Questions and Rants

Any kid growing up in America hears it constantly…”The sky’s the limit…Reach for your dreams…Nothing is impossible…You can do anything you set your mind to…You can be anything you want to be…”
BUT what if you grow up, get good grades, follow the rules, go through college, and one day realize that you don’t want to BE any “thing” in particular. What if instead of BEING an occupation, you want to BE a person? What if your dream breaks the traditional rules of American adulthood? What if your dream is not to follow any one set path but to keep wandering off in different directions until you’ve explored the whole forest? Then “NO NO NO!!!! That is not okay, that is not what your elementary school teachers meant!!!! Get back on the path!!!!!” Thus the whole idea is proven hypocritical. It’s okay to dream of being a doctor but not a waitress. It’s okay to want to go to law school but not to cosmetology school.
Our whole system is training us for a career. Intelligent, well-adjusted American adults are given 18-22 years of schooling to choose a career, and then spend the next 40-50 years stuck in a Monday-Friday 9-5 box while they desperately scramble “up the ladder.” The average person gets excited about two vacation weeks a year and spends the other fifty weeks working to pay off their new Corvette and save for “retirement.” How do they even know they’re going to make it that far? If you were going to die tomorrow do you think you would be happy about all that money you put towards your chance for a cushy slide into senility? Or would you wish you had spent those countless working hours watching the sun set over the French Riviera, climbing Machu Pichu, or driving across America with the love of your life?
Many of us do have boundless opportunities in America. We can travel anywhere, learn anything, see and do so many things. Where is the logic in rushing into one job and staying there forever? What a waste of the options we have! Why don’t we question this concept of “the ladder to success” more? Why don’t we think more about “living like there’s no tomorrow”? If we really believed all the talk about “Carpe Diem” we wouldn’t be dutifully clocking in and out for 50 years. We’d get on a plane to anywhere, play some music loud, go swimming in the sea, fall in love. Explore this world and do everything we want to do NOW! We never KNOW that there will be a tomorrow. The idea that we could die at any time is confirmed in every major religion. Yet so many religious people seem to have so little life in them!
I’ve yet to hear a good argument for why life has to be boring. No person in history worth emulating has ever gotten there by following the rules. If living life the way I believe will cause me to be seen as a failure by society’s standards than so be it. I’ll have much more fun as a happy drifter then as a stressed-out runner of the rat race. So I’m a “f***-up.” And I’m embracing it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Leaving Africa

9 months of my life. And it's taken me another 3 to even force myself to sit down and write about it. What happened? I was supposed to be there for 2 years...
There were days of magnificent highs, spent climbing through waterfalls, spotting elephants through bus windows, or even just sharing a meal and laughing together with Mama Maua, happy about the slightest victory over the language barrier. There were other days I could barely hold myself together, boiling over in frustration with strage bus kondas trying to cheat me in a country where nothing ever gets done easily or on time, or ignoring everyone because I was so homesick I would cry at any moment and you can't do that in front of Tanzanians. Moments were I felt on top of the world and couldn't imagine doing anything else. Moments I would've traded it all in a heartbeat for an old friend's hug and a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup. "The hardest job you'll ever love." Hmm. You can't understand how true that is until you experience it. In the end, I decided life is too short not to be with the people you love. That's the oversimplified explanation of why I left, but it gets the point across. That being said, I wouldn't change a single moment of the time I spent there. And not a day goes by that I don't think about the people I left, both the Peace Corps Volunteers and my villagers, and feel the sadness of missing them along with a stabbing guilt for abandoning them too soon.
Readjustment is so weird. Most of the time I feel like it's over, and it kind of saddens me how quickly I seem to have rejoined America. Then at moments I'm overcome with visions of Africa. I'll be at a bar or party in America, someplace full of careless fun. Next thing I know my brain will be back in Dosidosi, picturing the happy toddlers in their torn clothes, bellies distended, playing with sticks in the dirt. I get irrationally angry at the injustice between what I'm seeing here and what I saw there. I have to run away to go cry. How could I have left? I don't know if I helped there, but at least I lived meaningfully, with a pure purpose and no excesses. It's hard not to feel purposeless now, floating around empty with no idea where to go. I can only tell myself that I'll be back again, that this is only a brief intermission between adventures. Reentry...kind of makes me feel crazy.
Clearly Africa changed me. How could it not have? The thought of trying to sum up what I learned is daunting. How do I put 9 months of living/speaking/eating/breathing/sleeping Tanzania into a neat 500-word moral? Even now the tears are running as I remember all the amazing people I miss. Poverty is complicated and human. It is not statistics on a graph or images on a website. It cannot be solved by voting in elections or putting checks in the mail. Maybe it can't be solved at all. I lived in poverty alongside my villagers for 9 months and I've only begun to understand the factors at play. Everyone wants to save the world before they even experience it. The world is a crazy quilty of cultures and people who are all made of the same stuff no matter how differently they live. We can't make any progress without getting to know each other first. Peace Corps was the hardest thing I ever did because I was completely immersed in Tanzania. I learned their language, their foods, their work, their celebrations. I tried to teach a little bit but that will never compare to what they taught me. People are people no matter what and people are beautiful and amazing all over the world. I have family in Africa now. If you want my advice on how to help Africa, I would say to go and see it first. Go live and play and let it change your world. They say once your feet touch African dirt you'll always be back. I believe it.
Tupo pamoja.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Across the Maasai Steppe

"I'm wide awake and so alive. Ringing like a bell. Tell me this is paradise and not someplace I fell, 'cause I keep on fallin' down. I wanna feel the car crash. I wanna feel the capsize. I wanna feel the bomb drop, the earth stop 'til I'm satisfied. I wanna let go and know that I'll be alright, alright." -Matt Nathanson

What is UP? I apologize for the lack of entries lately! I've been busy! I've actually finally gotten a few things up and running in my village with much more in the works. I started teaching Life Skills to the 7th graders and my first lesson went excellently! I continue that and start with my Peer Education/Health Club at the secondary school this week. I also have had several meetings about my orphans' chicken-keeping project and my goal is to have the grant submitted before I come to America (in just 2 weeks). Once I submit it it's up to Peace Corps how long it takes for them to post it online to be open for donations but I'll definitely update on here when it's up. Should be less than $2000 to start a sustainable project so kids can keep going to school! I also went to Iringa for a PEPFAR-sponsored HIV/AIDS training and got some good ideas there while having fun with the other PCVs. After that Bill (an Environment volunteer friend) traveled back to my village with me to help me start a tree nursery in my village. It went awesomely...we prepared an area, built a fence, gathered tons of dirt/sand/manure, prepared planting tubes, and planted 500 seeds in 3 days thanks to help from my school teachers and free child labor! That's how you get things done around here! I have awesome pictures of all the kids working away and hopefully in a few months we'll have a lot of seedlings. Doing that made me feel really great, it was awesome to finally SEE something I helped create happen in my village, even though it was really all Bill! We also are culinary masters and made calzones, enchiladas, french toast, chili and corn bread, Asian coleslaw, carrot cake, and many other things. Several included spinach from my garden which actually is growing! It DOES give you a weird hillbilly sense of pride to eat food you grew yourself. So also this week I'm going to hopefully teach permaculture gardening with my counterpart for some People Living w/ HIV, some Mamas, really anyone who wants to learn! And maybe finally get around to building a solar stove to see how it works and if I can start teaching that.

I just got back from a work trip to Arusha in the Kilimanjaro region with Keith and Heather. We went to visit with a couple NGOs that we had made contact with in order to find out about possible collaboration. Arusha was amazing but getting there was quite interesting. We got to our banking town, Kibaya, thinking that there was an afternoon bus we could take that day to continue on the journey. Of course it had crashed earlier that week so was no longer running. So after getting distracted in town by beer and soap operas for a few hours, we set out kind of late on an attempt to hitchhike. We walked about an hour outside of town and started sticking our thumbs out (actually in TZ it's this other weird arm motion). Of course, no luck, the few trucks that do pass us aren't going as far as we need to go. So we head back to Kibaya for a night and get up at 4:30 am the next morning to catch the bus to Arusha. We'd never been there before so we didn't know the route. Well, apparently there is a road directly from Kibaya to Arusha that goes right through the Maasai Steppe, pretty much the most wild and remote area in Tanzania. The bus was a piece of crap, of course, and the road was HORRIBLE. There was no way to sleep because we were bouncing all over the place for 8 hours. My arm was banging into the window so much I bruised my shoulder. But we were LUCKY because we had seats. The aisle was also packed full of standing people of course. Just to maximize casualties should there be a crash. At one point we got stuck in a pothole and had to get pulled out w/ chains attached to another truck while we almost tipped over. That's travel in Tanzania. But it was awesome in some ways because we saw SO MANY zebras!!!!!!!!! We were basically in the middle of nowhere with only tiny Maasai villages- just clusters of tiny dung huts out on the plains. So there were herds of zebras everywhere really close to the road. We also glimpsed giraffes, baboons, and dikdiks. And at no time were we in a national park. It was really cool. I love zebras. And of course we did eventually get there and met some awesome expats doing amazing work for this NGO called The Flying Medical Service. Definitely some possibilities for them to come do work in our villages, which means Keith and I might get free wine delivered via airplane and free rides in these prop planes if we feel like hopping in w/ the pilot/paramedics who fly into villages in our region to do free clinics. It's gonna be awesome. Arusha was also a really cool city although I was severely disappointed by the 12,500 shilling "Kilimanjaro nachos" which were huge but lacking adequate cheese. So REAL nachos are def on the list for my foodfest in America in just 2 weeks!!!!!!!!!!!! So, I am super excited for OHIO, the wedding, food, friends, and everything! But things are looking up here so I will definitely be back for more Peace Corps....8 months down, 18 to go.
See ya soon (some of you!)

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