4am Club

You can’t finish pieces of life like you can a book. There is usually no witty closing line that ties the entire story together, no final dialogue that meshes all loose ends.   The end of most journeys, it seems, is more jagged and open-ended. It isn’t graceful. Your hair isn’t clean. The mascara is smeared and you can’t find deodorant and the words don’t come out right like the goodbye you planned in your head. Believe me, I know. I said goodbye to Africa this month.

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Little Sister Rosie

The jet lag has me up early in the morning, as does the 6am yoga class I agreed to teach. I’m up with those homesick drunks and heartsick lovers and I am sure if all of us 4:00am’ers formed one giant club it would be a sight to behold. It would be a club where all of us would sit in a circle and burn incense and have to tell everyone else in the circle why we were awake at that time. I’m sure if you sat in that circle, you would hear stories about internal war, and external war, art and girls and the glow in the dark stars that you stick to your ceiling. Everyone has stories. Sometimes those told early in the morning are the best. But because there is no 4am club (at least not that I am aware of) and because those who have welcomed me home this month have asked, here is the story I would tell in the circle:

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Storytime

There was a fifth grade girl who became pregnant last year, against her will. She was angry and frustrated, as she should be, until she took admittance test into high school, passed with flying colors, and started her life as a freshman in high school while her mother cared for the brown-eyed baby. Then, this little heroine joined an organization in high school advocating for women and girl’s rights in her hyper patriarchal society. I want to tell you how she is the smartest and brightest star I have ever seen and she wrote me a letter before I got on the plane telling me how happy she was with her life now. That’s a story worth hearing.

Then you need to know about a young man who daily questions his traditional tribal culture: everything from the clothes they wear to the customs of eating, to roles of men and women in society. I could tell you that in a small village where everyone knows the business of everyone else, he is questioned and ridiculed for his stance in something new. If you sit down and drink a soda with him he will ask you about American politics, and world history and how my ancestors navigated their culture in a new world like America. He will tell you that he is questioning his customs not to be rude or defiant but to understand if his culture could be doing things in a better way, a way more inclusive way of everyone in the community. That is a short story of a the bravest eighteen year old I may ever encounter.

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When Colorado meets Africa

I have listened to a child bride turn businesswoman. I watched while she forged a loving relationship with a husband who had taken her childhood, then became the breadwinner for her new family. I watched as she learned how to laugh and dream like a child again, and how she brought big ideas and laid them at the feet of her circumstances. I observe as she refuses, time and time again, to ever be reduced by her situation. That is a story.

I listened to young men tell me how they created an art studio for street kids so the children had something to be excited about or proud of in young, hard lives. He says he wants them to know creation, not just destruction. I watched as a teacher stayed at the hospital with a troubled young student late into the night, and when the hospital didn’t know what to do, sit with him while village leaders prayed over his tired body. I sat on the back of a motorcycle of a father who, before giving me a ride home, dropped off a bag of rice to a handful of families who were struggling to buy their own bag. I watched tired people stay diligent. I saw young people make wise decisions. And time after time, I listened to hurt people love.

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My African Family

And then, I would tell my 4am club that I left Africa as jagged and haphazard as I came: hopeful but lacking in the smoothness that each one of use imagines we will have when a pivotal moment arrives in our lives. I would tell them I am awake at 4am so that I don’t forget. I would tell them I am awake because there are more prayers to be said and hands to be held and plans to be made and yet I am here. In America. For good this time.

I will them that my reflection has left me inspired and my homecoming has made me gracious. And then I would tell them to stay awake a little bit longer. Because I came home from Africa and I have heard and seen so many things I wish the world could know.  That I have no choice but to believe this story isn’t over yet.

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Goodbye gift

 

 

Ashe, Asante, THANK YOU VERY MUCH

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Your mantra is “thank you.” Don’t explain it. Don’t complain. Just “thank you.”

I read this the first month I arrived in Africa, nearly a year ago to this date. It seemed like an awkwardly simple mantra to carry around, but I had time and for some reason the words stuck out to me so I wrote them on a half sheet of notebook paper, rolled it up like a cigarette and put it in the pocket of one of my newly purchased mid shin skirts. Then I forgot.

I came across that paper a few months later. Thank you. I considered the situations I would be forced to say thank you for if I truly did make this my mantra. Dust storms. Homesickness. Sunburns, traffic jams, language barriers, power outages. There was already sarcasm oozing out of my hypothetical situation as I envisioned myself sitting in the heat and the wind of my Tanzanian office, plugging my computer charger in and smelling the familiar scent of burnt wires as I realize my charger has burnt out again; then turning my face toward the ceiling and whispering thank you. It seemed wrong, masochistic almost, to thank whomever (whether that be God, the universe, or Africa herself) for the uncomfortable, painful, and heart breaking. It’s unnatural to walk outside in the dust, stare at the thirsty donkeys on this drought-ridden land and say thank you for another sky without a cloud in sight. Humans don’t normally think like that. We don’t make a conscious Thanksgiving of the unfortunate events. That’s weird.

But I kept the paper and I stayed in Africa, and it turns out that life is a little weird. Weird enough for that mantra to hit me again just a few weeks ago as I sat in a pile of my own stressed out meltdown. These tears were the most it had rained in Sanya Station in months. And I couldn’t get them to stop. I felt overwhelmed by all I had to do with the small amount of time I had left remaining in Africa. I felt inadequate to speak in Swahili to the parents outside the office door who had questions about their child’s school fees. I felt I hadn’t done enough to prepare to prepare students for high school interviews, to find a job when I got back to America, to rent an apartment in Denver with an African school worker’s salary. So, naturally, I sat on the cement floor, cried like a child, and blew my nose into toilet paper. I smirked at the thought of even attempting a thank you to the sky or heaven or wherever my two words of gratitude were supposed to be directed.

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The Cleaning Mamas who keep me going every day.

In the midst of my tears I felt someone beside me. Blurry eyed I saw it was a few of the cleaning ladies who I had grown so close with these last few months. These were women I learned to see as sisters, graceful and confident. I loved their babies and carted them around as if they were my own, and our jokes were funnier than any language barrier (and usually consisted of impersonations of people around us.) We all stood together and as my sniffling subsided I saw that they were also a mountain of tears in a sweaty office on a Friday morning. “Why are you crying?!” I asked and pulled them all close to me. The reply was the same from each of them, “We’re crying because you are sad.”

I sat down with an Australian woman who often volunteers at the school when all the tears of the back office had trickled away. “Just think,” she said to me, “You may have never known how much these women love you if you hadn’t had a rough morning today. You can’t easily find a whole group of working ladies who will drop everything and cry with you!”

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My baby sister, Happiness.

And she was right and so was that rolled up paper in some skirt pocket in a dusty drawer: Your mantra is “thank you.” Don’t explain it. Don’t complain. Just “thank you.”

I had been looking at that phrase incorrectly. You don’t say thank you for the bad stuff, thank you for the stuff that hurts your soul and burns your insides and keeps you up at 3am with the bright moon. You say thank you for the way these circumstances have the opportunity to change you and show you love.

I have had many friends ask me how I am different since I left for Africa just about a year ago. I have yet to find a perfect answer, I think I am very much the same woman. What I do know is this: I still can’t cook and I am still always hungry. I still can’t keep Christmas presents a secret or only eat half a can of Pringles. I still listen to trashy hip-hop music before I sleep. But maybe a consistently broken down car has taught me patience like I had never known before. Maybe students who are terribly sick with no medical answers from our doctors have taught me how to pray again. Maybe one cloud in our scorching sky has taught me hope when rain still seems unlikely. Maybe death in our community reminded me to love, love, love those I still hold.

My mantra is thank you. In Swahili we say asante. In the Maasai language of Maa, we say ashe. We don’t have to explain it or even understand it. Just thank you. Because Africa showed me life can’t always be good or decent or fair, but you can always decide to say thank you. And maybe that’s even better.

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Asante, Ashe, Thank you

How Far I Am: Did God help you with that?

I have fallen into routine. I think most people do eventually. Occasionally, I turn on autopilot. For example, early in the morning, I am able to slide on flip-flops, make my way outside in the dark, find a bush with no snakes, squat, pee, and sneak back into my room without even running into the guard. That was not a quickly acquired skill. That took practice.

I can also glide through police stops with minimal effort these days. I understand the pull over signal now. I can have the license, registration, emergency reflectors, and fire extinguisher all laid out accordingly before the police officer even makes it to my window. In an area where police stops are more moneymaking systems than safety precautions, you just need to know what questions they will ask and what answers they are looking for. These days, I can get pulled over by the cops and still make it wherever I’m going sort-of on time.

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Evenings in the village

Now, when the power goes out, I know how to navigate to the office, find the generator key, shimmy underneath the bicycle lock that keeps the generator closed, and turn on the machine, all with only the light of the stars (and ok, maybe my cell phone.)

I can wash my laundry by hand while simultaneously watching reruns of the OC. Scrubbing my clothes no longer takes all of my focus.

My Swahili is usually fairly coherent, even before coffee in the mornings.

I can herd goats off the property and continue my phone conversation.

I know who sells the best chipati (Tanzania’s tortilla equivalent) and how much I should pay for one. I can go through the motions of most activities that used to take the more brainpower than I thought I could muster in a single day.

I think in America, we often fear monotony, and routine seems comparable to have given up on adventure. But after about a year in East Africa, routine and autopilot has me feeling pretty proud. It’s a mile marker, really, of just how far I have come, or the things I have learned and perfected to a point where my hands can complete a task without the immense focus of my mind. It doesn’t mean I think these things are boring. It means I’m an adaptable human.

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Sweetest stuff is every day stuff

About a year ago, if you had asked me how far I am from where I want to be, I would have told you I wanted to be “mid October 2016.” Because it is here in this place where I feel comfortable and confident, something that seemed like a wishful thought when I was thrown into the new and wild and extraordinary just a few months ago. But now, in the midst of my comfort I can tell you that where I want to be is a place where I don’t forget the small beautiful things, (even when I’m on autopilot.)

I hope I don’t forget the way the guard asks “Did God help you?” after every activity I complete. He asks when we greet each other first thing in the morning, “Did you sleep peacefully? Did God help you?” He asks after I finish a run around the dust and rocks and setting sun, “Did you have a good run? Did God help you?” After coming back from the car ride “Did you have a good safari? Did God help you?” What a lovely thing to consider, God helping through the seemingly normal daily tasks. He doesn’t ask “Did God help you?” after completing something extraordinary (such as figuring out how to jumpstart the van by myself. That right there would be a miracle.) He says it for the usual. The mundane. God helped me sleep last night. He helped me remember to check the oats for bugs before adding water this morning. I hope I want to always see the usual as some God inspired gift.

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Things I won’t ever get tired of: these smiles

I hope I always remember the sound of kids singing in the morning before school and after they eat their breakfast. I hope I don’t ever forget the hip shaking of the preschoolers, and the perfect sounds they create together. I hope their songs still get stuck in my head when I’m fifty.

I will never get tired of the way the students stand up and yell whenever you enter the classroom, “GOOD MORNING MADAME, HOW ARE YOU?” I want to be asked how I am that loudly every single day.

I want to always appreciate how perfectly orange the sun is in evenings, how you can make out a perfect grapefruit dipping below the horizon every single night.

I want to remember the stars like they are in Sanya Station, and the smell in the mornings when it rains and the curly eyelashes of the babies and how the sugar sinks to the bottom of your cup of chai and how fun it actually is to eat meat with your hands.

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Beautiful daily activities

I want everyone to know what it feels like to carry water on their heads, and I want to always know what it feels like to go to sleep with drumbeats in your ears and in your bones and both sad and happy songs in your heart.

In spite of finding comfort, in spite of discovering ease, I want to continue to be enthralled by these things. No matter how long I’m Africa. No matter how long I have been away from it.

But as I see home on the horizon and start thinking about American things that make my heart flutter, I hope the exact same thing. I hope I never stop appreciating how wonderful it is to be able to drive home to see my mom on a weekend. How satisfying it is to call my sisters in the same time zone. I hope I never stop being enthralled by the amount of options in the cereal aisle, the overwhelming convenience of Target. I hope the Rocky Mountains never stop being magic, no matter how long I live in Colorado. I hope kissing someone I love is just as sweet when my lips remember how it goes. I hope the thought of lying on the carpet of my best friend’s apartment always gives me this much joy.

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Long Office Days

I suppose wherever we all end up, whether it be New York City or the Serengeti, we find routine. It’s human nature, its what we do. My only hope and prayer and wish is that wherever we end up, we see the sweet stuff in the midst of that routine. In the same snow peaked mountains, in the same brown eyes, in the same sunrise out the same window in the morning. The same stuff is the good stuff. I hope we don’t forget that.

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Party smiles

 

 

Move Mountains, Sis

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Chessa went to college, I got all sentimental and mushy and wrote a letter to my baby sis on her first year of college. Elephant Journal liked it and published it on their website. Read, share, tell your baby sis, or old sis, or mom or dad or grandpa you love um. Move mountains, baby sis.

A Letter to my Baby Sister in her first Year of College.

 

 

How Far I Am: Honestly

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I’ve had a hectic past week or so. I wish hectic was a longer word so I could more accurately show how the days dragged on. It was tedious. Emotional. I wished for a fast forward button daily. It was seven days and I managed to attend two funerals, turn twenty-six years old, be eight thousand miles away from one of my best friend’s weddings, and finish a half marathon in a third world country. I cried too much, I laughed some. I think it was the most honest week of my life.

The deaths were unexpected and so were, in turn, the rush of emotion you feel when saying goodbye and its not anticipated. It’s an immediate pain, a knee jerk reaction. That type of reaction is quite honest: not the traditional clenched jaw ache when you know someone is about to go. Traditional Maasai funerals enhanced this honesty: those who attended didn’t withhold emotion, not like we often do in America. Many cried, as with any death, but others wailed, some melted to the floor, some threw dust because that is exactly how they felt at that moment. The women covered their heads and their faces with scarves because it feels like protection. Everyone covered his or her mouths because it feels safe. I have, a few times, attended a funeral in America, and seen the pressed lips and focused gazes, concentrating every ounce of energy from holding back tears. And despite the pain of losing someone so loved, I relished the fact that we exuded the pain so honestly. There was no doubt that love had been lost. There was no doubt every person there was hurting. I wish every moment of hurt could be that honest.

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Birthday Office!

And then, in the middle of remembering, I became one year older. It’s strange to see and feel young death on a birthday. It makes you freeze up, hold your breath for a moment, and consider how simultaneously naïve and experienced you have become. How things are so fleeting. Last year, I played kickball and drank beer in a park with my best college friends to celebrate the changing of the year. This year was different. There was no fancy birthday outfit meticulously planned, there was no party that came with a Facebook invite. There isn’t room for any of that, not now, not here. But what there was is a handful of women who built me up and made me feel loved in special in the midst of rural Africa. I received a cake in a country where cake is (shockingly) hard to come by. The office was decorated with the precious balloons and streamers sent over through the last several years of tourists dropping by. And I received the most eclectic of birthday dinners: guacamole and mozzarella sticks, made from avocados salvaged from the market, tomatoes from the garden and cheese fried in oats with an expiration date of 2013. It was the most honest birthday I believe I had ever felt. No one participated out of obligation, no one tagged along because it was easy and convenient. It was strange creations made purely in love. It was honestly all we had.

 

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Elusive African Cake

A few days later I woke up with the lump in my throat that I fully anticipated. Two of my closest friends got married while I slept under stars in a completely different hemisphere. They started their first dance as husband and wife while I road a motorcycle through the dust and goats of Kilimanjaro region. Their first kiss as a married couple most likely coincided with my chai in a mud hut, dusty shoes, dusty children, dusty cheeks. Those cheeks were tear streaked a few days ago. I had the chance to talk to the two of them together before they tied the knot and it got me all types of teary eyed. I wasn’t crying because I was able to see how beautiful the bride was, I wasn’t smiling because I heard first hand their wedding vows. I smiled with them on the phone that day because I was happy for their future. Not the venue, not the music, not the flower arrangements or first dance song but for the love. Because that’s all I was going to be able to see or feel out here in Africa: the peace in their voices and the words they told me they were going to promise. It was what I like to call “happy regardless.” Regardless how far or how removed I was from their wedding. Oh, I was honestly celebrating with them.

I ended the week exhausted and worn with a half marathon ahead of me. The Mount Meru Half Marathon had started me training just two weeks before, running long hot miles in the never-ending dust and rocky trails of Maasailand. When the gun went off, I felt good and strong, found my rhythm right alongside one of the few other women running the race. She was a Tanzanian woman, long legs, long strides, and picked up the pace on the hills: just like me. She and I began our own personal race: I passed her on the incline, she took the lead as we rounded shaded trees, banana stands, women with baskets of oranges atop their heads. It was a fast race, quick and easy. In Africa, there are no mile markers. That seemed to be representative of more than just this thirteen-mile race. No mile marker in life to tell you that you were nearing the end. No definitive indicator to let you know that you were falling in love, growing up, finding yourself.  My race partner and I crossed the finish line at the same moment. Breathless, cold and sweaty, she gave me a huge hug and said, “We ran so much faster because we had each other!” she was beaming. It was the most honest thing I had ever heard. No competitive words, no frustration at not beating her (as I saw it) opponent. She was happy we had made each other faster. Oh, if only I could honestly be that thankful for those types of competition in my life: to see myself improving and becoming faster instead of someone who may be better than me.

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Training partners for the half marathon
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Finishers!

I told my mom this may have been the hardest week of my life. I didn’t ring in twenty-six years old with a bang, but instead with a slow steady, step forward in the midst of chaos and frustration. So perhaps it wasn’t easy, but I promise it was honest. And maybe that’s all you can really ask for.

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Not. Yet.

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There are some words I have found in Swahili that I wish we would use more in English. The main one being bado. The word bado means “not yet,” and it gives me hope. Hearing “not yet,” instead of a mundane American “no,” is so full of promise. It hasn’t happened but it just might! Did you send the email yet? Bado. Did you get the promotion? Not yet. Do you have a six pack and a six figure income? Did your book get published and become a best seller? Are you a mermaid? Not. Yet. There is hope for the future.

Bado became especially relevant to me recently. Dad showed up in Tanzania about two weeks ago with brand new hiking boots on his feet and my hiking boots in his suitcase. I briefly ran the idea of climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro with him in when I was home in April, and here he was, in the very African wonderland I texted him about and showed him as far as my Facetime Internet would let me. Did he understand the stories of dust and colorful fabrics and hectic situation I desperately tried to explain on the phone? Bado. But there was a chance he would in the future.

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Dad in Maasailand

Kilimanjaro just so happens to be the highest mountain in Africa and is nearly 20,000 feet high. My beautiful Colorado friends, I hate to tell you this, but that’s way higher than our highest Colorado mountain. And we are high in Colorado. My YouTube circuit workouts left me feeling prepared for what was about to ensue as a physical workout, but not for the mental piece. I understood the mental part of physical exertion: sometimes uphill body battles led to lengthy mental journeys. When I ran that marathon back in college, I had enough thinking time to re-plan my entire life. I was going to quit my job, drop out of school, move to North Dakota, maybe buy some livestock. I had plans to cut my hair, go vegan, start doing cross fit. When there isn’t much to think about except tired lungs or burning calves, the brain finds new things to consider. Kilimanjaro was no different: it was seven days and six nights of nothing but re evaluation.

The climb up Kilimanjaro is filled with physical transitions that seem to coincide with the mental shifts nearly perfectly. The first day is gradual uphill slope, filled with rainforests and birds that seem to match the thoughts: “I hope I brought enough socks. I wonder what we got on the work email today. Will we have soup for dinner?” But, the terrain changes rapidly and your mind follow suit: I exchanged a long sleeve t-shirt for a winter jacket and two pairs of socks, and my thoughts prepared to dip into something a little colder: “I’m coming home in December and I don’t know where I am going to live. What job will I have?”

By day four dad and I put on hiking boots, rain coats, winter mittens and scaled a rock wall on the way to the summit, and the mental chatter seemed to cling to the side of the wall as well, “What have you even done with your entire time in Africa?” My mind travelled further than Dad on his journey from Denver to Kilimanjaro with the situations and trials of the future that I anticipated hitting in the next few months: jobs, insurance, relationships, family. And we hadn’t even hit summit day and apparently that was the time when both the physical and mental were truly tested. But the truth was those situations hadn’t surfaced or required thought or a reaction. Bado.

There seems to be one rule when hiking up the highest mountain in Africa and this is it: figure out today. Finish the current and don’t worry about tomorrow. It’s not here, not yet. Being an American woman with a plan (and occasionally an attitude) this is always easier said than done. I can consider the next twenty four hours, but it will be riddled with concerns out of my control: “Will I be cold in my tent under ten million stars tonight? Should I have not sent that text message?” It’s then I realize the necessity of breaking this present time down even more. Worry about this morning. Worry about this hour. As we neared the top of the mountain at 19,000 feet the concern became even more consolidated. What do the next fifteen feet of your journey look like? What is your thirty second plan? Because at that type of altitude making the decision to stay standing and put on Chapstick takes a lot of effort. Forget the rest the day, the rest of the trip, the rest of my time in Africa and the rest of my twenties. Bado. The next moment was all I can forecast and control. And maybe that’s how it should be.

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Above the clouds.

I think at job interviews they should ask you for your four hour plan instead of your five year plan. Because it is in those small moments that things become accomplished. Books don’t become written, ideas don’t become businesses and nations don’t find peace over a casual realization that five years has already passed. The real movers and shakers find success in those hours when they are cold and tired and still decide to get out of bed. To take the next step forward. To write the next word when it’s difficult to finish or read or understand. It’s not in the entire mountain, the entire novel, the entire year in Africa. It’s in that uncomfortable moment that you choose to remain.

So Grandma, don’t worry, I kept dad safe and he has no desire to climb another mountain. Bado. And mom, I’m still coming home to America, but not before I finish what I set out here to do in Africa. I’m not done. Bado. And world, I am not worried about what you are throwing at me next year, next month or in the next work email or step up the mountain. Because I’m not there. Bado. But I will be.

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Successful climbers.

Overheard in Sanya Station

A friend of mine recently showed me an Instagram account that made me laugh out loud. It was called “Overheard in LA,” or something of that sort, and it basically posted quotes that individuals had heard other people saying on the streets of Los Angeles. They all are  borderline ridiculous, and it’s funny to hear the quote without the backstory. Heck, in LA it’s probably funny to hear the quote even with the backstory. The quotes are things like, “My dog and I decided to become vegetarians,” and “It’s like hot yoga outside!” You know, LA things.

The more I read LA quotes, the more Tanzanian quotes seemed  to stand out. Weird situations are in abundance here in Sanya Station, the Maasai village I have called home for over eight months, which is a guarantee for some  interesting sentences, either overheard or directed towards me in a conversation. So although a few are summarized, and a few are translated, and some are edited for the sake of a family friendly blog, here you have it, the first ever “Overheard in Sanya Station.”

“The cow slaughtering will be behind the toilets at 5am if anyone is interested.” –Fellow American residing in Sanya Station regarding the activities for O’Brien Day 

Mid June marked a popular holiday here in Sanya, known as O’Brien Day. It’s a celebration of the incorporation of the O’Brien School, but more than that, it is a time where a big piece of the village gets together to perform skits and plays, dance, sing, and eat that cow that was slaughtered behind the toilets at 5am. Those who know me well understand a paper cut makes me squeamish, so I was not able to attend this particular ceremony, but the killing of a cow is huge part of the Maasai culture. The cow is killed with a machete, and the blood is traditionally drank by the men straight from the cow’s neck for strength and vitality. The skins are stretched and used for blankets, and the meat is used for a celebratory meal (and I mean all the meat.) Needless to say, this girl had to find a different toilet to use on O’Brien Day.

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Preparing for the feast .  Cow obviously not pictured.

“I know a guy who has sugar if you are willing to pay.” – A Tanzanian friend regarding finding sugar in the midst of a shortage.

For those not yet up to date on East African politics, Tanzania elected a new president last year. This guy, Magufuli, is a stickler for the rules and recently began to enforce certain laws that had been casually overlooked in the past. This means import laws (such as permits required to import sugar) were now being enforced, and our sugar wasn’t coming into the country as easily as it had been in the past. This led to sugar less restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores (and brought a whole new meaning to the phrase Sugar-Free.) The only way to get sugar was if you knew someone who knew someone who could sell you sugar in a back alley or a basement at a morbidly high rate (think 400% of what was normally paid.) This led to pocketing sugar packets from coffee shops and less than sweet tea in the mornings.

“Cows die. Education does not.” –Director of a High School, in regards to what a boy should tell his father who encouraged him to quit school to tend cattle.

Grazing, herding, and caring for cows, sheep and goats has been the way of life for many Maasai and Tanzanians for as long as anyone can remember. The transition from herding to education has been a slow, challenging, and representative of the delicate balance between culture and advancement that we constantly see in our world. A student begins to understand the paybacks of staying in school and creates new ways of thinking (for example, the benefits of fewer children and the dangers of FGM). With new perspectives come new opinions that often conflict with what the family as practiced for centuries. A student at school has less time to tend to the animals and new ideas on equality and human rights. It’s a tightrope. The balance is this: culture is beautiful, but so is the ability to choose to pursue heritage, education, or whatever mixture of the two each individual may desire.

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Bringing the animals home for the evening.
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Pastoral Communities

 “Is it appropriate to wear my ngati to the club?” – American counterpart in regards to what is appropriate “going out” attire.

 I was Face Timing with my sister recently when she stopped me mid-sentence to ask, “Is that a giant giraffe on your dress?” And it was.  I also had a dress in full zebra print that I often wore with my elephant scarf. The brighter, more colorful, wilder animals or conflicting patterns you can fit in one outfit, the better. It’s wonderful and I wish America would start trending this way. Maasai clothes in particular tend to be brightly colored with magnificent patterns. The square fabric that the Maasai women tie around their shoulders, neck and waist is known as an ngati. If its chilly you can tie the ngati over your head like a hood. If it’s warm, you tie it around the waist like a belt. ngatis can carry babies, hold vegetables, wipe tears and block wind. The only real problem with ngatis are so great, we need to moderate how often we wear them. Bars didn’t make the list.

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Colorful kongas and ngatis
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Traditional Maasai Clothes

“Did someone forget to tell America that we are all the same?”-Maasai woman and school translator in regards to the recent police and civilian shootings.

 It’s strange to explain complex issues in their most basic form. She had seen me on BBC reading about the recent occurrences these past few weeks; from Dallas to Baton Rouge to Minneapolis. “Why are they killing each other?” she asked, a voice completely unaware of the race games or underlying issues America has dealt with from before the country began.

“People in America are sometimes afraid of people who are different than themselves,” I tried to explain to a woman who I called my best African friend. Who let me sleep in her bed when I got scared alone at school one night, who loved Rihanna and who had grown up in the exact opposite hemisphere and atmosphere that I had been raised.

“Who forgot to tell America that we are all the same?” she asked, still incredulous to the fact we had shot at each other for a different color of skin, where we were born, where our parents took us to church or what a last name may be. “Who’s job was it to tell America we are all the same?”

I thought about that for awhile. Maybe it was Obama’s job. Maybe it was the Pope’s responsibility. Maybe congress? Dalai Llama? John Stewart, Rush Limbaugh, J. Cole? Maybe it was my job. Maybe everyone was supposed to be held responsible.

I’ve heard a lot of things around Sanya Station lately, and wherever you live I know your ears and eyes and mind have been bombarded with messages: both direct or overheard, so I will try and keep it simple. If you hear one thing from the words on this page, let it be this: darling we are all the same.

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