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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What Living in Africa Taught Me about the American Election

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For anyone who has been completely unconscious, marooned on an island with absolutely no Wifi, or trapped in a cabin with nothing but Stevie Knicks cassette tapes for the past eighteen months, the word on the street is that the United States is in the midst of a presidential election.   I didn’t know exactly what to expect, spending an election year in rural Africa, but I don’t believe I envisioned being so damn informed about every nuance of the election from eight thousand miles away.

Yes, a large part of this hyper informative craziness that I subconsciously subject myself to has to do with being on social media. But Facebook aside, Africa keeps me informed. I sit on plastic buckets in traditional Maasai houses sipping goat milk chai, and the topic veers towards the American election. Seriously. Recently, I sat outside the fabric store in Moshi while friends did some shopping and a man came and sat down next to me. “Marakani?” he asked, which is Swahili for “are you American?” When I assured him I was, his next question was predictable, “Donald or Hillary?”

While I really, really have no desire to talk about Donald or Hillary, the concept I have come to understand is that when you come as an American into a different country, you must become prepared to explain America. Believe me, I try. We have fifty states and Puerto Rico is not a state even though we let them vote because we like them, but not like we like states. Yes, frat parties are real things, and no I have never met Sarah who is also from America. I get a lot of questions I can’t answer. Yet, strangely enough, the longer I stay in Tanzania, the more I realize that Africa has taught me a lot about being an American.

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Different worlds?

I learned that Americans worry. A lot. About being late for yoga class, about the price of a haircut, about who got invited to which party first and what we can do this weekend, and if I brought this same cookie to the party last year or wore this dress last time he saw me, or what she meant by that text or why your jeans don’t fit, or paint samples. I suppose a big reason I don’t worry about those things in Africa is because many of them don’t exist: there is no yoga, no one wears jeans, and all haircuts cost the same: twenty-three cents to and they’ll shave your head with a new razor blade. I’m not saying there is no stress. “Hakuna matata,” was coined for this very reason, to remind people not to worry when it starts to creep in. But what I have witnessed is that the twisted stomach and the furrowed eyebrow type of stress is reserved. It’s special occasion stress, for things in our control, with our consent, and for the betterment of those around us. No small stresses. Hakuna matata that traffic jam, America.

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Friends not bound by language or borders.

Africa also taught me that Americans do everything fast, except drive. You have not experienced fast driving in America, I promise. Tanzania has two speed limits: below 50 kph, and over 50 kph. That over 50 kph speed limit tends to apply mostly to huge trucks carrying chickens and men and maize in the bed, or buses 35 people over the maximum occupancy. It does not, however, apply to the speed of life. Cooking is slow and boiling water is slow, and meetings are long. Weekends are sleepy and at nights I take time to look at stars. There are no happy hours, or gym memberships or housewarming parties. What there is, are long afternoons in the bed of a new mother, under the covers counting the fingers of the new baby. There are slow walks through sunflowers to meet a student’s family.

There are many hours in waiting rooms and outside offices while scanning Swahili dictionaries and taking note of new fabrics around the waists of the women who walk past. America moves fast, and we get things done. I know that more than ever now. But I hope I remember sweetness of slow when I go home. I hope my peace stays.

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Gifts may look different but mean the same thing.

 

But all of this is fairly cliché and things you already knew: Africa moves slower and worries less, and it wouldn’t it be cool if America did that too? But that is not my point, not today. Moving from one country to another, I find that people focus on differences a lot. What is difference between Hillary and Donald, what is the difference between Africa and America, between Christian and Muslim, between black and white and what are the different things different groups are or are not allowed to do. The truth is, that while I have been forced to take note and adapt to several of these differences, the thing that sticks out the most is how similar we all seem to be.

I have found myself believing, now more than ever that the human soul is created in nearly identical ways. Of course, there are biological reasons for this: teenagers give you attitude on every continent and even first time mothers have an instinct how to comfort their child. But then there are different pieces of humans that strike me. I watch tears fall for the same things in both worlds. Laughter is identical. Families look different. But you see those who are attracted to each other lean, subconsciously, toward the person they love. It’s not the full moon or astrology or science. It’s humanity in its purist form.

Election years seem to bring out the differences in humans more than ever. Lines are drawn as we uncover opinions of friends and sisters and coworkers that we had never surfaced before. But what Africa has taught me more than anything, is that at the core, we are all the same. We need love, want patience, appreciate kindness, cry when we can’t find the peace. We hope for a future and find tears in our own eyes when we see someone hurt. We hunger and we sweat and we want things that we can’t have and scream like it will help. Then we pray to God we are able to create something worthwhile during our time on this planet. This is true of all humans.  On every continent.  From every belief or background.

So Africa, I don’t know if it’s going to be Donald or Hillary. But I promise, we are all going to be ok. We are on the same team. In the words of my beautiful African colleagues, we are together.

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Pamoja, the Swahili word for together.

 

 

A Letter from Africa to a Far Away Love

For those of you who don’t know yet, I like writing.  And a big part of writing is putting your words in places where more people can see.  The online magazine “Elephant Journal” published my article called “A Letter to my Far Away to Love: What we Must Remember.”

Read it on the website, comment, tell ‘um how much you like it, and I am one step closer to becoming a professional writer, and one step further from a life of cubicles, spreadsheets, and ill fitting dress pants.

Check out the article here:http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/06/a-letter-to-my-far-away-love-here-is-what-we-must-remember/

Thanks for the support, my dears, oh how it is appreciated.

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I’m Funnier in Africa

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I’m funnier in Africa. I found this out when I went back to America for a few weeks and less people laughed at my jokes. I suppose this needs a preface: I’m not saying I’m funny in either continent, but as a means of comparison, more people were laughing in Africa at my barely thought out and haphazard presentation of “jokes,” and poorly planned puns than they were in America.

Maybe they weren’t laughing more at my jokes specifically. Maybe everyone is just laughing a little more in general, myself included.

The point is that after about seven months in Africa then a brief three week stint back in America, I was receiving this question a lot (mostly from hipsters with thick rimmed glasses drinking fairly traded tea in dimly lit coffee shops): “What is the main difference that you have noticed between rural Tanzania and the newly metropolitan Denver?” And I put a lot of thought into this question. I thought about my primarily rice and beans diet in Africa compared to my “cinnamon roll with Bloody Mary breakfast” I was practicing in Colorado these past few weeks (and the fact upon my arrival in Africa, a fellow Tanzanian employee told me “Wow! You ate so much food in America!”) And then I started comparing fashion choices, women’s rights, speed of life, and primary education, but those topics seemed exhausting paired with how much travelling I have done lately, even if it is the kind of answer a hipster would have appreciated. Therefore, the difference that I wanted to note for everyone is that I am funnier in Africa, and it seems as if we all laugh a little more here. And I have started to wonder why.

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Laughing at a traditional Maasai dancing celebration.

I came up with a few theories. The first is that there is something in the water that makes people funnier. This theory got nixed because most of the villagers drink water straight from the well, and the Americans are confided to the big blue bottles of water bought in town, yet all of us seem to laugh a little bit more.

My second theory was language barrier, and there is plenty of that where I live. Most students at O’Brien School are taught to speak Maasai at home, along with the Swahili basics. Once they arrive at school, they are quickly instructed in English, and they continue to brush up on Swahili. This results in trilingual seven year olds and some wonderful responses to everyday questions. A common one is a sick student complaining that their “head is painting,” or “stomach is painting,” their “tooth is painting” (the equivalent of a headache, stomachache, or toothache.) And I feel for them, because a painting stomach is never comfortable, but it is all I can do but smile as I listen to “paining and painting” used interchangeably.

Another favorite is the request to “get in” to the office/classroom (instead of the incredibly American “come in.”) This usually takes the form of loud and excited request, such as “PLEASE MADAM, MAY I GET IN?” as if I am barring the office closed with arms outstretched, standing in the doorway in my Chacos. In fact, I love the phrase “get in,” so much more than, “come in,” that I have started using it, too. Mostly because replying, “Yes, get on in!” sounds like something you would do to a safari jeep or a sailboat, or at least something way more exciting than a school day chat in the office.

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Friday smiles

And I am certainly not immune to the interesting, yet often inconvenient language mishaps. I know on more than one occasions I have explained that the car, “Is hungry and needs to eat,” because I could not for the life of me recall the Swahili word for gasoline. Or, more recently, the American director Lizzy and I watched in anxious anticipation as a student with a bike lock stuck on his bike requested soap to get the lock off. He graciously accepted the soap, then politely explained he needed a saw, not soap, and how was he going to get a bike lock off with soap?

Maybe we laugh more because of the language and cultural barrier here, and maybe its because there is a little bit more thinking time, listening time, joking time, space to acknowledge the odd and awkward and comical. Maybe when the power goes out there is nothing more to do than think of funny stories or learn all the lyrics to Nikki Minaj songs. I know that much of what I have written on this blog has been heavy and often hard to digest, but while I compare life in American and life in Africa, something new becomes quite clear: convenience isn’t that funny.

I take that back. Convenience isn’t usually that funny. I saw an advertisement online for some type of tool that would cut a banana into tiny pieces with one press of the tool. You know, because cutting a banana with several knife strokes is so difficult. That is a funny convenience. But most of the time, either fortunately or not, it is the inconvenient stuff that makes you laugh. It’s pausing a school committee meeting because a goat has walked into the office; it’s putting shampoo into your hair right when the power goes out. It’s causing a minor explosion attempting to bake a cake in a crock-pot when power surges are likely, and plucking your eyebrows in the dark with a headlamp. From someone who has been there I can tell you honestly that grocery stores that always have cheese and tofu in stock, and restaurants that have something other than chicken or eggs on the menu are great, but they don’t make me laugh.

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Uninvited office guests

I suppose that is the most accurate description of the difference between America and rural Africa: it’s just not as convenient out here in Kilimanjaro, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make me smile. And while you can’t choose these inevitable and ever impending trials and setbacks (no matter where you are living,) you can choose whether you laugh or become distressed.   First hand real life experience told me that you laugh a heck of a lot more if you choose the former.

One day my Swahili will improve and these kids are going to speak perfect English in no time. And we may even stop having a cobra-near-the-shower problem, and the post office may stop having four-hour closures for lunch breaks, but until then, I like these inconveniences. I like laughing.

I’m also like the new recess game “pause and continue” the exciting equivalent to “red light, green light,” in a land where there are barely roads, let alone traffic lights. It’s wonderful and I am going to play it with my children one day. And when those kids are called to the school office because they don’t know the rules to “red light, green light,” I hope they knock on the door and ask if they can please get in.

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<3 

 

How Far I Am: 6 Months and 25 Lessons

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I’m visiting home for a few weeks at the end of April. It is strange thinking that I have been in Africa for nearly six months at this point. I suppose like anything it life, the days are, at times, tediously long, but the weeks are short. The months fly by so quickly that I quite honestly looked up at the sky on my lengthy walk to the shower (my personal time to look for shooting stars and wish for things like cheese to be stocked at the grocery store this week and gender equality) and noticed the moon was full again. Never before have I had to do a moon double take, swearing that just yesterday I stood in awe at how huge and orange the full moons in Africa seem.

But from what I am told that is how life works: it gets faster the older you get. Maybe the speed we live is directly tied to responsibilities. Maybe there is no choice to slow it down, no escape route. Maybe this is true even if you move all the way to rural Africa and call that your home.

Regardless of the speed of life light, the speed of forming a Swahili sentence and the speed of anything in African time, I have taken a moment to write down a few of the biggest thing I have learned these past six months. I’m not sure which was more important: the fact I learned lessons that may never apply to my life when I am back in a first world country, or the idea I was willing to learn them. What I do know is six months in Africa has taught me most when I was willing to learn.  So, whether you, too, plan to pack up and move to Maasailand, you are happy in your Denver apartment, or are dying for an adventure that has not yet manifested: here are my top twenty five lessons learned six months into making my home in rural Africa:

  1. When peeing outside, choose soil that is sandy, not hard packed. This will prevent back splash.
  2. ALL of those donations people make to Africa actually do end up in Africa! This explains why the gardener came to work the other day in gently used tap shoes. This also explains why my favorite guard tends to wear sketchers shape-ups at his post at night.
  3. Nuns  can (and do) ride motorcycles.
  4. “Kaka” is Swahili for brother, and does not have the same meaning as “caca” in Spanish. Because of this it is perfectly acceptable to call boys and young men Kaka in Tanzania, but not in Mexico.
  5. Never, ever underestimate the extreme power of letters, notes, snacks, coffee, stickers, nail polish, and (YES!) coconut oil received in the mail. Lord bless the postal service, seeing a letter or package in the mailbox (a bumpy thirty minute drive) has given me wings more than Red Bull ever has.

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    Treats from home.❤
  6. My cat in Colorado isn’t actually fat. It just looks fat compared to the skinny cats I see in Africa (explained by my mama who swears she isn’t giving Macy Gray any extra snacks).
  7. Rainy season in Kilimanjaro is like waking up from a nap. The weather gets cooler, the grass peeks through the dust, the animals move a little faster, the babies laugh a little louder. I’ve been more energized by rain on our roof then any cup of instant coffee.

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    Rainy day celebration
  8. Crying for a speeding ticket won’t help you, but keeping a fire extinguished in your car will.
  9. If you carry around bubble gum on just one run, you will have cheerleaders for every run after that.

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    Cheerleaders
  10. People on their cell phone all the time isn’t just an American thing. It’s a universal thing.
  11. You can be hungry, hot, and frustrated, but still be kind.
  12. It’s ok if you don’t speak Swahili/don’t know the way/aren’t a very good driver/ don’t really understand. So long as you try.
  13. If you don’t think about it that hard, it’s not that bad (This goes for what you are eating, where you are sleeping, what just touched your foot, or how long its been since you’ve washed that shirt.)
  14. If you are ever having a bad day, find a few grade six students and have them explain American politics to you.
  15. It’s better to wear a skirt that’s a little too long than a little too short.
  16. Bring a gift when you are invited to dinner (for example, a jar of peanut butter) and expect a gift in return (for example, a newborn bunny.)
  17. If you add garlic salt to it, it should taste fine.
  18. Puppies and babies can make most things better.
  19. But both will pee on you.

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    Puppy prescription
  20. Sleeping with a fan on drowns out the scary noises.
  21. Shake out your towel before you dry off.
  22. A sense of humor doesn’t depend on your race, nationality, age or country. It depends on your personality.

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  23. Reggae music will make you friends in Africa. Drake will not.
  24. A cursed pencil is a legitimate reason for failing an exam.
  25. You can be scared and do it anyway. You can be uncomfortable, homesick, nervous and uncertain and still succeed. You can tell yourself and others “I’ve never done this before, I don’t know the language, this isn’t the right outfit and nobody ever taught me,” and come back with diva-like results that shock everyone (but especially yourself).   And I learned that when someone asks you how you managed the challenges and changes and tears that inevitably come with Africa, you won’t know what to say. All you can explain is, “It was important. So I did it.”

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    “It was important, so I did it.”

How Far I Am: 2 Barefeet and 1 Flower Crown

I got off my hippie soapbox for a while. Those of you who hung around during college know that soapbox I’m speaking of. It was the classic no shoes to class, nose ring wearing, flower crown rocking peace preaching Woodstock girl of so many college campuses. I was the one who liked her harmony so much that she rarely found a reason to speak up let alone start an argument, unless it involved tie-dye. I just didn’t really see a need to fight when we could all get along, talk about yoga pants, and run around Denver barefoot.   Maybe it’s age and maybe it is the atmosphere or I could boil it down to the fact I know more now than I did as twenty year old college student: but I’ve noticed I fight a little more lately. Especially since I’ve been in Africa.

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Deborah’s Love Notes

I am not talking about trivial fights. I don’t purposefully cause a scene. But I have been off that hippie soapbox and in Tanzania long enough to understand worthwhile change requires a little controversy. So I suppose I have been raising my voice a little more than usual. In five months I have managed file a police report for a mistreated young women with a mean mug on my face and an “I mean business attitude.” I ditched the peace for a minute so I could speak out for young voices drowned out by adult responsibility and insisted they get their four-foot frame back in the classroom. I fought speeding tickets accompanied by bribes. I stood up for unfair taxes on my mama’s shipment of Starbucks instant coffee from the states. I called the power company and told them that four-hour power outages during hundred-degree weather were ridiculous. I’ve negotiated with social workers for women’s rights, and I cried at the swimming pool that tried to overcharge us with the mzungu’s (white person’s) price.

Yes, I felt results, and Lord, there were triumphs, but after all that, do you know what I am about to do? I am about to take off my shoes, find my flower crown, and climb back on that peace train. First and foremost: because I am exhausted. But second, because I feel such a tremendous lack of love on our planet lately.

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Lunchtime in Maasailand

I’m not just talking about my life in East Africa, but really from all over the world. I know I can’t be the only one feeling undeniably heavy from simply tuning into reality. I log on to Facebook and see a man preaching hate and bad hair techniques as a frontrunner to lead the entire United States, a terrorist organization causing heartache in every way that they know how, a close friend’s father shot and killed by complete strangers. And that was just this past week. As I sit in African heat and fight once again to find a shred of peace in all that is filling my brain and my newsfeed, it becomes more apparent that every reaction boils down to one of two options: anger or love, anger or love, anger or love. I think about all that I have fought for and over these past five months and every good intention held behind the fight, every fuming word I’ve uttered to get my point across, every skinny girl foot stomp, finger wag, aggressive eye roll; and I am resolved to nothing more than this: I should call my family and tell them I love them.

I understand getting caught up in the hustle, I understand that now more than ever. I know anger pulsing through veins when important words aren’t heard or acknowledged. I know the heat that rises on the back of the neck when you know you are ripped off and taken for granted. I understand that most of the time our fight is for what is good and pure and noble. But one thing I never want to know is saying goodbye for good to someone without my last words being, “I love you.”

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Upendo. <3 

The is a short post, and debatably sour, hopefully sweet but it is for everyone I have come in contact with these past five months. It’s for my family who has stood beside me through every strange plan I have devised, the friends who send me new music and postcards and stickers and jokes. Its for the the mystery student who rights “I love you Madame Ella,” in my agenda each morning, the police officer who smiled instead of pulling me over, for the man selling phone credit on the corner that knows my name and waves each time I walk by, and Rosie who carries her little sister on her back but always, always smiles. It’s for the girls who hold my hands, fingers interlocked, when I walk in the village, the women who work in the office and laugh even when my jokes aren’t funny, and the nuns who tuck me into bed on the occasional nights I’m just too homesick. It’s for the man who lets me call him and cry because “it’s too hot and I miss bacon,” and to the mamas that include me around their dinner table when it’s a struggle to feed just the family: I love you. I love all of you! I needed to take a pause from the fight to tell you this.  And if you ask me how far I am from where I want to be I will tell you this:  if you know that you are loved from all the way in Africa, then I am already there.

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Maasai wedding with a handful of my wedding dates.