The Chingiss Effect~June 11, 2013

View of UB from Bayangol Hotel Balcony

View of UB from Bayangol Hotel Balcony

Yesterday morning, Lisa (my hotel roommate) and I went to meet the other trekkers at breakfast. There was Viktor, Karyn, Lisa, Jo Ann, Laura, Amy (owner and guide of Tusker), and me. Amy is the wife of Eddie Frank-the founder of Tusker. Laura is Amy’s mother. Jo Ann is a 76 year old free spirit and has done this trip before. Viktor is German but lives in Vancouver. I’ve already talked a bit about Karyn, but I’m liking her more and more. Lisa is friends with Amy.
After breakfast,Lisa, Karyn and I took off for the streets of UB. Wow! The traffic is overwhelming. Pedestrians do not have the right away, even when the corsswalks are green. I simply said a prayer and ran. We walked past the government house and square before finding the Museum of Zanabazar-Amy, Jo Ann, and Viktor all recommend we stop here. There was all these artifacts and reproductions of tools, crafts, and art from ages ago. I found it fascinating. One hall had traditional Mongolian celebration costumes from the 19th and 20th centuries. The masks are crafted from papermache but offer amazing detail. Certainly not the same papermache you would find in a craft class at school. Afterwards, we hit up the State Department Store to look at cashmere and Mongolian souvenirs. The cashmere was beautiful and I fell in love with a fantastic scarf. I did not purchase it because I want to see what the Kazakhs have to offer us first when we’re out in the Altai Mountains. I did exchange $200US for Mongolian Tugriks. I feel like I got a lot but I’m sure it evens out somewhere. While also at the state store, I bought two postcards-I’ll send them from home-maybe unless I have time on our return. Apparently Mongolia is know for their postage stamps. I also picked up a magnet for Ms. Phillips (my neighbor of thirty something years and is more like family).
Shopping at UB's State Department Store

Shopping at UB’s State Department Store

Afterwards we went to a Russian restaurant for lunch based on a recommendation from Amy. I ate vegetable soup with rice (it also had some sort of meat but I didn’t ask about it…I was told it was probably mutton). On the table, tehre is a call button in case you need anything. The waitresses don’t bother you unless you push the button. Great concept, one I wouldn’t mind seeing adopted in America.
We decided to head back then. Lisa and I were feeling a bit tired and wanted to rest before dinner. At 5:15pm, we met downstairs (now joined by Tom-from Jacksonville-and Eric-28 year old currently living in Dubai) so we could go to a show. It was a magnificent! Dancers danced traditional dances, signers sang, an orchestra perfomred and a contortionist bent herself into a pretzel. The double throat singing was presented in a quartet and I was blown away. The whole show was spectacular and I’m glad we went so I could experience it.
We headed back to the hotel for a group dinner at The Bellagio. I ate fried rice with vegetables (no meat unlike the soup at lunch) and tried a slice of pizza curtesy of Amy and Laura. Lisa, Jo Ann, and Karyn had a Hot Pot which looked interesting. I’ll have to try a Hot Pot-maybe when we get back to UB after our horse trek. Finally, we went back to our rooms to sort and pack. Lisa and I had a chance to talk and I really like her. She’s a friendly soul.
Enjoying dinner at the hotel's restaurant with Karyn and Viktor

Enjoying dinner at the hotel’s restaurant with Karyn and Viktor

Our wake up call came early this morning. 3am. Luckily, I was basically ready to go so I didn’t have to waste too much time getting ready.
At 4:15, we all piled-with all our duffels-into a van and off to the airport we headed. We were forewarned our luggage could only weigh about 20kg. If it was heavier, we would have to pay. So, I stuffed my pockets and wore my riding helmet. I was only 7kgs over! I was not the heaviest (as I thought I may be). It cost me 28,000T which I don’t think was that bad.
Now, there’s a thing at dinner that Amy was telling us about-it’s called the Chingiss effect. Well, we were hit with that this morning, as we sat and waited on the tiny plane-we waiting on teh runway for 30 minutes. Now, it isn’t packed here so it wasn’t because of runway traffic. They made us eventurally get off. Originally, it was cancelled because of bad weather. Then they said delayed by two hours.
So that is where we are. Chingiss is having us wait in the airport.
Hopefully we will get out soon!!
Waiting at the airport...gotta love the Chingis effect

Waiting at the airport…gotta love the Chingis effect


Mongolia…the journey begins~June 8, 2013

Atlanta International Airport-11:30am
SO the journey begins in a physical sense, but the mental preparation has been in the works for months. Last July, mom and dad went somewhere-I don’t remember where, but that’s okay since it’s not pertinent to the story. I was looking up Tusker 9the company that I went to Tanzania with) to relive my Kilimanjaro days. I was tired of dad and others saying that maybe one of the reasons I didn’t feel all that well (see previous blog talking about the autoimmune disease I’ve been blessed with) was because perhaps I was “down” or depressed. I could understand the theory to some degree. I mean, seriously, what does one do to top Kilimanjaro? I have always believe that life isn’t about topping anything (unless it’s with chocolate sauce), but rather building upon past experiences and creating new ones. But I thought, “What the heck?” So, I signed up for a trek to Mongolia with Tusker. The trip, I thought, would be just a trip to a foreign place-just a vacation. It has become so much more though Two months ago after looking up the trip, I was diagnosed with a little autoimmune disease (Sjogrens). The quetsions came up: Would I be able to cope for 2.5 weeks in the remote Western Mongolian landscape? Could y body handle it all (planes, layovers, 8 hours on rough gravel roads, horseback riding)? Remember, this was right after diagnosis so I think my fears were justified. At one point, I lost hope and thought my adventures were over. But then the new meds my doctor (referred to as the MAN) prescribed me gave me hope and the energy I had not had in a long time. With the encouragement of my mom, I decided to chance it and go anyway. I was upfront with Tusker and I also purchased Global Mountain Rescue insurance (in case I needed to be evacuated due to health issues or emergency). I don’t want ot be defined by my illness but rather admired because I continued to experience life and the world despite my illness.
So you see, Mongolia is a bit more to me than merely a horse trek. It’s me showing others that Sjogrens won’t stop me.
I will admit, as I wait at the gate for my flight on KAL to Seoul from Atlanta (suppose to be 14 hours! Yikes!), I’m a bit nervous. I know all will be okay, but it’s those travel nervew that hit: Don’t forget anything. Be smart! Don’t snore if you fall asleep on the flight. And this is one long flight-14hours! That’s more than a work day for me. In 14 hours, I’ve eaten three meals, fed the dogs twice, in a perfect world I’ve worked out, taken a shower, and more! But to sit for 14 hours is a freaking long time! And there is like at least 10 flight attendants here waiting to board the plane-I’m sorry. I just counted. Make that 15 attendants.
There calling our flight. I better go get settled in for a comfy, flight. Did I mention it’s 14 hours long?

Seoul Airport-6:46pm
Yeah, the 14 hours was a bit tortuous. Plenty of room in the seast but I have to admit that the seat could be a bit more cushy for the bum. There was a gentleman that sat next to me-his name was Mike and is in the Air Force stationed in Seoul. He has plans on traveling to New Zealand and Thailand while he is here. He asked about my “Africa” tattoos (I’ll have to share some pictures of those) so we talked about their backstories for a bit.
I do want to mention that when you first board the plane, each seat had the following: slippers, headphones, a blanket, a pillow, bottle of water, and a toothbrush with toothpaste (I asked the attendant about this later one and found out Koreans are really into their dental health). I managed to sleep a little. Like I said, my bum wasn’t all that comfy but I had plenty of space. I did watch Identity Thief-hilarious, but after that my entertainment system sort of broke (it was around hour 7) so I dropped the idea of watching anything else. I decided to read and rest instead.
About an hour into the flight, we had cocktail hour. I opted for Sprite. We were given a “supper” of tradional Korean bibimpap. It had meat and vegetables and rice…I was also served seaweed soup (I only hate half of the soup). I also went with the white wine to accompany the dish. I only used half of the paste they gave us for the dish. I’m not sure, but it may have been kimchi paste. Anyway, next time I will only use a quarter of the tube-it was a tad bit spicy for my liking. The attendants would pass juice and water around hourly. For dinner, I had a fish and rice dish that was delicious (especially the dessert-a cross between cake and danish).
When we finally arrived in Seoul, I exited the plane and headed to the transfer area where I had to go back through security (where I did not have to take off my shoes, thank you very much).
As I walked the halls of the aiprot, I could feel its pulse. Tons of high end designer stores filled the terminals…Chloe, Fendi, Cartier, Rolex, Tiffany’s.
I found myself thirsty so I visited a Charlie Brown Food Store/Cafe. I love Charlie Brown and Snoopy so I could not resist. After treating myself to a hot chocolate, I went to my gate to wait. I knew two of my fellow trekkers would be taking this particular flight from Seoul to UB so I tried to keep an eye out for them even though I had no idea of what they looked like. I admit, I have mixed feelings about the fact other people will be on this trip. In Africa, I was solo-not by choice. Here, there’s a group of about 8 of us. Half Canadian and half American. We’ll be spending about two weeks together. I hope we all get along!
At the gate, Karyn actually came up to me. She’s a widow (for 8years) in her 50’s and lives in Toronto. When she’s not traveling the world, she’s a physical therapist. I emailed her (actually, I emailed all the fellow trekkers before the departure date to introduce myself) before our trip and found out she’s done quite a bit of traveling since the passing of her husband. Last year she did Tusker’s EBC (Everest Base Camp). I plan on do the same trek this November if all goes well on this trip. We gabbed and I find her delightful and full of travel spirit. Have I found a new kindred spirit? Her son is simlar to my parents when it comes to us traveling to places not around the corner.
Our seats are next to each other on the plane too. She also mentioned she’s been taking riding lessons for the last 10 months and confessed she was worried she’d hold people up. Ha! I assured her I would be the worse of the group since I rode a horse a few months (like, 9 to be exact) ago for about 45 minutes. A friend and I took the horses out with a guide, the guide left us, the horses started to buck a bit, then proceeded to take us back to their stall. That ended that ride.
The plane is taking off (8:09pm). I’m so excited!!

Mongolia? Why would anyone want to go there?

So, as I said in the previous post, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease last fall. But before I discovered this, I signed up with Tusker on one of their treks (I went with the horse trek option) to Mongolia. Yes, I was sick at the type, but I figured I could ride a horse and that would be okay; it wouldn’t wear me out, right? I honestly didn’t know at that point whether or not I’d be able to walk it. I think I was secretly hoping that whatever I had or was suffering from would be a quick fix.
I selected Mongolia because Tusker went there and it seemed a lot less strenous than their other treks. I wanted to start off slow in my return to adventure. This trek was only 10 days camping and I could ride a horse or walk the route. I felt comfortable with Tusker. I was well taken care of in Tanzania and so I knew I’d be well taken care of in Mongolia. Besides, everyone needs to be able to say they knew someone who went to Mongolia…well, I’m that person! You’re welcome.
When I was officially diagnosed, I was crushed. I was ready to cancel my trip and hang up my daypack and hiking boots. My mom could see how this was affecting me. She said I should just see how I was feeling once I was on the medicine. I had until March 1st to pay the rest of the trip off and so I still had some time to make a decision. Without my mom, I would have given up.
A couple of months later, I was feeling much better. So much better, that I decided not to cancel my trip. I went on to buy my plane ticket and the additional gear I would need. I became excited and knew it would all be okay. Plus, I knew with prednisone and plaquenil anything was possible.
I would be lying if I said it was all smooth sailing and I never once had a fea about going. I did. I questioned myself constantly. Am I doing the right thing? Should I be going off to such a remote place? My mom was there the entire time supporting me. My dad was right there offering to pay for my trip cancellation fees if I decided not to go; this of course just made me push myself more.
As the departure date came closer, I became more confident. People started asking me, “Why Mongolia?” The most frequent question, though, was: “Where is Mongolia?” Don’t worry, I had to look it up too.
I wanted to learn a bit more about the country I would be going to. Allow me to share a little with you:
Mongolia is a landlocked country, hugged by Russia in the North and China in the South. The majority of Mongolians live with in the city limits of UB, or Ulan Bataar-the capital. Mongolian is the main language within the city, but out west where I was headed, the main language is of Kazakh. The residents of Western Mongolia are mostly Kazakh. Within UB, the major religious presence is Buddhism, while out west the religion is Muslim (but it should be noted that it isn’t too strict). Vodka (hey now) and cashmere (woohoo) are major exports of Mongolia.
I mentioned horseback riding. The Kazakhs were born on horses I believe. The kids, and I’m talking like toddlers, put most westerners to shame! Before I went on the trip, I emailed one of the other trekkers that was on the list of people in our group. Jo Ann had been on this exact trip a few years previously. I asked her what I should expect from the Kazakhs and Mongolia. She offered wonderful tales from her trek, but the one thing she mentioned that stood out to me was the extraordinary horsemanship. I was lucky enough to witness this, but I’ll save that for later.
I don’t want to give too much away…I hope my writing and pictures tell the journey and teach you why you should go to Mongolia and experience it for yourself.
Looking back, I’m glad my mom convinced me to not cancel the trip. I’m grateful for both of my parents’ support, but without my mom, I wouldn’t not have had this amazing experience. So, thanks, MOM!

The valley after the mountain

So, I have mentioned a little thing called my autoimmune disease (see the page entitled “Welcome…to you and to me”). I wanted to write a bit about it but want all to know that I don’t allow the disease to define me.
When I returned home from Tanzania, something wasn’t right. Yes, I had changed my outlook on life, but physically something just was off. I went from being about to hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro to not being able to walk around the block. My body ached and hurt. I didn’t want to be touched because I just hurt. There is no other way to say it. I would get out of breath walking around the block. My arms and fingers would go numb sometimes. The side of my neck throbbed. I had a place underneath my ribs that would also throb. I had to take naps everyday because I was so exhausted. This went on for a bit until I decided to go to a doctor. My PCP (primary care doc) was a colleague of my dad’s and she was patient. She referred me to a rheumy and neuro. I did another nerve conduction test to find nothing wrong with my nerves (no one told them that); that was the end of my relationship with the neuro. The rheumy lasted a little longer. He informed me that there were people in the world worse off than me. Needless to say I ended that. I mean, I know I wasn’t as bad as some others. But seriously, who says that to a patient?
About six months after my return from Tanzania, I started to get sharp pains on the right of my abs. I went to another friend of my dad’s, a gastro. Mom started talking to him about what I had been going through with my health. My gallbladder was a little sludgy but not bad enough to cause all my issues or to be taken out. He hooked me up with an infectious disease doc. I saw him a few times. On one visit, he prescribed doxycycline. I took it and I did start to have more energy. It was awesome. After a few weeks on it, I would lose the energy. I would go off the meds for a couple of weeks and then start taking it again. Now, I’m aware I am far from having a medical degree (though I like to say it’s in the mail), but I wasn’t getting well and it frustrated me. I had just discovered my love of adventure only to have it taken from me.
It was about a year and a half after Tanzania and I was still going though all of this. I became addicted to “Monsters Inside Me” and “Mystery Diagnosis”. I had no relief. The doxy had stopped working like it usually did. True, I was able to manage my time so I didn’t overdo it or exhaust myself as easily. My friends knew I had given up going to things past 8pm (I was in bed by then). My boss and administration knew I had to sit for most of the day while teaching to conserve my energy. Mom understood I couldn’t do what I wanted and that I forgot things more easily than before. The only thing that stood out to me on the trip were two things: I was bit by a tick (remember that post?) and that I did eat some diary products that weren’t pasteurized. Mom went to almost every doctor’s appointment with me and made sure to tell them all this. She still blames Africa to this day. Nothing ever turned up on my blood tests, though, to indicate something involving these two factors.
Finally, two years and a half years after coming home “not right”, I was talking to a friend at work. Her son had just recently become a patient at Shands (University of Florida). She praised them and so I decided to contact the hospital. I got an appointment at Shands last July (2012). I figured it was worth a try at least. If I didn’t get any answers, at least I tried. Mom came with me that day, as well as our neighber and dear family friend, Ms. Phillips. We drove up to Gainesville (3hours) in nervous anticipation. Were the doctors going to be able to help me? Would I gain some of my life back? The questions went on.
I met with one resident and medical student. They asked a barrage of questions. They went over my medical history. Mom piped up about the tick business. I then saw the MAN. The rheumy!!! He was laid back and listened. He ordered tons of blood tests (I think I gave like 12 vials). I was to come back in two months (he’s a busy guy). I left feeling hopeful. The doctors had listened and didn’t dismiss me.
Two months later, I met with a different resident and the MAN again. Yes, there is a reason I call him the MAN…you’ll find out soon. They had some news for me. One of the blood tests came back as being positive for an autoimmune disease: Sjogrens. I had seen the disease during my “research” when looking for answers, but didn’t think too much of it because the disease usually deals with glands. I didn’t really suffer from dry mouth and my eyes were okay most of the time. But the MAN said Sjogrens can affect other organs and body systems, not just eyes and mouth. I was given prednisone and plaquenil to try. I was to start plaquenil immediately to help my inflammation; I was told it would take months to feel its full effects. I wasn’t able to begin prednisone until after a lip biopsy and CT scan of my lymph nodes.
I thought, “this is it. My adventures really are over”. Now, something I had only told my parents about: that June, before my first appointment at Shands, I had put a deposit down on a trip to Mongolia. I guess I hoped Shands would “fix” me and all would be okay.
My parents were patient with me while I had a couple of pity parties, which I think were totally justifiable at the time. Autoimmune diseases just don’t go away, but they can be manageable. Some people take years to get an actual autoimmune disease diagnosis. Some people really are worse off than me and can’t even hold a job down. But my passion, I felt at the time, had just been ripped from me. How could I go off and enjoy hiking again when I couldn’t walk around the block, or never knowing when a flare was going to hit?
I didn’t cancel my spot on the trip, though, after hearing the diagnosis. I don’t know what, at this point, made me hold on to it, but I’m grateful for whatever it was.
The CT scan came first. I was nervous because I was told they were looking for signs of lymphoma. SCARY!! I didn’t want to worry anyone so I didn’t say too much about it at that point. My brother drove me up (had the scan done at one of Shands’ image facilities) and brought me home. I’m glad he went because I could share my fears with him (to a degree) that I couldn’t necessarily share with my mom. Looking at lymphoma is a scary thing. So scary, that I can’t even find a synonym to replace scary with!
The lip biopsy was just to confirm the Sjogrens diagnosis. I saw a lovely dentist who specialized in Sjogrens. She’s also in charge of a research program to study Sjogrens and the mouth. She was so thoughtful and wanted to make sure to answer any fears or questions I had about the disease. After that appointment, the oral surgeon came in to do the biopsy. Basically, the surgeon slit a small incision on the inside bottom of my mouth. I had been given some novacaine so I couldn’t feel a thing. He then pulled out a few glands to test. Inside the room with us were some dental students. The experience in the Oral Medicine Clinic really was nice. I mean, I wouldn’t recommend the whole Sjogrens thing to people, but if you ever have to have a lip biopsy, this is the place to go. A week later, it was official: I had Sjogrens.
I started my prednisone as instructed and waited and hoped and prayed that all would be okay.
Now, if you’re like my mom and I, you’ll start to question why you were blessed with such a lovely disease. My mom questioned more than I did (I figured answers weren’t going to change anything at that point). It is believed that it was a combination of things/events that caused my Sjogrens to appear. First, the tick bite (yeah, I got that “I told you so” look from mom). And second, the stress I had while climbing Kilimanjaro: physical and emotional.
A few weeks into the medicine, though, I started to feel a difference. Everyday I improved. It’s been over a year since I first saw the MAN at Shands. I owe him and his team so much. If I had not gotten the medicine I needed, I would not be in the condition I am. I am almost to where I was before the explosion of Sjogrens (as I like to call it). I also wouldn’t be where I am if it had not been for my family, but mostly my mom. She went to almost every appointment with me and supported me throughout this valley.
Now, I could have gone on about some of my worst days. I could have shared my tears or most horrible pains. I didn’t want to though. I wanted you to see that I’m okay. I’ve accepted it. Besides, there is no point in visiting all that again. Moving forward is the answer.
True, Sjogrens will never go away. We will be together forever. I will eventually have to say goodbye to my meds because of the eventual side effects and because they may stop working one day. There will be a time when I’ll flare up and go back to those days before I was diagnosed. It may make my travels a bit more cumbersome. It will be something I always have to deal with and consider. BUT, like I said, I will not allow it to define me or stop me from seeing the world.

Tusker Trail=Phenomenal Travel

One thing I haven’t mentioned to much of is the company I traveled to Africa with. Tusker Trail (Tusker) is a company that defines the ultimate travel experience.
I selected Tusker based on their background with wilderness medicine. Having a father who is a doctor meant that I needed to find a company that looked at the client as a person and more than a payday. If I were to get sick or needed medical attention in Tanzania, I wanted the comfort in knowing I would be well taken care of. Tusker fit the bill.
Another reason I went with Tusker is the fact that some companies will cancel treks if not enough people signed up. I didn’t want to take a chance on that. Tusker’s trips will go on, whether it is one trekker or more.
Now, having been on two Tusker trip and about to embark on my third, I can honestly say I feel more than just a client. I feel like family. From your initial kick-off call with one of the fabulous travel coordinators (shout out to Mel) to your guide on the trip, you will be taken care of. I do not ever feel hesitant when I send an email to ask a question.
In Africa, Urio and the porters took care of me when climbing Kilimanjaro. This past trip in Mongolia (posts to come about that trip soon), the owners of Tusker guided us (along with Dosjan, but I don’t want too say too much quite yet). Amy and Eddie Frank are amazing and caring people. I was offered riding lessons from Eddie and Amy made sure I had everything I needed to be comfortable (it was colder at night than expected). I’m going to Nepal in November to hike to Everest Base Camp with Tusker; Amy will be the guide then as well and I am sure I’ll have a wonderful experience there because of her guidance.
Tusker offers another trip to Bhutan and maybe one day I’ll do that one as well.
I encourage you to look Tusker up and explore their website because this post does not do the company justice.

Reflections on my journey to Africa

What can I say about Tanzania that hasn’t already been said? As I spent my day reliving this expedition today, I couldn’t help but feel my heart ache for this trip a bit. It was simply life changing…in more ways that one! I do have some things I want to address, though, regarding things I mentioned in my journal.
1. During my Kili climb, I wrote that it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I would like to add a correction to this. In the four years since my summit, I had to deal with some tough things at work (I still teach), including a death of a student that attended our school. Trying to comfort a 10 year old because she found out on the bus ride to school her friend died is not something I want to repeat. I will carry that child’s tears with me for a long time.
2. I did end up losing a few toenails, but it didn’t hurt like I thought it would. They sort of just became loose and fell off a few days upon my return. Within a month or so, all toenails grew back.
3. I mentioned getting bit by a tick…more on this later. See the future post regarding my journey of getting diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Not as exciting or adventurous as Africa, but still a doozy.
4. Near the end of my journal, I think it was the entry while I was waiting to go to the airport in Arusha, I wrote a “plan” for my life. Yeah, it didn’t really happen the way I had hoped.
* De-Crap: yes, I have parted ways with many material possessions. I still relapse and buy something I just had to have (but didn’t really have to have it), but over all, I’m doing good with the de-crap process.
* I said I’d continue to write. Yeah, didn’t really happen. I wrote in school for Writer’s Workshop (the framework for teaching writing to students). I realized today how much fun this creative process is. I think I’ll continue with it now that I have a few followers and since I still have to share some other trips (Mongolia, rock climbing, Alaska, Everest Base Camp).
* LSAT-um, nope.
* Apply to other jobs: yes, I did apply to a couple of other jobs, but nothing ever came of it. I wasn’t really qualified for any of them so I wasn’t hurt or shocked by it. I did go on and complete the requirements for me to get my Professional Teaching Certificate. I don’t mind teaching as much as I did then. I was going to a new school at the time and wasn’t happy about it. NOW, I continue to say teaching is not what I’ll do forever, but it’s cool for now. I have a special crew-that I work with and teach-and I don’t think it’s my time to leave that school quite yet. I recently told someone that I work at the school I do (Renaissance school-most students are on free and reduced lunch; it’s a tough school) because I need the kids just as much, if not more, as they need me. For now, I have a few more years of teaching in me…of course, that’s a whole other blog!
* Continue to pray: check. I don’t do it as often as I should, but I still talk to the big guy upstairs.
For anyone thinking about attempting Kilimanjaro, I say go for it. You’ll never know if you don’t try. Make sure you are prepared. Listen to your guides (I recommend Tusker Trail for anyone thinking of going…I’ll write another post on the fantasticness of Tusker and why I selected them). Keep smiling. Pole pole is the way to go up the mountain-basically go SLOW; it’s not a race up the mountain. And most importantly, enjoy every minute.
Safe Journeys!!

My last day in Africa-June 30, 2009

Last night, I was sitting at my dinner table waiting for my starter dish when the waiter asked if I had ever seen a bushbaby. I had not, but had been told they are a cross between a monkey and squirrel. The waiters feed bananas to three bushbabies nightly. He invited me over to the “Bushbaby platform” to feed one. He gave me a piece of banana (small slices still with its peel) and I held it out, praying the thing didn’t sink its teeth into me on accident. All was good, though. They are funny little creatures, actually. I laughed at their wide-eyed, curious faces.
Dinner was actually quite good. I had a goat cheese and spinach crostini for starter, kingfish with veggies and mash potatoes for the main course, and then a warm chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream for dessert. I believe Cipro wants to get back together, but I’ve decided to let him go. It’s my last day in Africa and I’m not going to take Cipro for a day or two.
I did finish Out of Africa. I feel totally connected with Blixen and perhaps I was her in a past life. I believe our thoughts were much the same about this beloved country.
For now, I believe I’ll take my borrowed book up to the infinity pool and sun for a bit. I’ll listen to the crashing waves and feel the soft breeze (though at times it does feel like a hurricane gust). Later on, I’ll prepare my luggage for my departure tomorrow.

Matemwe Bungalows, Zanzibar~June 29, 2009

View of my bed at Matemwe Bungalows

View of my bed at Matemwe Bungalows

The flight from Arusha to Zanzibar was terrifying! First, I was led to the wrong plane! Ooops! Then the right plane barely held 12 passengers. Yikes! You felt every move-up, down, side, zig, zag—for almost 2 hours! Upon arrival to the airport in Zanzibar, I had to get another Visa—not sure why since Zanzibar is still technically part of Tanzania, but oh well. Hakuna Matata (no worries-which seems to be my motto here).
I was able to spot my driver this time around! His name is Alliyah (not sure if that’s how you spell it). He drove me to Old Stone Town to meet my guide for the tour—a small Bantu by the name of Musa. He was a funny, short fellow. I only understood his “democratic” tour. I will admit, maybe I was tired, but I truly wasn’t felling Stone Town. The streets were piled with trash and women covered in veils only showing their eyes. People were trying to sell you stuff and the market was alive with noise and color. I am not sure I would visit or tour Stone Town again for another few years. The city doesn’t ready for tourism yet. Remember, though, I fully admit I was tired by the time I arrive in town and that may have affected my mood.
Alliyah picked me up and we drove through to the other side of the island. Along the way, he showed me the Zanzibar Ferrari—a donkey and cart. I asked what he called the cattle and cart—that’s a Zanzibar Land Rover 4 x 4.
While watching the scenery to my bungalow, I kept wondering if I hadn’t made a bad choice coming here. I was already homesick for the mainland (Tanzania). People didn’t wave, smile, yell Jambo like in my other African travels through Moshi, Arusha, and the safari. I was almost in tears, just praying that my lodging would be okay.
After driving over a sand and dirt road—Alliyah’s version of an African massage—for about 30 minutes, we pulled up to a sign for Matemwe Bungalows. Fatma came out and helped with my luggage. A short, plump girl, maybe of my age, introduced herself as Thabi. Alliyah told me he’d be picking me up on Wednesday at 1pm and then he left. An older, white, soft spoken woman, Rachel, also introduced herself. Later at dinner, Rachel informed me she was filling in for the manager while she was on holiday. She actually lives in Nairobi and checked on me during dinner last night and during lunch today.
Thabi, after signing in, handed me a coconut with a straw. De-lic-ious! I sipped as she gave me a tour. The view is amazing! All shades of blue and green intertwine to create the ocean’s color. Matemwe Bungalows really is a relaxing environment—one that believes in seclusion.
View from my veranda, Zanibar

View from my veranda, Zanibar

This morning, I slept in until 8ish and then moseyed to breakfast, walking through the bougainvillea trellis and past the infinity pool. The food is acceptable so far. It’s been a buffet and the waiters are nice, but there’s still a difference between here and the other places. I actually think I ate some octopus tentacles today at lunch in the seafood salad.
I also treated myself to a massage and facial. Maria has not gold, but platinum hands! For close to two hours I believe I was completely relaxed. While I was listening to the crashing waves, I realized something: I have been so completely happy since arriving in this country three weeks ago. I am truly sad to leave Tanzania and the people I have met.
I kept watching the landscape yesterday as I flew along with a tear in my eye. I have been changed forever because of this holiday. I’ve witnessed the wonders of God and nature. I’ve seen life and death. I’ve encountered human kindness. Most importantly, I believe I’ve found myself.
In “Amazing Grace”, the lines read:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
Well, I was lost and blind in a sense. Now, I am found and can see.
I’m already wondering when I can come back to Tanzania.
Africa is my home, and as I finish Out of Africa, I find myself sympathizing with Dineson. I’ve only been here for a short time, but she was here much much longer. As I read the last few pages where she leaves the Ngong Hills, I found myself blinking back the tears.
Could I move to Arusha or another part of the continent one day? I guess I will just have to explore more of Africa to truly know the answer to that question. But I always believe: Anything is possible.
Oh, all this thinking! I think I’ll just take a little snooze on my favorite hammock for now—feeling the breeze (or gusty winds), listening to the roar of the ocean as people walk the reef.

On the way to Zanzibar~June 28, 2009

Look who's waving goodbye as I fly to Zanzibar.

Look who’s waving goodbye as I fly to Zanzibar.

Waiting for flight to Zanzibar
Well, I do have too much luggage. My three bags (notice I have three bags versus the two originally brought) cost me $90 to bring along—cash only. I’m okay with this as my luggage make it to Zanzibar with me. I suppose I’ll have to pay when flying from Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam, too.
I can’t help it! I’ve been here for close to a month! And I’ve bought a lot of souvenirs. Seriously, I need to learn to live with less! Oh, and to buy less! It’s something I shall work on when I return to the US (I really just like saying “when I return to the US”). But in all fairness, I wanted to bring goodies back to family and friends to thank them for their support.
Lord, help me! I pray I have enough cash to last me through the next four/five days.
All meals at the hotel will now be placed on the credit card I guess. I’m really going to have to budget it now. Bummer.
I’ll survive somehow, I suppose, as I have up to now.
Note to self for next time: instead of flying out of DAR to US, fly from Arusha. That way, heavy luggage can be stored at the safari office! It’ll be better on the finances.

Arusha Coffee Lodge~June 27 & 28, 2009

Arusha Coffee Lodge

Arusha Coffee Lodge

June 27, 2009
This morning, Fred collected me from the lodge. It was horribly foggy on the rim and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared! The visibility was maybe 10 feet ahead of us; I found the experience a bit stressful. Thirty minutes later, the fog cleared—thank goodness! We could see where we were going!
Along the way, I asked a question about the Masaai way of life. Each village is comprised of numerous huts. I thought there was more than one family in each village due to the number of huts, but I was wrong. There is only one family unit per village. The family, as a whole, owns the cattle and goats. They also are on friendly terms with the villages close by.
We continued to drive back through the area surrounding Lake Manyara, Mto Mbu, and finally arrived back in Arusha. When we came to the outskirts of Arusha, I asked Fred if we could go to the Cultural Heritage Center again. I was still on the lookout for a few souvenirs and wanted to get it all taken care of before flying to Zanzibar tomorrow. The first time I was at the store, I saw a chess board and the pieces were African big cats. I thought it would be perfect for my brother. Okay, I admit it: I also wanted to get a few more things for myself!
As we drove through Arusha to the store and to pick up my luggage from the Hoopoe Safari main office, the streets were busier than before. People were, once again, filling the streets. The way Arusha lives and breathes is simply intoxicating.
The Arusha Coffee Lodge, my current lodge, is an actual working coffee plantation. The coffee bushes are lush and scattered about the plantation. I was greeted with a cold coffee beverage when I got out of the Rover and quickly shown to my room. It is hard to believe one can find a quiet, tranquil haven amongst this busy city. The rooms are basically small houses or cottages, reminiscent of plantation homes, split into two rooms—one on each side. The room consists of a small living area, a huge bathroom and then a sleeping area with a large fluffy bed. I immediately felt cozy and comfortable the moment I stepped into the room. Off the sitting area is a veranda overlooking coffee plants. Once again, I cannot help but think about Out of Africa and Baroness Blixen’s coffee plantation. I know why she was so content in Africa because I feel that way, too.
The bathroom, Arusha Coffee Lodge

The bathroom, Arusha Coffee Lodge

Sitting area, Arusha Coffee Lodge

Sitting area, Arusha Coffee Lodge

June 27, 2009
After I took in the serenity, I decided to bite the bullet and attempt to reorganize all my bags so I could fit my purchases into my luggage. It was a chore. I do believe I am coming back to America with more than I brought to Africa—keep in mind, one duffel bag was filled with books that were donated.
I then decided to make use of the first bathtub I saw on this holiday. I filled the tub with hot water and poured the coffee infused bath gel and salts into the water. My muscles thanked me by relaxing. All the bath items for my use here are infused with coffee; for example, the hand soap has an aroma of cappuccino.
I cannot wait until I go to dinner this evening! I think I may just treat myself to a good meal (of course I’ve had nothing but great meals since coming here). All my meals have been taken care of thus far and tonight I am supposedly paying for myself (according to the itinerary at least). I’m sure the food is to die for here; it looked delicious when I looked up the lodge online before my holiday departure.

June 28, 2009
I decided to wait in the lounge for my transportation, but as I do so, I am watching a group of men (and not in that way) of various backgrounds and ages (well, one does look like Maxim from Dancing With the Stars) preparing to embark on a climb up Kilimanjaro. Was it really less than two weeks ago that I left with the same anticipation and anxiousness about climbing the beast? I am smiling at their mannerisms, recognizing every nuance of the preparation nervousness. The jittery hands flailing about. Laughter. Randomly talking fast. Encouraging pats on the back. The nervous brow wiping. Did I look that way to the onlookers? I don’t think I had time to even do all that! At 8:30am, Faheem, Urio, and my “heros” met me—at 8:45am, we were off on the adventure!
I just heard one of the men say, “If we come back.” Of course, he was joking. I recall thinking the very same thing, only I wasn’t joking at the time!
Driving through Arusha yesterday, I saw glimpses of her peeking through gray clouds. I am of course referring to Kilimanjaro. When I first saw her upon my arrival in Tanzania, I can remember how frightening and intimidating she looked. Now, she looked tamable to me. The hard ridges have softened. I guess Kilimanjaro is like most wild animals, before taming, one can be uncontrollable, but after conquering, the animal becomes mild and docile. At this point, let me admit, that I am sure if I ever had the guts to climb that mountain again, I would go back to feeling intimidated by her immense strength.
While I have some time, here are some pointers for future travel to Africa:
1. Sports bras are a must due to the rocky, bumpy roads
2. Time doesn’t matter
3. Everyone expects a tip, though it is not required; they do go out of their way to earn that tip
4. Downsize the crap you bring
5. Comfortable shoes are the only way to go

Phrases to remember:
1. Hello=Jambo
2. Thank you (very much)=Asante (sana)
3. Welcome/Your Welcome (very much)=Karibu (sana)

Other places I’d like to go in Africa:
1. Rwanda to see gorillas
2. Victoria Falls
3. South Africa (especially Capetown and in the south tip to see penguins)
4. Namibia (and not because of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt)
5. Egypt
6. Botswana
7. Uganda jungles
8. Bits of the Sahara

I guess I also need to take the time to decide what to do about my future. I don’t want to teach. I believe some people were born to teach and I was not one of them. I admire those who can devote every second to teaching young minds and trying to formulate new approaches to presenting the information to the kids. Everyday this past year, I would go into the classrooms and see young teachers fulfilling their destinies. They were born for teaching, not me. I know I am in a rut; I’ve applied to two graduate programs and a publishing program; I haven’t gotten into any of them… I cannot seem to figure out why I keep getting rejected—wait, I take that back. Ten years ago, I was a student at LSU, well, I was enrolled at LSU, but I didn’t technically go to class. After being put on academic probation, my parents brought me home. When I finally decided to go back to school, I enrolled full-time and continued to work full-time in the front office of an elementary school. My GPA came back up, but I guess it just isn’t where Masters programs want it to be.
I know God has taken care of me my whole life—especially really good care this past month—so I know He’ll continue to have His hand on me as I make life decisions.
So, here is my life plan thus far:
• De-crap my life
• Teach for two more years and resign from the county when my temporary certificate expires
• I think I’ll continue to write, maybe even attempt at publication
• Look at undergraduate programs (Public Health, Public Administration)
• A few years ago, I thought about law school, but never followed through with anything. I will go ahead and take the LSAT because there is no harm in trying. If I do well, then I’ll apply to law school; if I don’t do so hot, ah, at least I gave it a shot.
• If I don’t go with the school option, then maybe I’ll just go ahead and apply for jobs at publishing house, non profits, government agencies.
• Continue to pray