And finally, a little perspective

While making lunch today, I decided it was well past time to eat the watermelon I bought ages ago, and began to slice it up for salad. It really has been ages, in watermelon years. At least two weeks, maybe more. So predictably, it was a little grainy.

I took a taste. Not crisp. Not perfect. “Ugh,” was my first thought. “Waited too long. This has got to go.”

Wait. What? Before dumping the whole thing into the green bin, I stopped for a second to consider. I ate watermelons in worse condition than that while in Tanzania and was grateful for the fresh fruit. (Hell, I picket weevils out of my bread before putting it in the toaster, and never thought twice about it.) What was suddenly so wrong with it? Nothing – except my knowledge that there were plenty of fresher, tastier watermelons at any of the four supermarkets within a five-minute drive of my house.

the watermelon as a metaphor for my life

There is nothing wrong with this watermelon. Just like there is nothing wrong with me. This is as close as I get to writing in metaphors. (If you want poetry you've got the wrong blog.)

And in that instance, it occurred to me that I have now fully adjusted to being home.

Now really, in the scheme of things, I was not away that long. The adjustment should not have taken four weeks. But within my five days to “rest and relax” when I arrived, there were two people moving into and one person moving out of my home. And I was dealing with a jet lag from the seven-hour time difference. Then I was back to work, and among my usual job description, planning to host a national committee for a series of meetings, as well as a focus-group (of sorts) for my Masters research.

So I was busy. I was not reflecting*. I was completely incapable of intelligently answering any questions about the trip. I could spit out an “It was incredible” or an “I’m so glad I took the time to do that” when prompted, but all those probing questions: was it what you expected? what id you learn? what was the best/worst part? I was useless.

Until now. The meetings are over. The focus group a success. I am extremely pleased with my new house-mate and our living arrangements. I am no longer falling into bed at night utterly exhausted. I am able to think, to consider, to analyze.

What did I learn on my trip? A lot. Too much to cover in one blog post. But in summary, I learned what I can do. I overcame my fear of heights and my claustrophobia – even if only temporarily. I rediscovered my independence, suddenly living in a place where neither my husband nor my big sister were there to pick up after me.

Most of all, I regained a confidence in myself I hadn’t ever realized I had lost. Because I didn’t get sick. Not even a little. Everyone gets sick in Africa, at least once. Even the most well-travelled and hearty of my friends told me it was unavoidable. As someone with a rather traumatic health history**, and serious vulnerability to any of various stomach bugs I had been warned about, this was a fear that had paralyzed me for years. I wasn’t entirely convinced I had a right to take this risk. I dreaded the moment I would call my Dad, delirious, dehydrated, and desperate to get home. I really thought my body was going to defeat me on this one. But it did not. Not even when I ate the soft watermelon.

So what did I learn in Africa? Enough of the worrying. Stop wasting time and energy on things you can’t control that aren’t really problems anyway. Stop wasting food! Eat your damn watermelon. It’s good for you.

*As an Adult Education & Community Development Masters candidate, I read a lot about the importance of reflection. For the first 3.5 years of my program, I dismissed it as touchy-feely bullshit. I have recently discovered it is actually quite helpful.
**For the record – I am perfectly healthy. I have Crohn’s disease. I hasn’t bothered me in more than five years. But for a number of years it was… not good.

10 things I learned on safari

Safari is over. This makes me really sad. Seven amazing days visiting the parks of northern Tanzania. I cannot recommend it enough.

Now, my bachelor’s degree is in biology. My thesis was in behavioural ecology. (Behavioural ecology of Sable Island seals, not Serengeti lions, but still, there is a point here.)

I have dreamt of going on safari for many, many years. There were things I wanted very much to see. And I believed my background made me the perfect safari tourist. Educated and curious. However, as it turned out I still had much to learn.

In no particular order, here are ten things I learned while on safari:

1. Zebras have bad backs.

Zebras, resting on each others poor backs

Which is apparently one of the primary reasons they were never domesticated like other horse-like species. It has been tried, but they can neither carry a load nor a rider. Also, I believe they may be too stubborn to take orders anyway. Good on you, zebras.

2.Giraffes are much better camouflaged than I ever gave them credit for.

You might not think it by looking at them out in the open, but they blend incredibly well into the trees. Numerous times we were almost on top of them before we saw them. Sneaky buggers.

3. Lions are surprisingly lazy.

Particularly the males. At least the lionesses hunt now and then.

Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise. They are cats, after all. But they sleep and sleep and sleep. All a girl wants is a picture. Stand up. Pose. Roar. Just once. Pretty please?

4. I never want to lose a fight with an elephant.

this big guy just kept coming closer...

OK, maybe I knew this before safari, too. But boy was it confirmed. From a distance they appear peaceful, even graceful, despite their girth. But then two elder males get between your jeep and the young, and stare you down. And you notice just how big they are. And you hope they are not angry.

5. Leopards climb trees.

Note taken. Will devise a new escape plan.

6. Hippos stink.

Literally, not figuratively. If you can get past the smell, or just hold your breath, they are interesting enough. But phew! The stink. “Water pigs,” D was calling them. They play around in stagnant water. Splashing and swimming. Fighting and playing. Not to mention urinating and defecating. Ick.

We did get to see one swim, though, and can they ever move. Again, very surprised.

7. Crocodiles are bigger than I ever imagined.

Biggest croc I have ever seen - or imagined

In theory I knew a croc could be much bigger than those I had seen to date, but there is something about actually seeing a large croc that gives me shivers just remembering it. He was in excess of three meters long, and must have been ¾ meter across. He could have eaten me for lunch, and still wanted dessert. We actually saw crocs that had killed two gazelles. Madness.

7. It takes six lions about 45 minutes to devour one zebra.

Actually six mature lions would probably do it in half that time. This was one lioness, 3 young males, and two cubs. From killing to a shell of skin and bones in 45 minutes. It was fascinating to watch. (Perhaps what I really learned from this is I have a very twisted sense of “entertainment.” Poor zebra never hurt nobody.)

8. Cats are awesome.

They really are. All of them. I could watch them for hours. And takes hundreds of photos. Hundreds.

pretty kitty

9. Wildebeests are sexy.

Don’t laugh. OK, laugh. I don’t care. They are. All sleek and lean and shaggy and awkward and, well…  horny. Enough said.

What a sexy beast

10. Africa has the best birds ever.

The colours, the sizes, and even the names. Beautiful. Creative. Funny.

Oh, yes. And the 11th thing I learned on safari: Bring toilet paper. And be prepared to squat. Cause this might be the best toilet you get.

Sometimes, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do...