How could I forget?

Yesterday, I realized how close I came to transforming back into a my past self. A self whose life revolved around my credit score and the cleanliness of my office desk. What I was like thirteen months ago.

Thirteen months ago, I embarked on a journey which took me through seven countries, three of which I called home. During this time, I witnessed poverty, death, post-colonialism, and racism. But I also experienced love, joy, friendship, and laughter, and I shared this with locals and expats, the rich and the poor, the black and the white.

It is a vast understatement and an injustice to these cultures to claim that I was “changed forever”; the truth is, I was ripped from my comfortable, western ideals and thrust into a conflicted understanding of life that I have yet to fully understand. I don’t really think I have the writing skills to explain the full range of emotions I worked through, but I suppose you understand.

I did attempt to convey these feelings to my readers, but the fact remains: how could I explain the vastness of emotion to an outsider, when the deepest of thoughts were barely understood by the active participants…namely, me.

In any case, I returned to America more wise and knowlegeable than ever before, intent on changing the world. I know, the thick layer of cliche smeared on that previous statement makes me want to cringe; I’m sure it wasn’t easier to swallow by my state-side friends and family. In their eyes, I left as a normal college graduate and returned with nothing but two bags of dirty, hole-ridden clothing and, thanks to my housing in Madagascar, a weird phobia of rats.

As the months passed, I worked tirelessly on my two African-themed novels (still a work in progress, by the way); reliving snapshots of my past over and over again. Reminding myself of why I was driven to write these books in the first place…to show what I had not been able to tell. To write, free of censorship, and imbue people with a sense of wonder for the world and a feeling of global civic duty.

Writing late into the night, I would think in French, breathe African air, and yearn to be back in Malabo, side-stepping potholes to visit with friends and lunching on plantains and chicken. But dreams don’t pay the bills, and so I accepted a fantastic job offer. A massive career boost, the wave of which carried me away from Africa and back into America. Not that America is bad. I love it here.

But I forgot. I forgot what it was like in Africa. I forgot all the lessons I had learned.

And then, I watched the movie “Biutiful”. I had no idea I was signing up for a 148 minute heart wrenching, soul beating, journey where I would see harsh reminders of the friends I left behind. The movie, which touches on everything from gay relationships to illegal African workers in Mexico, prostitution, cancer, child abuse, and alcoholism, is an expertly crafted piece of film history that is nothing short of miraculous.

A club scene filled with prostitutes and rich expats echoed of Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. A police chase and subsequent story-line involving illegal Senegalese workers reminded me of the Africans hawking goods just a few minutes from my home in Paris, France. The dialogue between the main, cancer-ridden character and an inept nurse holding a possibly contaminated needle tugged at my heart and I remembered the deplorable health care in Equatorial Guinea, and my five week illness in Madagascar.

Driving home, I was strangely quiet. I couldn’t stop thinking about why I’d traveled in the first place, and moreover, why I’d ever stopped. Obviously travel takes money, money takes work, and well-paid work appeared in America; but, why did I stop remembering Africa, why did I stop reading travel blogs, or stop seeking out like-minded friends?

The answer? I think I felt a little stupid talking about something that so few people could relate to. And so I just stopped! I re-focused my energies on thoughts that other people could understand, and lost track of a part of myself which was only just developing.

So, here I am. I’m back…I’m really back. I started writing this travel blog two years ago, so that I could connect with like-minded individuals intent of traveling the world. On helping the world. On opening lines of communication between cultures to facilitate understanding and cross-cultural interest. And now…I’ve made a full 360, and I’m back for more.

I’m sorry I’ve been gone for so long. I just needed a reminder of what I was missing, and why I left in the first place.

Hello from South Africa :-)

Hello people of the blogosphere!

Just an update on how my life is going. I got to South Africa a few days ago and have settled in nicely at the research outpost on the Loskop Dam Reserve, where I’m working as an assistant for a study on the local vervet monkey population.

Living on the reserve is pretty freakin’ cool, if I say so myself. As researchers, we get to visit off-limits areas of the reserve, which includes hiking off the beaten path (well, there are beaten paths…well-trodden animal paths) and driving on service roads. The whole area looks amazingly beautiful; red, rolling hills sporadically dotted with shrubs and trees.

Driving down the road we see so much game; giraffes, zebra, antelopes, baboons, monkeys, wildebeests, and a lot of other animals I don’t even know yet. Hiking through the undergrowth is amazing; especially when I realized that I was standing in the middle of a dried out Rhino mud pit. If you must know, I totally freaked out when I saw my first giraffe and my first (and only) zebra – not too embarrassing though…I’m working on keeping my cool in these situations J

I also “met” Zazu from the Lion King; well, I at least have a resident bird exactly like him that hangs out by my cabin. I’m still waiting to see the crocs, hippos, and white rhino; keep your fingers crossed for me!

The people here are also extremely friendly. Right off the bat I noticed that the apartheid isn’t as forgotten as we Americans would tend to think; social integration and black empowerment are popular topics of conversation and opinions are like a certain body part – everyone has one. This is not necessarily negative, just completely unexpected. I have to admit that I was naïve enough to actually think that the end of the apartheid in 1994 actually meant that it must have ended in the people’s minds; one more lesson I’ve learned.

It’s been difficult basically jumping from one job to the next. I do miss my friends and family back home, not to mention the people I befriended while I was in the Bioko rainforest. Hardest of all is the continuing saga of finding internet and getting phone contact. In Equatorial Guinea I basically ran out of time to get a cell phone; here I finally have a cell phone but the charger to it doesn’t work, so I’m still without reliable a phone…three weeks after I first started to get one organized. As for the internet, it’s capped here; meaning, we have wireless, but as a camp, we only get a certain amount per month before we don’t get anymore. So I find myself rushing online, checking one or two things, and then getting off as fast as I can. Sorry…no more picture uploads of my trip until I leave this part of the job. It’s funny how even though I was without internet for three months, and now only have the bare minimum, that I can still get lots of information out to you guys!

Anyway, I’m not feeling homesick; just missing the act of having long conversations with people back home. It is strange to not have the traditional network of people around me. I am still not used to completely relying on myself to keep my spirit high. Whenever I feel at all down, I just think about how awesome my opportunities are, and that gets me through the moodiness.

Alrighty – that’s it for now! More stuff coming your way soon J

The Bubis of Bioko Island: Not body parts…people.

Just a quick post to let you guys know about a great, great resource that’s available on the web. If you are interested in knowing more about the indigenous culture and people on Bioko Island, definitely check out The Bubis on Fernando Po. The website offers a complete online copy of the writings of Father Antonio Aymemi (a missionary on Bioko Island from 1894 to 1942) and his interactions with the Bubi tribe (pronounced like two round, female, body parts), which  are the indigenous people of this island (where I am currently living and working).

I learned about this resource from an exhibition team-member, who is a journalist-turned-anthropologist interested in doing her research on this tribe. She first learned about the Bubis when she was on assignment, and this initial contact propelled her to translate Father Antonio Aymemi’s book, and focus her Master’s thesis on the interactions of the Bubi people with foreigners.

Anyway, for those of you interested, her website (www.thebubis.com) has a free copy of the book, and is a great read. I’m sure she would appreciate any emails (questions, comments, thoughts, etc.) – right now she jokes that most of her internet traffic is probably the result of thirteen year-old boys on the search for more scandalous material :-)

Preparing for Adventure.

The logistics of preparing a long-term expedition are not a cake-walk. The people organizing the BBPP expedition have spent days trying to organize porters (from a nearby village), spent hours trying to barter and order food and replacement parts, organize volunteers, and figure out paperwork and identification passes for each volunteer. Overall, the BBPP and its employees are preparing for a twenty-person, two-week RAVE expedition, and then a handful of us (four volunteers) are staying an additional two months. In addition to each of these volunteers needing to be fed and house, the porters and the graduate students also need adequate supplies. Needless to say, it’s amazing to watch and I’m thanking my lucky stars that I’m not the one using broken Spanish and hand signals to get this undertaking put together.

Just to give you an idea of the large amount of food that the porters will have to carry up a steep mountain side – think 250 kilos of rice, 150 kilos of beans, 15 kilos of sugar, 30+ tents, 20 sleeping mats, boxes and boxes of tomatoes, and two HUGE bags of onions (50 kilos each). That’s not even the entire food supply; Drew (my direct boss) has to go into town at least one more time to get another load.

It’s amazing the kind of the effort and man power that goes into making this expedition a reality. Every piece of toilet paper, every tent, and every person needs to climb (or be carried) up the mountain side. Aside from water (which is purified using a filter and iodine tablets), every single piece of clothing and equipment is carried up with us.

Fortunatly, I heeded to BBPP’s advice about packing light…for those of you who read the post about my packing list, I’m literally only carrying the bear essentials. Some are taking even less than me; another volunteer has claimed to be able to pack all of his belongings into a large daypack…we’ll see about that though :-)