Thursday, December 13, 2012

family traditions

I'm getting ready to go home, to be home for a while.  And, while I pack and prepare to get on another couple of planes and lose a couple days of my life to airport limbo, I've been thinking about my heritage.

As an American, I identify with precious little else.  I've got some English/Scottish and a bunch of Eastern European block countries in my background somewhere, but I could not tell you where my ancestors came from.  I think I've got some German?  But I only think that because of how thoroughly I was taught to scrub things clean.  And I may have made up the Scottish heritage entirely, as I can't really abide the bagpipes.  So, I'm a American.  An American mutt, from the East Coast, right outside the Capitol, if anyone's asking, but mostly, staunchly American.

I've grown up very proud of that, and I've grown even more attached to it as an expat.  Americans are wanderers... or at least my Americans have been.  My family, whoever they are, wherever they come from, they have always been wanderers.

My great-grandmother, a Heil, lived in Baltimore long before I got there.  She held railroad stock, fiercely independent woman that she was.  And my grandmother Helen used to be walking through the streets of Irvington, a place none of us are likely to ever get back to, and would catch of glimpse of her mom on the train, going anywhere, reading the newspaper.

My grandfather was active-duty military for most of his life and each of his children were born in different states (and one in a different country)!  Not even the world was a big enough adventure for him.  He needed to see heaven too.

My aunt Carmen, who died just a few years ago, was a feisty old woman, whose walking club offered a farewell hike after her wake.  She told me a story once about being in a South American country during a political coup.  The tour guides packed all the visitors into a church until the fighting was over and then began making arrangements to send everyone home.  Carmen marched up to the folks in charge and asked "when will we go back out there and see it?"  The guides told her that she'd be on a plane shortly.  She asked why?  All the good stuff was still waiting for her, probably made better for the excitement.

My parents took a roadtrip around the country for their honeymoon.  My brother and I have our fond roadtrip memories, as children.  We've seen the United States from the ground.

I hold this heritage inside of me, so deeply that decisions made in this vein - running away to the beach, new-city adventures, strolling by myself through a park, solo roadtrips much longer than normal people would commit to - these aren't questioned, they are assumed.  Of course.  The people who have come before me have led me to these experiences, they followed this path first, to the wanderlust of my life.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

the holiday spirit

LOOK AT THIS! A garland that Elisabeth bought in Honduras almost a year ago and then bestowed on me without really understanding why she bought it FITS PERFECTLY above the mosquito net in my bedroom, making my (small) contribution to holiday decorating complete this year.

Tiny bits and pieces regularly reinforce that I am where I belong. Africa isn't home, but nonetheless, I am supposed to be here now. With my South American Christmas decorations and the ninety degree weather and the online ordering that defaults to Tanzanian shipping. Regardless, there are cookies (biscuits) baked by the neighbors, the best ever Vince Guaraldi piping through my computer, and an employee running around with a Santa cap and his normal neon orange jumpsuit. (Listen, I know it sounds like a prison, but it's hard to see people underground unless you stand out! And you want to seen underground.)

As a bonus, even nature gets decked out for Christmas in Africa.  I left my office the other night, under threat of rain, and found a rainbow.  Potentially the only rainbow that I will ever see that actually ends in gold. : ) Liz may be in Ireland, but I must have stolen the leprechaun!


Saturday, December 1, 2012

rainy season

We've having a hell of a time with lizards in the rainy season. Both Vitaliy and Janet have had lizards land on them while coming in the front door of the office, so we've taken to swinging the door wide and pausing to check for falling lizards. This is the craziness.

I feel responsible for this actually because I reported in an email to my little sister earlier this week that we needed more lizards to deal with the influx of very big bugs. Noting also that I have seem to have become accustomed to this way of life... I'm not even going to bother with spray or traps or a swatter. What I need is a lizard.

More on these very big bugs. They have arrived in force within the four walls of any building since the rainy season has begun, and I'm trying very hard to ignore them. They like to play dead and then jump up when you get close, which let me tell you is both really obnoxious and quite hard to ignore. There was a giant spider (the size of my hand, friends) which had stationed itself directly beside our front door, maybe three feet from the keyhole. This is not far enough away. I was taking a deep breath and ignoring it while unlocking the door, with the "I am bigger" mantra playing in my head, hoping that as long as I didn't make eye contact with it, it would be as good as dead. Janet took this monster on, by blowing on it until it moved away. During that exchange, I went to the other side of the office and pretended I didn't notice anything at all was happening.

It's so hot, a lot of things just stay still until their energy is needed... and then they POUNCE. I am glad that I learned this lesson a long time ago in the Blue Ridge Mountains... and that the moment before I learned it was slightly more traumatizing than the moment itself.

When the lizard fell on Janet, she managed to shake it off quickly, but it remained in our little vestibule, terrorizing us simply with its presence. I wrangled this seven foot lizard with a broom! (I felt I owed her for dealing with the spider.) Oh, did I say foot? I didn't mean foot, I meant inch. But it was a serious attack all the same, involving said broom, and a door, and some flailing and waving, and only a little shriek.

So I had to swat the lizard from the screen door, unfortunately causing it to run in my direction, instead of out the doorway.  I commenced to pushing it toward the doorway, complete with the door that doesn't stay open, so I was simultaneously pushing the door hard with the broom to let it swing wide and then pushing the lizard with the broom so that it didn't get me. As this lizard was bigger than the usual ones that run along the walls (though not as large as originally noted), it didn't move as fast as those guys and so I was able to push it out the door.  Of course, the lizard then showed great interest in the broom as perhaps something edible and I had to shake the broom vigorously to dislodge it. We stared each other down after that, but he eventually received the "I am bigger" message and wriggled off.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

new developments

It's been a busy couple of weeks, with a quick trip home and lots of catch-up once returning, and more to do in the next couple of weeks than time might allow (but I'm always up for a challenge).  To keep everyone up to date...

I've created a rapport with some of the guys here, and made some friends with a few of the ladies... it feels like I'm becoming the sweetheart of the mine site (hey, I'll take it, but I'd prefer internet). I also was informed of the LIBRARY. Shut up, there's a library. I haven't seen it yet, but it exists. And that's enough for now. Though, again, lest it be forgotten, I'd also like reliable internet. Coming back wasn't easy, but it was nice to reconnect with some of the folks here. Soon, I may even miss them when I'm away.

I was finally issued a Tanzanian cell phone. Of course, I received it two days before I got on a plane to come back to America, the most perfectly reasonable time to get me a phone that works in Africa. Anyway, I'm issued a Tanzanian cell phone with an icon menu much more challenging that my fancy iPhone (now reduced to a $400 alarm clock) and instructions in Swahili. It also has no balance on it, so I can't actually make phone calls or send text messages. Rebecca called after my triumphant I-have-a-phone email AND GUESS WHAT THE RINGTONE IS?! Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." Let me repeat that. The default ringtone on my Tanzanian cell phone is half a step away from legitimate sexual harassment. Elisabeth has suggested that I switch it to "In the Jungle."

I arrived back to the mine site and found a giant sparrow's nest in the cornice on the front of our house and bats (lots of them) living in the roof of our office. So far, I'm doing my best to ignore them and they are ignoring me, but the encroaching wildlife is growing larger. No longer is it just bugs the size of birds, but actual birds and small mammals sharing my space. The monkeys also are becoming bolder, playing closer to the office. One was hopping up to hang onto the window sill and stare at me... which is either awesome or creepy. On my return home, my father informed me that he had been bitten by a monkey as a child (I can't wait to hear the WHOLE story of this and an explanation of why none of my family has heard it sooner, but we're saving it for Christmas). I'm not feeling so friendly towards the little monsters anymore.

The best surprise since I've been back was being invited to dinner by the couple next door, Kathy and Vick. I went over last Wednesday night and she'd made chicken dinner... but with stuffing and carrots and white wine and potatoes and people who are willing to treat me like family. It felt almost like Thanksgiving, which was sweet and inadvertent, as no one but Americans celebrate that holiday. Though, as a typical American, I think everyone should... I know that there were pilgrims and such... maybe not everyone has access to turkey... but it seems like an obviously good plan to globalize Thanksgiving.

Thank God for you all.  : )

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

this is a vegetable

My friend Lydia is teaching me Swahili.  She is also helping me do nearly everything else.  It is thanks to Lydia that I am able to make phone calls and send emails.  She's reactivated my security card twice and organized my flights home and back.  She has let me borrow her bicycle, though it was too big for me.  She will only print for me if I ask her to do so in Swahili, but I think it's a fair exchange as I must ask her to print something for me twice a day, on average.

Lydia has also outfitted me with a hard hat and safety glasses.  She has tried her best to also get me steel toed boots and a bright orange "Bulyanhulu" shirt.  The boots are a full-size too small, but I don't mention it.  She brought me a swath of fabric and suggested we make a shirt out of it.  When I asked her how, exactly, she told me she'd take me into the village and we'd have one made there.

She's gotten us drinks and lunch.  She has cooked us land nuts.  She comes by our little office to make sure we're getting along okay.

I love her, even if we don't always understand one another.  She's constantly explaining something to me, very patiently.  I'm sure I'm giving her a blank stare on a regular basis.  Sometimes it's because I don't understand the words she's using.  Sometimes it's because I don't understand why one would microwave peanuts.  Sometimes it's because I don't know why the warehouse doesn't have six 6 work boots or size M work shirt.

Today it was because she was holding a grasshopper.  These three or four inch bright green guys showed up as soon as (the real) rainy season started here.  They are beautiful.  Saturated lime green and translucent, with bony little legs and wings.  They get eaten almost immediately.  I've seen at least three carried off by birds and I'm not sure whether it's because they are so noticeable or because we have an abundance of birds on the mine site.

Anyway, greeting Lydia the other morning ("mambo"), she's holding one of these bright green bugs.  I'm ignoring her, as it's clear than giant African bugs and I are not getting along, no matter how pretty they are.  But she holds it out to me, as it's crawling over her hand.  I say, "Yes, I saw a bunch of them this morning on my way in."  Very excited, she'd like to know where.  So I point back in the direction of the little schoolhouse, a little confused, but not for the first time.  And she explains, "We eat these."  "Those?" I ask.  Yes, she's nodding.  "Do you cook them?" I'm certain my face is giving me away.  "Fried."  "Oh, so they crisp up?" I try for clarification.  "Yes, very crispy.  Very tasty." She's clearly thrilled and I'm not sure she won't just pop that live thing into her mouth.  I'm still making faces, I can tell.  I turn away, so not to truly offend her, because I love Lydia and if she loves eating grasshoppers, then who am I to say otherwise.  She didn't ask me to eat one (not yet).

I'm walking away, to begin a meeting, and she laughs a little.  Very sensibly, as if commenting on the weather... "This is a vegetable."  I'm sure I paused a moment, but then we laughed together.  Of course.  A flying vegetable.

Later that day we saw another giant African bug, with pinchers at least an inch long.  And I stopped and squealed at Lydia. "What is that?!"  And she shrugs, "I don't know.  A bug."  And, not being sure of anything anymore, I ask if she eats that too.  And she gives me sharp look, "No. We kill these."  And she stomps it.

Friday, November 2, 2012


I am really terrible at killing mosquitoes.  You'd think that I'd be better, considering I've been clapping at them for a solid month now, but I'm not.  I'm still miserable at getting them.  Now and again I'll get one, but I've heard that there is an illusion of improvement right after the area's been sprayed.  Just my luck.

Regardless, thankfully, I don't have malaria.  I'm taking pills and bathing in bug juice and there is fogging around the camp three times a week, but the people-who-know suggest you get a malaria test every two weeks.  I went a full month of being in Tanzania before they caught me (I don't much like doctors or clinics), but I have had my first malaria test and it is negative.

It is worth noting that once you detour through the security compound and travel along a barbed wire fence through the secret passage to the clinic, it is actually a good time.   No one comes to the clinic for a headache - there's a serious issue by the time you get to the clinic.  There was someone in physical therapy outside the front doors, re-learning how to walk.  A fair number of foot and toe injuries.  I also saw a guy with big black open blistery wounds on his swollen legs - yikes!  Now, I just require a finger prick and I made an appointment, so... apparently none of what is going on in the waiting room is an emergency and I am passed right on back.

The doctor is very happy that I have come in for my malaria test and the lab technician, an old man named Wilfred dressed in burgundy scrubs, is also quite happy to see me.  I'm not sure if this is because I am a pleasant person or I'm the least of their worries today (black wounds, man, that is a problem!) or because my attempts at Swahili are so funny.  Wilfred calls me "mami" the whole time, which means I love him.  Also, the finger prick is the lightest thing I've ever felt.  I actually asked Wilfred if he missed me, which only made him like me more.  Wilfred, in fact, is the person most amused by me since I got here.  As I was wondering if I was only being humored back in the States, I am pleased to find that I can truly be entertaining.  After the finger prick, I asked if I could sit and watch my malaria test "change color."  I thought that meant it was like a litmus test, but it's more like a pregnancy test (at least the way pregnancy tests work on commercials.  I don't have first hand knowledge of this.)  Wilfred talked me through the specifics of the superficial malaria test - which lines mean what, what happens if it's invalid, the whole nine.

Then there was the second round of testing, which involved a microscope and which I was not involved in.  All the same, no malaria.

Malaria, by the way, is apparently unmistakable.  The symptoms are discussed as "flu-like," but anyone who has had malaria said it is definitely not like anything normal... you feel like you are DYING.  Vitaliy believes he has malaria twice a week on average.  He's tried to diagnose me with malaria at least half a dozen times since we arrived.  Neither of us have malaria.  No one in camp has malaria.  We will not get malaria.

But we will get tested for it every two weeks.  I'll be going just to visit Wilfred.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

excitement! adventure!

I've struck gold!  Okay, not really.  But I toured the processing plant last week, which was incredible.  It's a grown-up jungle gym, with chemicals and machinery.  It's real-to-life alchemy, turning rocks without visible gold into iridescent bubbles rich with minerals - gold and copper.  I loved it.  Learning an entirely new technical genre is amazing.  I wonder who and when someone pondered through the process... what it was like for him or her and if they experienced anything like the excitement that I do when I'm learning about it.

So, there we go.  Some real live mining stuff.  In case you weren't sure that I wasn't on safari in Africa, what with the mostly animal discussions.

Also, it's tough to be an advisor.  While I am part of a team here, I'm an outsider.  The core team, the heads of their departments, the management team... they comprise the serious get-it-done work.  When something goes wrong, I get out of the way.  They know how to fix it and they should be fixing it.  I advise, I coach, I listen, I help them work through what they are thinking.  But I can't jump in and do it.  That's been an adjustment.  I want to get my hands dirty, you know?

Also, we went to Mwanza this weekend.  Flying never gets old for me.  It's just fun to do something that you know you weren't made to do.  Lift off and soar.  I got some decent shots of Lake Victoria, being prepared this time around.  (Next time I'll get you all some shots of the mine.)  It was a little bit stormy, but the clouds made the lake look silky, glossy, and flat.  It was beautiful.  Also, I saw lightning from a plane, another first for me.

We met at the Gold Crest, which was a nice enough hotel.  Just nice enough though.  The impression it gives is of a nice hotel, but the details are a bit lost.  The wireless access didn't really work.  My bed was a queen-size mattress placed on a king-sized boxspring.  That sort of thing.  Almost a nice hotel.  Situated directly next to the loudest club in town.  You could hear it through the walls.  Quite the experience.  BUT the meeting we held together was very productive and the dinner that night was phenomenal.  A little restaurant on Lake Victoria with a great view and even better dessert (fried bananas and ice cream, yum).

Also in Mwanza, they parade newlyweds through the streets with horns and drums.  The couple stands in the bed of a decorated pickup (streamers, flowers) with a few trumpets or a drummer and they are driven around and around the circle in the center of Mwanza.  It's the greatest thing ever.  All activity has to stop because you can't hear yourself speak over the noise.  The attention too is fantastic.  Everyone looks and cheers.  It's a tradition I approve of... translated to my American way of life, it feels a lot like noisemakers and commotion.  Nakupenda (I love it)!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

crazy awful giant monster flying african bug

I went to my office this morning at 4 am.  All inky black African darkness outside and strange stars.  I'd been awake for an hour and a half.  When I couldn't get back to sleep, I decided that tossing and turning was not going to do me any good, so I may as well just start the day.

Because I was in the office, I did get to straighten my hair in a mirror this morning (ah, the little things).  My bathroom in Africa doesn't have a plug in it and my bedroom doesn't have a mirror in it, so I've either been using my computer camera as an ad hoc mirror or I've been doing it blind and hoping for the best.  My office bathroom has a plug in it though, so cheers.

Also because I was in the office at an ungodly hour and no good every comes of that, I was attacked, by both mosQUEEtos that kept regenerating (honestly, I swear I clapped some that sprung right back up after just being stunned)... AND this bug.

I was Skyping (at something like 5 am) with Nick when that bug came in through a hole in the window screen (right behind my desk) and I was screeching.  It's a really loud bug - it sounds like a helicopter (no really), I've seen them before (or I thought I had), so when it started buzzing at the screen, I started telling Nick about it.  And, now, in the wild, they are totally interesting because they aren't bouncing around at the light directly overhead, they are just loud flying things way above my head, so all was fun and games.  And I'd even noticed the hole and been like, eh, there's no way it'll come in... and then suddenly I was screaming.  Holy crap!  It's inside, and I was running around my fairly sizable office, and still yelling to the Skype and hiding under my desk at some point.  It was ridiculous.  Then it disappeared, but obviously didn't get out... and that was worse for a while.  I was throwing a roll of toilet paper (this is all I could find that I was willing to sacrifice, there not being many extra supplies here in the wilderness of Africa) at anything that the bug might be hiding in or near (this is a shocking amount of things to hold your breath and chuck a toilet paper roll at, even in my fairly sparse office).  Eventually I found it on top of this electrical box and was able to get a photo, a number of them in fact.  I'm pretty sure it's dead and I almost wanted to try and move it, so that I could better photograph it, but decided not to chance such a thing.

So, post-photo op, I'm googling to try and figure out what this thing is, because of course Nick thinks I'm just afraid of nothing, and that two-inch bug (okay, so maybe inch-and-a-half, but seriously, a monster) is NOT nothing.  To identify it, I made the mistake of googling giant African bugs, which was a terrible horrible mistake (I don't suggest trying it, not even to understand more completely what I mean.  Just use your imagination.  You'll come close enough).  So then I changed it to giant African flying bug.  I think it might be a carpenter bee, but then I was distracted for the second time that morning by the hole in the screen of my window...

... by an incredible sunrise. So, I grab my keys and take off running.  Like the office is on fire.  No one runs in Africa.  I don't know why, but I haven't seen anyone even move quickly here and it's 6:15 in the morning and I am booking it, in the most professional outfit I brought out here mind you (I'm wearing a jacket today, no joke), to the sunrise.  I'm pretty sure that everyone working next door is concerned about me, which is only if they didn't hear the "I f'n hate Africa!" comment while ducking to avoid a giant flying buzzing African bug.  Otherwise, they think I'm completely crazy already.

And I took pictures that don't do it justice.  I said a little prayer (RWE) and curtsied to the Creator and then went back to work.

Maybe two hours later, the giant African bee bug came back to life and started buzzing around again for a good 15 minutes until someone came to my rescue, told me they'd been dealing with these things all their life, and after being unable to successfully catch it WITH HIS HANDS (what?!), trapped it in our garbage can and set it free outside.  Also, this dude's name is Spy.  How awesome is that?


So I'm walking home to grab my trusty duct tape-and-leatherman combo that Jak insisted I have so that I can patch up the hole that the nasty bug came through in the first place and I wave at one of the cleaning ladies.  She's carrying a mop and a bucket, so she needs to put down the bucket to wave back, but she isn't close and it's just a sweet moment.  Anyway, she calls to me as I'm almost past her and asks me in I live in House 2.  Which I do.  And she's the one who has left me flowers and the swan sculpture of towels on my bed.  Not every day, but now and again.  And I leave Asante Sana notes (thank you) and flowers about laundry and fixing my water pot and whatever else.  So, she's all excited and I'm excited and we're not really speaking to each other because I speak English and she speaks Swahili, but for some reason we both end up nearly crying and we're hugging like crazy.  So I grab her hand and ask her what her name is... and it's Elizabeth, which she says "Lizbet."  And I'm even more excited now, and we're still holding hands, and I explain that it's my sister's name and so we too are sisters.  Goodness.  I managed to hold it together for a couple more hugs and walking away, I had the biggest smile on my face.

All in all, there's nothing like a good scare, a good sunrise, a good talk, and a leatherman and a roll of duct tape to make all right with the world.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

what I do on my day off

I've told some of you... I work a lot here.  Mining hours are 24/7, and my hours have become 7 am - 7 pm, six days a week.  And everyone knows just how pretty I am at 7 am.  But, I love the work and I love Africa, so I don't mind that my time here, right now, is mostly work.  Also, the mine site is miles and miles (kilometers here, and frankly I haven't a working conversion-in-head go-to standard yet, though I change dollars for Tschillings like no one's business, so anyway, I'm still measuring in miles)... miles and miles from anything.  So really going exploring is a plane ride and two days. Today was my first full day off.  I looked forward to it.  Mostly because I got to sleep in.

I borrowed a bike from Lydia, who is currently acting as the assistant to the General Manager.  She's helped us with a lot of things - getting our office set up, how to say you-name-it in Swahili, how to use the phone.  And she was the bearer of surprise soup a few days ago when I had a cold.  Anyway, she also lent me her bike for the weekend because she'd be away.  I was very excited.  My bicycling days of Key West were fondly remembered and I hoped to get more of my bearings on a bicycle.

The bicycle is huge.  I was only able to ride it by not sitting on the seat.  I fell, but only a few times, and I don't think anyone saw.  I sure hope not because everyone here rides bikes everywhere and I'd like to think I can master at least a little part of their way of life - or at least not look like a total fool while trying.  Being on the bike though, however awkward, was just as enjoyable as ever.  I did reorient myself to the site, though I didn't find a good vantage point for the sunset.  I think I could wander through the golf course and maybe find a good spot there, but it will take some more exploring.  Maybe next Sunday.

I'm nearly finished my second book - and my third is Travels with Charley.  I know, from experience, that even slowly, that will only last three or four days.  The security manager spoke of Cocktails under the Tree of Forgetfulness.  He'd picked it up when he met with us in Dar es Salaam for the workshop, at a fantastic bookstore that I will be sure to visit the next time I am in town.  It's about Kenya he says, and raves about the bookstores of Tanzania.

I am interested in becoming more connected to this community.  As a consultant, I am not really part of the work, simply an advisor, an interested and useful bystander.  I can't jump in at a moment's notice and save the day.

I volunteered to read or help with homework or anything at the school on the site, but that has not actually panned out.  It's a very small school - six children - and it seems that in addition to the teachers, the parents, and others are all very involved.

I did become fascinated about the idea of libraries in Africa, as I loved my library as a child, and wish for one on the mine site (however impractical an idea that is).  Googling led me to Libraries Across Africa, a really thoughtful idea which encompasses community empowerment on a number of levels.  Though they don't seem to have been active in a while, I may contact them anyway.  Otherwise I have to find something else...

Googling is a great past time.  In addition to libraries and the current conflict in Dar, I've learned about types of Tanzania dance (and decided that I'm going to stick to riding a bike) and black swan theory.  Black swan theory is terribly interesting because it both deals with commonly held beliefs about what impossible is and how humans react to the impossible once it becomes reality.  I've never head of black swan theory, but I'm going to begin incorporating it into conversation as soon as possible, because I think it's a fascinating line of thought.

Also, it isn't only Google who can teach a person things.  Today, I found out that that mine's vector control guy (the mosquito - and it's said mo-SQUEE-to here, which I prefer now), also has a farm.  He went to visit it today.  I can't wait to hear more about Dastan's farm, and if maybe he can identify the maybe-a-coconut, maybe-a-mango tree in the backyard.

Friends of mine got married yesterday.  And though I got a picture, it's nothing like being there in person.  My littlest sister (the munchkin) has left to fend for herself (okay, so at college, it's not really survival-mode) while three-quarters of the Kearby clan is overseas.  I miss my car and my heels and using my phone as something other than an alarm clock.

When there isn't much to do, I get lonely.

Luckily I found a friend... this is as close as I got to him (probably two feet away), but he was nice enough not to run out of the picture...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

quite the pair (pear, no really, pair)

These are fruit trees in my backyard. Growing of their own accord. Much the same way my food is getting cooking and my house is getting cleaned and my laundry is getting done. All without any help from me.

I believe one is a banana tree and the other coconut, but I could be corrected. I bet they are enjoying the rain.

Apparently my feet are unusually tiny here in Africa and steel toed boots must be ordered for me before I can venture into anything mining-related.  So, my observations of the site have been limited to getting lost and finding offices, how I'm still startled by the giant marabou storks all over the place, how beautiful and colorful it is here.

My swahili improves little by little. Habari is hello, Na mtufuta means I'm looking for someone, Rafiki is how you say friend. Also, I think the weasel looking sidekick in the Lion King (Timon, you remember) was a mongoose. Though, again, I stand to be corrected on this.

Almost everything travels in numbers here - lots and lots of swallows, and little birds with turquoise bodies and brown wings to hide within, and packs of mongoose, and flocks of guinea fowl, and troops of foxes, and tribes of monkeys. More than one of anything, of everything. It boggles the mind.

But out back, just one banana tree and one coconut tree. They've been there a while, you can tell. I imagine they are friends, grown out of their differences, and now content just to watch the house, soak up the rain, bask in the sun, a pair in their own way.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

the wilds of Africa

I've made it to the mine site!

Now, I'm sure everyone wants to hear all about that, but sadly for you, I'm not totally prepared to write about that yet.  I've had a short tour of the site, but - being the workaholic I am - I have mostly seen the inside of my bedroom and the inside of my office, the conference room, the board room, my other office, and our soon-to-be-office-building (that's right, I've got a BUILDING. oh, and okay, it's not just mine... I share with Vitaliy.)

So, of course, there's the trip to the site, which was incredibly early, but also incredibly beautiful.  There's the tour and my first impressions to get to.  There are the things I hope to do on my trip and the hardships I've noticed (really, painfully bad internet connections - I am sorry not to have sent more emails in the past few days).  So much to talk about... but mostly...


For an industrial production site, this place is crawling with wildlife.  The landscaping is incredible, the sky is clear, everything is clean.  And there are animals everywhere - tiny little yellow birds that make nests on light tree limbs to keep their young safe from snakes, giant ugly maribou storks that skulk around the site all day, lizards and centipedes with shells like rolly polly bugs from home.  And those are just the ones you see every day!  Then there are packs of mongoose, which have stripes like zebra but act like prairie dogs.  I've also seen small groups of dick dicks, like miniature deer.  And silver foxes, running away like mists in the night.  My favorite though - BESIDES THE MONKEYS - were the peacocks that were outside my front doorway yesterday.  A whole flock of them.  They are solid too, like turkeys, and did you know that they fly?  Amazing.

But the worst news is that I'm awful at taking photos.  Truly.  I have a lot of pictures where you can't tell there's an animal in it at all.  And I have a number of others of blurs peeling off the edge of the frame, where the silly little thing is running away.  I am trying, I promise, but it's just so tough when these things don't sit still.  Crazy, wild Africa.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

the trifecta


Today I got the trifecta - hot water, power, and internet.  This is apparently unusual in Africa, but I have to say, I might have been able to have it sooner if I'd used the shower properly.  I've had cold showers for five days... and all of you who know me REALLY well know that I don't only NOT take cold showers, I scald myself daily.  And also that I love showers, and morning singing, and deep thinking, and the water, and being clean.  I love these things and I was having to pep talk myself into the bathroom every morning.  However, having conquered what I believe to be my own orientations towards Africa-must-be-missing-something, I have hot showers, starting this morning.  Over the last few days, we've lost power once and the internet has been slower than it was when I arrived (though it's never disappeared completely).  But this morning, I awoke to the trifecta!  And it is VERY EXCITING.

Mostly because I have found what is missing in Africa, and it isn't hot water or power or internet or good food or great people or interesting work or beauty or opportunity or any of those preconceptions that I might have added to my carry on for the trip.  What's missing from Africa is home.  My network isn't here, they are ... hold please ... 43,020 km if I take I-90 through Mongolia and then a ferry of some kind and goodness ... oh okay ... tells me ... 7,836.7 miles as the crow flies ... that'll do.  So, on with it, my people are forever away.  My PEOPLE that I care for deeply, whose lives are so rich and interesting, whose challenges I find myself engaged in too, whose perceptions inform my thinking.  Those things aren't here.

And I do miss them, but they sent me off well.  With all kinds of hopes and dreams and journals to record them.  With words of support and encouragement.  With the momentum of many years of being loved in the cocoon, they sent me off to see the world.  I will do that for you all, I will happily keep my promise.

Maisha Mzuri.  A Swahili toast to a beautiful life.  (And don't quote me on the spelling, thank you very much.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

do it big

Just wanted you to know that I got in to Tanzania last night and I'm safe and sound and have a full day's work behind me already. I'm here, in Dar Es Salaam at a nice hotel (you wouldn't know I wasn't in the US if someone didn't tell you) with a coffee maker and a hair dryer and an internet connection. Everyone has been very nice so far - a handful of people from the company met us at the airport to get our visas and our stuff and bring us to the hotel, and one of the women offered to take us to the marketplace, which was unexpectedly sweet of her.

My hotel room is lovely (though I think I'll miss very hot showers and I may have already blown my hair dryer this morning) and none of the food has made me sick yet - I'll be in Dar Es Salaam for two weeks and then onto the mine site. We're having regional strategy sessions and workshops to begin the project, and I'm trying to take it all in, while also being totally fascinated with the cultural differences (we went to Mwuenge, a Tanzanian market, today... and I wanted EVERYTHING!), working with Swahili (Asante is thank you, but I keep wanting to default to Gracias), feeling a little jet lagged, and being blown away by the scenery. Literally, I had business meetings today while sitting in a cafe on the Indian Ocean. My partner in crime has a photo of hot air balloons rising above the Serengeti that he took himself. Insane. He speaks very highly of the mine site - it's got great food and a gym and we have a small stand-alone office building. I'll be excited to see it.

As an update, I not only left the country for the first time two days ago, but I did it after quitting my job before having a passport to be here and I'm now an advisor to a gold mine. No halfway here, my friends.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

the launch

I am unaccustomed to leaving.  Being left, I understand.  Escaping and returning is my bread and butter.  But leaving for a time, that has been a harder thing that I expected.  Later alligator and not-goodbye-but-until-we-meet-again and all of those cliches ignored, though they are true.

But I have no hesitation, just some butterflies. My entire "how to prep for Africa" to do list is nearly completed.  I would not claim to be prepared yet, but the to do list is finished.  I'm almost in shock - the adrenaline will carry me from here on out.

I'm thrilled about the opportunity and I know that the role others have played in my life to this point has helped to launch me.  And the significance of the impact has sent me clear across the world...

It is an interesting tug in my heart to be launched so far by people I love so much, people that will remain in my heart even half a world away, people who keep my dreams safe and who affirm my ability and who keep my soup hot while I'm adventuring... it's these people who have told me that I'm brave and that I'm strong and that I can.  I honor the belief they have in me by trying, by waving back as I go toward the challenge, and by running home with open arms when I've accomplished it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

do I look good in my hat? do I look ready?

The challenge of packing for a place that you've never been and a place that you can't be guaranteed will have any replacements available for the things you are likely to forget is not to be dismissed. Though an avid traveler, I've never left the country... and moving to Tanzania for weeks at a time cannot be considered simple traveling.

I had my passport expedited (yes, I'm probably the only person you know who accepted a job without knowing she could get there), I had seven shots and bought 150 malaria pills, and I'm working to assemble every medical, technological, and personal comfort that I can identify as normal in my daily life.

I'm also taking advice.  My survival skills have been discussed at length.  At this point, I'm intrigued to see what I can do with a leatherman and a roll of duct tape.  I'm planning to take up shooting lessons at Christmas, in case I do end tangling with a lion.  Not taking heels has been suggested (and obviously, immediately dismissed).  Tomorrow, I will spray all of my clothes with permethrin, an insecticide.

At this point, I am prepared to be unprepared.  It is likely I will get sick - not deathly ill, but the more benign and more annoying kind of irritant.  I will be shocked about how hot it is.  I have no idea what my apartment or my office will look like.  I have been promised daily showers and decent coffee.  I am bringing my little blue mug along for good measure.

It has been suggested that I bring a hat.  I look awful in most hats.  When it was first suggested, I noted it dutifully, as I have noted all other suggestions, and dismissed it in my head immediately (similar to the ban on heels).  When my brother brought it up as a must-have, I cringed and stated that I didn't look good in hats.  And he told me that I was going to want one anyway, even if it looks ridiculous.  I have since chosen a safari hat, which I'm sure is not doing as great a job as a real hat would do, but I've decided that it must be better than nothing...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

a dream deferred

I'm throwing off the bowlines, sailing from safe harbor to explore, dream, discover.  Indeed, it is that spirit of adventure that has sustained me over the past week when even I questioned my sanity, on hearing the words "Surprise! Africa!" exclaimed from my own lips.

But, I am not crazy... or simply no more than usual... a dream deferred will be soon realized.  (See, the poetry has already returned to my soul!)  I leave in two weeks!  I've gotten my passport expedited and lots of shots (seven of them - ugh), I told my firm and started shopping for a professional-mining hybrid of a wardrobe.  I'm in the middle of taking care of all the administrative tasks on my to do list.

For six months, I will be providing organizational consulting services at a gold mine in Tanzania, between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti.  Though a developing county, the mine site is very safe, complete with electricity and running water.  As safe as Africa gets, my father says.

Sure, nothing about this is safe.  Nothing about it is rational.  Except that sitting still is worse.  Sitting still is death.  I will chase down meaning and beauty and adventure and perspective!  I will hunt it down (maybe this is my lion) and I will be proud of every day, every step forward, every thing earned.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

so it begins...

I spent the first week of October 2011 in Key West - I had won the lottery!  As a gift for earning my MBA, an uncle had given me the trip.  I wasn't looking for it, and then... surprise!  I found myself on an island, in paradise, where I embraced a simpler way of life, getting coffee every morning from Island Joe's, watching sunrise and sunset, riding bicycles across the town, bread in the afternoon from Cole's Peace, and entertainment in the evening between Mallory Square and Hog's Breath.

Recently, I found my copy of True At First Light, the Hemingway that Nicole chose for me (over the one about his juggling two different woman and/or a threesome?)... thankfully, she encouraged Africa over another dysfunctional relationship.  No one knew then, no one had even thought, that I'd have a life in Africa one day.

Almost exactly a year ago, I got on a plane.  I spent a week in Key West.  This year, when I get on a plane, I'm heading to Tanzania.  I'm off to seek an adventure!  Pure Hemingway...