Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's Saturday Night Live

Lately I've been reflecting on flow---just going with the flow of life, following one's inner urge, listening underneath the surface of things, not resisting anything, moving into a mature consciousness, just sitting on the pulse---and listening.  Sounds good, huh!

Ok, so I'm in a Mid Service Crisis/Funk!  I woke today doing some meditation, yoga, and thought maybe I'd go on a grand mental cleanse. Hold your horses Tshep---bringing things to light, a mental cleanse, how rewarding and relieving it can potentially be, but, nah, forget all that hogwash, I'm not exactly in an Indian Ashram, and besides, it's Saturday Night in Mmathethe, the nothing capital of the world.

So the very mature conscious side of me decided instead, to stir some Saturday Nightness into several of the locals around here. Having no electricity because of a storm today, I pulled neighbors and friends in, lit some candles, and told them we're going to have some fun, laugh, and yep, we're gonna have a cooking lesson. How's that for fun on a Saturday Night! “Tshepo, what are we going to cook?” We're gonna learn how to make Popcorn, so I start deligated chores for this fiasco, someone get the pot, someone pour some oil in the pot, someone light the gas stove, and someone throw in some popcorn. Good, we're set, and everyone's eyes are glued to the pot--”nothing's happening Tshep.” Just wait, it'll happen---pop, pop, pop, and the people's eyes are huge, some jumped back in true fear, some stared, some were laughing, others in awe of this weird happening. “Tshepo, watch out!” Whaaat---oops---the pot is too small for what we put in, and popcorn is now flying all over the place, the lid blew off the pot, people are laughing, and some don't know what to do, so I yelp, “start catching it with your mouth.” Well, they did, mouths are opening everywhere, even Keoki liked the popcorn game, and frankly, was better at it than all.

 All of a sudden, the popping stops---quiet hovers over the candle lit and popcorn ladened kitchen---someone looks at me and says, “now what Tshep!” Ok, the amusement is over, we put salt on the popped corn that was saved, and all devoured the newly found treasure that they have never seen done before. “Tshepo---this was magic.” “No, it's not really magic, It's Saturday Night Live in Mmathethe.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Up Close and Personal at Chobe

This past weekend, I treated myself to a much needed private retreat north to Kasane where Chobe National Park is located, and to where I can think alone, grieve, be in nature, pamper myself, and splurge on a nice lodge with good food, good showers, TV, and a good masseus. Ah, heaven to a PCV. It didn't take much to be enticed up there since I've been bitten hard by the safari bug.  All I had to do was summon up my inner elephant spirit, and I'm there---like dressing on a salad.  So now, Chobe's claim to fame is that it boasts the highest concentration of elephants on the plant with well over 100,000. The elephants though, should not be the only claim to fame, as the reserve along the river is simply sensational, and the vast park is home to hugely varied wildlife. But boy, those elephants, the earth's largest land creature in all their imposing glory are sure fun to watch. Chobe River also forms a natural border between 4 countries, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Each afternoon, animals trek long distances to the rivers edge in order to drink and think---well, I don't know how much thinking they actually do. You couldn't throw a rock without hitting one of hundreds of elephant, they are everywhere, and set against a landscape that you can only watch and admire. All of the big 5 are in Chobe save for the Rhino. In particular, I enjoyed the river cruise where we became up close and personal, not only with the elephant, but with the hippo who came out of water at an unlikely hour. Beautiful birds stalk the hippo, waiting for it to poop so they can eat all the good stuff that comes out. It's quite a site. There were many crocs, baby crocs, water monitors, giraffe, the graceful impala, hundreds of buffalo which are one of the big 5, and Tiger Fish that periodically bounced up out the water scaring the daylights out of us. Inland we saw about 9 lion sleeping under a tree bush in the hot afternoon sun, though one male graced us and got up to say hello. No matter how many animals you see, or how often you do a safari, there is no feeling in the world better than running into the mighty lion or leopard. Lying there, fading into the scenery, unafraid of anything, I see why they are king of the jungle---they are majestic and feared by all other animals.

You have not felt Africa until you witness the bright orange sun setting behind the river, or behind the gnarled branches of the ancient Baobab trees that seems to bring out a myriad of colours on the bulky trunks. At night, I sat with my wine under the stars, listening to the sounds of nearby wildlife, interspersed by the silence of the African bush---a place I can call home.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Passage of Life

Platinum coat with bright blue eyes, highly intelligent, a lover cat, a friend, was put down to sleep after almost reaching his 16th birthday. Family matters and stuff happening on the homefront may be all part of being in the PC, but boy is it tough to lose something near and dear when you're so far away. He may just have been a cat to those reading, but Nikko was profoundly much more than that to me. His life wrote a chapter in my soul's book---he always had something to say, and it was hard getting the last word in. I've never been around a cat so smart---he was clearly an intellectual conversationalist---just ask anyone in my neighborhood, they all heard Nikko's running commentary on life. I think they also wondered how we ever got any sleep.

I hadn't known of Nikko's passing, as I was in Lesotho, but strangely enough, within a few hours of Nikko's departure, a tall man with blue eyes, quirky and smart features, and a warm and fuzzy personality approached and began chatting with me for quite awhile. It was funny how easily we talked, laughed, and connected.  Afterwards, the man took my hand so warmly in both of his, stared deeply into my eyes for what seemed an eternity, and stated "my  name is Nikko." 

This occurrence was Divine Intervention with a definite synchronicity to it, because had I not chosen to do the trip to Lesotho, I might not have had the opportunity to meet Nikko the gentleman, who clearly was the vehicle to which my Nikko chose to say good bye and thank you.  It was such a special gift that I'll embrace the rest of my life, especially because over the miles and a year of being gone, our deep connection apparently never left.

And so, as death is a part of life's unfolding story, and as I sit and cry, trying to compose my thoughts and feelings, my aspirations and my dreams, I pay this little tribute to Nikko---a beautiful boy who touched my life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mountain Serendipity

Nine intrepid PCV's embarked on a trip to Lesotho, a true wilderness, an environment truly untouched by man, a small mountainous kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa. Most of the Drakenberg World Heritage Site is a spectacular and seemingly unpenetrable range of mountain and wilderness. Within a short time one can be in a completely timeless landscape, looking exactly as it would have looked long before humans walked the planet. The Zulu people call the Drakenbergs “Ukhahlamba” or The Barrier of Spears.

There have been but a few destinations in my travels that have caused me to be at a loss for words. The natural silence created a kind of spiritual euphoria, and a new awareness of how we as humans are linked to what is left in nature. Mystic Mountains were tucked up in a patchwork of quilt, stiched with time and aged with silence. As you gaze out at colours running and seeping in foliage and waterfalls, like an eagle's expansive wing, the hills seemed to circle higher in the airy whisper of the wind, the landscape, views, and vistas, unfolded like a story in a picture book. 

For me, traveling is a social experience of exploring untouched natural places. It's a way to enrich the spirit, and it took but a minute to feel comfortable, alive. I was hardly prepared for the immemse beauty my eyes were lucky enough to be treated to. One of the most Ancient Mountain ranges in the world, and a treat for every sense:   Sight—Fill your soul with a sense of awe, not only of the mountains, but of the 100,000 year old rock art where you can read into the story of their rituals and reverence for the people and animal by which they survived. Smell---experience the freshest air---the valleys between the mountains with the lush green vegetation, produce the most fantastic smells you will ever experience. Touch---Made of tough granite and softer sandstone. You will feel these different textures on the souls of your feet, feel it with a hand as if you become part of the earth! Sound---There is a Boys Choir School that sing about 15 of the most famous works ever produced, and even though we did not hear them, we were serenaded by some of the local angelic voices singing traditional songs in the evenings.  Taste---Farm style traditional meals, made from incredients from the land, and cap it off with a sherry watching yet again, another African Sunset.

It was a wonderful adventure of hiking each day, pony trekking, and being 55 years old and making up steep terrain--whew!  The mountains stood untouched and silent, watching as we turned to make our long journey home.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Glowing Girls

Camp Glow is a USPC Leadership camp that is offered to young people in countries where PCV serve.  It was actually started by a group of PCV's and teachers in Romania in 1995 to encourage young women to become active citizens by building their self-esteem and confidence, and developing skills in goal setting, assertiveness, and life planning. It soon became a world wide PC initiative, and by 2000, about 21 camps took place around the world.  GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and camps are organized by PCV's.  Camp Glow provides young people with an opportunity to come together for 4 days, and 50 kids in our case, and attend sessions on gender awareness, promotion of self esteem, nutrition, development of life skills, and fighting the HIV pandemic to name a few.  My favorite session in our camp was led by Yami, who did "Women Around the World."  It was simply beautiful!

Much goes into putting on an event like this, and the girls had a grand time, not only with discussing new things, learning new things, but making new friends, and expanding their worlds in a way they've never done before,---hopefully seeing that there is more than what is seen outside their backyards. Fun was had by learning how to make paper necklaces, ty-dying shirts, making piggy banks, watching movies, learning how to make the American infamous s'mores, and getting served an American dinner by the PCV's.  

Surprisingly, being around Fifty teenagers for 4 full days wasn't my worst nightmare. It actually turned out to be amazing in so many ways.  Watching many of these campers transform from shy and unconfident girls, to seeing the possibilities of being strong, energetic, and wonderful leaders of the world.  Of course there were one or two snags, but for the most part, the girls put aside their differences, and embraced the beauty in each other and new situations.  This past 4 days made my PC service, not only because of the success seen through the campers, but also of the amazing work and heart and soul of my fellow PCV's who just ROCK!  We sacrificed sleep, nice beds, private showers, and free time to help make a difference in the lives of 50 strangers.  This is what Peace Corps Service is all about!