Thursday, February 25, 2016

Comfort Zone

Our “comfort zone” is defined by the state where uncertainty, scarcity, and vulnerability are minimized and where we feel we have some control.  For those of you who have followed our blog and adventures since the beginning, you know we deliberately choose our path to be, at times, uncomfortable mentally, emotionally and physically.  In part, we began this journey because we were too “comfortable”.  We believe it is when we are uncertain, emotionally vulnerable, experiencing scarcity, and lacking some control that we most grow.  Since we started this journey, we have traveled to five continents and over 30 countries. Africa is a place which tests our boundaries, our sense of vulnerability, and our physical and emotional comfort.

When are we in our comfort zone?  The answer may surprise you.  We spent our first few days in a deeply impoverished area in western Kenya, having our first traditional meal of ugali and stewed vegetables at a home for orphans.  Ugali is an important part of the childrens’ meals as the corn meal mixture (which reminds us of tamale dough) is filling and is used as a “spoon.”  A handful of the mixture is taken, rolled into a ball, and squeezed gently to flatten it a bit.  The right thumb is then pressed into the wad to make a depression, and the “tool” is then used to “spoon” up lentils or stew in a large delicious bite.  Before beginning and after finishing, hands are washed with warm water at the table.  Only the right hand is used for forming the unique tool and for eating as the left has other purposes in a place without toilet paper.  In contrast, only a week after our first taste of ugali, we found ourselves in a top tier five-star resort near the Serengeti in Kenya.  We were offered the chance to stay for two nights in the resort on the edge of Ngorongoro Crater.  The opportunity was a donated gift about to expire from a silent auction, and our guide sold it to us for a small portion of the normal nightly rate of $1,500.  At The Manor we met our butler Peter, had truffles laid on our pillows each night, and baths drawn for us with rose petals floating in the warm fragrant water.  Our room was far, far bigger than the dorm apartment in Gunnison we call home, and the dinner place setting with 5 forks, 5 knifes 4 spoons and 4 wine glasses was as confusing to us as anything we have encountered thus far in all of our travels.  Despite the grandeur, we had less uncertainty and a greater degree of comfort eating ugali with our students and their friends than during our five course dinner served with impeccable style by Peter.

Comfort zone.  In Africa, people stare at us everyday.  Some with friendly curiosity, others with desperate hope, and a few with hooded eyes or even hostility.  In rural villages, the kids follow us, most shouting habari (“How are you?”), tagging along, curious. We see few women or kids in bigger cities.  They are absent, rarely seen, and we walk from place to place in a sea of men.  In most cities, we have been warned not to go out at night and our normal freedom of small town Colorado and our love of walking is limited to the day.  This is an unexpected feeling for us and one that is not comfortable.  So where have we found our comfort zone?

It is, as it almost always has been, in nature.  We feel at home as we walk through the Kakamega Forest or ride on a safari surrounded by nature with teeth and claws.  We are far less fearful of the lion that crawled under our land cruiser than the guys who followed us through Stone Town. In the backcountry, we search eagerly for cobras knowing it is not the snakes that are dangerous to us.   Even when the guide told us not to move as the mother elephant slid by us, inches from our face, we both felt physically safe.  We were exhilarated mentally and emotionally at the wonder of her trunk so close to us that we could smell her breath.  We know that the python we watched in a nearby tree was less likely to swallow us whole than are the dark streets of Dar es Salaam at night or the slave holding pits below the church in Zanzibar.  There we could get lost in the belly of humanity, swallowed as half a million souls were just over a century ago.  Yet it is in these darker places that our boundaries are tested, our minds stretched, our hearts questioned by things we do not completely understand and will never know. 

Posted in Zanzibar, Tanzania.  Images are of our first pot of ugali being made at the Nduru Children’s home in Busia, Kenya; the elephant that visited us in the Manyara National Park, Tanzania; and the slave holding cell in Stone Town, Tanzania.   

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Worlds Apart

When we began our journey in 2012, we had no jobs and few possessions and felt incredibly free to wander with no predetermined agenda.  Our life was “worlds apart” from the life we had known prior to that moment.  The feelings of unrestricted freedom were like a long, deep breath of fresh air!  As we return to Gunnison this spring, our experience will be “worlds apart” from that of the first two and one-half years as we enthusiastically jump back into the world our graduate students occupy in the Master in Environmental Management program at Western State Colorado University.  

As we travel, we have relied on technology to stay connected and current with what is going on in the world.  Jess, being a whiz at logistical planning on something as small and compact as a smart phone, has been the motor at the center of the machine as we have traveled from place to place.  Sally, on the other hand, has determined where we are going, be it next week or in the coming months.  All of this would not be possible without the IPhones we carry with us everywhere we go.  How did people ever travel the way we are before technology?  Yes, it was possible, but now, the ease of staying connected is “worlds apart” from the way it used to be. 

As we have travelled for the last three and one-half years, we have found that being “worlds apart” can also refer to the social and cultural distances, sometimes short and sometimes great, separating us from the people and places we have visited.  Predictably, it can also refer to the mind boggling differences we have found among not only our place-based cultures across the U.S., but also the differences we consistently and constantly discover within the same country, across countries, and between the U.S. and other countries.  Distances, cultures, ecosystems-----all can be “worlds apart” from what is common place and comfortable to most of us. 

Significant miles of separation were a part of our lives this time as we began our next travel adventure.  This trip launched in a unique way, with Jess exploring Costa Rica with a group of WSCU MEM graduate students and Sally recuperating in Arizona after fracturing her back.  “Worlds apart?”  It definitely felt that way to both of us.  The last three and a half years have been some of the best of our lives.  Living daily, traveling both abroad and in the U.S., and working in a place and job we both love have been made all the more meaningful and wonderful because we have been able to do it all together.  The time apart in early January gave us both pause-----time to consider the meaning and value of separation and the sweet feeling of reunification.

We have joined together again, paused in Europe for a week, but are ready to travel to a new world, one that is likely to redefine for us, once again, what it means to be “worlds apart”.  We head to Africa.      

Posted in Barcelona, Spain.  Images are of Sally looking out at the Mediterranean Sea, Jess with Western State Colorado University students in Costa Rica and both of us in Besalu, Spain, together again.