December 14, 2012

Just Breath

Zambia is beautiful.  Well, I can’t say that for sure.  I think that Zambia is beautiful.  It could be an acquired taste though.  I can’t remember if I thought that it was beautiful when I first got here.  I can understand why people would think that it isn’t. 

Firstly it is the dust.  There is dust fucking everywhere.  No matter what you do, you will be covered in dust by the end of the day and there should be a national law against wearing white.  Because well it is white.  But second of all, certain Zambians go a little heavy on the foundation, and well, lets just say, you can tell the order of their morning routine.  Makeup first, clothing second.  Checking their clothes to see if they left half of their applied face on the collar of it is no where on the check list of morning routines.  

Make no mistake, I am not judging them.  My family would argue that the same could be said about the order in which I brush my teeth.  Checking to see if I have toothpaste all over my clothes doesn’t cross my mind until really attractive men point it out to me.  (I take it as proof that they were staring at my boobs. How else would they have noticed that huge white spot on my black shirt?  My idea of self validation works out well for me.) 

Anyway, back to Zambia.  So there is dust.  There are multiple shades of dust as well.  If you ever get the opportunity to stroll through a Zambian village you will be privilege to view the amazing spectrum of colors that make up our soil.  The woman search far and wide for a good grey, red, crimson, pink, orange or black to smear their huts with. 
It should be mentioned that there is so much dust because there are no trees.  They tell us that Zambia is the second most deforested country in the world.  Second to Brazil.  Ask a city dweller who branches out into the country for the first time how much a tree can play up the landscape.  Trees do a lot.  They are like the push up bra of mother nature.  A good bra can do a lot for a girl.  Trust me, my chest was, and still is as flat as my back…until I found the right bra that is.  

Then, there is trash.  A lot of trash.  Not all over, if the infastructure was there, Zambians could be the cleanest people on earth.  They sweep everything into neat little burn piles every morning.  Typically it seems like they only burn when the wind is blowing in your direction. Just walking to work I could get stoned on burning plastic fumes.  If it weren’t awful, it would be awesome, but alas climate change is no joke. 

Oh, the heat.  Hot season starts in mid September, peaks into the deep circles of hell in October, and should start to come down in November.  Usually the heat comes down when the rains come.  Usually there is a big rain, mid/late November and they just become more consistent until December when you can start to say you are in rainy season now and not hot season.  Usually.  But this year Zambia has decided to just be one big clit tease and not allow the rains to come.  Just dragging out hot season longer and longer.  The longer it goes without rains the hotter it gets, because the heat is what snaps the rain into falling.  It is like meeting the absolute man of your dreams.  I mean the dude is fucking perfect, you’ve already undressed him mentally with your tongue and then you find out he is gay.  This is the kind of break from the heat I am talking about needing right now people. 

This wasn’t a blog post to bitch about Zambia though.  This was supposed to be a post about breathing.  I love Zambia.  I stayed for a third year when I could have called it a day after two.  I love Zambia.  I think that Zambia is beautiful.  I have found great amounts of inner peace here.   Zambia is uncomfortable at times.  It can be hot and dirty and smelly.  And it can push you into your absolute worst. 

Except, you know what always happens to me?  The breeze will blow.  Or on a good day the wind.  I believe that the wind and the breeze are completely independent of Zambia.  They are sent to you from a higher power.  When you have been pushed to the end.  When you are as far outside of “comfortable” as you can be, the wind comes.  And when it comes it is such a relief that it forces you to inhale deep.  Take it all in and just breath.  I do this every. Single. Time.  I have found that no matter how upset, hot, uncomfortable, frustrated, or just ready to cry I am, after the wind blows I am ready to handle it all.

The Universe wants you to win.  Zambia taught me that.  Even when Zambia wants me to loose, the Universe wants me to win. Just take a breath.  Breath deep.  It will last you longer.  

December 3, 2012

Free At Last

I pulled my calf muscle at the end of September.  I feel like from time to time the Universe likes to remind me that I can invest too much of my “happiness stock” into running.  I am a stubborn bitch and the Universe knows this, so it can’t perform this reminder with small nagging injuries, it has to completely take me out of the game.  Get me off my feet completely.  Which is why in October I sprained my ankle, causing the whole of my left leg, calf down, to be purple and swollen and painful to look at and to touch.  I needed to slow down, take a load off and rest.  The Universe saw to it that I did. 
It was a nice little break I suppose, once I switched my perspective on the whole event.  I learned a lot about myself and about the experiences that life gives us. 
Since I couldn’t walk my dog and play with her as much as we would have both liked, I had to find new ways to shower her with the affection that she has come to understand is our daily walks.  We had a lot of problems at first.  She kept trying to get out.  She stopped listening to her commands.  She wouldn’t stay on her rug.  She was rebelling. 
She can’t actually flip me off like she would like, and I can’t actually explain to her why she doesn’t get to go on a walk every day like she would like.  Mesa had allowed me to wipe my tears on her fuzzy belly in the weeks before and now she couldn’t understand why I was punishing her.  I realized that I had to find new ways to show her I loved her still, that I was paying attention to her.  I now had to love on her extra in the mornings or at night when she was being good sitting on her rug.  Her daily brushings got extended and I confided even more with her during our daily talks.  She finally understood.  Circumstances change.  The way that you are able to love is not always consistent.  The people and the things that you love will not always understand the changes.  If you love well, and you love real, you will figure out a compromise.  Just like Mesa and I did.
A busted ankle required a lot of icing time.  More icing time that I expected.  Zambia is not like America.  I can’t find crutches.  I can’t just sit all day, my job and this lifestyle requires movement.  “A friend will help you…” doesn’t work here because friends are busy and have their own shit to do.  So if I was gonna move I needed to ice.  This was good for a few reasons.  One, while the rest of my body was sweating away my left foot, was icy!  Which was a very nice change compared to how the rest of my body was feeling during the sweltering months of October and November.  Two, icing was a nice way for me to catch up on all six seasons of Sex and the City that a fellow PCV gifted me from her hard drive.  In PC, when a friend can’t do something for you, you can guarantee that they can gift you something to help waste time.  There is nothing PCVs are better at than wasting time.  Lastly, it turns out, that my 20 minutes of icing is just about how long it takes my roommate Julie to smoke a cigarette.  I would come limping into our gate after a day at work, my ankle craving the relief ice would bring and Julie would be craving the relief nicotine would give her.  Together we coped and bonded.  J  Julie, if you’re reading this, I love sitting with you while you smoke “just one cigarette,” waiting for our conversation to turn it into three or four.  Sometime you just need to stop and smell the roses, or inhale some second hand smoke. 
Aside from the fact that I will not be able to run the Kilimanjaro Marathon that I was really looking forward to running this two-month break was not all bad.  But I have started running again.  I’ve only gone out twice, but my ankle seems to be cooperating and my spirit is soaring.  I will admit that I found happiness in this break, but it is quite astounding how much happier I am when I know that running can to incorporated into my routine.   

November 30, 2012

My Job is Cooler Than Your Job!

My Job is Cooler Than Yours, and Here is Why
  I can write this blog and work, and it still fits under my job description
  I walked two minutes to get a fresh, pineapple, orange, apple today to add to my lunch and I paid less than $2.00.
My dog and I both get to walk to work together every morning.  Everyone in my office loves her, and she loves them.
  On an average day, you might hear up to four different languages spoken in my office, and I can understand enough of all of them to tell you what is going on.
There are three mango trees on our office property with tons of fresh mangos for the eating.
A few weeks ago I had a “business meeting” under the shade of a banana plantation.
Pretty much anywhere I go for a “business trip,” I come back with loads of free food; given to me because of the generosity of the people I work for.
I am at work.  Unlike you, I am not sitting inside an air-conditioned office with a tiny window to keep me from going insane.  I am sitting on an open-air porch.  The rains are thinking about rolling in later.  The breeze is causing my hair to tickle the back of my neck, and the sound of our rooster is keeping me grounded. 
 This morning, my job included sorting through Toy Story puzzles. 
I live in a world where a text message can make someone’s day.  It can change the mood of their whole week for the better. 
My co-workers do not bitch about “first world problems,” all we crave is a hand written note from a loved one at home.
I work as part of a team of three, and there appears to be some sort of unwritten goal that you need to make the team laugh, HARD, before one of the other ones does. 
Giving is a large part of my job.  I have to make sure that our office feels like a place that any one of my 61 fellow Volunteers would want to come recharge their worn down souls.  I know why good mom’s love makes a house a home so much now.  And I didn’t have to push a single one of them out of my vagina!
My co workers and I can talk about pooping, and shitting ourselves, and sex, and periods all together.  Male or female.  Friend or Foe.  We all love those discussions.  J 
 Last week, when I was away from my real, American family, and hanging out with these 61 assholes, it still felt like Thanksgiving.   
Sometimes I have to be up and ready by 6:00 on a Saturday morning to begin a work day that won't end until 8:00 at night, and it has never once actually felt like work.  

A Random Act of Kindness

Sometimes I like to wander through our vegetable market on Saturdays.  It brings a funny piece of mind being amongst all of that fresh fruit and veg.  I didn’t love markets before coming to Zambia, and I still don’t love clothing and/or random stuff markets, but I love the way I feel around a veg market. 
The women working the stands have displayed everything with such care and attention.  They stack four tomatoes, one on top of the other, in perfect balance hoping that the red balls appeal to the buyers eye more that way.  They have bagged perfect servings of green beans into many small bags so that all you need to do is grab and go.  Fast food never looked this good.  Today I bought, all fresh, a pineapple, green beans, four giant green peppers, a cucumber and one lemon all for under $2.00.  With a deal like that it is hard to leave the space not feeling pretty good about yourself. 
It is as if everyone is just working to take really good care of you.  The woman worked hard to provide the best fruits and vegetable available to keep you healthy and happy.  For a cheaper price and a better quality than the local supermarkets can provide.  You, the buyer, want to provide for the women in the same way.  Buyers are taking their time and going out of their way to get the best bang for their buck.  It is like the coolest cheapest Farmers’ Market you can imagine. 
Today, however, my favorite thing about my weekly veg shopping did not happen at or in the veg market.  It happened just outside. 
I was walking home with my fresh produce in my hands feeling pretty good about the breeze that was blowing and the pink sunset that was rolling in when it happened.  An older gentleman was sitting, stagnant, in his Zambian equivalent of a wheel chair trying to read the latest Jehovah Witness mailer; it appeared as if he was mostly just flipping through, looking at the pictures.  A child of maybe 12 or 13 years politely greeting the older man as the boy was walking by.  The man looked up and then bravely asked the young boy if he could read.  The boy replied that he could and was getting ready to continue walking when the persistent old man asked again, “Can you read English?”  It turned out this older man’s new friend did.  Immediately the younger boy asked what he wanted to know. 
I was out of ear shot after this but my heart was thoroughly warmed knowing that bravery and kindness like that still exist.  J

November 2, 2012

A Vacation WIthin a Vacation

A Vacation Within A Vacation
September was an awful month.  Awful.  The common theme: loss.  A volunteer trainee died.  He was an older trainee, 3 weeks away from swearing in as a Peace Corps volunteer, something that had been his life long dream.  At the time it sort of felt like it happened on my watch.  As the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (My job in this third year) you are responsible for all of the PCVs and Peace Corps Trainees in your province.  I have been glued to my phone since I took the job, always telling my roommate that my greatest fear would be that one of my PCVs would be dying in the village and I would miss the call.  Well, even if you get the call that someone is having a heart attack, there still isn’t a lot you can do.
That same day, my Great Grandmother passed away.  She lived an awesome and strong life.  I was glad that she could finally rest after such a long journey.  I still hated that I didn’t get to be with my family during all of it.  After all, my brother had to wear a suit and I missed it.   
A week later my friend Andrew completed his Peace Corps service.  Andrew, Alex and I, in the 6 months preceding September, had become this inseparable trio that did everything together.  My favorite thing about Andrew was that we could just be together.  We are two people who are capable of sitting for hours and listen to music, quietly picking song after song apart, trying to figure out why it meant so much to us.  Or we could take Mesa out for long walks and giggle the whole time about nothing in particular. 
If Alex or I had a silly idea, Andrew would pull it all together just to see us happy.  If the three of us were together laughter was the only goal.  One day I was having a bad day at work.  Alex and Andrew left the office early, without me, to go to my house.  I knew they were up to something but I had no idea what.  When I got home they had built me an incredible and elaborate domino thing.  It was sort of in the shape of an “M”.  It started on top of a coffee table and went around a few different obstacles.  They worked all afternoon on it, waiting for me to get home and knock over the first domino to see if it would actually work.  It didn’t, but it was still so much fun and so thoughtful.  
If Andrew and I were flying solo for the day, we would talk and talk and talk about anything a everything.  He had my same drive for physical activity, push up contests, 400m races, mountain hikes.  There was always a song or two, or a band or two, that each one of us had been waiting to rediscover until the other was around.  I miss you Andrew. 
The week after Andrew left, we ran over the Peace Corps House dog, Boso, with the Land Cruiser.  It belonged to a past volunteer who was planning on coming back from America in a few months to take the dog back with her again.  As someone who also has a pet dog that I am planning on taking to America, I knew that felt that loss for her.  It was hard.  Our driver who ran Boso over was so upset.  For me it was the third death in 10 days. 
The following Monday, after dragging myself out of bed, something that was habit by this point in the month, I decided that there was nothing shitty in the forecast for the week and maybe this would be the week where I wouldn’t cry.  8:05 in the morning I am told that our driver, O’Bren, would be leaving at the end of the month.  O’Bren is not a co-worker to me.  He is a good friend who I get to work with everyday.  The idea of him not being there everyday with me devastated me.  I was crying by 8:10 and begging for an emotional break.
The next week I pulled my calf muscle during a run.  Running was the only thing keeping me on my center and The Universe just stripped me of that luxury.  I had a tearful two-mile walk home early in the morning to contemplate where I would go from there. 
Two weeks later I sprained my ankle in such a way that I will not be running until somewhere around Thanksgiving.  Then, somewhere in the middle of all of this I started getting anxiety attacks about silly things.  Minor things.  I believe all of these things to be minor life things, but they all happened within such a short span of a few days that I couldn’t do it any more.   
For a change in perspective, I decided to create that the ankle sprain was the Universe’s way of telling me to sit the fuck down and process.  I know that I had just been going and going.  Hoping that it would all just go way.  I didn’t listen when it pulled my calf, I kept plowing through.  Now there would be no more plowing through.  My ankle is black and blue all the way up my shin and my toes are Kansas State Fans.  As purple as Willie the Wildcat. 
It has been a week now since anything crappy happened.  No tears for a week.  Thank goodness.  I decided to hobble my way to a vacation.  I decided to get the hell out of Eastern Province for a week.  I am going to visit a friend in Western Province.  Literally as far from Eastern as I can get and still be in Zambia.  As I write I am at a friends house in Lusaka.  A pit stop in the middle of the journey.   Complete with a pool, laundry service (IN A WASHING MACHINE), air conditioning, and a spring mattress blanketed by a down comforter.  Last night I slept.  The whole night.  Comfortably.  I am in the shade under the canopy of a beautiful yard, music playing, ankle elevated with just as much ice around it as there is in my drink.  I would have to say that things are finally looking up.   

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.  Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."  ~ Albert Schweitzer

August 11, 2012

New Beginnings

When my plane landed in the night on the runway months ago I was very nervous that I was going to have to talk myself into moving.  That I would have to coach myself out of the sad tears that still easily fall when I think of all the family time I got to have while home.  When people ask me what the best part of America was, my response is not the food, or the roads, or the service at restaurants that is so many people's go to response.  Mine, without even thinking about it, was, and still is, "seeing my brother everyday."
But I didn't.  Didn't have to coach myself out of the tears that is.  I just simply grabbed my carry on bag and a beautiful feeling of relief washed over me as they opened the cabin doors and the Zambian air filled my lungs for the first time in six weeks.  I was happy to be home.  Which was strange, because I was pretty sure that I had just left home.  Just left my brother's warm embrace, the sound of my dad's laughter and the smell of my mom's hug.
But I thought of none of those things as I gathered my luggage.  I was only happy to be home.  And I have been happy to be home ever since.
My third year is, so far, the best year of my service.  I am the happiest and the most at peace with myself I have ever been in my whole life.  I don't really think that this feeling has anything to do with one thing, more a sign of aging gracefully.
I thought that leaving Kansas would be much harder, because I was so stressed about going in the first place.  I gave myself horrible anxiety over the whole thing.  Not eating and loosing weight before going there, convincing myself no one would be happy to see me and friends wouldn't even remember who I was.
Instead, friends drove hours to hug me, share their stories and listen to mine.  One friend and I talked everyday, just like we used to two years ago.  My heart sang during every call.  Instead people went out of their way to greet me in WalMart and tell me how happy they were to see me.  Instead, strangers didn't hesitate to tell me how proud they were of me for what I was doing and how brave of a young woman they found me to be.
I was so worried, and for nothing.  Love is apparently everywhere, even when you aren't looking for it.
My boyfriend and I also broke up while I was home.  I was worried that being back in Zambia would be hard and awful since I had come to depend on him as an ally in this PC game.
I was again worried that I since all of my close PC friends had not extended, and I was without that boy that I would be lonely often.  Instead, because of my new job, I get to have great conversations with new PCVs everyday.  I spend more time laughing and smiling than I ever had before, and I consider myself to be a pretty giggly girl.  Some day, I will be one of those beautiful old women with those lovely laugh lines on one of those faces that instantly puts you at ease.
I also was lucky enough to be home during the passing of a very dear friend.  Through her passing I have learned no ends to the power of gratitude.  It is really hard to have a bad day when you remember that you have so much to be thankful for, and we do all have SO much to be thankful for.
Throughout the month of July I decided that I was going to do a month of gratitude.  I put a post it note on every day to remind myself to write something I was thankful for that day.  "A job that I willingly wake up at 6:00am on a Saturday for."  "Nights that leave evidence of mischief around your house that makes you smile the next morning."  "Alex."  "Julie."  "Indoor plumbing."
Thank you Katie, for gifting me this new found sense of clarity and peace.  You'll never know how much I think about you and how much I have learned through your passing.  Thanks for taking a large chunk of the fear out of new beginnings.  All I feel is thankful that I still get to have new beginnings.

June 9, 2012

What I Binge On

There are some songs right now that I just seriously can not get enough of.  I can't help it.  I could listen to them over and over and over again.  

Gotye~ Somebody That I Used To Know  This one starts in my little toes and before I know it my whole body is moving in this really awkward way to match this beat.  If that wasn't good enough, I can feel myself relax as the song goes on.  Plus this video is seriously stellar!

Olly Murs~ Dance With Me Tonight  Full blown wiggle party in the making!  I dance like no one is watching no matter who is watching, which I think is the way it is supposed to be anyway.  In my fantasy life I am constantly a member of a flash mob, and this song is dying to have one created around it.  Even the video knows it.

Fun.~ We Are Young This is a song that you scream at the top of your lungs at the end of the night with all of your best friends singing and dancing along side you.  Memories are made to this song.  I am ashamed to admit how much I have listened to it since I have been back in America.  Thankfully people at the gym forgive my swaying and epic dance moves as it plays on and on!  The good news...the rest of their album is, well, FUN!

Fun.~ Some Nights It is the opening hook.  It was out of my hands from the start.

Christina Perri~ Distance  Again, the amount of times that I have listened to this song since discovery is a bit embarrassing, and that was before I discovered that my main squeeze Mraz was involved.  She is lovely, but I am quite jealous of her.  

Jason Mraz~ 93 Million Miles  And as I get ready to leave for Zambia again, I am making this song my mantra.  "You can always come back home."