Wednesday, August 25, 2010

African Time

Since arriving in S. Africa five days ago, I’ve been keenly aware of the cultural differences between rural S. Africa, where we are staying, to life in the US, rural or not. There are of course language differences. Even though English is the official language of S. Africa, most S. Africans speak some sort of local dialect. There are clothing, housing and food differences. But I think the most prevalent form of cultural difference has been what is referred to as “African Time”. I know there are other cultures around the world that work off a slower clock than we do in the US, but to see this pace in action is amazing. There’s no hurry to get work done. There is no hurry to get anywhere. Even the waitress in the dining room walks at an extremely slow pace. At first I thought she was old or crippled because her gait was so slow, but then I realized that she just moves slowly, as do all of the staff people we have encountered. I’d equate their gait to the slow ambling gate of many gas station attendants in Oregon – usually the younger guys who just stroll out to the car, but those guys have a seemingly lazy, insolent attitude and that definitely does not seem to be the case here. Life is just lived a bit slower and that begins with the slow pace of the body’s movements. Maybe that’s because it is so often hot and it’s hard to move quickly in the heat. Maybe it is because animals are all around and quick movement calls their attention. We were told that the only thing that runs in S. Africa is food. As I think about what I want to take away from this trip, it’s not the souvenirs or the photos and memories of the animals, though we will have ample amounts of both. No, what I want to take away is a memory of African Time and I want to try to internalize a bit of it in myself.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Best of the Day

For years, when we’re on vacation, our family has followed a tradition of doing “Best of the Day”. We almost always do this tradition in the evening, usually during dinner. During Best of the Day, everyone takes a turn at telling what was their best part of the day; duplications aren’t allowed. There have been very few times when we’ve had to enforce the duplications rule because, almost always, everyone sees the day’s activities a little differently. Even when more than one person picks the same event, there are specific nuances for each person that make each Best of the Day unique. This has been a great way to reinforce the wonderful activities, sights and events that are part of our vacations and it’s also an eye-opening way to find out what is meaningful for each of our children.

Today, our safari group headed off to a neighboring game reserve with the hope of seeing elephants. Those who know me know that seeing elephants in their natural surrounding would definitely be a Best of the Day. We did find the elephants and watched from several different viewpoints as they drank from a river and wandered its banks. I was awestruck! Just as with watching the elephants at the zoo, I could have stayed much longer than those I was with. While seeing the elephants was an incredible experience that moved me in much the same way Michelangelo’s Pieta moved me when we were in Rome two years ago, I realized that this was not going to be Best of the Day for me. Earlier, as we’d entered the game reserve, we’d seen two giraffes off in a field beside the road. We’ve seen several giraffes over the last couple of days, so seeing them was not, in itself, that spectacular, but then, they ran! The grace and beauty of these strangely large creatures galloping across the field was amazing! Again, I was awestruck! This, I thought, would be Best of the Day.

Our group picnicked beside a small river (in the Pacific Northwest we could call it a creek) and then prepared to leave in order to see if we might possibly be lucky enough to find the lions given that we’d already found the elephants. We all loaded up into our 11-person open-air jeep-type vehicle and then our guide noticed that one of the back tires had gone flat. No problem, there’s a spare underneath the jeep. However, the long metal rod that is used to loosen the spare from its mooring was missing. Our guide tried using a similar instrument from another tour vehicle parked nearby, but it did not work. Our guide’s cell phone was out-of-range and we did not have a radio, so we were forced to wait while the other vehicle’s guide went to the nearby (and that’s a relative term) lodge to ask them to send assistance. Our guide quickly mentioned that he hoped they would not be on “Africa time”. Well, they were. Three hours went by before the tire was patched, pumped up (by hand) and ready to drive on. Three hours with nothing to read, no cell phones, no Internet – nothing! Nothing but the silence of the African countryside, a bird lover’s bevy of exotic birds flitting around, baboons wandering back forth in front of us and a level of peace and internal quiet that I have not known in, dare I say it, YEARS! Three hours where I was content to just sit, listen and watch (and smell, too – I could smell the baboons before we could see them). Three hours of peaceful satisfaction that I’d almost forgotten could exist – definitely Best of the Day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Used To Be Cool

I wear sunglasses – often, and I have for years. My eyes are fairly sensitive and it just feels better to wear sunglasses rather than to squint. They’re also great for hiding tears during emotional moments as my friend Kim and I know so well. My standard routine, when I wear sunglasses, is to place them on top of my head when they’re not in use. Over the years, having my sunglasses on or having them on my head has become sort of a signature look for me. When we visited China several years ago, my sunglasses and long black coat garnered me movie star status with locals who wanted their picture taken with me. I’ve always felt pretty cool wearing my sunglasses or walking around with them on top of my head; however, this summer, I’ve realized that I’m no longer cool. Now, I usually have a pair of reading glasses at hand and, when I take them off, I habitually put them on top of my head, often without realizing that my sunglasses are already there. Then I have two pairs of glasses on my head – not cool, dorky! Or, even worse, I hook one pair or the other inside the neck of my shirt. So then I’m walking around with one pair hanging from my shirt and one pair on my head, but it’s a toss-up as to which pair is where, so I find myself walking out into the sunlight and accidentally putting on my reading glasses or trying to read a label with my sunglasses.

When I started wearing reading glasses my husband asked me not to wear the librarian-style reading glass necklace, but a friend recently suggested that I get the neoprene-type of eyeglass straps that are used for kayaking and other sports. Her theory is that this type of “nerd strap” doesn’t look as dorky – it makes one look sporty or athletic. I actually checked out the “athletic” straps at REI last weekend and, frankly, I had trouble envisioning the look as either sporty or athletic – it still said, “Dork!”

The final straw was when I found a pair of my beloved Maui Jim Cabana sunglasses available on Ebay. They’re a discontinued style that I’ve worn for years and I love the way they look and how they fit. I have them set-up for a “watch” on Ebay so I’m notified whenever a pair becomes available. Imagine my surprise, perhaps disgust, when the most recently available pair was listed as “Vintage”.

I’ve come to the realization that I am just no longer cool (a fact my kids would say has been true for at least a couple of decades), but I’m okay with that. I may not be cool, but I can balance two pairs of glasses on my head at one time – there must be some benefit in talent like that!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Embrace the Inevitable

A year ago I, along with my friend Jill, volunteered to take over the planning and organization of the Holt Family Campout that we have attended for the last sixteen years (not including 1998, when we had to cancel the day before the campout and for which my children will never forgive me). This campout hosts almost 100 adoptive families, is a week long and is packed full of activities, potlucks, socializing, friendship and fun. When I agreed to take over leadership, I knew that we were coming upon a busy year: our oldest daughter’s senior of high school, a foreign exchange student for the fall, the finalization of my mother-in-law’s estate, but I was excited and eager.

Since that time, one year ago, in addition to the expected “busyness”, we have also had major work-related stress, an additional foreign exchange student for the entire year (which was great!), two cancelled international trips, now combined into one on which we depart five days after this campout, my oldest daughter’s fourth knee surgery, my major foot surgery and then back problems – it hasn’t been a good year! In fact, this has pretty much been the worst year of my life!

Six weeks or so ago, when Jill and I spent three days working on the planning for this campout, I was in a foul mood – exhausted, stressed, in pain from my surgery and frustrated by the impossible desire to make everyone attending this campout happy with their site assignment, the schedule, etc. I had lost the joy of the campout. Jill tried to tell me that I would feel better about the campout once my body felt better and…she was right! My surgeried foot is healing, my other, plantar fasciatis, foot has been shot full of cortisone and feels better, my back issue has resolved and I am now sitting by my campfire with a hot cup of coffee early on the morning of the first “official” day of the campout (we came a day early in order to be set-up and ready when everyone arrives this afternoon).

Over the last few days, as the kids and I have prepared for the campout, the joy returned. I not only feel better physically, but also mentally. Instead of feeling frustrated about changes and requests generated by those attending the campout, I just said, “Thank you for letting me know.” Instead of dreading nine days of camping (two days longer than we normally stay), I am looking forward to the additional time to sit by the fire, read a book, even listen to the crows. The campout was inevitable, the international trip scheduled for five days afterwards is inevitable. I have embraced the inevitable and it feels so good!