“I think all these little brown dots on the ground are…some kind of poo,” I suggest. Well, according to Thai’s imitation, I actually sounded like a grandma inspecting her kitchen for dirt with a white glove. “YOU have a look then!” I say to him. He gets down on his knees with my headlamp and after a few minutes of inspection, he uses a common medical phrase, “I’m afraid I can’t rule it out.”
Meaning he also thought the ground might actually be covered with poo (and I mean carpeted, not “dotted with”). More correctly, it meant that he couldn’t say what it was – or wasn’t.
I paused and took an “inner inventory of options,” if you will. The whole area in this section of the Kalahari desert we were camping in was truly covered with this stuff. Thousands of little bushes surrounded us that could hide little “poo machines” like desert shrew and what not.
I realized I had to be OK with camping in a carpeted world of little African rodent crap. And FYI: rodents are some of the main vectors for the more serious tropical diseases we were treating in the refugee camps.
I proceeded to set up the tent over the carpet of whatever-it-was.
This is Africa, baby. Deal with it.
Then I’m driving through Botswana and a little grouse walks in front of us on the highway. I toot the least-threatening-horn-ever of our trusted VW “Springbok,” and she takes flight. I sigh, relieved…Only to watch her get slammed by a speeding truck coming in the other direction. Feathers everywhere. Tears well up in my eyes. I reach for Thai’s hand for reassurance that it was a swift death, and I suck it up. Well, I let the tears well up a little longer, then I suck it up.
This is Africa, baby. T.I.A. Deal with it. At least it wasn’t a donkey or a cow.
I get a fast and furious GI illness that takes me out for a few hours. I’m puking my insides out. People are frolicking by the pool. Dancing at the bar. Thai tries to get a room for me but reception is closed. We’re camping. Far away from the porcelain basins. Thai brings my sleeping pad next to the bathroom doors and I sleep there for awhile. Happy drunk girls wander around me without thinking twice. Happy drunk boys walk past with stupid thoughts and continue on. I am thrilled to be so close to my new porcelain friends. The bar manager asks if we’d like to move our tent next to the bathrooms. Why, Yes! THANK YOU! We do.
Alright. Let’s talk about this phrase I hear a lot here: “This is Africa” or “TIA.” When shit happens here, people usually do one of two things:
1) get pissed and be pissed in the heat with no subsequent change in the outcome or…
2) shrug it off, sigh, smile, and say – with a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood – “This is Africa!” Then let it go, and buy a beer. Likely, you will then wait (many of the frustrations involve waiting and waiting and waiting…).
Why is this letting go something that so many people are so willing to do here, but are so UNwilling to do back in their home countries? I mean, this is kind of huge, in my mind.
Do you realize HOW MUCH HAPPIER we’d be if we could say, for example, “This is life!” Or “Shit happens ha ha ha!!!” then let go, and get on with being and living?!! It would be amazing!
I realize that what I’m talking about is, on some level, deep spiritual work, and it takes time and energy. We need to become aware of our attachments and expectations, our sense of entitlement, our excuses based on our “wounds.”
Then we need to develop the space between the thoughts and emotions and actions to allow a different response (meditation and yoga are my fave ways of cultivating this).
Then we need to stop ruminating about what could have or should have been, stop replaying the suffering (trust me – the poor bird ran many reels of movie-time through my head after that event), stop daydreaming about what might have been, and get the fuck on with our lives!
We need to learn to OWN IT and ROCK IT. Focus on what we want. Not on what we don’t want.
So yes, it is, on some level, deep spiritual work.
But it is also something simple: a CHOICE. This I what happens in Africa. Many of us simply
choose to simply let go. Life is better – and more effortless – that way.
What is happening RIGHT NOW? That’s what you should be focused on. Nothing else. Not on your expectations or past dreams. CHOOSE to let things go, and focus on the things you CAN work with.
One of my favorite quotes is:
“If you CAN change something, why be unhappy? If you CAN’T change setting, why be unhappy?” ~ Shantideva, A Bodhisattva’s Guide to The Way of Life
Suffering in Africa is no less intense than in the “Western world” (and many would argue it is even moreso). Contrary to popular belief, people here are no less sensitive to suffering, either. I also don’t think they are necessarily more “spiritually evolved” when it comes to non-attachment.
So why, here in Africa, are locals and expatriots and travelers able to let go so much more readily? (Caveat: if you are not prone to this adaptation, you’d likely avoid Africa altogether anyway).
I believe the difference is a keen understanding of the above statement: Knowing the difference between what you can and cannot change. Here in Africa, it is much easier to make that distinction. And while it can be terribly frustrating, it can be quite a relief, actually.
I remember after many trips to Asia when I was working as a climbing guide, I walked into a supermarket in the US to buy toothpaste after returning home, and I was completely overwhelmed by the ENTIRE ISLE of choices: With baking soda or without? Tatar control? Fluoride? Mint or peppermint? Gel or paste? I mean, WTF, right?! In Nepal I’d ask for toothpaste and get handed a tube over the counter. That was IT. Take it or leave it. It’s the only toothpaste they had. I rather miss that sometimes. I have more important things to ponder. I’m sure you do too!
Things are similar in many parts of Africa. The bus will leave when it leaves, no matter what the schedule says.
Animals will get hit regularly on the the side of the road, because people have cattle that need to graze, and there is grass along the roadway, and one-lane highways.
You have to pay a guy a few cents to make sure your car doesn’t get broken into. While thuggish himself, he’s part of a street-wise system way larger than you or your desire to save a few cents or sense of self-righteousness about the way things should work.
You don’t know your car’s “engine number” for the border crossing? They don’t care that they didn’t ask at the other border when you came in. Find the engine number. Whatever that is.
You see, it’s easier to see what you can and can’t change here. We are all in it together.
In the US, I observe – and admittedly found myself a part of – a sense of entitlement, of how if we yell loud enough, or show the right small print, or tell a really good version of our personal tragic story, we’ll eventually get what we want (and in our minds, what we deserve).
It’s true that some of these things protect us and keep things running efficiently. I am grateful for those aspects of it.
However, we need to keep in mind that the unintended result of this is that we have, as a society, become less adept at letting go of the small stuff. We are less skilled at quickly putting things into perspective, and not trying to control the things we cannot change. And it IS a skill. (pssst: we teach these Jedi Skills at Freedom Junkie;)
Next time shit happens – and try to start with the small stuff, like when the food that gets brought to your table is not exactly what you ordered, or when your friend is 15 minutes late – try out T.I.L. “This Is Life!” It’s happening right now. It’s perfectly imperfect! Live it! Don’t screw it all up with ideas of how it should have been!
Things are much more fun this way;)
What are you choosing to let go of today? Or what have you already chosen to let go of already? (And by the way, Bravo, Badass!). Do share below…I want to know!
PS: the little dots were not poo. In the light of day, we could see they were seeds from the surrounding trees:) Poo Trees, I’ve decided to call them
PPS: for those wanting in on the other full-on adventures since my last post, they include:
* Hiking through the deep red sand dunes of Soussvlei in Namibia
* Being awe-struck by the stark vastness of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast
* Spotting lions, rhinos, elephants, giraffe, and more at Etosha National Park
* Visiting the majestic Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
* Chobe National Park morning game drive and sunset river boat cruise to see hippos, crocodiles, and more lions rarrrrrrr! (Botswana)
* A tree fell on Springbok in a big Botswanan storm and she survived unscathed! Amazing!
* Romantic and beautiful nights and days of camping in Botswana’s Okavango Delta after lazy rocking mokoro travel through the delta (where a wonderful man named BT took us in his dug-out canoe through the reed pathways, using his pole to navigate the waters (and hippos!). If you want a guide’s number for the Okavango, he’s awesome and you’ll save LOTS of money booking directly. Email me!
* and proposal update: add on Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia to the list! So many good stories about those moments:)
* there are more, but those will have to wait for when I don’t have to thumb type! Thank you for your patience:)
Now we’re back in South Africa after having just crossed the border from Botswana border in our trusty VW Polo (aka “Springbok”). It will be sad to leave her. Her maiden voyage has been quite epic to be a part of!
We head to the Quirimbas Archipelago in northern Mozambique tomorrow morning. Beach time!!!!! Yay!!! We plan to sail and dive off the traditional dhows there. Hopefully we can find one to charter that we can afford!!!???
Below are pictures of me with a Himba woman in Namibia (she was a midwife too so we had some nice chats. When I told her some peeps in the states ate their placenta she gagged then spit LOL), Springbok at camp on the Skeleton Coast, the red dunes of Soussvlei, and the mokoro in the Okavango Delta.
Be free, fellow Freedom Junkies!
Remember: the world responds to ACTION, so get out there and DO something differently to move you closer towards your freedom!!!! I’m rooting for you;)