Goodbye

When Gratitude Is Not Enough

This is Spanky.

He’s my dog. I wasn’t a dog person growing up; in fact, I was terrified of them. But one by one, a select few canines nuzzled their ways into my heart, until at last this girl took me past the point of no return:

bree

This is Bree. She belongs to my brother in law, and now my sister, who says Bree is 50% of the reason she dated her husband to begin with. Bree is exceptionally well-behaved and gentle, and she has that rabbit-like fur of an Aussie, which she is. She sets the bar unbelievably high for anybody looking for her own dog. Six years ago, after yet another vacation from which I returned home to Texas missing Bree, I finally realized it was at last time for me to find my own dog. Also, it seemed like a smart thing to do after three or four break-ins.
Finding a dog is a difficult task, because the dog you play with on short visits isn’t always the dog you live with after a year. I knew I didn’t want a puppy. I knew I didn’t want a lap dog. I wanted a dog to walk with, hike with, and occasionally cuddle. So after following a street dog with no training and apparently no hearing from the pound to the SPCA, I realized that was more than I could take on, and, based on an online picture on Petfinders.com, asked to visit with Spanky.

Spanky jumped on me the minute I took him out to the pen. I don’t like jumping dogs, but his jump was filled with love. It was more like a stand-up-and-hug. He licked me, which I also don’t like, but again, it was more of a ‘thank you for taking me out for a bit’ appreciation lick. And then, like a sweet crazy puppy, despite being over a year old, he ran crazy lengths of the pen, keeping pace with the lab in the pen next door. He was so thoroughly engrossed in his pace that he ran smack into a pole with the side of his head, and fell down dazed. WHAT WAS NOT TO LOVE?!?!?!

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Mange, heartworm, giardia and hookworm. The fact that he followed me everywhere, including into the bathroom. Getting up at 5:30 to make sure he got enough good exercise before I went to work. I was terrified. I thought I’d made a huge mistake. Do you know how long dogs live? A REALLY LONG TIME. Thank god Bree’s mom told me to give it at least a month or two. By month three, I was in love with him. I took him to training (to train me). I took him to bars with decks, where he would tactically lied anywhere a waitress would have to pet him to pass. I took him to the dog park, where I learned why people laughed when I said I wasn’t planning on changing his name. (If you don’t get it, go to a public place, and yell, “Spanky,” to something 50 yards away.)

Fast forward five or six years, and here I am planning to travel around the world. It’s easy to figure out where to store your stuff while you explore other continents. It’s easy to map an itinerary (especially when you aren’t big on planning, so your ‘itinerary’ is really “let me pick some countries and figure the rest out later).” It’s not that difficult to figure out where to store your car. But finding someone you trust to watch your dog is no small task.

And this is where the saint enters. Here is the saint; we’ll call her Santa Barbara, with Spanky:

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Now, I’ve been sharing only the good parts of Spanky. The bad parts, I created. Somewhere in the process of quitting my job, giving up my paycheck, putting everything I own in storage, and hitting the road, I became anxious. Spanky picked up on this, and decided (chow/German Shepherd mix that he is) that he would now be the alpha. He absorbed my anxiety, and to defend us both, became inexplicably aggressive at odd moments. The dog who used to follow toddlers around licking crumbs from their sticky palms would now nip random people who were kind enough to hold open a door for us. In Oregon, where one is not allowed to pump one’s own gas, I had to exit the car to give the poor station attendant instructions and my credit card, less he lose a hand by putting it through the car window.

The more aggressive Spanky became, the more nervous I got, and the more nervous I got, the more aggressive Spanky became. To make matters worse, two different, seemingly fool-proof plans for dog care during my trip had fallen through. I couldn’t buy a plane ticket until I knew where my dog was to be housed, and my options were running low. A fantastically brave and generous friend in Denver offered to give it a try. I assured her that his behavior was actually much better in my absence, and added in extra funding for a trainer, which I researched before bringing him to town. And then I left.

I left with a flood of relief. Spanky wasn’t relieved, though, he was abandoned, which didn’t do much for his behavior. Turns out he didn’t like kids running around, and my friend and her husband have two of them, and they have friends, as all kids should. So my friend, we’ll call her Santa Menor, came up with the brilliant idea of taking Spanky to stay with her mother in Alabama. Her mother had lost a dog six months earlier, and wasn’t fully ready to commit to another dog of her own. But a foster suited her just fine. So Santa Menor put Spanky in the car and drove from Denver to Huntsville, Alabama, to deliver him to his new home.

I know, right?! I have the most amazing friends.

Santa Barbara was just what Spanky needed. She was firm with him. She acknowledged his fear, but didn’t give in to the poor behavior it produced. She gave him boundaries, and she gave him love. She gave him what every dog needs, what I had given him for the first four years of our time together, and then allowed to slowly dissolve: she gave him an alpha. She re-trained him to be a dog with an owner, not a dog fending for his person. And then she moved him to Denver. What dog wouldn’t love that? (And let’s be honest: what dog’s person wouldn’t love not having to drive the extra two days to Alabama to re-claim her pup?)

Spanky hiking with Santa Barbara's son

Spanky hiking with Santa Barbara’s son

Last week, after a year of separation, I went to Denver to get my dog. I knew he would remember me, because dogs don’t forget a smell. But I wasn’t sure he would remember me happily, so I prepared myself for the worst. I prepared myself to leave Spanky with Santa Barbara if that was better for him.

As I approached the door, he growled at me.

“Hi, Bubba,” I said, softly, using the pet name I had given him about five minutes after we came home for the first time.

He growled once more.

“It’s me, Bear.” Because why should a pet have only one pet name?

He cocked his head to the side as Santa Barbara unlocked the security door and let me in. I stood still, and took a long, deep breath. “Hi, Bubba,” I said again, kneeling down in front of him.

And then he got it. He knew me. His tail started wagging and he rubbed his very furry body against my legs, coating my black pants in his sweet tan hair. He nuzzled his nose between my legs and tried to crawl under them, even though I was kneeling. His attempt to shove his entire body into a place where there is no space ended with him body-flopping onto the floor, then rolling over so I could scratch his tummy.

Before this moment, I had never met Santa Barbara. She had had my dog for a year, loving him, training him, walking him, picking up his poop and taking him to the vet to update his shots, and I had never met her. So I got up to give her a hug and say hello, and Spanky looked up at us, and you could tell he felt slightly guilty. We moved into the living room and sat on the couch, and he went back and forth between me and the Saint, until he managed to wedge himself so that she had one end of him and I had the other, positioned perfectly for scratching.

Things went on like this for a couple of days, Spanky happy to see me, then even happier to return to his other person and get snuggled. He gleefully followed her into her room and onto her bed at night, but would be waiting for me at the top of the stairs when I came from the basement guest room in the morning.

I took him on a long walk the first morning, then left for most of the day. When I returned, he was surprised to see me all over again, and repeated his routine of passing between Santa Barbara and I, maximizing his petting opportunities. On the second day, I took him on half as long a walk, to the same groomer where I had dropped him off a year earlier and not returned. He was understandably over-excited when I showed up three hours later to get him, and only slightly confused when I put him into a car he hadn’t seen in over a year to drive him home. On morning three, I went to spin class. I would leave his exercising to Santa Barbara, because today would be the last time she would walk him.

When I returned from spin, I began to load the car. Spanky never likes this activity. He is sure that something is happening and he will be left behind. Here he is the second year I had him, when I packed the car to drive us both up to Washington State, and he got in it more than an hour before we were to leave, and refused to get out, despite the fact that the car wasn’t fully packed, I wasn’t in it, and it was almost 100 degrees out. He isn’t always the most astute dog, but he is far from dumb.

spanky car backseat

Santa Barbara took him to the dog park while I finished packing up and took a shower. When they returned, there was nothing left to do but say goodbye. And say thank you again, knowing it would never be enough. What do you say, what do you do, when basic declarations of gratitude are not enough? I could buy Santa Barbara dinner for a year, a five star vacation, a personal masseur, and none of these things would aptly express how grateful I am for what she gave me – the freedom to see the world because I knew Spanky was in good hands – and what she gave Spanky – his freedom to once again, just be a cool little dude of a dog. So Santa Barbara, this post’s for you. Because when gratitude is not enough, all that is left is blog.

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On the Road, United States

Vernita Falls

There are no pictures, because you are driving and you have to keep going. No pictures but what will burn itself in the memory centers of your brain, just like light burns onto the chemicals of film, the chemicals of photo paper, for you to pull out at a later date and remember. No pictures but what you make on your mind, and what you recall from it because something you see now, through the windshield, tickles something you saw before, in a picture, in a museum, through an airplane window.

90 takes you over the first set of mountains, into the fog, by the sleeping ski slopes, and out the other side. Past Vernita Falls, Dallas Road, Coffin Road, the famous (who knew) Teapot Dome Gas Station. Out past the vineyards, the apple groves in the process of being harvested – apples so big and ripe you can see them from the highway – past the wind turbines and burned fields. Frequently, you want to stop, take a photo. Frequently, you wonder who names these places, and how.

My maternal grandmother’s name was Vernita. She died two weeks, almost to the hour, before I was born. In her honor, my middle name is her first name – because my mother didn’t think Vernita was a nice thing to do to a girl in the 70s. But who, out here, in Eastern Washington State, who knows when, had this same uncommon name, and gave it to a waterfall I don’t have time to stop and see?

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Onto 84, crossing the gorge into Oregon, you travel behind a truck filled with sweet onions, their papery skins flying off behind and a waft of onion scent trailing you both over the border. The land dries, the wind flies, dirt dances up into whirling dervishes of land, lost in its own silent prayer.

Occasionally, an ancient barn will crumble by the roadside. Next to it, the new one, the house built in the years between the two. Occasionally, next to it, nothing but land, nothing but the hills, and the freeway, nothing but these dilapidated remnants of America’s agricultural past. Sometimes, the remains are of a cabin, no town near, no river, no….nothing, but the skeletal remains of Manifest Destiny’s westward expansion and the casualties that came with it. Dead dreams by the side of the road. Road kill of a different kind.

And then a car on fire, fully engulfed in flames. And then a strip mall: Kohl’s, Best Buy, Starbucks, Target. You could be anywhere, but you are here, wherever it is. Soon it is southern, eastern Idaho, northern Utah, the Snake River cutting deep through high dry mesas, creating a fertile green farming valley. Somewhere, the rock is volcanic, black and sharp, and then everything is red, rust-colored. Out 80, into the mountains, the snow fences begin, lined up and waiting for the weather to come like a farm of solar panels waiting for the sun.

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And then Wyoming. Wild, wonderful, heart-breakingly gorgeous, with the green aspen turning gold and the black trunk of cottonwoods striking out behind yellowing leaves, along the riverbeds, up the valleys between hills. Trains snake through the canyons, hug the red-rock cliffs, slither low on the prairie behind the scrub brush and sage, carrying the loot of virgin land. They fade into the distance the same way Vernita Falls faded behind you, the same way the distance fades into fall – nostalgic, fogged over, waiting for weather to come.

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On the Road

Bessie

Yesterday, I hit the 100-day mark since returning to the States. It’s a completely arbitrary milestone, especially since I left the country again less than two months after I returned, but I’m back now, for real, and reality is setting in. With decisions to be made (where to live? what to do?), bills to be paid, and responsibilities to attend to, my attention has refocused to my trusty steed, Bessie, a beloved 2000 VW station-wagon.

Bessie, clean and pretty at the beginning of the road

Bessie, clean and pretty at the beginning of the road…

And dirty and well loved at the end.

And dirty and well loved at the end.

Bessie and I have been on many adventures – 185,053 miles worth. Together, we have lived in four cities, driven cross-country at least twice horizontally and four times vertically, and tolerated more than our share of derogatory comments about station wagons and child-free soccer moms. Last summer, we survived no fewer than 9,000 miles together, though the heat and a two tires didn’t make it the whole way.

Among the places she's taken me is the Middle Fork of the Crazy Woman River.

Among the places she’s taken me is the Middle Fork of the Crazy Woman River.

It is possible Bessie has been better to me than I have to her, though she’s gotten me back with her fair share of expenses. It will be a sad, though much awaited day, when I have been re-employed long enough to replace her with a vehicle that has, oh, I don’t know, decent cupholders and someplace to plug in my phone.

Guarantee: when the heat is gone, the snow comes early. On the pass outside Bozeman during an early snow fall. Bessie makes an excellent tripod.

Guarantee: when the heat is gone, the snow comes early. On the pass outside Bozeman during an early snow fall. Bessie makes an excellent tripod.

This morning, as a matter of routine maintenance, I took Bessie in to get her tires rotated. (Don’t be impressed – it’s probably the first time ever.) When I handed over my key, the tech at Discount Tire asked me if there was a special lock required to get the tires off. Without pausing I looked at him and replied, “Hell no. It doesn’t take more than one midnight tire-change on the streets of DC for me to get rid of the locking lug nuts.”

Don't be impressed by tire rotation; this mirror was cracked for two years before i replaced it.

Don’t be impressed by tire rotation; this mirror was cracked for two years before i replaced it.

After 14 years, it is easy to forget some of the incidents Bessie and I have shared, but that simple question – is there a special lock on the tires – was enough to take me back ten years, to a time I lived in DC right after grad school, and en-route to meeting a friend for dinner, turned a corner too tightly and hit my tire on the metal gutter-guard on the sidewalk edge. My right rear tire went from full to flat in half a block, and I limped Bessie around the corner and into a blissfully available parking spot.

My dad taught me to change a tire early on because he considers it, along with proper use of duct tape and WD40, one of life’s essential skills. But after loosening four of the lug nuts on this tire, then struggling with the fifth for an extended period of time, I remembered being told about the lug nut key when I bought tires five months earlier. The tech made a big point to inform me I better not to lose it. And then, apparently, he never put it back in the tire-changing kit.

Bessie in the Tetons, on a happier adventure.

Bessie in the Tetons, on a happier adventure.

It took a good two hours for AAA to send a tow to Georgetown on Saturday night, but it was worth the wait for Ulysses, a wanderer of the Southern States with five children and a ‘good woman,’ this one, finally, after the other three. He seemed aptly named and he ferried Bessie and me into the far east side of Capitol Hill, to an all-night tire drive-through garage with cars lined out the roll-up store-front and partway down the street, waiting to buy used tires that were stacked as high as the garage roof.

Ulysses refused to drop me off, alone and conspicuous, so late at night, and so we sat in the idling cab of the tow truck for 30 minutes while he regaled me with stories of his travels, until it was our turn to pull in to the shop, where people without cars walked up to the pay window and left with paper sandwich bags of something other than tire parts. We had a store like that where I went to college; a Snapple cost $25 and came in a bag with a fun surprise, if you catch my drift.

The mechanic seemed tempted to file locking lug nuts under “white people problems,” and I can’t say I blamed him. After confirming multiple times that I understood he may strip the nut and I may need to buy another, he went at it, first with a compressed air impact wrench and then with a variety of other tools I have no ability to name. I’m not 100% positive one of them wasn’t a crow bar. At last, it came off, and Ulysses insisted on changing my tire for me, since that’s what AAA paid him for. Tire changed, spare on, Bessie was ready to go. I tipped Ulysses $20 and paid the mechanic his $35, and figured it was a cheap price to pay for such an adventure.

 

Through rain and sleet and snow (and the windshield, which has been replaced at least once).

Through rain and sleet and snow (and the windshield, which has been replaced at least once).

Life Skills, On the Road, Tourist, Traveling, United States

Where I’m From

Three months before I turned 40, I spent a month obsessively looking at new cars on craigslist. When I realized I was perfectly happy with my 12 year-old stick shift station wagon, I left the cars behind and decided just to pierce my nose, like I’d wanted to do since I was 14. Suddenly, I was freed from the socially-acceptable expectations of mid-life, and welcomed into the decade that would allow me to just be me. Midlife crisis narrowly averted.

Not even a full state from Texas, a crisis of an entirely different order arose. I took refuge from a torrential downpour at a café on the Taos plaza, and got to talking to a woman about her dog. Naturally, she asked me where I was from. A normally chatty human being who can carry on a conversation with anyone from the Pope to a wall, I was struck silent. I didn’t even stutter; I just couldn’t answer. I was faced with a geographic identity crisis.

For the eight, mostly uncomfortable years I lived in Dallas, I told people, “I live in Dallas, but I’m from California.” This is the technical truth – I was born in San Francisco, and consider myself a Californian – but it isn’t the whole story. I arrived in Dallas a full seven locations after I originally left my home state. As a result, I’m a committed recycler with aggressive driving skills, a very northeastern way of flipping the bird, a New Yorker’s style of walking through a crowded urban center ignoring everyone around me, a Northwestern desire to be outside even when the weather fills with rain and wind, and a Texan belief that my boots and a good buckle should work for any occasion. When I say, “I’m going home,” I could be referring to Seattle, San Francisco, or Dallas. But I don’t know how to tell someone where I’m from, because choosing one place feels like a lie.

I hoped this issue would resolve itself when I left the country, but it got worse. Complete strangers took a kind-hearted interest in the specifics of my personal history, and weren’t satisfied when I told them simply, “I’m from the United States.” People in other countries know a surprising number of US states; they also watch a lot of bad tv. Texas is on the map for Dallas (the original), Walker Texas Ranger, and George Bush. Telling people I’m from California garnered a lot of, “I’ll be back,” “oh…Ah-nald,” and, “California?…Hollywood?” So I tried Washington.

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Cold, beautiful west coast

Understandably, it’s confusing to foreigners that the state of apples, Starbucks, and the Olympic peninsula is both not the same as the capital city that shares its name, and is located on the other side of the country. I didn’t bother correcting people who responded to Washington with, “ah! Obama’s house,” until the questions about DC got too involved, and I would confess that I was actually from an entirely different place (though I’ve lived in both).

Washington State

Washington State

The irony of all this is that it actually doesn’t matter. In earlier eras, outside of Manifest Destiny, the Gold Rush, and great migrations, people rarely moved far from home. Now, we’re in a shrinking global community, where constant population flux consistently alters cultures, blending them across geographic boundaries, until good barbeque isn’t just found in the south and good bagels aren’t held captive in New York. The San Francisco of 2013, with its dot com billionaires and microapartments for a million dollars, isn’t the San Francisco of 1993, with its distinct neighborhoods, affordable housing, and hippy funk. (When people ask me if I’m moving back to San Francisco, I feel compelled to point out that San Francisco isn’t there anymore.)

And yet, for all this movement, for all this homogeneity of culture, place matters. When I go out for coffee, place matters. Am I walking there, biking there, driving there, or taking public transportation? Is it Dunkin’s coffee, Starbucks coffee, local coffee, organically sourced and priced up coffee? Or maybe it’s Turkish, Thai, or Vietnamese white coffee? Is it hot or cold? Is it smooth roasted, or bitter? Am I standing at the coffee bar chatting with neighbors, sitting at an outdoor café under a heat lamp, or grabbing it to go while I drive off someplace?

Place matters for the most simple things, because it’s the simple things that form who we are. The personality of a place shapes our approach to the world; it demonstrates for us how we absorb information, how we respond to stimuli around us, and how we view what we see moving forward. Thirty years ago, when I moved from the Bay area to Boston, this mattered a hundred times more.

I left a place of cold oceans with rough surf and foggy-day picnics on the beach, of yoga and recycling and home-made peanut butter, and went to the land of green pants with blue whales, classmates related to passengers on the Mayflower, and ‘one if by land two if by sea.’ As a result, though I longed regularly for the west coast of my childhood, I was raised using the T, rooting for the Celtics, watching my first baseball game from the Fenway bleachers, and busing out to Great Woods for one concert after another. There is no mistaking that these experiences gave me some of the independence that I enjoy when I travel, and that the longing to get back to the other coast, to see what was beneath me when I flew from one to another, gave me my desire to actually buy a plane ticket and do it.

New York subway

New York subway

So when I tell people I’m from California, I feel like I’m disrespecting half of my roots. And I feel like my roots have more than two halves. Didn’t summers on a small island in Puget Sound teach me to love reading, staring at the water, and the smell of fresh wind? Didn’t college in New York help me understand that I can only do cities  for a moment before I shut down? Don’t we continue to grow, to absorb place and its personality, and to change as a result, throughout our lives? I didn’t move to Texas until I was 30, but didn’t it warm me a bit, teach me a about expressing myself respectfully to people with opposing viewpoints, and help me understand myself better? Isn’t growth and absorption of place the only thing that explains Madonna’s fake British accent?

For all the shrinking of the world, place still matters. The more we create these hybrid humans who herald from multiple cultures, possibly without much leaving their own, the more confusing the question ‘where are you from’ will become. I, for one, am looking forward to it, so I’m not the only one suffering from a geographic identity crisis.

Crazy Dallas weather

Crazy Dallas weather

Africa, Tourist, Traveling

In Love For All the Wrong Reasons

It is possible that no one has ever landed in Kenya as completely ignorant as I. I had a reservation for one night in Nairobi, a vague idea of what a taxi should cost to get to the hotel, and a plane ticket to Mombasa the next day. I met my original Travel Companion (you may have read about TC here) for the Mombasa flight; once we landed, I threw myself at the mercy of a local.  And I loved it.

Here are the right reasons to love Kenya:

The water – even from the faucet – is salty and reminds you of earth. The earth is red and rich and reminds you of life blood. The ocean is vital and as vibrant as the birds, which are colorful and loud.

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Everyone greets you with, “jambo,” and though it feels touristy, you say it back. They greet one another with “mambo,” a handshake and words to catch up. Rules are made on the spot. Once, they were written, by someone, somewhere, who has no bearing on the situation you may be in, and so there is improvisation. You are patient. You move slowly. You work it out. You finish with ‘sawa, sawa,’ and then you move on. It is the interaction that is the rule, not the rule itself.

Get in a fender bender, and you'll find out how fast the rules change from one police station to the next...

Get in a fender bender, and you’ll find out how fast the rules change from one police station to the next…

The air is hot and carries the smell of burning rubbish. But it is moist, and turns the plants green, keeps the clothes you wash by hand damp on the line. The chickens peck the yard; don’t forget to close the kitchen door when you go out to do the laundry, or you will find the counters covered in hens when you return.

In Tsavo, there has been rain: good for the land, bad for the animal spotting. The cheetah can slink through the golden grasses almost unseen. Dik dik, impala, buffalo move slowly against green brush, under trees. Superb starlings and lilac-breasted rollers flit above them, racing from power line to tree branch and back again. Giraffe necks rise above the horizon. Elephants cover themselves in red dirt to protect their skin from the sun and stand out in the open. Hippos slide low in the water, hiding all but their eyes. The zebra….the zebra have no hope of camouflage.

The zebra have no where to hide.

The zebra have no hope of camouflage

In the pickup truck, it is hot with the windows up and dusty with them down. But it is quiet, except for the toto, Evelyn, who entertains herself by playing angry birds and finding Waldo in the back seat. She has made Travel Companion her personal mascot, and goes nowhere without her. You are merely a divining rod for TC’s location in her eyes.

The toto surveying the waterhole.

The toto surveying the waterhole.

In the evening, looking out over the watering hole, there are cokes and conversation, maybe a beer. You are hoping for a lion. You do not need a shirt that announces you saw ‘the Big Five;’ you will take in everything available and cherish it. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like to see them.

When night falls, when most have gone to sleep and you sit by the fire and talk to the night guard about the lion who comes into camp after the day is finished, the air pulling in moisture before a hot day rises again, you make him promise to wake you, no matter what time, if the beast comes back. And when he comes for you, you will be thrilled with terror, wrapped in a kikoi on the porch of your tent, listening to the chortle of the beast’s breath pacing the outskirts of the tent line. The king sounds like a stallion heaving off a heated race, but all he does is seek, and leave. You never see him, but you feel the sound of his breath imprinted in your memory.

After, south down the coast, the air still and heavy until the afternoon moves the water hurridly toward the shore, your mind swimming with the bodies and colors of Tsavo, the whydahs and kingfishers and weavers and bee-eaters and hornbills, your body goes swimming down with the fish.

Swimming with fishes (photo credit: Sander den Haring)

Swimming with fishes (photo credit: Sander den Haring)

Between dives, you float on the dhow or watch dolphins swim. These are the right reasons to love Kenya.

Dolphins of dhow bow.

Dolphins off dhow bow.

Here are the wrong ones:

  • The twelve days I spent in and around Mombasa were the longest I’ve gone without getting on a plane since I left the states on October 16th. Instead, our fantastic hosts delivered us from one amazing experience to another, with the help of friends and family. For twelve days, I knew no strangers; only new friends. I was allowed to yield all logistical decision making to someone who knew what he was doing. My mind has not known such rest in quite some time.
  • Kenya was a land for firsts. My first scuba dive – a momentous event as I have found the idea of trying to breathe underwater so disturbing I long ago negated the possibility of such activity ever occurring with me involved. But in Kenya, I looked up to see the sun break through the surface of salt water. Kenya was also the home of my first left-side-of-the-road, right-side-of-the-car (left-handed stick-shift) driving adventure.
    About to set out on a right-side of the car, left-side of the road driving adventure.

    About to set out on a right-side of the car, left-side of the road driving adventure.

    Despite the trip involving a disturbing number of wrong-direction rotaries (excuse me – roundabouts), TC and I successfully survived to tell the tale (and post a video).

  • We all know the Dutch just jumbled German, French, and English and called it something new. As its own language, it’s a jumbled mess, but a native Dutch speaker communicating in something other than Dutch makes a sount of equal and opposite beauty. An accented, calm, “sawa, sawa,” or little Evelyn’s sing-song as she calls your name to ask, ”where is TC’”– is something with which my ears fell instantly in love. (The jury is still out on the word “lekker,” which is along the lines of, “tasty,” but sounds like something bad is about to occur.)
  • Swahili. I went to throw something out one day and found that the word for trash is “Taka taka”How can you not love that? Or “toto” for the little ones? So foreign to my ears, but such a smooth sound, even rapid fire, with consonants.

    One person's trash is another person's takataka

    One person’s trash is another person’s takataka

These are the wrong reasons to love a place, because these are reasons this place was easy. Kenya isn’t easy. It is full of struggle – for water, for livelihood, for a very small piece of the pie. It is a place of matatus with names like “Love Bomb,” “Delta Force,” and “Dreamz of Money,” driving between you, at you, around you while riders hop on and off. It is a place where Friday mornings are reserved for riots, and Europeans still fly straight in to four star resorts where first the shower doesn’t drain, then the door doesn’t lock, then the toilet doesn’t flush, for a week away from winter.  And still, they never leave the compound. Kenya is a place where boys stand in traffic to sell you oranges, and if you are stuck too long, they may just steal your luggage from the trunk. It is a place of wonder, of amazement and awe, and of hard work, brutality and beauty. I loved Kenya for mostly the wrong reasons, but I will return for the right ones.

 

For more pictures of my trip to Kenya, click HERE

 

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