Monday, July 16, 2018

"No Worries"

Sometimes when I attend different yoga classes, the instructor will start off the class asking you to think about your mantra (for the class or for life) and to focus on it throughout the class.  When I think about having a mantra or a motto for life, I usually come back to something that I often find myself saying: "No worries."  I'm not sure if this is something that I've always said or if it is something that I've picked up somewhere along the way, but it is something that I unconsciously seem to live by.

It's possible that I picked this up from all my time living in Uganda and traveling around Africa.  In Uganda, people often use the phrase "There is no problem" to say that something is okay or fine.  Ultimately, this is probably adopted from the more Swahili-speaking countries where you can often hear people say "Hakuna Matata." (This does actually happen in real life; not just in The Lion King).  It means the same thing; that there is no problem or nothing to worry about.

"No worries" is something I often say in my everyday life.  I don't even really think about it.  As stressed out as life can be, I try my best to live by this and not let things bother me.  It's not always easy, but it does help in the the grand scheme of things.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Book Review: The Far Pavilions

Have you ever had a book that came to be like a good friend?  It's not just something you carry around in your bag, but something you become personally attached to.  This is exactly how I felt about The Far Pavilions.

The way I got this book also has a lot of personal feelings attached to it.  One of my best friends was packing up his apartment and moving to Texas, and one day I was at his apartment while he was packing (which is a great way to get free stuff).  He said to me as he went through some books "This is my favorite book.  Do you want it?"  To put this all in more context, this friend of mine reads more than anyone I've ever met.  He is constantly buying books and reading.  So when he said that this was his favorite book, I knew that it must be amazing, because he has fairly good taste.  So, of course, I took it.

After receiving the book, it took me a while to start reading it.  And then once I started, it took me, what seemed like, forever to finish it.  I carried this book around for nine months, occasionally on trips across the globe, but usually just reading a little on the bus every day.  I was afraid to sit down with it at home because I'd never put it down and never get anything else done.  But when I finally finished it, it was like I had another good friend move away.  It was difficult to walk away from.  By the end, I really just wanted to start reading it again.

When people saw me with such a large book, they often would comment on it and ask me what it was about.  The best way I could describe it was to say it was an Indian epic.  Having just been to India the year before I read this, it helped me understand some of the nuances that were discussed and to put into perspective the places that the characters went, but it was more than just that that lead me to enjoy this book so much.  This book combines just the right amount of love and romance with war and excitement.  Towards the end of the book, I felt attached to many of the characters.  I kept wondering what happened next.

To say that I enjoyed this book is an understatement.  I absolutely adored this book!  I would love to read it again, but I'm afraid that I might leave it again at the end feeling like I lost someone close to me.  Someday I probably will read it again, but for now I'll let it sit on my shelf.

Note: The copy of the book that I was given is a paperback from a used book store.  About halfway through reading it I had to tape the cover up to prevent it from falling apart.  I think that's a sign of some serious love towards a book.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Following in Someone Else's Travel Footsteps

Although I travel a lot for work, I sometimes take trips that are purely for fun.  In April, I took one such trip to New Zealand with my dad and my brother.  To fully understand why I took this exact trip and why I went with who I did, my story starts back 25 years ago with my grandparents (my dad's parents).  My granddad always had places in mind that he wanted to go in his lifetime.  Some of these places weren't even all that well-known, but he would read about them somewhere and then get his mind set on going.  One of these places was New Zealand specifically to hike the Milford Track.

For those of you who have never heard of the Milford Track, you are not alone.  I don't know anyone outside of my family who has ever heard of it.  It is a 4-day, 33.5 mile hike on New Zealand's South Island.  It is often referred to as "The Finest Walk in the World" and I like to think that my granddad wanted to go there for that very reason.

In November 1992, my grandparents (who were almost 60 at the time) went to New Zealand to hike the Milford Track.  My granddad enjoyed it so much that a few years later (I'm uncertain exactly when) went back with a friend of his and attempted to hike it again.  The first time, my grandparents had no trouble completing the hike, but the second time, my granddad had to be helicoptered out because he couldn't physically finish it.

Fast forward about 25 years later to April 2018.  My dad, my brother, and me went to New Zealand to follow in my grandparents footsteps and hike the Milford Track.

Our trip started in Auckland on the North Island.  From there we drove all the way to the southern tip of the North Island and took the ferry across to the South Island where we continued our journey south.  We eventually ended up in Queenstown which was our jumping-off point for the Milford Track.  In total, we spent about three weeks in New Zealand.

Waiheke Island (in the bay off the coast of Auckland)

If the North Island was amazing, the South Island was just absolutely incredible!  From rolling hills in the north to snow-capped peaks in the south, everything about New Zealand was beyond amazing!  Some of the highlights included taking a helicopter ride to the top of Franz Josef Glacier and zip-lining through the canopies in Rotorua.  There really wasn't anything about this country that I didn't like.

View from Franz Josef Glacier out to the West Coast of the South Island

Unfortunately, within the first week of our trip, I managed to severely sprain my ankle while hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on the North Island.  This made the rest of the trip a challenge, but one that I was still up for.  After spending several days with my ankle three times it's normal size, the swelling did go down a bit.  By the time we arrived in Queenstown, I was determined to hike the Milford Track even if it killed me.

View from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (I managed to sprain my
ankle about two miles from the end of the hike)

Despite the massive amounts of rain (which is completely normal for that part of New Zealand), the Milford Track was everything that it was hyped up to be.  With my sprained ankle it was definitely more difficult, but I managed to make it to each lodge by nightfall every day.  There were many times I questioned my decision to do the hike injured as I was, but in the end, it was all worth it.  I can't even begin to describe all the amazing scenery that I'm sure you won't find anywhere else in the world.

Milford Sound

Overall, this was an amazing trip!  And in true fashion of any trip of this kind, we managed to find my grandparents names in the guestbook from one of the lodges along the Milford Track.  It made the trip all that much more worth it.  I hope, like my granddad, I can go back someday.

I survived New Zealand!
(on the swing bridge across Hokitita Gorge)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

What is in an Accent?

I’m often intrigued at how some people can easily speak in different accents naturally. To me this always seemed a bit fake. I could never tell which accent was fake, but I couldn’t understand how someone could naturally switch back and forth. Then on my most recent trip to Southern Africa, I realized I was doing this myself. When speaking to someone with any type of African accent, I tend to slip into what I call “Uganglish”. I used this when talking to people when I lived in Uganda. It’s generally the same as how I normally speak except it’s slower and with a slightly different inflection in my words. I suppose that some people wouldn’t even consider this to be a different accent. However, I think it is distinct enough to be considered a different accent from my typical East coast American accent. I actually tend to slip into Uganglish without even thinking about it. I subconsciously know that it will make communicating easier with certain people who don’t speak English as a first language. The more I travel and experience, the more I continue to learn about myself.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

There is Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

On my recent trip to Africa, I met a polish couple while I was on a camping safari in Northern Botswana. When I first met them I asked where they were from in Poland. That kind of question  normally ends with people explaining to me the geography of their country because I don’t actually know their country as well as I pretend to. However with this couple, after they told me that they were from Poznan, before they could explain where that was, I got really excited and told them I had been there. I guess this isn't really the point of this blog post but it’s an aside that I like telling. 

Back to the while we were eating around the campfire at night, the group of five of us that were there got to talking. Considering this was quite an adventurous activity it was easy for the group to talk about traveling because we had all done quite a bit. At one point the idea of traveling solo came up because that’s what I was currently doing. It was at this point that this polish woman asked me “But aren’t you afraid?” To which I responded “Afraid of what?” It was her response that really hurt my soul and my spirits a little bit.  She said “Afraid of Africa?”

I try my best to understand why people don’t want to travel alone. In the end, I think it is a completely irrational fear, but I try my best to understand it and condone it. However when this woman basically asked me why I wasn’t afraid of Africa, I just felt such a tone of xenophobia. I don’t at all think that she intended to be bias to Africa or Africans, but when it really came down to it, she was.

This fear of Africa just seemed so absurd to me. After pausing for a moment, I responded by saying “What is there to be Afraid? Some of the most gracious and caring people I have ever met live on this continent. There really isn’t anything to be afraid of.” I think the polish woman agreed with me and possibly her bigger fear was traveling alone and it didn’t quite come out right, but I’m sure that she is not the first people to fear going to Africa.

People usually fear what they don’t know and because many people either haven’t been to Africa or don’t know anyone that’s been to Africa, they fear this vast unknown land. Presumably that and the expense to travel there are the biggest deterrents to tourism growing in the region.

Of course I fear the unknown to some extent, but unlike many people, I don’t let it stop me. Over the years my anxiety has grown, in general (this includes flight anxiety, work anxiety, etc.). Due to this, before a trip I often have a peak in anxiety. I like to think of it as adrenaline. Just like when you’re getting ready to jump out of a plane or bungee jump off of a bridge, you get a rush. I get a little bit of that before I go on a big trip. It’s that fear of the unknown. You don’t really know how things are going to go, so you fear, but you can’t let it stop you.

In this instance of fearing Africa, I found it particularly ironic considering the terrorist threat levels in many more well known and well traveled countries, especially in Europe. People think it is safer to travel in Europe or the U.S. as opposed to Africa, whereas I would argue just the opposite a lot of the time. Of course there are places in Africa that are not particularly safe these days, but I can guarantee you that I was much safer in Botswana than I’d be in London or Paris or New York. So sometimes we should fear more what we do know; however, even then, I don’t think you can let any of this stop you from living your life.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Back to Africa!

I recently found myself traveling for work again and this time I was back to Africa! As I was planning my trip, I realized that I hadn’t been back to the continent since I left nearly five years ago. The funny thing was that it felt like I was planning a trip home. It felt right and I couldn’t have been more excited!

In total I was traveling for about three weeks and I visited four countries (as long as you count crossing over into Zimbabwe to see the other side of Victoria Falls). The trip started off with about a week and a half for work (sprinkled with a couple fun days on the weekend) in South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia. Then I went off on my own, spending most of my time in Zambia but also crossing back into Northern Botswana.

Victoria falls was always a place I wanted to visit. The entire time I was in Uganda’s I tried to figure out when and how to get there and I just couldn’t quite make it work. So when my work trip ended in Zambia, the first thing I did was fly to Livingstone. I will admit that flying domestically in Zambia can be a little terrifying. The plane that I took to Livingstone was pretty small. It had no overhead compartments, no arm rests, and the seats didn’t recline. In fact, the seats were so small they made me feel like a really large person. As we approached Livingstone, it was raining. This caused the pilot to rapidly descend in order to get below the clouds. This was the first of several domestic flights I was taking and I was more than ready to get off. But in the end it was all worth it. I got to see Victoria falls! I also got to spend about an hour and a half playing with cheetahs outside of Livingstone, so I guess the ends justify the means.

Victoria Falls and Knife's Edge Bridge

After spending a couple of days in Livingstone, I headed out to Chobe National Park in Botswana for a camping safari. Staying in a really nice lodge can be great, but I don’t think you get the full feel for things unless you go camping inside the National Park. That being said, after two days, I was ready for a regular shower. I will admit, though, I really enjoyed the two days I spent camping in Chobe. I met some really great people and I saw a ton of animals!

After Chobe, I briefly returned to Livingstone from where I flew back to Lusaka to catch another flight to Mfuwe in Northeastern Zambia. From there I went out to South Luangwa National Park. Since I had just spent a couple days camping, I had decided to treat myself and stay in a nice lodge. I chose the Chichele Presidential Lodge, which used to be owned by the first president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda. After arriving, I could totally see how he could spend time entertaining guests there; however I had to use my imagination because I was the only guest when I arrive. It was technically rainy season and they don’t get many tourists that time of year. Ironically, they hadn’t gotten much rain recently so many of the tributaries of the river that dry up in the dry season were already bone dry. I spent about five nights there going on game drives and relaxing. It was there that I finally saw the last of the “Big 5” animals that I hadn’t yet seen on any safari...the leopard. In fact I saw four different leopards while I was there. One of the most amazing parts of South Luangwa National Park is that it is one of the few parks where you can go on night game drives. This is how you can see some of the rarer nocturnal animals.

Hyena waiting for a leopard above to drop their kill

Lion cubs

Wild dog

As much as I enjoyed living like royalty in South Luangwa, after five days I was ready to start my long trip home. First I flew back to Lusaka where I stayed one night and then I flew all the way back to DC the next day. No matter where you go, Africa will always require a long trip, but it was totally worth it! I hope my work sends me somewhere like that again soon, because I think I will always enjoy going back to that part of the world. It has somehow become a part of me.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

We Question What We Don't Understand

Recently, one of my coworkers brought to my attention that I ask a lot of questions.  At the time, I just shrugged it off.  I told him that I want to know things, which is why I ask.  As I think more and more about it, I'm realizing that I really do ask a lot of questions.  I think I enjoy questioning a lot of things in this world.  It seems to be the way I learn and understand things around me.  Some people just passively absorb information.  I, on the other hand, often don't pay too much attention passively.  That is not to say that I ask questions because I'm not paying attention, but, instead, I ask for the relevant information as it becomes important to me.

I guess I'm also fairly efficient.  In being this way, I often ask questions to people in following up on certain tasks.  Maybe I just don't trust most people to complete what it is I need them to complete or maybe it's just my way of maintaining some control.  I'm not sure.  But in asking many questions, I'm not just trying to acquire knowledge.  Many of my questions are ones that I already know the answers to.

This is all probably part of my somewhat outgoing personality.  Even though my coworker was jokingly insinuating that my questioning wasn't necessarily a positive attribute, I think questioning the world is relatively healthy.  It means I'm constantly learning and trying to gain more knowledge.  Now what could be wrong with that?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

What Makes You Feel Accomplished?

Everyone has goals in life, even if they are simple or seem inconsequential.  However, what I find most interesting is when you realize that you have goals that you didn't know you had, but that were probably there all along.

I got an email last night from a close friend of mine that I don't see or talk to very often, but when I do, our friendship is seamless.  We usually pick right up where we left off.  Her email yesterday was very short (which is pretty uncommon for her) and all it said was "I have a question: do you have interest in planning a trip to Guatemala together in 2018?"

Whether I really wanted to go to Guatemala or not was insignificant in that moment.  I was simply pleased with the fact that when she wanted to go somewhere, she immediately thought of me to go with her.  Part of this probably has to do with the fact that we are good friends, but considering we often don't talk from month to month, I like to think that it's because she knows I like to travel and she knows I'm pretty good at it.

My initial reaction to her email was sheer excitement at being asked.  In my email back to her I started off by saying "I feel like if I accomplish nothing else in life, I am happy to be the friend that people think of when they want to go somewhere."  This came before I even really thought about the question itself: Do I want to go to Guatemala?  Lol!

In the end, me having the travel bug in the way I do, odds are we will take that trip later this year (and I'm sure I'll write a post about that later), but for now I'm just going to relish in the glory of my accomplishment.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

An Unwalkable World

In my everyday life, I walk most places that I need to go.  Sometimes I take the bus or the metro (like if I'm going to work), but generally if I am running errands, everywhere I need to go is within a reasonable walking distance.  Despite the fact that I have a car, I usually try to walk to places if I can instead of driving.  I like walking and I'm always trying to stay healthy.

Obesity in the United States has been a hot topic for many years now.  There have been many different rationales as to why this has become such a problem, but I will offer my own reasoning for obesity: Too many people live in a world that is not walkable.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I have been renting my car when I'm not using it.  So I generally don't drive my car unless I am going out of town.  However, there are a lot of places in this country where people cannot live without their car on a daily basis.  In many of these places, even if there are destinations within walking distance, there are no sidewalks and the roads are dangerous to walk along.  It upsets me to see places that are blatantly designed so that people cannot walk.

Walking is one of the easiest, healthiest exercises that people can do.  We can blame obesity on the obese and their life choices, but I think we should first consider the environment they are living in.  I suspect that if obese people were to move to a walkable area and they had their car and their bus pass taken away, many of them would lose weight.

So I will take this moment to encourage everyone to walk more.  I usually find it difficult to walk without a purpose or destination.  However, I can always make up a reason to walk.  For example, I'll walk to the library just to see what books they are selling.  I may not buy anything, but I've found a reason to walk.  Having a dog to walk or offering to walk someone else's dog also can be a great way to get out and walk.  So hopefully I'll see all of you out there walking soon!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Holidays: Who Needs Them?

Having just made it past Halloween and with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years looming, I think this is the perfect time to discuss holidays.  Growing up I was always either too excited or not excited enough for holidays.  Being too excited just led to being bummed when the holiday was over and not being excited enough was often because the holidays weren't as great as they were hyped up to be.  As I've gotten older, I've come to better understand how I feel about holidays.  In general, I don't really like most holidays.  When I was a kid this was difficult to grapple with.  Everyone around me was having fun, and I couldn't always figure out how to.  As an adult, I'm learning not to care too much.

I never fully understood Halloween.  I just couldn't see what was so much fun about stressing out about your costume.  I don't really find it that much fun to dress up in the first place and now there is pressure to do so on Halloween and enjoy it. Some years I tried and others I didn't.  There were at least a couple years in college where I didn't even bother to waste my time and money on a costume.  That didn't stop me from going to parties and enjoying myself.  However this can be difficult, especially when there are people that try to make you feel bad about not dressing up.  Nowadays, I usually don't bother to go out. I can enjoy a quiet evening at home and go out some other time.  It works for me.

As a kid, Christmas is the greatest thing ever, but as an adult it's just really stressful.  I have to worry about whether or not everyone will like what I got them while simultaneously trying to appreciate everything I get even if I hate it.  There is nothing that bothers me more than getting gifts I don't want.  I have two specific issues with this: 1) it's a waste of money and 2) it proves how little people really know you.  Although I generally enjoy seeing my family at Christmas, I could really do without a lot of it.

New Years is a holiday that I never really understood.  What exactly are we celebrating?  I can't think of a New Years where I tried to celebrate and didn't spend a lot of money and barely enjoyed myself.  It's a holiday where everyone feels like they should have plans and doesn't mind being price-gouged to do so.  In the last few years, I have enjoyed staying home by myself on New Years.  I also wouldn't mind welcoming a friend or two and watching movies or something.  Again, holidays give us a chance to spend time with people, but it doesn't have to be elaborate.

Now Thanksgiving is a holiday that I do actually enjoy.  I would even go as far to say that it's my favorite holiday.  It's basically the best parts of Christmas without all the stress.  I think my love for Thanksgiving really came to light when I was living in Uganda.  Thanksgiving was the one holiday that you could celebrate like you were home.  You could get a turkey and make all the fixing.  Maybe your family wasn't there, but there was always a group of friends welcoming you to celebrate with them.  I guess you could say that I generally enjoy spending time with people and eating a lot of food.  So how could I not like Thanksgiving?

The 4th of July is another holiday that I'm pretty okay with.  I like to think I'm a patriotic person and the 4th of July is an opportunity to spend time with friends and/or family and celebrate our patriotism.  And of course food is usually involved.  It's like the summertime Thanksgiving.  What's not to like?

Easter is a little bit of a funny one.  It's kind of like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July because it's usually celebrated with family and friends and there is always tasty food.  But there is some gift giving which generally puts a damper on it for me as this makes it more like Christmas.  There's also all the candy at a time of year where most people are try to lose weight to fit into their summer wardrobes.  I guess I can tolerate Easter, but it's not one of my favorites.

Valentines Day always seems like a holiday meant to make a certain portion of the population feel left out.  In my opinion, holidays should be all inclusive and Valentines Day is just the opposite.  Don't couples get enough chances to celebrate with the plethora of anniversaries that they can come up with.  Even when I was dating, I never really saw the point.  Valentines Day is usually one that I ignore.

There are also a wealth of other holidays that I could talk about, but I'll spare all of you the pain.  Generally, random Mondays that I get off for "holidays" are a good thing.  I don't necessarily care what they are meant for, but I always enjoy a three day weekend.  It's a great opportunity to get out of town and go somewhere.  I also enjoy the not-so-celebrated holidays like National Sandwich Day.  Typically, they mean free food or services, which is always okay with me.

When I really think about it, I guess I often just dislike the enthusiasm that other people have for holidays that I don't like.  I also don't enjoy the pressure put on me from other people to participate in and/or enjoy holidays.  I think that everyday life is exciting enough.  I also prefer holidays in the sense of vacations.  This is where I truly have fun.