Sunday, May 27, 2012

Destruction and Construction

It was sultry Friday morning a few days ago.  When I’d decided to be ecofriendly and put the A/C on a timer the night before, I hadn’t anticipated that I would be listening to the 6:30 alarm and feeling my skin stick to the sheets.  There was a bit of a breeze on the porch. The rooster strutted around just outside the front gate with a few chickens in tow.  The air is loaded with heat and moisture even as the sun is low in the sky. 

Kae, one of two Thai teachers that shares our house,  blow dries her long black hair with the floor fan.  Dah is ironing her shirt.  I plug in the kettle and make an executive decision to not wear the beautiful green satin shirt that was made for me last semester. When I wore it for the first time last week, I had 6 inch sweat pools under each armpit by 3pm. I got to school that week,  the  teachers commented about my rebellion at the morning assembly, to which I responded in Thai, “Hey--I’m a foreigner (farang). It’s too hot.  I don’t want to look like him.”  I point to the Man Who Loves the Microphone, who is wearing his fancy shirt and shows sweat across the entire front and back of his chest.  The teachers giggle.  They don’t seem to sweat much.  Apparently I have the same problem as large men.

The past couple of weeks have been fraught with familiarity and difference, things breaking and others forming.  Over the past week or so, I’ve lost my keys, had two flat tires on the motorbike followed by a dead battery, no internet service at home, painfully slow service at school, an iphone with the screen now so dim I can’t use it and a computer that appears to be malfunctioning at times.  (There’s a footnote at the bottom of this piece for those inclined to suggest some fixes.)  All of these events that seem to compound and confound my capacity to feel comfortable here and I’ve reached a new level of cross-cultural fatigue.  What seemed like a grand new adventure in November 2011 is now just a series of belabored attempts to solve my increasingly sophisticated problems.

It came to me most forcefully last weekend.  I’d made some plans to go see Rachael, my young teacher friend in the next big town up the road.  While the school had made an effort to repair the motorbike Saturday, (needed to make the big trip across the bridge to the bus station) it appeared that the repairman simply put air in the tires instead of repairing the leak. (I was a bit too conservative to drive the motorbike to the shop with a flat tire.)  “We’ll get someone to fix that tomorrow Ellen.”  Kim said.  But as it became clear that no action was being taken on Sunday, I went into Plan B.

With the sun hat, extra cash and list in hand, I just had my feet on the pedals of the bike when Kae’s entire family pulled up in a truck.  Mom, Dad, Grandma, sisters, aunt, cousins, nearly ten in all, made the trip from Sukhothai.    I helped the grandmother find a seat in the house and realized things looked a little messy, then dodged around picking up a few of my things.   The team unloaded a brand new red and pink bicycle, sheets of dried mango, a stacked metal container of various lunch fixings and Thai dresses for Dah and Kae, which they promptly modeled  over their existing clothes. I was starting to feel trapped; if I stayed too much longer I'd be on the hook for watching a family reunion as a clueless bystander.

I went into Dah and Kae’s room and tried to explain that I wanted to go out.  As I made preparations to finally embark, the visitors bemoaned the culturally inappropriate declined invitation.  The girls fibbed to the family about a mysterious friend to cover my absence. With a few strong pushes on the pedals and a wave, I was headed off to do my own thing.

I biked hard for the first kilometer when an incident from high school came to mind.  I’d been drinking before a school dance in my freshman year.  Music by the Bay City Rollers wafted through the barrier of tables set up for admission, the gray money boxes resting in front of an adult with a hand stamp.   “You can’t come in Ellen.  You’ve been drinking.”   In some kind of rapid-fire and misguided decision about my destiny,  I pushed my way through the adult and student volunteers, made a dash for the girl’s bathroom just outside the gymnasium doors and slammed the stall door shut behind me.   A diminutive, acne scarred, first year female teacher was sent into negotiate.  We discussed my limited options, other girls pleaded with me that they needed to use the toilet and before long I was escorted into Assistant Principal Mosconi’s office for the call home to my parents.

On my current escape,  the raw emotions of flight, desire for self-determination and a longing for a meaningful conversation were all jumbled up in the tears that finally got released under the big old fig tree on the outskirts of the old city walls near the city shrine.  Once recovered, I went out on errands for the rest of the day and returned home accomplished and ready for Monday.  On the way down the back road short cut from the Big C on the final stretch to home, Kae’s younger sisters waved goodbye from the open bed of the departing truck.

I finally got up to see Rachael a week later, yesterday.  In our relaxed conversation on the front porch of her friend’s unused family homestead overlooking the Ping River, we talked about what’s changed since last semester.  Not only did the teacher’s  uniform schedule shift from wearing green on Wednesdays to Fridays, I also have my new class of fourteen first graders, a slew of new young teachers that are clogging up the school’s internet speed and three of us sharing the small house.

With my new-found power,   I’m committing a few actions of revolt: putting the desks in a U-shape instead of rows, using songs and games as the primary vehicle English education using a curriculum the school bought at my request and nurturing the students to  speak their own English instead of repeating after me. I’m creating a rich and fun environment for learning.   The school and the parents are happy and I’m developing my own confidence and realistic expectations for what I can accomplish in the classroom.  I witness the kids thinking and forming, gaining confidence and vocabulary words for basic action in the classroom.  Generally, it’s a blast getting to know the students in more depth than I was able to do last semester.    There’s a lot to do.

As this morning draws to a close at the Riverside House and our ride appears for the trip back to town,   I point out the heron standing on a large branch of the tree close to the river’s edge, wings outstretched perpendicular to the branch.  Whether he is drying his wings or simply trying to cool off, I am not sure.  Like him, I am waiting my way through this semester to see where my next flight will take me.  Who knows what fish are swimming below the surface, what new challenge will emerge in the season of rain and thunder?   The problems are sure to resolve in one way or another.   The heron is ready to shift his perspective and weight to mount a new journey aloft; I also must focus on what’s needed to ensure my resilience to overcome the magnitude of the everyday in a different culture and keep my attitude focused on the power of what can become.

Technology footnote: I turned up the screen resolution and that didn’t help.  There was a morning when I picked it up from the charging station on the top of the fridge and there was water on the bottom of the case.  I put it in a bag of rice afterwards.  I did some research and discovered that I may need to update iTunes before I can update the iPhone operating system and then do a restore.  However, the iTunes installation has generated a couple of error messages on each try; a manual installation causes the entire computer to freeze up.   For the times that I’ve tried to upgrade the operating system first, the network connection says it will take 15 hours and then “times out” after about two hours.  It’s backed up, but the 13 “notes”  won’t transfer over despite my efforts to email them to myself.  Blech. I miss Words with Friends, the world clock, my Thai dictionary and the Huffington Post app.  At least the home internet is working.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Over the hill and on the edge in Laos

It hadn't occurred to me until after I’d gotten an early evening bus to the transit center in P’lok,  taken an early bus to Udon Thani the next morning, caught another bus to Nong Khai in the afternoon and checked into Mut Mee Guesthouse /restaurant and community center that evening, where I observed a young man inviting his peers at the next table to go to a party that night, that I was now 50 years old.
The center of the wheel of life at Salakaekoo, reflecting one's many selves.
The center of the wheel of life at Salakaekoo, reflecting one's many selves.

I wrote myself some quick reminders of how I wanted to live this next stage while waiting for a quick boat trip up the Mekong River the following evening. I’d had a great bike ride to Salakaekoo, a spiritual sculpture garden and was feeling connected and alive.  50 is a milestone for many, but for me it also reflects over 40 years of living with a chronic incurable medical condition.  I reflected back on my adolescence, when my substance addled brain was convinced that I wouldn’t make it to 40 years old.  There was some rationale to that, many Type 1 Diabetics (T1) will have reduced life expectancy or suffer profound complications ranging from depression, to loss of limbs or kidney failure.   I observed my own pattern of continual singleness and the desire to push myself into situations that “the establishment” would consider unwise- and the great learning that resulted from those adventures.  Despite not having a traditional career, I’ve managed to save some money.   Overall, things are good.

Resting in my confidence, I developed a few guidelines to use as a map for this next stage:  reduce the shimmy of fat but stay loose and flexible.  Steward the resources and invest in activities that cultivate your brain.  Know that you are now at the peak of a bell curve, how long this will plateau onward is unknown. Live strongly and wisely each day.  I hit the border to Laos the next day, eschewing the tourist mini-vans for the local transport.

After spending a day, a party, and a night with Mark and Nancy, I was on the plane to Luang  Prabang.Nam Kah River that flows into the Mekong
                                              Nam Kah River that flows into the Mekong
This ancient city was the seat of Lao royalty and the capital until the communist takeover in 1975. It is situated on an projectory at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers; there are temples scattered throughout the old city.  And amidst the hubbub of traveler ambiance, I realized that I was lonely.  I’d planned to stay  in a budget place where I could meet fellow travelers, but as I slipped on a rotting piece of fruit at the entrance and noted the pile of whiskey bottles near     the door it became apparent that this wasn’t the place for me. 

I ended up as the only guest in a small place at the center of town, paying more than my budget. Mind you, the room cost $25 a night with hot water, TV and air conditioning.  As I explored the area on the first day, I was struck by the paradoxes of existence- guesthouses were prolific, the main tourist streets were cluttered with towering dry erase signs advertising the various tours, the logo-clad wait staff stood at the sidewalks waiting for the evening diners.  At the same time, the kids were picked up from school, the dinners were shared on the living room floor and the locals watched the parade of foreigners meander down the streets each night.

The reality of this current situation- traveling alone and in a country where my language acumen is limited-  leads to a well worn path into the recesses of my internal dialogue.  There are times when this is a happy and contented place and others when it is a tormented litany of self-doubt and isolation.  We all go back to our childhood, but alas I have memories of being ostracized and ignored by my classmates at school because there was something “wrong with me”. I find the lonely times are dangerous;  holding a secret longing being invited and included.  The best way to soothe that malcontent is to get moving.   I’d picked up an excellent map of Luang Prabang in Vientiane, so in the early part of morning I rented a one-speed bike and headed off across the bridge to explore the place where tourists don’t usually go.

 As I bumped my way through dirt roads, I was haunted by the fact that—if something went wrong—I could be in a really bad situation.  Laos has one of the worst health care systems in the world, my contacts in Vientiane didn’t know much of my plans and I was barely able to communicate with folks in this part of the town- let alone convey that I was a T1 and wore hard contact lenses.  The thought became a bit obsessive,  holding me captive in circulating and destructive rumination for the early part of the morning.

The air was humid, breezy and punctuated with the occasional shower: perfect weather for a tropical bike ride.  I stopped by a small micro-enterprise village where the local silk weavers and paper makers crafted, climbed up one of the temples on the way where a couple of boys looked at me in a shy and mischievous way. Beautiful handwoven Lao silk
Beautiful handwoven Lao silk
As I returned to the road, they tossed a small rock down the steps behind me.   The stone settled just a few steps above me and I looked up and shook a finger at them, trying to laugh it off.  I stopped by a small stand for a fruit drink and overhead the shopkeeper answer her daughter’s question with “kon dee-o”.  Person alone.

As I hit the main road, I thought that I’d overshot the intersection on my planned loop and backtracked, the reversed again when I was certain I was now heading in the right direction.  On the paved road,  girls were riding their bikes to school with neat button down shirts and paa-sinh (Laotian sarongs) with a friend riding and texting sidesaddle on the back.  The motorbikes, trucks, bicycles, dogs and pedestrians continued their intricate road dance prevalent throughout most of Southeast Asia.   I stopped for lunch of fried rice and drank the entire water pitcher on the table.

Feeling refreshed, I got back on the bike in the relative languor of the mid- afternoon with my planned route back to the old city firmly planted in my mind.  However, in the throes of a transition from the dirt to the pavement, my bike hit an edge and I was thrown into the unusually quiet street.  I thumped my fist to the pavement in frustration, then assessed the damage:   a shallow, two inch abrasion to the underside of my arm below the elbow, a bit of handlebar covering scraped off, a dented kickstand.   Trembling in recovery of both mind and body, I cleaned up the seeping blood from my road rash with the complimentary Lao Airlines pocket from the purse.     I noticed that all was quiet around me; no one checked in.  I coagulated for couple of minutes and got back on the bike, trying to ignore the throbbing of the wound and the sound level of the berating self-talk.  I was determined to continue.
 Day one of injury: healing fast!
                                                                  Day one of injury: healing fast!

My next planned destination was the Temple of Peacefulness, located at the peak of a small hill on the south.  I made my way up, stashing the bike at the bottom near the monk’s residences.   I removed my shoes and entered the temple sanctuary, where I knelt before the image of the Buddha and the photos of the deceased and venerable monks of this temple.  I completed the requisite three renditions of “Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa.   Honour to the Blessed One, the Exalted One, the fully Enlightened One”.   I sat back on my heels in silence, only then feeling the crushing weight of loneliness, anxiety and relief from the accident. A few tears emerged and I tried to clear my mind of the physical and mental burdens.  The words, “You are never alone” came to me.

Seconds later a delicate breeze wafted in through the temple windows, cooling my overheated self.  The screech of the cicadia and the aroma of the plumerias chimed in.  I sat in peace for a while, regrouping and reflecting on all the elements of the internal and external worlds. I got back on the bike and headed on one more errand to go to the silver shop to purchase a birthday present.  I found my way back for a shower, a bandage and a rest before a late dinner.  I was too depleted to consider the river kayaking trip that I’d researched the night before and absolved myself to meeting with some Lao English students for some practice and go to a museum on my last day before an early morning flight the morning following.
Hanging out with the dogs at the temple.
                                 Hanging out with the dogs at one of Luang Prabang's many temples.

It’s at times like this-- a near miss, confusion about location, a brush with our own fallibility and vulnerability—that makes me question the wisdom of this self-imposed journey.  As Sally Bramstead mentions in her engaging memoir of her epic battle with debilitating depression, “Shoot the Damn Dog”, research has proven that isolation and rumination are two factors that increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.  Those influences, when combined with the challenges of living in a different culture where I don’t speak the language as a culturally abnormal middle-aged single woman—well heck---  here’s a reason that I feel adrift, disconnected and teetering during the ebbs of this creative life adventure.  I’m tired after weeks of travel. It was time to rest.

I finally returned a few days ago and had a nice bout of gastroenteritis to celebrate.  I was welcomed home; even the neglected, thin dog in my neighborhood approached me and gave my hand a swift lick. The Director asked to stay for the entire school year—or until late March 2013—to “manage” a brand new English Program for the first cohort of 12 first graders.  Despite my intentions to have reached a conclusion over the past month, I felt I had to defer for a while longer.  So much is unknown as the new school year is beginning to unfold.  I have a new Thai roommate sharing the house with me.  I’m team teaching with a newly graduated Thai teacher that doesn’t speak English.  I will be creating the new curriculum for teaching the students math and computers.  The bright spot is that I am not teaching on Friday afternoons, which means I can travel more easily over the weekends.

The question remains of how I will manage to fill the longing for social interaction and community that can rectify the pervasive, low-level loneliness and isolation in this small town.  Is it possible here?   Will the majestic trees that line the street from school into town and  the extensive bike trails in the Ancient Forest Temple Across the Street be enough to nurture my spirit?  Will  the smile of the carrot juice vendor and the bemused and supportive expressions of my compadres in the Thai aerobic dances held at the riverside park at sunset be enough to sustain my desire for community?  Time will tell. I have to trust that there are unknown forces in the world that propelled me here.  There are lessons to be learned from the entire range of experience, good and bad.   When I was conferred with my longtime friend Carrie over whether to stay here or move on in only four months, she only said, “You will know when the time is right.”   And for now, that seems good enough to keep me moving forward with the best intention for each bright and hopeful morning.

The mountains from the plane as I departed Laos.
The mountains from the plane as I departed Laos.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Slices of Life in Africa

What do you do when you didn't take many photos during three week in Africa and the experiences are too jumbled for a complete, crafted and cogent narrative?    One writes snapshots...   
Welcome to Africa 
I'm heading up the stairs to the airport train shuttle with my duffel bag. Months of anticipation are escalating into anxiety generated by the imminent red-eye departure and compounded by rumors of lengthy immigration lines.  I know I'm at the right check in when there are no signs for Ethiopian Air and a lengthy line of African people each with a luggage cart loaded with huge, colorful cargo bags and at least one large screen LCD TV set in the bunch.  The agents finally show up an hour before the plane is due to depart and begin the check-in.  A few people  are testy and argumentative; the single African manager is scrambling to deal with a form, using carbon paper to create a duplicate,  that authorizes my credit card to be used for the ticket in addition to dealing with the overloaded and pushy people trying to get their way.    On the plane, I'm searching for a place to put my one piece of carry-on luggage amidst the stuffed bins and starting to lose patience.   The tall, ample and  imposing dada (sister) dressed in a vibrant yellow batik patterned dress with matching head scarf takes charge.  She looks in both directions for the flight attendant, puts her finders to her lips to quell any protest, and stuffs my bag into the luggage compartment in first class.  Then she asks to have my seat next to the window.

Swimming in Champagne
A dhow- photo and quote from a museum: "triangular lateen sails slung obliquely."
A dhow- photo and quote from a museum:
 "triangular lateen sails slung obliquely."
Carrie and I ventured out to Mbudya Nature Preserve for the day,  an island just off the coast from Dar es Salaam.  We take turns swimming as the tide comes in in heat of the mid-afternoon.  I'm floating in the Indian ocean, impressed by the warmth of the water as it hits the hot sand. The dhows sail offshore and the sky is punctuated by the huge cumulus clouds in a crystal blue sky.

  As I reach the shore,  a sensation emerges.  Bubbles breaking from the sand below in rows of tiny  straight lines of air fighting gravity reach the surface.  Who knows  if they are just pockets or the outgoing breath of sea creatures, but they are delicious light caresses of delight.   I have to take a few minutes to flip myself around in a rotisserie of this marine bubbly. Yippee! 

The Baobab and the Spigot 
The "hello song" in process
The "hello song" in process
We have time for a walk before our snorkeling trip on the northern coast between Tanga and Pangani, so we venture down the road for a walk to the village close to Peponi Resort where we're staying.  As we meander past goats on the porches and the mud and stick houses, a posse of pre-schoolers accompanies us to the sea. The girls are wearing faded yet colorful dresses, tattered with time and re-use.  In the center of town there is a huge Baobab tree with a single water pipe and valve underneath, the water  supply for the entire community.  The children chant "sunglasses, sunglasses" over and over again.    I try to show a high-five to the oldest girl and she cringes thinking that I'm going to hit her. I demonstrate with Carrie and then they are eager to share our enthusiasm, but shortly after become a bit annoying in their requests for pens, money and candy.
There's a dugout canoe in process, overturned just near the shore.  The boat  is built from large sections of a mango tree; the hull has graceful curves of sections fitted together and the bow is formed in a petal-like arc from wood, tools and time.  Carrie confers with the babu (grandfather) about the safety of walking from the beach back to our resort and we move on to disturb a few hermitages of ghost crabs scuttling along the way. 

The bus from Tanga to Moshi seems to stop every 15 minutes to pick up another person, but we have the premier #1 and #2  seats just behind the front door because we bought our ticket before we headed south to the resort two days ago.  Before long, Carrie has a Maasai teenager's skinny butt resting on her shoulder and there is a Mama and her three year old son sitting on a half bag of rice in the aisle next to our seats.  The boy is dressed in a matching button down shirt and shorts of shiny gold fabric. He soon gets perched on someone else's lap across the aisle and keenly looks out the front window, but as the afternoon progresses his eyelids begin to fall.  He ends up stretched across our laps, sleeping soundly. We approach Moshi and the boy awakes.  His eyes open and there's a momentary flash of shock, disbelief and wonder over these two mzungo smiling at him.  Without a peep and with visible relief, he's passed back to his rightful place and later looks at us again over his mother's shoulder.  Like many of the Tanzanian people, his face remains a mystery to me. I find myself unsure of people's reactions. Smiles don't emerge easily. 

Genitalia: the crash course
Day one of safari in the custom Landcruiser with our guide Sam,  with my mom, sister, nephew and Carrie.  On the highway, we pass a few Maasai boys dressed in black shukas and ostrich feather headdresses.  They have large circles of white paint on their cheeks.  Sam explains that they are in the circumcision ceremony, which is only held every few years for a large group of boys from the surrounding villages. They hang out close to the road to score some money from tourist photographers.   After the ceremony and the ongoing healing process, they will assume a warrior status in their tribe.  We make our way into Lake Manyara for the afternoon.  Shortly after, we encounter an large troop of baboons (not troupe ;)  and Sam points out the young male with a wound between his legs. "This is all about the battle for the dominant male position in the troop. If the younger males make a challenge and loses, the winner will rip out his testicles."  We are silent in the car, contemplating the realities of ecosystems and culture.  

The Baboons of Ngorogoro
We pull up to the retro cement archway at the visitor center of the Ngorogoro Crater, one of northern Tanzania's most frequented wildlife viewing destinations and protected status since 1959.   There's another troop of baboons in the parking lot, keeping to the sidelines amid scads of groups, vehicles and guides paying admission to the park.  On a quick visit to the restroom, I'm a bit chagrined to find western seated toilets, each clogged with toilet paper.  I'm not sure whether this is evidence of an inability to use the persnickety African toilets or the baboons having a field day.  The exhibits in the Visitor Center are tattered, old photos connected to torn paper captions by strings re-glued to the poster board multiple times. The diorama exhibit of the crater has paint worn off from where the hand carved wooden pointer shows the descending road into the crater.   As we enter the park, Barb asks, How much was the admission fee Sam?"   "It costs $560." He says, resignedly.  I do some quick math from the parking lost estimates and admit that the annual revenue to the country would be staggering.  "The guides had a strike last year because the Conservation Authority wouldn't fix the road. It was dangerous and we had to do something. He elaborates over the next while  giving us an animated briefing on Tanzania's political history and current system.  Managed under Socialist principles under the leadership of Julius Nyerere's (whose image is in nearly every establishment) until the mid-80s,  Tanzanian government has since become far less egalitarian.  Those in power, elected wearing uniforms or conducting desk jobs, will often line their pockets to "facilitate" the process.

"Holy Mother of God", 
Sam exclaims as the Landcruiser glides to a gentle halt in the middle of the Serengeti grasslands.   We all look to the large acacia  tree on the right and start counting the brown shapes on the way up to 12.  "I've never seen anything like this before" Sam says, "The Serengeti lions aren't supposed to climb trees."  But here they are, with a young male perched on the lowest crook of the tree trying to get comfortable.  He ends up with his hindquarters higher than his head and we are giggling in the truck as he shifts from his obviously uncomfortable position and nearly loses his balance.  This is the joy of wild places, listening to the crickets, the breeze and the birds.

Where am I?
I'm taking over for my sister for the night shift around 9pm.  My 77 year old mother has an unexplained high fever, escalated in a mere two hours.  Sweaty and delirious,  she wakes every ten minutes with the same five questions: Where am I, Where's George?  Where's everyone else?  How long have I been like this?  How did I get here?  
Gong rock. Maasai people used this as a call to gather for regional meetings.
Gong rock. Maasai people used this as a
call to gather for regional meetings.

In the long tropical night on the shores of Lake Natron on the Kenya border where there are no maps that show the roads and many kilometers from any professional medical help,  I am wracked with questions about our futures.  I pour cool water on a towel and place it on her forehead. After another dose of Tylenol, she finally sleeps in the wee hours. 

In the morning, the fever has broken but as we get dressed she doesn't recognize her eyeglasses as her own. Barb and I confer, pack her up, get some breakfast and Sam make tracks back to Arusha.  Mom's relieved we're on schedule and assumes the position in the co-pilot's seat, but the drive back around the last part of the loop is like beginning the trip all over again as her memory of the entire safari seems to have dissipated overnight.  By the next day, she's able to make the 36 hour flight back to the states with Barb and I holding our breath that the long journey doesn't create any complications. (Incidentally, all is well now. We'll never know what happened internally.)

Back in Dar es Salaam, the bajaj driver called at 8:40 am to say that he picked up another fare and was on his way elsewhere, even though Carrie had arranged it with him just 45 minutes ago.  Ever the prepared, she whips out her phone and calls young Chuto to give me a ride in his three wheeled cab to the ferry terminal for Zanzibar.  The traffic is heavy, my throat begins to constrict with the exhaust and I'm worried about making the boat.  With no time to spare, we pull into the dock area and are immediately surrounded by a mob of predatory touts, each eager to sell me a ticket. 

Chuto looks at me with horror and both of us have our palms faced outward, trying to quell the ruckus of demanding shouts; neither one of us anticipated this.  He picks a guy,  walks me to their door and I thank him as he makes his way back to his vehicle.  Then the tall ticket seller kicks into gear.    There's two old people  seated in the office, a single metal desk with only a calculator.  "Madam, the ticket is  75,000 shillings."  "No, it's not. I should be 55,000." and we discuss back and forth for a while.  "Port fees Madam."  And as I reach for my phone to demonstrate the conversion in a last ditch effort to win, I realize I've been scammed and I cave, a better alternative to returning back out into that human maelstrom and finding the ferry's official ticket office on my own.    He finally brings the printed ticket, escorts me to the dock gate carrying my luggage and asks for a tip for the service.  Disgruntled, I leave him on the other side of the gate and make my way to the deck, happy to be sailing off to Zanzibar.  The ocean breeze and crystal blue sky are a great buffer against those who try to exploit.

At the Zanzibar Museum.
At the Zanzibar Museum
We arrive and the  departure from the boat was smooth and welcoming.  I explore this ancient trading city, take in the museum and go for a walk.  Over the remainder of the afternoon, I'm invited, beseech-ed, shown artwork, chatted up,  and misled until just after sunset, where I watch the boys diving off the seafront park walls.  In the encroaching darkness, I find my way back through Stonetown.  The walls are high, a labyrinth of "streets" that feel like alleys.  In my alone state, it feels dark and somewhat menacing.  I find the hotel, stumble my way through the front door and up the stairs to the breezy rooftop deck to settle down.  I find myself crying a bit, overwhelmed and a little confused, weeping into a hanky that's already damp from mopping up the day's perspiration.  Simultaneously in the next few moments, the lights all flicker on and children's shouts arise from the streets below.  With the understanding that I wasn't completely nuts,  I giggle to myself in the absurdity of my overactive mind trying to comprehend a complex environment..

Way Stations 
Carrie fixes me a wonderful lunch of chewy mshkaki in curry sauce and some sauteed greens after I'm showered, packed and waiting for the driver to take me to the airport.

This simple meal, so similar to one I would prepare for myself, is rich and meaningful after three weeks of restaurant food.  Carrie and I reminisce about the "Tin Casa", her mobile home in Boulder where I spent man a night in my travels.  We've seen each other through many life stages over the past 20 years.   Throughout all of my travels, Carrie's home (wherever she is) has been a place to get grounded, resupplied and renewed for the next adventure.  Our friendship is a deep well of strength, affinity and giggly humor.
The Serengeti.
The Serengeti.

As I headed to the hostel on the  arctic-cool subway in Bangkok, I felt a tangible sense of relief after leaving Africa. While Carrie's translation abilities and extroverted nature were a conduit for cultural understanding and  facilitating transit and my family's participation reassuring, I felt the constant presence of an internal discomfort over the month.  My blood sugar remained high despite taking measures to correct it.  The heat, safety issues and logistics prohibited much physical activity.  The moments of relaxation and peace were rare: my senses, intellect and emotional self were flexed on many levels.   Many of my assumptions about community development, social structures and human nature were tested;  I lost my naivete in the realities of poverty, aggressive commerce (a glance at an item would engage a transaction) and the realities of my wealth.   Yet. the incredible process of how all creatures evolve to their environment and continue to adapt for survival is awesome.  On one day in Ngorogoro, we watched the dung beetle roll its dung-wrapped bundle of eggs across the road.  Pushing its progeny with its hind legs, the bettle takes incremental steps to secure the its future with the providence of luck against many mighty forces. 
Team Tanzania (L-R). Sam, Mom, Me, sister Barb, nephew Drew and Carrie.
Team Tanzania (L-R). Sam, Mom, Me, sister Barb, nephew Drew and Carrie.