Thinking about learning in Zimbabwe

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It goes without saying that if you move to another country (rather than just visiting), you’re liable to learn a thing or two. And, if you’re me, and you’re a bit (a lot) of a control freak, you will learn plenty… sometimes the hard way.

If I were to really write out all the things I learned while I lived in Zimbabwe, it would be more of a doctoral thesis than a blog post. That said, these are just a few of the highlights; the most notables in a very long list of “I have learned”s.

First on the list (and a lesson that I learn almost everywhere I go) is that I am not in control. In Zimbabwe specifically, who is in control depends on what I’m trying to accomplish, although the almighty controller is definitely not me. Macro? The president. Obviously. My husband has plenty to say about that. Micro? Local drivers, volunteer road repairmen, cashiers at grocery stores… anyone besides me. Thus acknowledging my lack of (and inability to get) control, it is best to  just work within the system.

I have also learned how to be a hardcore pedestrian, because that is the only way Zimbabwean pedestrians survive. I was a bit worried, actually, that upon returning to Ottawa, I’d walk out in the middle of the street and wait for traffic to pass. Acceptable (and necessary) in Zimbabwe, but not in my Canadian city where we have functional (and sometimes pedestrian-controlled!) stop lights. So far, so good.

Much to my surprise, I realized that I don’t get bored just reading, writing and watching TV. Despite my previous workaholic behaviour, I managed to be fully content in my relaxing Zimbabwean life. I read nearly 20 books in 3 months, watched a lot of television, and wrote nearly half a journal full of thoughts. Those accomplishments alone give me great satisfaction. And then, of course, there’s my psychological healing. That’s important too.

Even perpetually pale people like myself are able to get a tan when the sun is always out and it is always (precisely) 28 degrees Celsius. Because Harare doesn’t have weather; it is sunny and then it rains occasionally and then it is sunny again. Weather can’t be the default topic in small-talk conversations because there is, quite literally, nothing to talk about.

Having a significantly smaller wardrobe (read: enough clothing for less than 2 weeks) is really freeing, and I love that I could choose to wear whatever I wanted without needing to consider anything besides the non-weather. But I missed wearing structured business attire, and dressing in a way that emphasizes my femininity. Maxi skirts, loose t-shirts, sports bras and yoga pants are the perfect attire for lazing around in the sun, but I actually don’t mind wearing high heels or a push-up bra again.

Despite the fact that a (small) portion of Zimbabwe’s population is white (British colonization, et cetera), I do not look like a Zimbabwean. It took me a while to figure out why, and then I realized: I was walking. White Zimbabweans are often wealthy, and wouldn’t walk much further than from their car to the store.

No matter how large and how powerful and how good an organization seems, they can still be a bit dim-witted about how to treat their employees. In other words, the United Nations isn’t as awesome as I thought. Sure, they do a lot of good work as a multilateral organization, but you have to jump through rings of fire while covered in gasoline in order to get a real job with them. And, if you have a vehicular crisis, they may or may not decide to rescue you. Details on that to come later.

No matter how much of your life you’ve spent being stressed out, enough time away from stress helps you forget what stress even feels like. This is the truth, people: I had to think (hard) to remember what the experience of being stressed looked like in my life. Miraculous, no? I imagine that stress might return now that I have a job and regular life to deal with again (or if not then, when I start grad school), but in the mean time, I am a stress-free me!

Do any of these insights resonate with you?

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Thinking about what I’m into in March 2014

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The husband and I, about to get on a plane to fly over the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

As per usual, I am participating in “What I’m Into”, hosted by the lovely Leigh Kramer, albeit a bit later than I’d like.As per not-so-usual, I’m currently traveling around South Africa! My husband and I will be returning to Canada on April 11th, but we’re having one last* southern Africa adventure before we fly back to the great white north.

* Referring, of course, to our last southern African adventure this time around. It is fully possible that we’ll be back in southern Africa again someday. There are still plenty of countries to see!

Books I’m Reading

  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson: I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying this book. I definitely have to be in the right mood to read it, but it is better than I anticipated.

Books I’ve Read

  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo: I didn’t know this book was non-fiction until I got to the author’s afterword, which is pretty mind-boggling. The story is fascinating, and–on top of that–true. What impresses me the most is the work that Boo put into getting the true story of the people of Annawadi: she lived with them (in a Mumbai slum), and followed their lives for years. She actually asked them questions enough to annoy the truth out of them. This is an excellent book, not just for its fiction-esque prose, but also for its profound (and truthful) analysis of poverty.
  • Crossed – Ally Condie: The first book in this trilogy didn’t blow me away, thus I ended up reading the second because it became available from the library. Crossed was okay, but (as I said of Matched) isn’t the best YA dystopia I’ve read. I am much more excited to re-read the Divergent trilogy than I am to read the final book in Condie’s series.
  • Found – Micha Boyett: I really loved this book, and I won’t say much else about it because I’ve already posted a full review, which you can read here. :)
  • Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson: I finally finished this book, and now I am a bit bamboozled by not being able to start the second book of the series immediately. This is really complex, really great fantasy. I am thankful that there are so many books in the series for me to read. Many thanks to my friend Aaron (this lovely lady’s husband) for the excellent recommendation; I doubt I would have gone for such high fantasy without Aaron’s enthusiasm for Erikson’s writing, and now I’m very happy I did.

Films I’ve Watched

  • 12 Years A SlaveI didn’t think this film was particularly remarkable. I like Lupita Nyong’o just fine, and am pleased with the things that she’s said, but this movie didn’t do anything for me.
  • American Hustle: I’m not sure what drew me to this movie—certainly not the grossness of the 1970s—but I really quite enjoyed it. Everything I watch her in makes me like Jennifer Lawrence more. My biggest critique was Amy Adam’s inability to maintain her accent.
  • Anchorman 2: The first part of this film was really quite funny, and reminiscent of the first Anchorman that I loved so very much. Unfortunately, after that, things went steadily downhill. The middle part of the film served no purpose whatsoever. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was still a bit disappointed.
  • The Boondock Saints: It is a bit strange to watch this film now, after having watched 4+ seasons of Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead. And, I mean, I guess I can see what people like about it? But I thought it was just okay.
  • Dallas Buyers Club:This is a seriously raw but also fascinating film based on the life of Ron Woodroof. My mind is still blown by how much weight Matthew McConaughey lost for the role. A great film, but trigger warning if you’re upset by seeing drug use.
  • The EastI had reasonably low expectations for this movie, and they were mostly met. In an alternate universe, my husband would happily sabotage companies that have wronged consumers. Thankfully, he has enough sense not to break the law.
  • Her: My dear film guru friend (whose movie reviews you should read here) spoke highly of this film, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The soundtrack was lovely, the filmography was beautiful, and the philosophical concept of falling in love with an operating system was fascinating. Contains some sexual content, none of which involves any visuals.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Lest you be concerned about my losing my nerd cred, I finally watched the animated version of Tolkien’s story from 1978. The animation is, of course, terrible, but the story is reasonably accurate. It does, however, only go as far as the battle of Helm’s Deep, which was a bit of a surprise to me.
  • Monsters University: You know what? My dog died and I was having a sad day and this movie was on TV. Pixar never fails to cheer me up.
  • White House Down: One of many terrible movies that I’ve watched on television since arriving in January. Also, did anyone else notice that this movie and Olympus Has Fallen are almost identical? Isn’t there someone responsible for filtering duplicate crappy movies? I think one is plenty.

Stuff I’ve Done

  • Traveled to Victoria Falls and Botswana: Both my husband and I have written individual posts for each of these trips, so I won’t say much else than it was good and I’m tired of public transportation in all its forms. You can read the details here or here.
  • Left Zimbabwe: Is this real life? Did I really live in Zimbabwe for the past 3 months? Even harder to understand is the fact that I’ve left Zimbabwe, and may or may not return. I’ll have another post up soon about the things I’ve learned, so keep any eye out.

Television I’ve Watched

  • The Walking Dead, Season 4 (Part 2): Despite my overall love for The Walking Dead, I am really quite disappointed with the second half of this season. It is so obviously just a set up for season 5, which would be more acceptable if the first half of season 4 didn’t end on such a dramatic note. Considering I started reading the graphic novels a bit ago, I’m finding that I enjoy the TV show a bit less than I did originally. Sometimes, it is just too much of departure from an already-good story. 

* Full disclosure: There are Amazon Associate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. Also, I received an advance reader’s copies of both Life After Life and Found, but my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Thinking about losing a constant

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Sometimes, I think I know all about grief, because:

In my preteen years, I watched our dear Jersey milk cow (who had become a much-loved lawn mower and garden-eating nuisance in her old age) have a heart attack, immediately after which I fell on the ground in dramatic preteen style because I loved her so deeply. Theatrical to be sure, but oh did I mean it.

My grandfather died when I was 13 and I was supposed to be going to an all-night youth group event. My parents sat me down, and encouraged me that my grandfather would want me to have fun. So, off I went, despite feeling weirdly obligated to be sadder than I was. A few days prior, I had watched my pastor talk with my grandfather about the afterlife, which was a profound experience for barely-teenage me to say the least. I wore a long navy blue dress with flowers to the funeral, and had very wet feet because of the melting snow.

Of the not-quite 30 people in my graduating class, at least one-third of us have lost a parent. A statistical anomaly, I’m sure. Hearing about the death of a classmate’s parent should not be a common experience for people who are still under the age of 30, let alone teenagers. Somehow, we’ve all gotten used to attending funerals. Perhaps that’s because we were transported midweek via school bus to a classmate’s father’s funeral in 12th grade.

And then, of course, we lost one of our own. I cried in my Jeep in a Starbucks parking lot. After that, another tragic accident, the partner of a classmate. I did my fair share of ugly crying, bamboozled by life and death and everything.

I’d been grieving the loss of my father for years before he actually died, and then it actually happened and I had to start grieving all over again. At the same time, I had to grieve the loss of the life that I knew and attempt to live the life that I now had–full-time and permanently employed, married, living in Ottawa.

And so, when I’ve gone home for Christmas for the past few years and my dear puppy Angel has been clearly in older-than-old age, I thought I was ready. Because I have a handle on grief, especially my own, and especially when it doesn’t involve a person. But, as it turns out, when I received the email from my Mom, wow were there tears. The dog that I haven’t lived with in nearly a decade was gone and that loss walloped me, hard, right in the heart.

After light-hearted movies and a trip to buy chocolate and writing things down, I finally realized why this loss was so very difficult. It wasn’t just my deep love for my dog, or the fact that I couldn’t see her one last time. I am grieving the loss of my beloved pet harder than I anticipated because she was there for me during all the other grief.

She was there shortly after my grandfather died.
She was there when my father’s condition started to get worse.
She was there when the parents of people I’d known my whole life were suddenly gone.
She was, almost always, there.

So besides being an excellent dog, well-behaved and very affectionate, Angel loved and served me very well. Angel, who has been and will always be a puppy (even when her face changed from orange to white), comforted me in my various experiences of grief, even if she didn’t know it.

Anyone else learn something surprising about themselves in light of grief?
I’m all (gentle) ears.

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Thinking about Botswana

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I’ve got a billion (or at least a lot) of other things that I want (and need) to write about, so I’m mostly going to direct you to read my husband’s blog post about Botswana. Because although we write quite differently, we did go on the same trip. That said, go to his travel blog and read what he has to say.

Because we went to Botswana (we couldn’t just go to Victoria Falls; come on)

and spent so many hours in a combi,
and saw an innumerable amount of hippos,
and fitfully slept in a tent (truth),
and flew over the Okavango Delta,
and saw elephants from the sky,
and discovered that small planes make me nauseous.

It was awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome. But let it be noted that Botswana is a hard place to travel if you’re not entirely self-catering (read: you have a 4×4 and tent supplies) or really fabulously rich. ‘Tis doable, but it is a real challenge.

What is the biggest travel challenge you’ve ever faced?
I’d love to hear about it (and empathize).

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Thinking about Victoria Falls

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First off, I should point out that my husband already wrote a post about going to Victoria Falls, which makes mine a bit redundant. However, considering he and I have very different writing voices, I’m going to go ahead and recap our trip to the falls as well.

Originally, we’d planned to leave Harare on a Thursday and return in time for Graeme to work on the Friday. A bit silly, because Fridays are half days in his office, but we figured that spending more than a week away would end up being too pricey. As it turns out, planning when to visit Victoria Falls from Harare has to be done around the bus schedule, unless you have great determination and a car (likely a bad choice), or an unlimited budget and are flying. So, contrary to original plans, we left on Friday morning and returned on Thursday night.

The Pathfinder bus we took only cost $50 for a 12-hour bus ride and was great. We booked in advance (by perhaps a week) and thus sat in the very front on the 2nd deck of the bus. Air conditioning combined with space to stretch out our legs and a great view is absolutely ideal for a long bus ride. We watched a crappy movie or two, and listened to a lot of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (because my husband is the absolute best).

Upon arriving in Vic Falls, we taxied to the Victoria Falls Rest Camp, ordered food that was slightly too expensive at their bar, and hit the hay. (Because, as Graeme also mentioned, we’re old people.) Our chalet, which had a desk, a bed, and overhead fan and electricity, cost $40 per night. Shared bathrooms were close by, and there was a decent pool available as well.

We woke up early (one of us earlier than the other) and headed straight to the falls the next morning. Entry to the Vic Falls National Park cost us $40; $30 for me as an international, and $10 for Graeme because he has a temporary work permit (and thus temporary residency) in Zimbabwe. Even if it cost us $60, it still would have been worth the cost to visit the falls.

If you’re visiting in March like we did, bringing umbrellas and waterproof coats is a must unless you feel like paying money to rent them or being totally soaked. Wallets, cameras and anything valuable should be kept in Ziploc bags. There are parts of the falls walk (which hasn’t something like a dozen different look out points) that aren’t terribly misty, and others that are exactly like getting into a shower with all of your clothes on.

Continue reading

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