Monday, September 13, 2010

100 days

100 day ( give or take) until I am done with Peace Corps service. I have taken stock on a lot of past memories and things I have written, it feels like a whole life wrapped up in 21 months. I feel as if I left for Kenya 10 years ago, so much has changed.

Behind the purple prose of this blog, are my experiences here, which literally full of dramatic highs and desperate lows. I sit here with a mere 100 days left its hard to encompass, the magnitude of it all that has happened and everything that will come.

I have started my third and last term at St. Luke's. I try to count how many pots of water I warmed for my bucket baths, how many bowls of oatmeal I've eaten, how many times I have seen the morning parade performed by class 4, how many books I've read at my desk, how many lesson plans I have prepared, how many children I have taught, how many letters I've received and written, how many chickens I've chased from my house, how many times I laughed so hard I cried, or how many times I cried so hard I had to laugh, how many times my students thanked me for teaching, how many times they've understood concepts, how many conversations I had with my neighbors,how many lessons I've learned in the silence of the evenings on my stoop, how many times I've just appreciated life. Its an eternity.

For now I'll let Christine sit on my lap, Caroline play with my hair, Patrick carry my books, Jackline practice finger spelling my name, Consolata hold my hand. 100 more times.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

South Africa

I sway back and fourth in the frigid, restless, Atlantic Ocean, as the rain preserves, I hold my breath, ready. I am not safely nestled in front of my TV, for shark week; in fact I am not even on the boat, I am in the water, surrounded by great white sharks.

I calmly grab the bars of my cage, and think how did I end up here? As shark bait none the less? The waves crash and the captain orders the boat back- we only have 20 minutes. The squall has snuck upon us, and the white-capped waves are growing stronger by the minute. This is the most dangerous part of the trip; an impending capsized boat. Yet here I am, in the unforgiving Ocean where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic, and battle it out, where seals migrate every year, and where Great Whites come to feast on their blubber, in South Africa; this is shark alley.

This is one of my last days in South Africa; a trip that proved to be as magical as it was memorable. Since landing in Jo’burg, South Africa has left me something to think about. After traveling to West Africa and living in East, I never thought a place like this existed. Paved roads, stop lights, Mcdonalds? Where was I? Huge cities, even bigger townships, and a history as torn as a Shakespearean tale. South Africa was quite the anomaly.

I swallowed everything Capetown had to offer—diversity, charm, edge, history, beauty, a Big Mac. The mysterious table mountain frames the whole city, and striking cliffs the hug the coastline. Everyone is still alive from the buzz of the World Cup, proud of their accomplishments, and rightfully so. I wander the streets wide-eyed taking it all in with awe. People singing on the street, gives me the chills, the hum of the curio market, and the solemn moments inside a church turned museum, telling the tales of apartheid’s cruel conjecture. Capetown; it is what I needed.

Any trip is only as good as the company you keep; and I was in luck. Two of my fellow Volunteers, were my partners in crime, confidants, lenders, moms, sisters, photographers, co-pilots, captains, interpreters, wine tasters, and more than anything friends; the best one could ask for. We left Kenya together and clung to each other in heat of Cape Point, and the chills of an Atlantic squall.

We rented a car; the smallest, little white car you could think of, but it was a nice break from the oversized matatu’s filled to the brim with chickens, people, and goats. We headed out south, the Cape of Good Hope where the Portuguese stumbled in hundreds of years ago, and somehow they were not enamored by the juxtaposed landscape, and continued on. The three of us were much more captivated. The fold mountains that pushed their way out of plates shifting; raised above the wild Atlantic waves, so pristinely blue; and windswept vegetation, fight to survive, the gentle greenery that beckons. We hiked to the Cape Point lighthouse, taking in views of cliffs and waves, and a kind sun above. Then to the most South Western point on the Continent—the Cape of Good Hope. I sat watching the waves crashing, and said a prayer of Good Hope to my baby nephew whom I have never met, my hope-- that he sees this with his own eyes one day, I hope he is always curious. We leave as the sun chases us down. Off to wine country—Stellenbosch, where some of the best wine in the world is created.

In Stellenbosch we walked the white washed streets and old buildings tucked in the valleys of rolling hills. The next morning we began a tour of 5 local wineries—after interpreting up a storm for my friend, I was rewarded with …several glasses of wine. We pooled our money together and splurged on a cheese sampler, perhaps the best purchase of my life. We took in the warm sun, the smells of good wine, and peaceful valleys dotted with vineyards. That night feasted on load of cheese, good bread, apples, and of coarse another bottle of Stellenbosch’s finest, with plenty of laughs, and signing until our hands ached.

The next day we headed out to Hermanus—the best place for land based whale watching; home to the enormous Southern Right Whale. Every year they make their way here to bask in the bay, for the month, before they’re off again. We walked the edge of cliffs spotting a few out on the distance; we watched random fins slap the water, puff from blowholes. As we moved further down the shore I spotted two whales not 100 meters from where we were. I ran for a better look on top of a cliff, found myself a comfortable rock, and just sat, feeling hopelessly small to this gentle giant. We consumed the ocean air, the setting sun, and the peacefulness of the moment; quite the contrast to the next day.

Back in the cage the water crashes, the skipper nervously watching the cage as we sway with Atlantic. The sky is gray and the rain is vindictive, the white seagulls swarm, attracted to the chum churning at the back of the boat, the air is thick with its stench, mixed with the salty sea. My feet dangle within the cage and I look to my right, and smile bright to my friend, my hands to cold to sign, we both read each others faces; excitement! When I hear the call—“ DOWN DOWN DOWN” I clench the metal in my fists, push myself down into the ocean, and assess my surroundings. I am in a green world, astonishingly calm compared to the scene above, holding my breath, waiting for what feels like an eternity, and then I see it—in a flash, the flip of a tail darting side to side, and in an instant, gone. I hold myself down looking in each direction for the shark, in awe of how fast it can move, but this is not my world, I am a foreigner and must come up for air.

I look to my friend, we give eachother toothy grins as I push my bangs out of my goggles view, I grab her hand- how awesome is this?! We sit in the cage scanning the water for another movement, yet from this point of view I am helpless, I am at the will of the ocean. The waves crash and the cage raises for a moment then clings once again to the boat. I calm myself , and wait for the call “ DOWN DOWN DOWN” again I quickly duck in the water, only to come nose to nose with a great white shark. It swims inches from my face, with a precision unknown to me, it's black eye passing my brown, and just like that its gone, into the depths of the sea. I go up for air and I can’t contain myself, I sign “cool” to my friend, “ I know” she signs. Then once again DOWN DOWN DOWN, we sink once again and she comes in dodging the cage, I can count the scars on her skin, she turns with such care, so powerful in her domain. I watch as she effortlessly glided into the green depths.

This is not the killer from Jaws I knew; she is beautiful, graceful, and powerful. Never once did I think the shark was “after” me, in fact inside the cage, I doubt she even knew anything but a boat was in front of her. This is not a bloodthirsty animal, but rather an animal that should be protected, and revered the same as other great predators, lions, leopard, bears, etc. Sharks, especially the great white sharks, are just misunderstood.

The last shark gave quite a show to those on the boat, getting out of the water, and showing her teeth. From bellow the water I could just see the flashes of fin in the water, zooming like lighting in a zig zag motion, towards the boat and in an instant away again. Then we were called in, the swells were growing rapidly, and because the weather is prone to change on the drop of hat, we were safer going back to shore. The waves crashed, and water was flying everywhere, I was still high off my shark sighting I welcomed each wave, the crashing of water in my face, my lips soaked in salt, the jump of the boat, I was alive. We stopped briefly next to an island full of seals, they covered the island like a fur coat, feasting on fish and trying to avoid the great whites. Then quickly headed back to violent waves, and eventually to land. I thought I would never be warm again. I shook uncontrollably in the horrid claws of hypothermia, and made my way to the car, where the three of us huddled in the small white car clinging to the heater. My shark experience was over, but the moments I spend among the great whites, I will take with me for the rest of my life.

We took an afternoon drive amongst the farms and rolling hills, to the jutting cliffs of Cape Algunas the Southern most point of the African continent; where many wayward ships rest among the Indian and Atlantic ocean malicious meeting point, and a light house shines like a beacon of hope, or like a tricky siren. I am struck my the wind and cold outside our car, and I take off in a sprint down the boardwalk, to the southern most tip of Africa, I run to the ends of the continent, alive.