Onest M. Mtui :: head guide :: Kilimanjaro

These people… I love. Happy One Year Ago Today. #QuestforKilimanjaro (at Mt. Kilimanjaro)

The DreamMaker Project :: Advocacy 

Bridge Building

When I lived in Vail they were rebuilding the section of I-70 that runs through Glenwood Canyon. It was a big project and one of the main objectives was not to harm too much of the beautiful canyon as they worked. A large machine from France was used. It attached to the end section of the highway and literally built the road in front of itself. That is how I feel about my life most times.

The DreamMaker Project has gained some positive attention with Starbucks. I’m currently talking with the person who runs their Leadership Conferences about my project, and ideas. I’ve work so hard on this and it is nothing more than a labor of love. Seriously… love… my overall goal would be to turn The DreamMaker Project into an Advocacy Program for the partners of Starbucks (the employees). What I want to do is invoke conversation and awareness around partner’s goals and ‘why’ they are working at Starbucks. If this project could actually help people become aware of their goals and achieve them, it would breed personal success as well as business success. The synergy between ‘why’ you show up for work every day would change and additional value, that isn’t always measured in a paycheck, would result. I mean, when was the last time your boss asked you “what’s one of your dreams?” Let alone, how they might be able to help you achieve that? We all know that “you” are ultimately responsible for ‘doing’ it. However, offering a space for you to become aware of that “dream” - is a step in the process, one that is needed in the world these days.

Meanwhile, The DreamMaker Project would connect partners to one another through a medium of communication that is much more effective and meaningful with this generation, … digital storytelling. Through the method of video vignettes we will showcase inspiration, benefits allotted to partners, and build relatedness that matters and moves people. The project contains so much potential to grow and become so much more. Eventually, I would love to see it used to showcase the dreams of the farmers, their families and their communities. This relatedness would bring a cohesion that is missing right now and build an understanding and respect between the farmers and the partners. Somehow, I’d like to connect Bridges To Prosperity with Starbucks. Many of the farmers around the world, live in villages B2P has had the opportunity to work within. It is honorable to build schools, hospitals and water wells in these countries, but if people can’t access them due to poor infrastructure, then those things become meaningless. These footbridges B2P build, personally effective the lives of these farmers. It means being able to get a better price for their crop because they can get to the market during those times in areas they haven’t been able to access.

I want to change the way people think about work.
I want to invite people to challenge themselves to be better.
I want to challenge Starbucks to engage with it’s partners more genuinely, by asking “what’s one of your dreams and how is working for Starbucks helping you get closer to achieving that?”
To engage with their lives in a way that brings pride and significant value to themselves and those around them. Starbucks has always had a wonderful value of community and giving back, which is admirable. However, some of the ‘people’ in need of community and help, work right in our stores everyday. We could change the meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility on so many levels. We could genuinely breed people who know the value of personal success. Ultimately ~ isn’t that a form of Leadership?

It’s a simple idea.
It’s just changing our awareness and perspective.
We could literally change the world.

Now, all I have to do is arrange all of this, into a package that Starbucks wants to pull into isn’t brand. I have 11 years of working side by side with some of the most wonderful people I have ever encountered. They aren’t necessarily my friends yet I spend 40 hours a week with them and have learned so much from all of them … crazy, huh? I have learned so much about human behavior, especially my own. I know something is going to come of all of this, it already has. I’m clearing my head to make space for organizing what this project really looks like all mapped out. It’s a huge, yet a simple idea. It will be challenging to keep it simple, clean and to the point. I keep telling myself “less is more”.

So wish me luck.
I’m shooting for the stars.image

kite flying

            So, here I am.  I’m in the home stretch of the ending of my 6 months off from work.  It’s surreal.  I’ve accomplished so much and yet I still have so much I would like to do.  It’s a weird thing to be ‘off’ from work for that long.  I imagine, it’s like being adrift at sea.  It would be different if I had another job or was in transition but I’m not, I’m on sabbatical.  I’ve been working since I was 16 years old and have NEVER had this much idle time.  How I manage my time has been similar to that of a 16 year old.  I’ve slept in, cooked all day, clean my house and rearranged it several times, painted walls, skied, hit the gym, took Chuy for some long, long walks, watched movies as well as 3 entire seasons of Damages (intensely fucked up show, but I love it) and Homeland and took a zillion bubble baths and read.  Giving myself permission to do absolutely nothing was/is hard, my therapist once told me I suffer from ‘Active Laziness.”   

            I gave myself the gift of a lifetime these past 6 months.  I knew even before my last day of work that I had already done something for myself that no one and nothing could ever take back.  I gave myself the gift of dreaming big and abundance.  I threw caution to the wind and flew a kite in all of it.   So, now I find myself in this bittersweet place of leaving this experience.  The experience of climbing the highest free standing mountain on the planet, helping build a footbridge in Rwanda, and traveling around the world, taking time for me.  I’m eager to be productive (the active laziness part of me) as well as continue to nurture and create some stories that matter.  I know how lucky I am after this time.  I’ve been witness to some difficult things as well as some magical things ~ usually they are/were intermingled.  I have scratched the surface of something that has changed me forever.  I can’t NOT know, what I know.   I have a different sense of value as well as who/what I am in the grand scheme of things.  I am humbled yet I have resounding purpose in my little life.  I’m excited to see what the second half of my life brings me.

            I’ve created an Executive Summary as well as several video clips for my DreamMaker Project.  I have been in contact with several people in Starbucks and I am convinced this is a good idea.  Now, I need to persuade them.  I was never delusional regarding my returning to work as a manager.  I know this will take time to nudge them in the right direction.  Staying positive about something that is so emotive and personal is difficult over time.  Allowing yourself to slide into every emotion, feel it and move on isn’t easy to do.  I interviewed 11 Starbucks partners around the world regarding their dreams and how working for Starbucks helps them get ‘that’ much closer to those dreams.  There is power in feeling connected and that state of relatedness means something.  This I know to be true.

            I also struck something inside of SmartWool with my donation of socks.  I don’t know that it will lead me to any journey with this company but I do think it could make a difference in the lives of the Porters.  My hope is that they continue the donation and will find a niche within the meaning of this.  I have and will continue to nurture this idea and the value/responsibility we hold if we have the means.   Regardless, this donation mattered and I was able to see that first hand.

            I started this entire journey wanting to create a documentary on the Porters of Kilimanjaro.  Climbing Kilimanjaro and filming the entire event was amazing and exhausting.  Interviewing these magnificent people was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced and I feel an immense privilege holding those stories/interviews.  I know I have the opportunity to make a difference, and that matters.  Teaching myself editing while creating is challenging but I love telling these stories.  I can’t say I’m good at editing but I am crafty at storytelling.  The value of stories is powerful in waking the human spirit.  “And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!” Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

           

         

wanderlust

These entries have come to me pretty easy until now.  I feel like I’m in between worlds, unsure of where to land.  I have an overbearing sense of sadness with my adventures ending, yet an excitement for the storytelling process.  It’s as if I feel an obligation to myself, my travels, my experiences and the immense kindness that was offered to me to create something special.

However, I have been slightly knocked on my ass.  In one of my earlier entries I mentioned that I have my own speed at which I experience things and, its not super fast.  Well, …here I am.  Immersion, culture shock, jet lag and most of all, … wanderlust.  I love my home, my community and my family (both chosen and given) but the world is so fucking magnificent.  I love leaving as much as l love coming home.  It took me nearly a week to get past the jet lag.  I don’t think my mind or body belonged to any time zone ~ so, once I stopped it punched me in the neck.  Then there was the issue of me settling into my normalcy and routines.  I was no longer a minority, no one stared at me and I wasn’t doing anything epic (like climbing a mountain or being on a bridge site).  I was just another average woman going to the store.   This is a great thing and a not so great thing all at the same time. 

I don’t want to forget what I was feeling while I was gone.  You know that feeling, this time of year ~ the one where the ground is backlit from the color of the leaves and the light is JUST that much different?  Where you feel like you can reach your hand out and grab a chunk of that color/feeling?   Take THAT feeling and carefully insert it into every cell of your being then you’d start to come close to what my time traveling the world was like.  I don’t want to forget how hard other people work and how easy we have it in this country.  I DO want to change how I interact with others.  In my travels the only thing I was offered was kindness, compassion and assistance.   Not just this trip either, every time I’ve traveled alone I have always been offered kindness from strangers.   I wish we could all have perspective when dealing with each other.  I don’t want to fall into the gap, the normalcy of not going out of my way for another. Energy is a strange thing… an enigma and we have the “choice” of passing it on or eating it up.  It’s a challenging balance to learn boundaries of when to do EACH of these things.  People are amazing.  Human beings are capable of so many lovely things within each day ~ we simply have to choose to do them.  It’s easy to say people are shit, and some are but if so …walk away.  The world has many more good eggs than bad and that …that is amazing.

About a decade ago my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s.  I grew up with her in a farmhouse.  In fact when I was a kid we had 4 generations under one roof.  That’s pretty normal for an Italian family.  I was lucky enough to be there when she died at home under hospice care.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch someone leave this planet ~ a gift really.  During that time I decided I would go see her hometown in Italy.  A tiny little village on a hilltop in the Abruzzo Region ~ Gambetessa, Italy.  I spent most of my summer in Italy that year.  It was so lovely to walk into a train station and not know where I would go next.  I would simply look up at the board of Departures as it flipped down and displayed the magic of where the trains were going.  Then, I’d buy a ticket that was departing soon for a town that seemed like someplace I should see.  I didn’t have to discuss with anyone, I made no plans ~ I just decided that day where to go next.  What a great way to travel.  Anyway, I bought a ticket to Campobasso and was on my way.  However, if you know Italy ~ there is often a ‘strike’ with the train system.  This can last a few hours or a few days, and I’ve been caught in both of those situations.  This time it lasted a few hours and only on certain routes.  So, I took a train, a bus, then a train, then a bus and finally a train.  It was 10:30 at night and I was riding an empty train except for 2 young women.  They kindly asked me where I was from and we started talking.  I asked them for a suggestion on a place to stay and they told me most places would be closed by the time we arrived.  Without hesitation one girl made a phone call and asked her boyfriend to call his aunt who ran a pensione.  When we arrived at the train station they gave me a ride to the pensione and made sure I was settled and okay.  All three of them gave me a hug and wished me well in my quest to visit my grandmother’s hometown.  The next day I walked to the bus station and hopped on a bus to Gambetessa.  When I arrived, I walked into the tiny town square with a beautiful clock tower building.  Three teenagers were playing soccer in front of it.  I asked them if they knew of a hotel.  All three of them laugh then told me there was no hotel in Gambetessa.  I was shaking.  I pulled out the yellow piece of legal paper I had written my questions in Italian on (I still have it).  I started to unfold it and I could see an older man dressed in a light blue shirt with glasses half way down his nose approaching me.  He gestured with his hand as if to ask, “may I?” to the paper.  I gave it to him as I welled up.  He pushed his glassed up his nose, read the piece of paper then… offered me his arm to follow him into the clock tower building.  He brought me inside, sat me down then went over to a shelf and pulled out a BIG leather bound book.  When he opened it, it took up his entire desk.  The pages were worn with beautiful handwritten entries.  He scanned the entries with his finger, page by page until he stopped and looked up at me.  Then he said, “Victoria Maria DeLuca … here.”  By this time, I was crying.  I looked down and there it was, proof that she was born in Gambetessa.  I was elated and exhausted.  I plopped down, unsure of what to do next.  Giovanni (the man in the blue shirt) made a few phone calls and with my limited understanding of Italian & the speed at which he spoke, I caught every few words… “It looks like she walked here” or “no… she’s young.”  He left me there for a moment while he went to get the girl working at the pharmacy who was English to translate for me.  She informed me that I had family that still lived here and they have been notified of my arrival, …they were walking over to meet me now.  While I waited to meet my family the strangest thing happened.  These elderly people came to meet me as well.  One by one ~ frail men and women with silver hair and watery blue eyes came in to shake my hand or hug me.  They were tiny… I remember because I was sitting down and we were making eye contact.  Some of them, hunched over from working in the fields or from old age.  These people were my grandmothers childhood friends and came to meet ME! image

My grandmothers first cousin would soon arrive ~ Concetta.  She didn’t speak a lick of English and I was so emotive my Italian was out the door.  The Pharmacist helped me communicate and off I went to Concetta’s house but first we all went to the bar/coffeehouse to have a toast.  About 7 of us filled the tiny coffeehouse as we raised our glasses to celebrate my arrival.  Concetta lived a few doors down from her sister Josephina.  They took me in for about a week.  They made me the best homemade pasta ever, and gave me wine they had made in their basement ~ which knocked me on my ass and blood sausage, which I’m not sure I’ll ever have again.  I was shown the remains of the farmhouse my grandmother was born in.  I had an old photo of it that I brought with me to show them. To stand in front of the remains of a building, of the same place I held a old, old picture of was … surreal.  To watch these people that were my family and recognize the similarities that come with family was truly magical. 

image

 Like I said people are wonderful. 

My ‘funk’ of being home comes and goes.  The fact is, what I make of my life is what matters not where I do it.  The world is a beautiful place and to travel is a gift.  But, right here in my neighborhood is also a beautiful place as well.  The choice to be kind and open to people is the value here.  The navigation of energy you wish to give and energy you wish to receive is the challenge.  Some days it is defeating or unsuccessful.  But some days ~ it isn’t. 

Here’s to more of the latter. 

New Zealand

4 million people :: 40 million sheep. Yep, it’s true and by the likes of all the lambs I saw just getting their legs under them ~ I’m going to say their pushing 41 million in the sheep department.
: )
New Zealand reminded me of home surrounded by water … & wine. It was the place I could start my immersion back home. By that I mean, we spoke the same language (shame on me for not knowing 3 or 4 ~ my next life), familiar surroundings (mountain ranges & such) people I know (old neighbors moved there) and wine. What a lovely, lovely place. I never made it to the North Island but something tells be I’ll be back. Two familiar faces (Matt & Kim) and 3 happy tail-wagging dogs of every size & color welcomed me in the sweetest way. There is something very grounding about cuddling on a couch with a pup.

My first weekend was spent filming some of the farmers of the Otago Region. I had no idea what to expect ~ and was wowed off my feet. Hosted by two lovely people Olivia and Shaun from the New Zealand Merino Wool Industry. The first farm I visited was owned by Andrew & Tracy, a young couple with three very polite and enthusiastic children. Turns out Andrew and Tracy climbed Kili years ago. In fact Andrew was all set to propose at the summit, but Tracy wasn’t able to reach the top due to altitude sickness. So, Andrew went on to the summit alone and managed to propose on the beach in Zanzibar. I told him of my donation of socks to the porters and he understood how valuable that is/was. The next day we drove past Queenstown to Bills farm. Bill is an older gentleman and has been doing this his entire life, as did his father. At this point he now has someone managing his farm for him. He told me in his next life he’d like to come back as a coffee farmer. : ) He has one of the largest sheep farms in the Otago Region. I watched & filmed a “gang” of sheep shearers do their work. One of the largest gangs around ~ 10 shearers and the team that supports them. I was able to film the “classifier” while he worked, which is the one person deciding if the wool meets the critical standard for Merino Wool. He does so visually and by touch. The entire process is and was a privilege to witness. These farmers are nurturers. They are scientists, weathermen (women), biologists, computer programmers, vets and mothers & fathers. They love being outside and connected to the planet on so many levels. THIS was my introduction to New Zealand.
Olivia dropped me off in Queenstown after our days of filming. She grew up there so she made sure to play tour guide with lots of quirky information and jot down suggestions for me and my limited time there. Queenstown is an adventurers paradise. Budgie jumping, paragliding, rafting ,helicopter tours, skiing & snowboarding, mountain biking, sailing, water skiing… The list is endless. Take all the parts you like about Vail, Aspen, Telluride smash them together and throw a gigantic lake with the most unreal color of water (oh, and a mountain range called The Remarkables) and you’re “close” to Queenstown. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect - the bar below my room was open until 4:30am, so there is that.
The water ~ I can’t begin to try to explain the color of the water. A color I’ve never seen before. That night I had dinner with 2 couples that welcomed me to their table. One was a young couple from Australia (teachers who spent time working on a ranch in WY) the other an older newlywed couple (he was a widower and she … She had introduced him to his first wife a lifetime ago). They had just married in Fiji and he surprised her with Queenstown before going home to Wellington. We were all strangers. We ate, drank, laughed and talked. It was perfect.

The remainder of my time in New Zealand was in Dunedin. My old neighbors moved here a year ago in search of a better life, and they found it for themselves. It was so nice to be around people I knew in a foreign land and have them show me around. We went to the Muso Club one night and listened to Matt’s band, drank yummy wine and cook dinners at their house. We walked the dogs, I ran errands with them and they showed me the peninsula they now live on. They are former college professors that now own/run a tex-mex food cart, Tex Atago (“tacos way south of the border”) There is nothing like it in New Zealand and they do a great job. They are a true to life taco cart on the South Island and business is booming. The best part … They’re happy. They have landed in their bliss and that was beautiful to witness.
I interviewed Starbucks partners at three different locations on the South Island asking them about their dreams. All different ages, nationalities and backgrounds. I traveled to the southern most point I could go to, without going to Antarctica, watched a sea lion sunbathe on a rock and a blue penguin peek out from under some stairs. I saw Royal Albatross sail above my head and walked dogs on a beach along the South Pacific. I drank wine with my friends, told them of my journeys and filled them in on my life. I was dipping my toes back into my life and it all felt good.

Now I am nearly half way on my way home. I’m back in Bangkok (making sure to drink a Singha and eat some Thai food) on my way to Beijing. I’m tired, excited, happy and sad to see it all ending. But something tells me this is only the beginning of something new for me. I’m not sure how or what that means but I DO know the world isn’t as big as I once thought. I do know I will see much more of this planet before my days end. I do know that regardless of where you call home we all strive & struggle with the same things ~ just on different levels. I now know and question the “have” part of my life and value those things differently than ever before. And, I do know we all have similar dreams ~ that I know with every ounce of my being.

Goodbye Thailand

Tomorrow I head to New Zealand.

Thailand has been wonderful. Everything from my entry coming from Africa, my time with Terri and the city of Bangkok. The few pounds I shed in Africa I found again… Here. The city is a monster but not a scary one. It’s mammoth size is like that of NYC but its so, so very different. I spent most of my time in an area called Prompong and walking around. Once back from my island time, I hopped on the sky train and explored a bit more. I decided to take in some touristy sites on Sunday but was limited to a Longtail boat ride up/down the river and the oldest temple in Bangkok, that is home to the Reclining Buddha. I saw more Buddha statues than I have my entire life in those few hours walking the temple. The actual Reclining Buddha was epic … His feet were huge and the bottoms had beautiful inlay with mother of pearl. The grounds of the temple reminded me of walking the Forum in Italy … Beautiful, mystical and surreal amidst this massive city… and, cats. Cats everywhere. I’d definitely come back as a cat & hang out in temples and ruins. The people watching would be amazing. : )

I tend to enjoy doing the “other” things when I travel and found that my TukTuk ride from the temple home was quite the adventure. My driver was great and took me for an adventurous ride (I think he was trying to avoid traffic, which is maddening here). We witnessed a scooter crash, zipped in/out of markets setting up for the night, dodged some sprinkles & had to ask for directions toward the end. It took nearly an hour and a half and I saw a lot of Bangkok, at dusk ~ perfect! I walked back to my swanky apartment and bam it started pouring down - thunder, lighting and pounding rain. Again, … perfect.

The food has been great. I’ve had everything from noodles to curry to sushi - which I’m heading out for tonight my last night. I’ve ordered street food from vendors and not quite sure what I ended up eating. One day I thought I ordered some grilled chicken on a skewer … I’m certain it wasn’t chicken. The first day in Bangkok I found a cart that was very popular and ordered a noodle bowl from a tiny lady. She pointed to a piece of grilled/BBQ’d meat and I said “sure!” Again, not sure what that was. On the island, I had great tasty dishes. One morning I had a BLT that was Devine, …Oh, Bacon! We shared some pretty great pancakes the size of our heads, and fried bananas with warm honey. For me the only thing missing was good wine, but I got thru it. : )
New Zealand will make up for what I missed the last 6 weeks.

The other day I visited two different Starbucks locations here in Bangkok. U-Sa Patanachotikul, from Partner Resources was kind enough to meet me and set up two interviews, one with a store manager and the other a part time barista. I was able to chat/film them each, in their stores and ask them about their dreams and how working for Starbucks is helping them achieve those dreams. It was invigorating, inspiring and just plain fun. They seemed as excited about my DreamMaker project as I am. It was … A very good day.

My time has been surreal. I’ve started to see the end of my travels and my bank account is dwindling. The stress of my “real world” has begun to creep in and freak me out. I’ve let “that” voice crawl in and tell me what I’m doing is irresponsible - that I shouldn’t throw away my life savings like this! It’s difficult to talk yourself down from that, but I’m trying. I know the stories I’ve witnessed and captured are amazing but that ‘devil’ of a voice really is evil. It can take all these amazing experiences and squash them in a nano second. I’m human and have fallen prey to this over the last few days. What if everything I’m hoping to do doesn’t work out? What if I interview all these great people that work for Starbucks in Thailand & New Zealand and Starbucks says “thanks, but no thanks?” What if I make a documentary about the Porters of Kilimanjaro and people aren’t interested? What if the connection I wish to make with Bridges To Prosperity & Starbucks doesn’t pan out? What if… I have to end my sabbatical early and go back to managing a store? Does thinking this way make me weak or not confident? My answer that I have to sometimes fight to find… Is NO.

I can’t help but remind myself where I was last month and how lucky I am. Feeling these moments of fear or emotion are part of the journey. I’ve had a glorious 6 weeks so far. My experiences, the people I’ve met, the hours, days and weeks have been pure magic. The code of our culture (which can be fucked up at times) is bound to creep in. I haven’t had the opportunity to really talk to anyone who knows me since we came down off of Kilimanjaro & The Scott family left. I’ve had FaceTime with Terri a few times and she came to visit, but otherwise it’s just been me and wonderful people who don’t really know me. I’ve posted pictures on Facebook & Instagram - but my community, my friends & family, my everyday connections haven’t been here. It’s a strange thing to do for an extended period of time. I enjoy this time to myself and revel in it, but it can take a toll on me when I’m feeling alone or emotional. I don’t think I saw it coming, which is another factor. Regardless, I will kindly usher “those” feelings out and work to steady myself - in myself. Then, I will remind myself that everything will be, what it will be - and I will be, … grateful.

New Zealand is my next stop. I get to travel to this wonderful new place where my old neighbors Kim & Matt now live. I’m excited to see where they’ve landed and what their lives are like now. I’m also meeting with some farmers who provide the wool for SmartWool socks. I get to hang out with these folks and film them for a few days. It’s a connection that came from my sock drop to the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Program (KPAP). It’ll be a real treat to witness these farmers and where all that great wool comes from. How wonderful is it that I asked for some socks to donate to people who really, really need them & now I get to see how/where it all starts. This is the final destination before I begin my long journey home October 1st.

As always, thanks for checking in and ~ stay tuned for the last leg of a wonderful journey.

Bangkok

I’m currently sitting in a swanky apartment on the 12th floor of a 40 story building in Bangkok, Thailand.

My emersion into the Bangkok Airport was nothing short of fantastical. Beautiful, shiny, contemporary, clean with amazing technology everywhere. It was as if I had arrive on another planet.

I sometimes joke that I’m a little “slow” to catch on to things, but I honestly think that can be a positive attribute of mine. I can be simple and innocent but it’s usually because I’m in the moment and immersing myself in experience. This has sometimes resulted in heartache and heartbreak but at this point, I accept this is who I am & my “clock” is wired this way. I like this about myself.
This quality has allowed me to really “steep” in what the past month was for me and genuinely take each day as it arrives. Walking thru that airport was magical, like a kid in an amusement park. It was a feast on every sensory level. It was also … just glorious. The clean bathrooms, the ginormous flatscreen televisions all in unison, the beautiful tiny people (smaller than me) offering me direction, and sweet smiles … and the food!

THE Food. I’m in Chinatown - Bangkok. Home to the best street food on the planet, and I intend to eat my way thru it. Last night I walked around - more like staggered, being so tired from traveling. Today, I will devour. The cost of things here is amazing. 35 THB for a lovely noodle bowl that will blow your mind. Our swanky apartment that we rented from AirB&B is costing $40 a night. I took a swim last night in the infinity pool on the 30th floor overlooking the city and did laundry in the washer/dryer in the kitchen. The entire apartment looks like the opening scene of “Fight Club” or an Ikea catalogue. I feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie.

This, on the heels of Africa can mess with you. My emotions are like a pinball right now. I’m happy, blissful and elated ~ then I think of the poverty that I just erupted from and I feel stoic or ashamed. I know this complexity is part of what I am meant to experience - but it’s challenging. I feel childlike in trying to understand it. How can some have so much and some nothing at all? How is it that I have the life I have? Sure, these are questions I asked myself in 5th grade Social Studies class but they are different now - they cut to the core. I’m not THAT naive to poverty or wealth. I grew up in a lower income family, with four generations under one roof. My dad was/is a farmer and my mom was going to school to become a teacher. Our home was beautiful but we didn’t have an abundance of money. We were like everyone else. We lived within our means and on a strict budget. Africa was different, very different.

Now, I’m living in another dimension. Terri is held up in San Francisco and will arrive later than planned. I’m sad because I am wanting to see her and be around “my person.” But after what I just experienced, I’m just grateful she is coming. : )
I’m sad she has to be on “that” end of things. She’ll be here tomorrow night and we’ll be back on track for our vacation. I’ll go grab a tuktuk and begin exploring Bangkok then go greet her at the airport and load our fridge with a beer and some yummy Thai food for her arrival. Then hit the “resume” button.

I will write again soon with pics and stories from a full belly.

Rwanda

After climbing Kilimanjaro I headed to Rwanda to film and help on a bridge site with the nonprofit Bridges to Prosperity. I was greeted by Andrew (the Project Manager) a bright , blonde haired bearded man ~ who was kind enough to pick me up at 12:30 in the morning.

Kigali was a much bigger city than where I had come from ~ Moshi & Arusha. Buses, cars moto bikes zipped around the city’s roundabouts and tight rolling red hillsides. Real city pollution filled the air. A vast difference from the open flat lands of Tanzania. The next day Andrew was kind enough to help me run a few errands and gave me a lay of the land. I have a decent sense of direction but Kigali schooled me. Forget any type of grid system or even street addresses. I would just have to remember landmarks to find Andrews house again. There was no physical address for me to reference.

On Thursday we would make our way to the bridge site - Cyamutuda. We piled in the pick up truck. Andrew & I up front and Everest & Étienne in the back seat of the extended cab. Within an hour we were on a red dirt road that then turned into a red, rutted dirt road so deep you could fall into them. The word “remote” now had new meaning for me. We bounced around and up and down. 4 hours later we arrived at the site. Children running and chasing the truck as we made our way to park. Little voices yelling “good morning!” regardless of what time it actually was.
Once we arrive, I plopped out of the truck happy to have my feet on the ground. Children appeared from all directions chiming “good morning” & “how are you?” Beautifully enunciated, yet not sure of the meaning, their attempts at communicating and English far outweighed my lackluster knowledge of Kinyarwanda.
The village was beautiful. Red rolling hillsides with lovely cultivated Cassava and Banana trees. Majestic cows, steer and goats everywhere. Handmade red brick, modest houses with tiny open windows. This would be my home for the next week but rattled my soul within moments.
What struck me first was the joy of these people. Beautiful smiles stretching ear to ear. Everyone shaking your hand, eye contact and “miriwe” or “good morning.” We pranced down, down, down to the bridge site and greeted by Kathryn, the engineer assisting on the project. She shared with me that she was here to offer assistance but that the Rwandans were the ones building the bridge. She had a tiny frame and a giant smile as big as the bundle of curls on her head. I could tell immediately these people adored her and heeded her advice soundly, equal to the impression they had clearly made on her. It’s a unique thing to walk up to a group of people that holds this much respect in its mist.

The river was shallow this time of year but the valley vast. I could see the footprint of the impact the river made once the rainy season started, which would begin any day now.
Within days - Everest, Étienne, Vinuest, Domesean and Kathryn had set the sag and were starting to install the crossbeams. The sag is the tedious task of ensuring the cables are set properly before building the bridge on them. Vinuest is the assistant to the main construction foreman Domesean, who spoke no English. Vinuest also held the job of cooking us dinner each night after working all day. We chopped vegetables and helped when he would allow us, but he was the main cook. He would provide us warm meals at lunch and dinner. Lunch time involved him running up and down the hillside while working on the bridge site.

I should mention, this village has no electricity or running water. Cooking happened over two small charcoal stoves and was usually a veggie stew over rice or potatoes. Water had to be collected in Jerry cans at the spring a five minute walk away.

Once the crossbeams were secured to the cables with long twisted pieces of rebar the decking could be attached. First the crossbeams had to be “pushed out” manually a meter apart from those wearing harnesses that attached to the cables. Once in place the decking would be first nailed down, and later screwed in with long hefty screws. What would take an afternoon to complete in the states, took days here. The biggest power tool was manual labor. The drills that assisted were battery powered and had to be recharged with a gasoline generator. Some of the decking was at the site but most was yet to arrive. I found out that the remainder of Eucalyptus wood for the deck would be arriving that day, which was Umuganda - a monthly day of community service practiced by all Rwandans. This meant instead of the wood arriving via truck it would be carried piece by piece manually atop of people’s heads. It was amazing to watch these people coming down the hillside, usually barefoot carrying boards, four meters long on top of their heads. As quickly as the arrived they were attached to the crossbeams and the bridge was built right before our eyes. My week there was perfect timing and the most visually stimulating because of this.
Once the deck was attached it was stained with used motor oil to protect the wood. The final job was to fill in the huge piles of dirt unearthed where the giant cables were anchored. Once that dirt was filled back in (a laborious task) then it was compacted and cement was poured on top. On one end a beautiful stone wall was erected from river rocks.

The day I arrived was Vinuest’s 21st birthday but he mentioned it to no one. It wasn’t until Sunday night when we were talking about birthdays, we realized his had *just* happened. Earlier that week Vinuest had shared that he had 5 sisters and a mom, but that his brother and “Daddy” had died in the genocide. Kathryn made a quiet phone call to Andrew who would be arriving Tuesday to request he bring up a cake. Andrew arrived with a cake decorated with “Happy Birthday Vinuest” on it. After Vinuest made us dinner, Kathryn and Andrew disappeared in the house for a moment. When they reemerged, they had the cake with a candle and the group of us (about 7 of us) started singing Happy Birthday. Vinuest was confused and shocked that this was for him, he stood up so excited he was literally jumping up and down. It was clear he had NEVER had his birthday celebrated like this, let alone a cake with his name on it. It was one of the sweetest things I have ever witnessed (well, one of many this past month). Once he blew out the candle Andrew told him it was a tradition to take a small bite right away out of the cake. The next thing I know Vinuest has cake on his face and is giggling! We told him it was his cake and he could share if he wanted. He cut us each a piece then sat there with the headlamp on, eating cake with the most genuine, sweet smile on his face. I swear he would have eaten the entire cake if we didn’t tell him it was ok to save some for tomorrow’s breakfast. He sat there for a moment quiet ~ then said, “thank you, this day I do not forget.”


I have *so* many stories to share …like the teacher who brought his entire class to cross the bridge and named it “The Ambassador”; Étienne and Everest explaining to me what a Rwandan wedding was like, the little boy Kazoo who worked with all the adults and would not stop working; the thin older woman wearing the “hello, my name is trouble!” Tshirt, everyone getting sodas the last day … So much to share! These are only a handful of a week that changed my life.

I ended my stay in Kigali by spending time at the Genocide Museum. I weep and walked for three hours. It is a lovely place for so many souls to rest. I will spend the rest of my life trying to wrap my head around this type of human behavior and history, certain I will never understand. It was profoundly moving and worth the efforts to come to Rwanda to visit this site. Nothing could prepare me for seeing the massive gravesite’s or the names on the wall, knowing some souls were never found, women raped, people dumped into latrines to die or that infants and children were massacred.

I left Kigali yesterday morning with Andrew once again being kind enough to take me to the airport. My flight said nonstop to Kilimanjaro but ended up stoping in Dar es Salaam for a moment. Taking off from DAR I was given a sneak peak of the beautiful water. Islands and what I believe was Madagascar off the coast. The colors were vibrant and an indicator of my next stop ~ Bangkok. Today I leave to meet Terri and share some much needed time with her. This next month will be a new adventure on the heels of something so deeply lovely.
Goodbye Africa. I promise I’ll be back!