Monday, February 27, 2012

New Zealand tramping with NOLS - 6 days in

"Something of our personalities has gone into every mountain on which we have spent our strength and on which our thoughts have rested, and something of its personality has come into our own.."        R.L.G. Irving
Bagging 350 kg of food to feed 12 for 27 days!

I am writing this on day 6 of my 27 day "hike". By the time you read this I will have completed more than half of my hike as this is from a letter mailed back to the States. 

I really wasn't sure what to expect from this course and entered it with some trepidation, but so far I am loving it - well, 95% of the time. Sometimes I am just too tired to care!  We hike, on average, 6 hours a day with 50+ pound packs on our backs. It is definitely more physically challenging than anything I have done before --- yes, including summiting Kilimanjaro!  New Zealand is a gorgeous country and experiencing it without any electronic distractors has made me notice the breathtaking surroundings -- the grand vistas as well as the smaller, close beauty -- so much more.
Dingle Burn River
Our days are long but there is plenty that remains to be done once the day's hike is over; including cooking. I can't manage to cook in a fully equipped kitchen and we prepare all of our meals on a camp stove.  Let's just say my first night as chef for my tent was not good - maybe not completely inedible, but pretty close!  After that first attempt, I decided that one of my goals is to master "camp stove" cooking and to produce delicious cinnamon rolls for my tent mates by the end of the trip. Another goal is to stick to my push-up and plank plans. By the final day I'll be doing 135 push ups and a 3 minute plank. I should be leaving New Zealand in much better shape than when I arrived! My third goal is to use some of my new wilderness EMT knowledge - hopefully not because any of my tramping mates need it, but rather by helping to instruct the wilderness first aid portion of this course. I made a start today by teaching about vital signs.  
Lake Hawea

I know I am less than a quarter of the way through, and while the hiking and leadership aspects will continue to push and challenge me to the max, I also know that I will  be rewarded. I am confident that I will have a greater appreciation for the world around me, grow as a person, and find new inner reserves from this experience - as I have from my previous  adventures during this incredible gap year.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wilderness EMT

Head wound Harry
Wow! I can honestly say that this past month has been one of the busiest and best months of my life. I just finished getting my Wilderness EMT, which is a combination of a basic EMT certification and a Wilderness First Responder certification. For 4 weeks we had 44 hours of class a week, class from 8am-5pm and then from 7pm-9:30pm twice a week. We also had one 12 hour shift on an ambulance one weekend, and then an 8 hour shift in the ER in Fresno another weekend. We made this crazy hectic time into a truly great one. 30 strangers came together and formed some amazing connections. I have never felt so at home among strangers and I truly believe that our whole group chemistry was unique in its strength. One of the particularly fun aspects of the class were the scenarios. We would have mock patient/rescuer situations and the injuries were VERY convincing!

Jerome had a nice impaled eye from a hot air balloon crash.

During the same crash I received a sucking chest wound.

At the end of this 4 week course not only do I feel prepared to handle so many more medical problems in the wilderness setting, but I also feel like I gained some great friends. We had fantastic instructors who made spending 44 hours in class a week so enjoyable and 29 other students who made both the time in class and time outside of class a blast. Leaving was a bittersweet feeling, but I know that the friendships made and the knowledge gained will last me years. I'll remember my impromptu ballroom dancing with Tim, crazy night rescue scenarios, listening to country music with a certain firefighter, mancakes and ice cream sandwiches and so many other things. Thanks everyone!

I am currently in New Zealand getting ready to head out on my NOLS course tomorrow morning! I will be backpacking for a month with a group of 9 other backpackers and 2 NOLS instructors. I have already met two of the other backpackers and am so excited to meet the rest!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm still here!

Wow, I cannot believe I have been home from Africa for almost two months already. Time continues to fly by. Despite my lack of posts, I have had an exciting two months! I worked at Askinosie Chocolate until Christmas, helping package chocolate. I loved working there, the people are fun, the chocolate is delicious and the cause is wonderful. I also received my acceptance to Colorado College and am SO excited to say that I will be a part of the 2016 tigers!!
   I leave home again in a few days on January 2nd to spend a week with my family in Colorado and then jump right back into the adventures of my gap year. I head to California to do my Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician training beginning January 8th and after will go straight to New Zealand for a back packing leadership course through the National Outdoors Leadership School. I am getting very excited, and will start packing one of these days...
   Check out my post as a guest blogger on the Chocolate University blog, and I'll be a better blogger...I promise!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My bags are all packed....almost

Wow. I cannot believe that tomorrow night I will be back in Springfield for the first time in 5 months. It feels unreal, but I am starting to get pretty excited! Today at lunch, as Katherine and I both made lists about our time in Africa, I realized just how much I will miss this continent. I still cannot upload pictures, but, in the mean time, I thought I would share my list with you all.

The best thing about my time in Africa: Telling Saning'o that he would be able to attend school this year. Being out of my comfort zone for 5 months...and realizing how much I was able to experience because I was out of my comfort zone.

The most challenging thing about my time in Africa: Kilimanjaro! Also, living in a country where very few people speak English. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I didn't realize how little English I would speak/hear while in Tanzania. I'm so glad it was that way because it made learning Swahili a much higher priority.

How I've changed during my time in Africa: I think I am more independent than I was five months ago.  I'm much more up for an adventure and am okay with being completely flexible with my plans. I have also become a less picky eater - and if you know me, then you know that is a big change. As cliche as it sounds, I have also become much more aware of just how fortunate I am in the life that I live.

Favorite foods I've tasted: Mbuzi (goat), chapati and Kyela rice!

What I have loved most about Africa: Engaruka and the people I have met everywhere. I have learned so much about how to be a welcoming and loving person from those whom I have had the opportunity to meet these past months. These people are happy to open their homes and hearts to a stranger.

What I've missed from home: My people! I haven't been homesick since week six (and only a small amount then) but I do miss my people. I am so excited to see everyone when I get back home. I'm lucky enough to have a pretty awesome line-up that will be waiting for me at the airport, and I can't wait! One of the things that will get me on that plane tonight is the thought of seeing my mom and dad, my grandparents, Debbie, Emily, Alexa and Zayden, Brandon and everyone else!

What I'm looking forward to: As cheesy as this sounds I am so excited to find out what my future has in store and where my life will take me. Or maybe it's where I will have life take me. I am very sad to be leaving Africa, but buoyed knowing that there are many more adventures ahead of me.

Favorite experiences: Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro - a very proud moment for me. Going cage diving (or 'cage breath-holding') with Great White Sharks. Going paragliding; which officially marked the end of my fear of heights. Learning Swahili and using it everyday to connect with people and learn the stories of their lives. Buying a cow at church. Speaking with the secondary students in Tanzania. Getting to know Kellen and Daudi much better and being inspired by them every day! Being willing to try new things that I wouldn't have tried a year ago:  trying strange foods, being willing to talk with people in a different language despite not speaking it fluently, paragliding, going Sokkie dancing in South Africa.

I am glad that I have been able to so honestly share my experiences--the good and the bad--while in Africa with everyone who reads this blog.  It has been a privilege to give you all a look into the first half of my gap year. I still have lots of stories to share about Tanzania once I get back home, so be sure to check back.  The rest of my gap year will be very different than the first half, but I will still be sharing the stories of my adventures with all of you!

Thank you for all the support you have shown to me.  It means so much to me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bad Blogger

     I have been a horrible blogger this past week! But it isn't totally my fault, I promise. I'm in South Africa visiting a friend for about 2 weeks prior to coming home and we have very little internet so I haven't been able to upload pictures. Don't worry though, I have been taking a lot of pictures! South Africa is a gorgeous country, and the people are phenomenal. Today we are going paragliding off of Lion's Head and tomorrow morning, weather conditions permitting, we will go cage diving with great white sharks! I'm very excited for that one.
      I cannot believe that I head home Sunday evening and will be back in Springfield on Monday night. These five months have gone by, seemingly, in a flash, but have been filled with new and great experiences. While part of me hates to leave, the rest of me can't wait to see all my loved ones :) Pictures will be coming early next week!

Monday, October 17, 2011

So long for now, Tanzania

          134 days ago I stepped off the plane at Kilimanjaro Airport. I was exhausted, nervous, knew no Swahili and was feeling uncertain that I was ready for what I had committed myself to: five months away from home; in a country where I could count the people I knew on one hand. I knew almost nothing about the people, the language, the culture and back home I wasn't even a legal adult. Upon hearing what I was planning to do after high school, so many of my friends had told me that they admired me - and how they couldn't do what I was setting out to do. That first day I wasn't so sure that I could do it either. Had I gotten myself in over my head? The day (click for link) was filled with nerves, tears and many doubts.

      Almost five months later, I know how off target my feelings were that day. I did it, and I thrived. Never before have I been as consistently happy as I have been these last few months in Tanzania. I came here a stranger, but felt at home before week one was over. Despite my Swahili being basic at best those first few weeks, I found no shortage of people willing to help me practice and found the subjects I could talk about growing quickly.

       As I sat in a shop on market day in Engaruka last week, helping a Mama out with customers as she repaired clothing, I realized just how much I had learned. We were sitting there talking about America: the people, weather and daily life. We talked about Tanzania: where I had gone, why I had fallen so in love with this country, why I liked the food so much. I talked about myself: what I wanted to study in University, where I saw myself in ten years and how many kids I wanted. We talked about the differences between Tanzania and America, religion and so much more. I spent four hours talking with a woman who knows no English and I felt pretty proud of my Kiswahili.
         I've experienced so many new things here. I've held the 3 day old baby of a stranger. I purchased a cow at church. (click for link) I was in my first dust storm. I've spent time with widows who are barely older than I am. I've talked with students about setting goals and peer pressure. I've danced with Maasai women, climbed the tallest mountain in Africa (click for link) and built a chicken farm in Zanzibar. I have seen a woman being carried by her neighbors more than ten miles to the hospital. I have learned that material objects are not what what bring happiness but rather family and love, full stomachs and health, friends and laughter. I've learned to be thankful for what I have; that nothing should be taken for granted and to give what I can. l have been renamed. I have felt more love than ever before. I have seen parents who are grateful to Kellen, Daudi and me, not because we have given their children scholarships to attend secondary school, but simply because we are trying. Whenever I find myself getting frustrated with the difficulties of finding scholarships for 8 students to attend Secondary School (around $5,600 a year total) I will remember the gratitude of the children and their parents and be reminded of why I want to help.

          On my last night in Engaruka, I had one of many long conversations in a strange mixture of Kiswahili and English with a man who had been a stranger a few months ago but I now consider family. He told me "You are family now Namunyak. Whenever you are in Tanzania please come visit your family in Engaruka and feel at home. We will miss you, but we know that you will return and that you will not forget us. We love you." With those words I realized what a gift these past five months have been. I have seen things I will never forget, met people I will always hold dear and lived in a place that will stay in my heart.   

        Baadaye, Tanzania. I won't say goodbye because it is never goodbye, just “see you later.” I might not be able to save or change the world, this country or even the village of Engaruka. I will however do whatever I can to meet the needs and find the tools by which they can change their own lives.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Got my hair done one last time!

I will even miss the surprised looks I get when I reply to someone in Swahili, and the calls of "Mzungu! Mzungu!"