Monday, June 22, 2009

Winter Wonderland?

When I was back home, a lot of friends and family made comments about how tough life in Africa must be and how it must be so hard to be away from all the comforts of home. Granted… life out here isn’t perfect and there is corruption, violence, and a handful of Lesotho-specific frustrations, I couldn’t really say with a straight face, that I was ‘suffering.’ I just couldn’t let rumors of mud huts, no plumbing, and mosquito nets spread among my loved ones. So I interjected and broke these stereotypes, admitting to a lifestyle that was far more comfortable than most imagined. With a furnished and guarded 2-bedroom flat, our very own reliable 4x4, cable TV, and lots of great road-trips close by, life out here isn’t so bad.

However, coming back after 3 weeks of blissful indulgence, great food, sunshine, and warmth, has really opened my eyes a little and I’ve been reminded that life is tougher out here and I am pushing myself out of my comfort zone. (Oh, how quickly those details fade while lying on a lounge chair soaking in the sun among friends!!). Maybe it was the harsh transition from Caribbean sunshine to wintertime gloom… or coming back from my newlywed high alone…or maybe The Fates are just getting back at me for advertising my “easy” life is in Africa, but this past week hasn’t exactly been the epitome of comfort!

Rather than giving into temptation and rambling on about my complaints, I thought it would be fun to just describe a few of my recent day-to-day experiences to give you a little picture of my life out here right now...from the comfort of wherever you are. Enjoy!

Day 1:
First day back, awake to gloomy Maseru day and start preparations for work. Having turned off water geyser while away, hot water tap sputters out barely-luke warm stream. Contemplate not showering, but reconsider due to 48+ hours of traveling and 72 hours since last shower. Turn shower on. Warm water stream comparable to force of a gentle trickle. Tub feels like block of ice on already-numb toes. Contort self into very strange positions, trying to avoid shock of cold water on unsuspecting back. Manage to shampoo and rinse in record-time. Note presence of visible breath while in shower.

Lunchtime. Arrive at home to discover water has ceased to flow altogether. (Also note TV has been shut off while away. Must resort to good old-fashioned books for entertainment.) Planned pasta lunch with hot tea must be swapped for can of beans with heated cocktail-size chicken nuggets, left over from house party approx. 3 months ago. Note unnatural gumball shape of nuggets. Bake anyway. Note that honey has frozen solid in kitchen while away. Resort to leftover ketchup in fridge. Yumm.

Day 2:
First driving blunder since back. Trying to find parking at grocery store. All spots full and impossible to go against one-way road in parking lot for alternate parking. Must exit lot and come back in. Get wedged between two unwilling drivers, unable to go through exit. After multiple arm gesturing and rearview mirror glaring, one vehicle slightly reverses, barely allowing me to exit. Now stuck behind line of 4+ vehicles awaiting petrol en route back to parking entrance. Total wasted time: approximately 25 minutes.

Day 3:
Tough time adjusting to cold (and lack of indoor heat) past few days so promised self hot bath in evening. Turn on hot water tap. Trickling water will result in minimum one hour to fill tub with barely-hot water. Cleverly decide to supplement tub water with boiling water from electric kettle in kitchen. Fast-forward to 5 kettles and forty minutes later. Tub still luke-warm. Drain tub and repeat shower experience from Day 1, record time again.

Well, I think you get the picture, right??

Going through these experiences may be rough at the time, but they definitely help me appreciate the little things that come along. For example, I have learned to really appreciate the joy of a ridiculously early bedtime. (I'm too ashamed to spill details but let's just say these days the sun sets by 5pm.) I also love the simplicity of an evening in with good book, a glass of wine, and a few candles. Also, being so cold in the evenings has forced me to recognize and appreciate the rare moments of warmth. I have to say there are very few things that compare to the amazing sensation of slipping under the covers after the electric blanket has been warming up for at least 20 minutes.

*sigh*

It may not be the Caribbean, but it definitely is bliss!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

bliss

I’m back!

And what a month it’s been! I really don’t know how I’ll start to capture the essence of the past few weeks, which included my much-anticipated destination wedding, a healthy dose of sunshine, quality time with friends and family, and lots of travel.

To start off with logistics… I spent more time in airports and taxis the past few weeks than I’d care to think about. When it comes down to it, I was pretty much on the road again every few days. From Africa to New York to Connecticut to New Jersey to Texas to Jamaica and back. Phew! Being the nerd I am, I decided to do the math to figure out exactly how much time I spent traveling and here’s the ugly truth…

In the past 3+ weeks, I spent 55 hours flying on 9 different flights, totaling more than 107 hours of travel time!! Yikes! Throw in a bunch of delays (resulting in one missed international connection), excess baggage fees, some missing luggage, and a bit of mid-flight illness … and voila! There you have it! It’s enough to make me want to burn my passport and hide indoors for a while. (well, almost!)

Of course, all the hassles and delays were well worth it to see all of my wonderful family and to pull off a fabulous wedding-vacation-combo in the Caribbean. Honestly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t opt for a destination wedding. When else can you be on a great vacation with all your nearest and dearest? Not only did the two of us have a chance to truly relax and enjoy ourselves before the wedding, but so did our guests. It was amazing watching all of our friends and family arrive and even more amazing to watch them get to know each other during the few days before our big day. By the time the wedding came around, everyone was so completely relaxed from a few days of sunshine and they had already gotten to know each other, which made it even more intimate for all of us. Really, just perfect.

For a mini-honeymoon (are honeymoons still allowed after destination weddings??), we decided to extend our stay in Jamaica by a few days and enjoy the luxury and laziness of an all-inclusive resort on the beach. Not usually our travel style, but after all of our planning and a very busy week of last-minute details and hosting, neither of us was really up for our usual rustic exploring. The all-inclusive was everything it’s supposed to be. Social atmosphere, lots of dining options day and night, umbrella-adorned pina coladas, activities, hammocks everywhere you turn, and even a swim-up bar (don’t knock it til you try it!). It’s impossible not to relax and enjoy… and as I sadly learned this trip, sometimes I need a little help in the relaxation department. We wouldn’t necessarily do the all-inclusive thing again, but it was exactly what we needed at the time.

Given that travel is a huge part of our lifestyle, it may not be so shocking to learn that we are spending our first few weeks apart, while Jeremy’s away on a work trip to Rwanda and I rushed back to Lesotho to get back to my own work. We are probably the world’s first newlyweds to be apart for the first month of marriage, but this is our life and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.

As for my transition back to the dead of winter in Lesotho…I’m not sure I even want to go there just yet. Maybe it’s still too soon and I’m in denial about really being back already.

And did I mention that it’s winter over here? And that winter in Lesotho really does mean negative temperatures and snow? Let’s just say that my first night back required the electric blanket and my hands and feet were still numb all night. And let’s just say there was no hot water that night and no water at all the next day... and that my first day back was gloomy and rainy. Talking about one extreme to another!!

So for the time being, I’m gonna do myself a favor and allow my mind to stay in paradise for a few days longer…