Sometimes You Need to Get Your Hands Dirty: 2012 – Part 2

After the exhilarating thrill of bungee jumping we are hungry.  How perfect!  We walk up to the bright blue stall on the street for our second celebratory event of New Years Day 2012.

Let the CHAPATI LESSONS begin!

As our instructors introduce themselves and walk us through the preparations.  I am surprised by my sudden realization that the roadside stalls making and selling chapatis I have seen across East Africa (and they are plenty) have been, equally surprising, manned by men and not women.  Food for thought… quite literally.

This roadside shop is now full to capacity with the three of us to-be-chapati-chiefs, three instructors, the stove, and workspace.  Kids and other curious community members come in and out leaving the stall bursting at its seams.  All are eager to watch us learn our new skill.  I am selected as the first participant.  They pour water from the jerry can over my hands.  I rub them together washing them as best I can.  The excess water falls onto the middle of the dirt floor below and it is quickly soaked into the ground -nothing unusual- and we carry on.  Into our large mixing bowl come the first ingredients: water, flour, and a little salt.  I mix and knead.  This reminds me of home being in the kitchen with my Mom.  I am happy.  I knead and knead until the batter is thick.  My turn ends quickly to enable the other two to participate in making this short recipe.

As I sit down, letting the others take a turn, one friend tells me I look like a natural in this kitchen.  As I listen I observe how different it is from the kitchen I have grown up with.  I smile.  I smile in part because there is something about people gathered together in a kitchen environment that reminds me of home (and I think her comment would make my mother proud); and, in part because it feels so right to be working alongside those who live here.  I love my job but I miss the opportunities to engage with the local community.  Here we are challenging the colonial stereotype.  Here we are respecting them as the ones with the knowledge allowing them to speak and share; to teach us.  Here they are respecting us by choosing to share their culture, their food, with us.  Here we feel like equals; one global community.  Cross-cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications occur and laughter rings out from all of us: Ugandan, Canadian, Colombian.  Realizing again that this is where I am content, where I belong, memories of working in Ghana flood my mind.  How I have missed this local connection!  I want my work to include these connections and friendships in the future.

The dough is soon rolled out into small balls.  One at a time we work the dough balls stretching them out and placing them onto a hot stove top.  We fry them using a makeshift utensil (of densely pressed newspaper?) to flatten the dough out into a circle-like shape.  With the heat drying out each chapati we quickly add oil.  Now the chapati is slowly fried until it is golden brown on each side.

Complete and serving customers our crepe-like chapatis are eaten differently.  Some eat it wrapped with a fried egg.  Some eat it plain.  Some tourists eat it with a version of natural peanut butter.  I eat it like any good Canadian-Italian girl should: with a thin layer of chocolate wrapped around a banana.

Sometimes the best things in life are simple.  They are best shared.  They require you to get your hands dirty.

*   *   *

Stepping off the bus in Nairobi we feel its familiarity.  The language, the currency, transportation routes and costs, streets, locations, familiar faces.  Returning to a home-away-from-home provides a great sense of relaxation and comfort to its travelers, but never will it come near that utmost sense of belonging one finds when returning home.  There is no place like home.  Home.

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Jumping Into The New Year: 2012 – Part 1

Every year on New Year’s Day my family attends the Courage Brother’s Polar Bear Dip.  In recent years I have convinced relatives and friends to join me as Polar Bears.  We stand on the first of January for hours in the cold wearing a swimsuit bundled in layers of sweaters, housecoats and blankets.  We gradually grow numb as we dream of the heated cars, fireplace, warm blankets and chili awaiting us at home.  When the time is called out we run into Lake Ontario as far as we can before the unbearable cold turns us back towards the shore where friends and family are awaiting us with open towels.  We do this to raise funds for World Vision’s water programs.

This year I do not have Lake Ontario but I do have the Source of the Nile.  I decide that I will do my best to keep up tradition.  I will jump into the Nile.  However, welcoming 2012 at the Source of the Nile is special and since I do not have the cold to contend with perhaps I need another element of challenge.  The New Year’s Polar Bear Dip is not the same if there is no element of crazy.  It’s settled.  I will bungee jump and hopefully dunk myself into the Nile at the bottom before rebounding upwards again.  I take photos of the dare we are about to perform.

My friend and I stare at the platform high above us.  She is freaking out.  I am excited.  We wait for those in charge to arrive.  We are an unusual mix of opposites.  She is impatient, anxious.  I am patient, calm.

The others arrive, tell us the details (including that they operate on Kiwi standards), our weight is measured, and we sign a waiver.  A third friend who has previously done the jump will accompany us to the top.  He tells us that it is okay to be hesitant – that once he was connected to the bungee cord it took him walking to the edge three times before he chose to jump.  I smile.

We climb to the top of the platform and look out.  My friend is adamant that I go first, proving that this idea of mine is safe, before she follows.  Only a week before, when we were in Jinja for Christmas, she swore she would never bungee jump proclaiming it as a suicide jump.  However, on New Year’s Eve she changed her mind.  Perhaps that was not the best evening to make this kind of decision.  She says she still does not want to do it but claims she must because I am determined to.  She has self-diagnosed herself as a FOMO: someone with Fear Of Missing Out.  She hates me for doing this because it means she must as well.  While I not pressure her I cannot say that I share her sentiments.  Having decided to do this I am filled with thrill and suppressed adrenaline.  I am set on and look forward to jumping.

We walk out on the plank, look out at the view, and look beneath us at the long way down.  They set the bungee so that I will have the greatest chance of getting dipped into the Nile.  They tell me I am light and may not reach it but show me how to position my jump with the best chance of touching it.  They instruct us on the proper technique for hitting the water; chin tucked in and remind us that they will not push us.  To jump must be completely our decision.

Jumping first, I am invited to the throne.  I take a seat in the grand ethnically carved chair and look into the depths below as they wrap a towel around my ankles and bind my feet.  Then they clip in and double check my back-up safety harness.  I feel peace.  Calm with the jump before me.  I see my friend visibly shaking where she stands on the platform across from me.  I wonder, is this odd?  I had expected my nerves to at least kick in when standing atop this jump and looking out.  Instead, here I am with a most unusual sense of tranquility; in a place of utmost peace and serenity.  I call out, “I’m so calm.  I feel like something is wrong with me; that I should be nervous, at least concerned?”  She says she can tell I am calm and it is so weird for her to see because she is so beyond nervous.  The man who instructs us on how to jump asks me if I’ve ever jumped before.  “Never.”  So he assumes I’ve cliff jumped.  “Never.”  He looks at me, his dreadlocks framing his face, puzzled.  “I just like this kind of stuff.  You know.”  He is still looking at me.  I just smile. 

It is time.  I stand up and hop over to the barrier.  I shuffle towards the line on the ground.  I am asked to look at the camera and say some last words.  What do I say?  I do not have last words.  I plan to speak for many more years to come.  Hm… “This isn’t the end of me.  You can’t be rid of me yet so you’ll be hearing from me soon.”  The man with dreadlocks laughs and says that was very insightful.  He’s not heard something like that before.  A pang of nervous excitement runs through me and I take a second.  It quickly passes.

I barely reach the bar above my head which I hold onto as I shuffle my feet until my toes are over the edge.  This is real!  This is exciting.  They will call out “Three… Two… One… Bungee!!!”  I have to choose to jump.  They will not push me.  If I need they will let me sit down again.  I remember our accompanying friend say he didn’t jump until his third attempt.  I don’t consider this option.  Instead I find myself wondering if I should jump on One or Two just to surprise them.  No, that wouldn’t do.  I want to make sure that those in charge are prepared and the camera is ready.  I hear them call out “Three… Two… One… Bungee!!!”

I instantly lean forward without a second to spare.  My arms out beside me -behind me.  My smile is beaming ear-to-ear.  Sending a great big hug into the air I become my best version of the famous Pocahontas dive.  There is such a sensation of peace, flying through the air.  I am in pure bliss until my body becomes vertical.  Head first with speed picks up.  Racing faster and faster and going further and further than imagined I wonder will my lungs pop?  The lower I get, the more engaged the bungee is and the slower the fall becomes.  “This is awesome!!!”  Yes, my lungs are still here.  I say this for fun and to encourage my friend who is still up top on the platform.  I wonder what she thinks.

Approaching the water, my arms are straight out before me, chin tucked in, I stretch to become as long as I can and … I am almost a foot from the water when my gigantic elastic pulls me upwards.  This New Year’s I attempted to jump into the Nile: I jumped, but never created a splash.  Coming up I do the Superman pose, going down I try to touch the water again, going up I turn into an ‘L’ and look up at the platform high above.  “Whooohooo!!!“  I am pulled up and down in every direction.  I wiggle and squirm into as many fun poses as I can.  

Hanging there, gently swinging back and forth, adrenaline rush over, I am aware of the blood rushing to my face.  The rafters align beneath me and ask me to grab their up-raised paddle.  Eventually, I make contact and they pull me into the raft and untie my ankles.  I am beaming with excitement.  Safe on shore I look up, way up, to where my friend will appear.

My friend jumps.  She gets her arms and half of her head dunked in the Nile.  After, both on solid ground, she tells me not only did she have to jump because I did but that she had to jump right away on the first chance because I had done that too.  The difference, she claims, is that she was so nervous she was shaking uncontrollably.  I am proud of her for conquering her fear, yet, I wonder what her parents will think of my influence.  She is equally impressed by me and my calm state throughout this challenge -her fear.  Agreeing it was fun, but that she would never do it again, we celebrate with a drink before joining the rest of our traveling companions.

With my New Years tradition accounted for now I can say it.  “Welcome 2012.”