Our Better Halves

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April 23rd 2018
Published: April 23rd 2018
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A man besides me makes a joke about How it's terribly unlucky that Ethiopian Airlines has the worst food. In my brain, gears get caught and the hamsters look at each other confused.

"Did she just say 'beef, chicken, OR fish?' YAAAASSSSSS, QUEEN, YAS!!!!"

The hamsters ask me if they can attack this mans face. One of them's drunk on airport red wine. It could get nasty.

Theres a war between my ears as I stare, doe-eyed at this confused man. As the awkward pause ensues, I, together with the hamsters, must translate this mans words to a language outside of the PeaceCorpsVolunteer dialect.

"Aww. Haha!! Yessss...."

(Scrapes fork across pudding scraps, considers licking excess cream cheese from plastic packet, settles on stuffing the extra roll in backpack.)

The hamsters regain composure, the wheels begin to turn again.

That was a close one.

The hamsters and I are traveling to South Africa!! Bouncing our way through the international airports has reminded me of the sparkle in the world.

While everyone rushed around, so concerned about making our 30 minute connection in Asia Ababa, I doddled along the airport corridor, fascinated by the moving bodies. Ethiopian women with creamy mocha skin, elegantly painted faces, prepared for their flight attendant duties. Japanese women in flocks with huge smiles, tiny frames, had gossip on their lips. Israeli men with piercing blue eyes, sharp noses, and stylish metropolitan jeans passed Djiboutians in linen gowns with brightly colored stitching headed home to their families.

I don't know that I saw a single American, considering I can practically sniff them out these days. We are more sloppy, louder, move more quickly, and demand more of non-English speakers. We also tend to wear brighter colors and more readily visible brand names. Even without anyone from my own country around, I felt more at home, more comfortable than ever.

Thinking about my last two trips alone, I'm grateful for the help of other travelers. Twice now, a boisterous crew of South Africans living in Dar have adopted me, including me in rounds of drinks, inviting me over for barbecues, and even picking my mother up from the airport.

At Slow Leopard hostel on Friday night, I ran into this crew for the second time and escaped an awkward conversation at the bar by relocating to their table. After hours of laughing and sarcastic banter, I attempted to order food and was told the kitchen had closed. Without hesitation one of the women said "well, come on then! We'll have a BBQ at my house around the corner!"

As if it was nothing, the men piled into one car to fetch meat from the late night-butcher, and the women headed to the neighborhood next door, prepping a salad and pouring endless booze from the family liquor cabinet. As I was stuffing my face with their South African brats, porkchops, goat cheese, and chutney-toasts, I realized hardly any of them were as ravenous as I. Come to find out... they'd all had dinner!

This is the second time this has happened to me in Dar es Salaam. ExPats find out what I'm doing, hear any request I make, and see it as a perfect excuse for a full-out midnight meat roast! Part of the reason I am so excited to arrive in South Africa is because of the generosity South Africans have shown me. I've never met more helpful people that are so laid back, so comfortable in their helpfulness. Sure, we can be generous in the States, but a BBQ requires planning, cleaning, prepping, and an expectation that the guest brings something to contribute, something to share.

My " something to share" was my skill in raiding this poor woman's pantry and eating a whole sleeve of her 12 year old son's Oreos while sitting by her pool, wasted on her wine, with a glass of her full cream milk.

Her response? She found me a giant Lindt chocolate bar, concerned I hadn't soothed my craving.

You just can't understand other people, other places, other cultures, until you're alone and vulnerable in them. The way people care for me, the goodness and joy and love in people, whether in the village or on the road--- it has an effect not dissimilar to a loving partner in that it makes me want to be better. The world is my better half.*

So here I am, off to South Africa, and to AfrikaBurn, nonetheless!

Traveling for AfrikaBurn festival means bringing everything and anything you might need. The festival is not a music festival. There are no headliners, no scheduled performers flying in. No.. it's a village created by like minded people that thrive on radical self-reliance and radical self-expression simultaneously. No money is allowed, sharing and gifting are expected, and every participant must volunteer their skills, knowledge, muscles, and time to make the festival happen. There is no "staff," only dedicated burners who spend all year scheduling other volunteers and planing the infrastructure. You bring EVERYTHING. All your water, all your food, all your shelter, and all your artistic abilities. Advertisements aren't even permitted.

My dear friend and somewhat mentor from the States, Amanda is taking the huge trip to get to Capetown for this festival! We've scouted two South Africa-PCVs with whom we will carpool. Just stalking these women's facebooks I can tell we will all be best friends by the end of The Burn. I'll land in Capetown and stay with my brother's lovely friend LeeAnn, who has been a goddess, providing us with tents, camping stoves, and various other supplies that would be too difficult to tote internationally (again, a ridiculously helpful South African!) When Amanda arrives on Monday, four of us will make our way to Tankwa, into the unknown, artistic wonders of the desert.

This years theme for AB is "working title." Meaning---"bring everything you have to the table and let's rock this shit based on our varied experience and expertise."

To contribute to this theme, I'm working in the Sanctuary Tent counseling overwhelmed or substance-downed campers. I'm also performing an artistic dance piece with body paint about women's empowerment, helping with stretch and massage in one of the theme camps, and teaching flow yoga at another. I cannot wait.

With my suitcases stuffed full of buckets, solar lights, twine, and sleeping bags, I made my way to Dar es Salaam from my village last week. From my other posts, you know how long that voyage is.

Being on a plane, no one is touching me, there's air conditioning, and the flight attendants bring me anything I could ask for. They're accommodating my bad habit of double-fisting coffee and wine. Treacherous, but necessary.

Y'all---there's even an option of beef, chicken, or fish!!!!!

I've been writing in my journal a bit more, keeping my thoughts handy since I can't blog from my computer. This little number is coming from my iPhone notepad, but I wanted to keep you all informed. 😊 This week, a relative of my Stepfather, who I've met only once or twice contributed to me fixing my computer so I can continue blogging. Shout out to them, I LOVE YOU!! I know I say this a lot, and I wish I could send you the feeling I have when I say it-- but your kindness, your support, your time to read my thoughts, your cards, your packages, your venmo gifts, and all the other unexpected generosity has overwhelmed me. I sometimes worry obsessively that I don't deserve this love. You all, a part of our shared world, are my better half. I love you, truly, fully, humbly. Thank you. I place my hands over my heart and close my eyes. Thank you, God, for this beautiful world of people.

With a full and grateful heart,

*PS -- in mentioning better halves, I feel obligated to mention one person to whom I owe a great deal of love, patience, and life- My Loren, a martyr, in many ways, to my own journey. Congratulations, my sweet, sweet love, on being admitted and funded in following your dream to study Physics at UNC Chapel Hill. Our adventure only becomes more wild from here. I can't wait to find out what this entanglement entails.

I love you,
Your Kate

PSS--holy sh*t, this bologna sandwich tastes good.


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