The Mourning After...

Donald Trump is President.  The world has shifted on its axis.  

This is a reminder for many things.  A) The underdog CAN win, no matter what odds are against him.  B) Our nation is way more divided than we thought.  C) No matter the election results, we must work to bring our country together, because for the past year it's shown its harshest divide. Oh, and most importantly, D) This is the time to practice mindfulness, meditation, kindness, and belief that good things grow out of dark places.

Trump is president for a reason, we just don't know yet what that is.  He could take us to the trenches, but then there will be life from darkness. He could take us to new heights, who knows, and then we'll all be saying "Wow, who knew?".  As much as I want to bury my head in the sand until this nightmare is over, I have to find the place within me to believe in our system, and know that the voices were indeed heard- whether they be mostly uneducated white men from the swamplands or not.  (I do know a few very decent, educated, lovely people who voted Trump, but the stats point to the majority of the votes from this demographic) I just wish he represented more of the diversity of this country, and not just the ones alluded by an orange guy yelling about how terrible America is. I know Obama promised change 8 years ago, and he won on that platform. Change is always going to win out over any other argument from people who's lives are going just fine.  It's an absolute truth that a lot of people in this country are not doing so well. They actually do need change, no matter if their leader is a misogynist, a groper, a liar, a thief, a cheater, or not.  Undoubtedly, this is the biggest upset in pretty much all of human history.  Part of me wants to blame Jill Stein, or that other idiot who didn't know what Aleppo was, as they took percentage points in Ohio that probably would have made the difference, as the margin was so close.  But I get it that independents needed to make their voices heard too- the ones who believe a 2-party system is not sustainable for the long run. I'm trying to be understanding to the voices, but why this year?? Argh!

It's just so hard to imagine that people would rather look up to a man who's message for change is tied to a message of hate for 'others'.  Are we now going to close our borders?  Shut down Planned Parenthood?  Extract ourselves from the Paris Agreement? Ban all Muslims? Where is that going to get us, really?  It just invites more hate.  I'm not so afraid of The Donald, I'm afraid of how this makes us look to the rest of the world, and what back lashes we will see from those people who are being attacked.  Ok, you are afraid of Hilary sending some emails, and her taking another percent of your millions, but what good will it do if you don't have human decency? Are you really wanting to Make America White Again?  Because that's what we just voted into the White House-  A team (Pence is probably even worse than Trump) who discredits Climate Change!  Who wants to punish women for making the most difficult decision of their lives! Who feel it's okay to teach their sons to hate people who aren't just like you, and grope women & brag about it!  I have three nephews, and I am at a loss to explain to them what just happened.  All I can say to them is, please don't be like this President. Actually, watch him, and do/be the opposite. Right now, we really need to find a positive role model for our children, because the man half the country just elected to lead us is the worst example for our kids that I can possibly imagine.  I just hope that four years goes by quickly and without too much collateral damage to both our economy, our security, and our psyche.  

I read an article the other day by an evangelical Christian newspaper columnist who explained why he decided to vote for Trump.  He said he struggled with the decision quite a lot.  But, it the end, he made his decision because of this:  He said that only when Man is down at his absolute worst will he then turn to God and ask for Salvation.  Let's get this straight- He voted for Trump because he believed it would ruin us as a people, therefore bringing the world together through the only salvation left- The Almighty.  Let that sink in a minute...

I have to admit, I don't believe this man is altogether wrong.  My thoughts this morning are along the same lines actually. Only when we see how detrimental this Presidency is, will we finally join together as a nation to defeat it and heal.  So, I'm preparing to brace myself and stand with the people who share my beliefs of inclusion and forward movement towards a positive goal.  Trump is not my President. I hope the World knows that half of us at least don't support his hateful messages and demeaning gestures.  

In summary, look at the year, and some of the fantastically outrageous events that occurred: Brexit, the Cubs won the World Series, and Trump got elected the most powerful man on the planet.

All I can say is, thank God for Baseball.  

80 90s to DC

Never have i been more in love with being a flight attendant as I was yesterday, never have I felt so happy to be serving people, and never have I felt so appreciated in doing so. 

Now  this  is what I call a kiss...

Now this is what I call a kiss...

Eighty men and women who served our country in World War II and the Korean War boarded our plane with eager smiles, being escorted by their ‘helpers’, big hearted individuals who spent the day making sure ‘their vet’ was taken care of.  With each pair that passed, my heart grew bigger, so much love was boarding my plane, so much excitement, and so many memories tucked inside those eighty heads.  I’m sure most days go past without thinking of their days of war, but on this kind of day, those memories are welcomed to roam freely, move to the front of the line, press play on the slideshow that lies inside from nearly 80 years ago.  I welcomed each and every one, getting lost in my appreciation for being there with them.  I savored every moment, knowing I only had their presence for a total of 5 hours; back & forth to Washington DC from Fort Lauderdale.

Some were more engaging than others when they passed, and I picked out my ‘sweeties’, the ones who gave me a little spunk, a boyish smile, or a squeeze of my hand.  Being in the aviation industry for close to 20 years now, I can count on maybe two hands the flights that truly stand out, ones that I will never forget.  It gives me inspiration to feel that kind of enthusiasm every time I go to work.  Most days, I do try to see the light and the kindness in those who I interact with, but like all things, it’s impossible to keep a high at all times. I love my job, it’s a privilege to be a flight attendant.  I never thought in a million years that this is what I would be doing, as I was terrified to fly most of my young life.  But travel and adventure beat out fear, and now here I am.  In what other job would I have been able to spend the day with our nation’s heroes, being a part of one of the best days of their lives?  I know each one of their smiles will live on within me, and I hope that mine will live on with them as well:  The girl who smiled with them, sat with them and gave them hugs & squeezes, and ate up all of their flirtations and jokes.  It brought a human connection to my world, and for those moments, I forgot all of my troubles that had been swarming around my brain.  I touched as many hands as I possibly could, their fragile skin so translucent and soft, so gentle to hold.  I walked around the plane looking at their treasured envelope contents, with photos from when they were young, in love, and in uniform.  I listened to stories of how they escaped death;  like Joe, how his fragile stomach got him transferred to a ground unit because he threw up on the plane… and two weeks later that same air squadron was shot down, every one of them killed.  How he came home to his sweetheart who’s he’s now been married to for 73 years (who, has the same slim figure as me I was told) and grew old together.  He still carries the photo of their wedding day in his pocket, and I say, “Why, she sure is a stunning woman, Joe! What a lucky gal to be married to you for 73 years!”  He pulls me in with his velvety hands and whispers in my ear, “I think you could come home with me and be my mistress though!”  I gasped in a playful laugh and then I kissed his hand.  

As we landed back at home, and my parade of beautiful souls marched softly off my plane, my heart sunk a little, knowing I would not see them again.  I touched every one’s hand, shoulder, cheek, back as they filed past me, cherishing the ones who stopped with arms outreached for a hug.  With my whole heart I wrapped them with an embrace, my cheeks now hurting from smiling so hard for so long.  One of the fireman escorts remarked to me with a smirk as he passed, “I think you have 80 Ninety-year-olds wanting to take you home with them Shelly.”  And with that, I knew the feeling was mutual.  

The look of pride & gratitude. 

The look of pride & gratitude. 

Trip leader & Rick (right) looks out over a plane full of grateful tears as he surprises the vets with a special Mail Call.

Trip leader & Rick (right) looks out over a plane full of grateful tears as he surprises the vets with a special Mail Call.

Both vets and their helpers get emotional as they read the piles of letters sent to them from near and far.

Both vets and their helpers get emotional as they read the piles of letters sent to them from near and far.

It's smiles like these that remind you to live life to the fullest!

It's smiles like these that remind you to live life to the fullest!

Zoro & Bilike

I met Zoro when we brought the newborn wildebeest over to share her home. Zoro was also a rescue, only a month old herself.  She was tiny and fragile, yet she still had these vast, protruding ears shooting out from her big, black eyes, making her seem much larger. She welcomed her new little visitor openly and instantly they were best friends;  The kudu and the wildebeest, nature having fun.  Our little beest, “Bilike” (bil-leh-kee) as she was aptly called, (I believe it’s an Afrikaans word for sweetie, or something similar) had been rescued the day before just after her entrance into this world. 

"Come Shelly!! Hop in the car!”  Andre yelled as he grabbed the keys, running to the fence to slide it open.  As we bolted down the narrow dirt road that led to the main lodge, he explained that Casper had called to say there was a newborn wildebeest just across the road that seemed to have been abandoned by its mother.  We were going to get him. Sometimes, when we would hurry off for something like this, it would be too late and we'd miss whatever was there; a herd of eles, a cheetah sighting, etc., but not this time.  As we pulled up, I could see a tiny little animal standing in the brown grass, looking at us in fright, bleating, “beeh-eh!…  beeh-eh!”  No mother in sight. Andre hopped out and went straight for him, I froze in awe.  This was a little thing, but he was still a wild thing.  I thought it would be a struggle, but he was captured quite easily.  There stood Andre, this big, bald, Afrikaaner man, with four tiny, long legs in his arms.  It was such a beautiful sight that I'll never forget... This large, intimidating man softly holding a delicate creature in his arms... “This is why I chose Africa”, I thought to myself, “This is my world, how lucky am i?”  Then, breaking out of my silent gaze, I noticed that Andre was splattered with blood. The umbilical chord was still fresh, and it was spurting out red drops at an alarming rate.  We ran to the lodge to get a first aid kit and some water.  I rinsed the blood, and then found a compress to hold against the bleeding chord.  Together, we brought her to an enclosure outside the maid's quarters.  Happiness let out a yelp and ran inside her room.  We sat and watched as the little beest maneuvered his way around, testing out his legs and his meek voice. “ beeeh-eh!”, scuffle, stare, “beeeh-eh!”  I had fallen in love.  Fascinated, I walked around with him, staying by his side so he wouldn't be too afraid, and also so he wouldn't hurt himself by getting his twiggy legs stuck in the debris around the yard. Soon, he laid down, and I sat there beside him, stroking his head.  The others moved to the bar where they made a few gin tonics as they decided what they would do with him.  I stayed there on the ground next to my new friend, savoring every moment I had with him; me and a newborn wild animal who looked at me as mum.  If I moved, he got up and moved right back next to me.  I waited until he was asleep and then rose to join the others… “beeeh-eh!!!” he popped right up and stood by my side, stuck to my leg in protest.  I learned later that wildebeest attach to the first thing they see after they are born.  Although Andre was technically the 'thing', I was the human now who was in his sight, therefore, I was mum.  

Soon, Hendrik and Jeske arrived with a baby's bottle and milk.  They said they would take him back to their farm to join the new Kudu they had just rescued the week prior. They were used to raising baby animals on their farm, and explained to me just how much work it actually is.  They must be bottle-fed every 3 hours, day and night for months.  It is a chore of love, one that you must be 100% committed to, or else your little beasts will die.  I was happy Bilike had a home, yet I was secretly sad that Andre had not taken him, as I wanted to be around him, I wanted to raise her, be this frail creature's 'mum'.  But I knew it was impossible, and when I went to Hendrik and Jeske's farm to visit a few days later, I saw he had a new best friend named Zoro. The two dashed around the enclosure together, always one right behind the other.  When I entered, I heard my favorite new sound, “beeeh-eh” and smiled, calling him to me to see if he would still remember I was one of his humans.  “Beh-eh” he said as he came closer to me, and I got to feed him one of his bottles there under the hot afternoon sun.

These are the things I miss about Africa… The unexpected mornings where you come across a surprise, and fall in love with life, where nature and humans are not so separate after all. 

Lost to be Found

As I was winding through yet another dirt path trying inconspicuously to pass for a road, my brain began to fizzle into the despair of being completely and utterly lost. 

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Tiny lumps began to form in my throat, the lever for my tear ducts was being pulled, my pupils must have become deep, dark orbs, widening by the second.  To get to the middle of this desolate jungle road overlooking the bays of Puntarenas, I had spent over 13 hours; a trip that when I set out, I thought would last only 3.  I pulled over to gaze out and contemplate my vast lostness-ness for a moment, taking in the inlets of the sea, and the vast green ravines which undulated far into the distance.  As I look back now, I should have stayed there a few more minutes to breath in the experience of being simply, and quite beautifully lost.  This word, it's usually associated with anxiety and fear, but I wonder now why we don't see it in a different way... 

Funny how I didn’t realize it at the time due to my budding trepidation, but now that I envision those moments, the word that fills my head is EXPANSION.  Like my pupils, my world expanded out to nothingness and everything all at once.  In the not knowing where you are, you have no labels, no objectives, no Google map pins nor tourist landmarks, no need… You are purely staring out at a new horizon, you are not just flying by anymore.  You are in lost territory.  

It’s hard to see these things in the moment.  Our agendas take over our lives, our timelines become our world, and our necessity to do things right and stay on track overtake our sense of adventure.   Our senses redirect to fear instead of intrigue. 

Time is the most precious thing we ‘have’… it’s what we count every day for appointments, every year for anniversaries and birthdays, every millennia to mark milestones and history.  When we get lost, we feel as if we have lost time… and that, for me, is what I focused on most as my tiny wheels crept through the endless curves.  I was losing time by being lost.  I should have been at my destination by now, this being lost robbed me of precious time at my ideal destination.  Yet, I forgot to appreciate the time I was in that window of lost.  Where time actually did not matter, where I found myself in a place on the planet where few others travelled and where my sense of adventure and appreciation of nature could flourish.  I did stop several times to snap a photograph or two, but if time weren’t chasing me so fervently, I would have gotten out of the car, breathed in the lost air, felt the lost breeze on my face, been one with this fleeting lost space for a few moments longer…

Eventually, as I rounded the corner to see a bona fide road coming into focus, my heartbeat returned to normal and I gave thanks to my little car for its impossible feat.  I could feel in the air that something special was coming my way in the days ahead -that I was about to be rewarded for my tenaciousness in finding this tiny stretch of pot holed road - the one that would lead me to discovering another piece of my soul.  As it turns out, I was right.  My gifts were playing in the curls of my perfect waves, blowing through the leaves of the seaside lush, and burrowing softly inside my spirit so I would not forget the Yin and Yang of being Lost and being Found.  

During my 9 days in Costa Rica, I fell madly in love with so many people and places.  I felt a flurry of emotions ranging from illumination to disillusion, overjoyed to overwhelmed.  Traveling solo has its disadvantages, and sometimes I feel lonely, or crazy for choosing this kind of adventure.  But in the end, I find that conquering my fears - in any way possible- is always the best choice.  If we take the lessons and beauty over the fear and solitude, life has endless gifts for us.  So, expand as much as you can, take the moments to breath it all in, and appreciate the moments between the lines -especially when you are feeling lost.  

The road less travelled.

The road less travelled.

The best arepa i've ever eaten in my life!!

The best arepa i've ever eaten in my life!!

Maquenque Eco Lodge

Maquenque Eco Lodge

A morning's walk through the rain forest.  Blue Jeans Frog.

A morning's walk through the rain forest.  Blue Jeans Frog.

Canoeing at Maquenque (left), Lake Arenal (right).

Canoeing at Maquenque (left), Lake Arenal (right).

Ran into this beauty on the lake..

Ran into this beauty on the lake..

The best little hostel on Earth?  I say so! The Famous Toad Hall.

The best little hostel on Earth?  I say so! The Famous Toad Hall.

Rest Maquen... best breakfast around.  Fried bananas and queso fresco.. mmm...

Rest Maquen... best breakfast around.  Fried bananas and queso fresco.. mmm...

Beauty on a hill, hike to the Ceiba tree. 

Beauty on a hill, hike to the Ceiba tree. 

My new favorite place on Earth... Santa Teresa.

My new favorite place on Earth... Santa Teresa.

Scenes from the road. 

Scenes from the road. 

Santa Boys

Santa Boys

Sunset at El Loro break.

Sunset at El Loro break.

Varieties of pura vida liquid Heaven..

Varieties of pura vida liquid Heaven..

Surf+Love

Surf+Love

Heaven on Earth.

Heaven on Earth.

Carpe Sharking Diem.

That moment when you are floating dreamily in the turquoise waters of Miami, soaking in the sun rays with a soft smile, staring out beyond the gentle waves to the deeper waters and pondering the dilemmas in your head… and then you turn around gently to look at the shore… and you see half a dozen people waving their arms high in the air.  And your heart stops with the realization that there is only one reason people on shore do that kind of thing to a person in the ocean…


For an unexplainable minute, I stared at them, not registering that it could possibly be what I most feared.  I looked around me, wanting to see a boat, or a jetski, or a couple heads nearby, something to explain why they were waving in my direction. There was nothing, I was completely alone.  My eyes quickly scanned the clear blue waters around me for any sort of shadowy figures.  They saw none.  But the arms kept waving, and there were no boats, no other people anywhere near me, no other reason for their actions.  And now I knew there was no other thing to do than to swim.  Fast.  Outrun whatever was coming towards me.  It wasn’t until I was in full sprint that my mind transposed itself into that scene in Jaws, and suddenly, I was that girl in the bikini, swimming unknowingly, about to get eaten by something underneath her.  But, I did know.  I was undeniably aware that something was in the water with me, near me, and of how far the shore was from me.  How did I get this far out?  I screamed inside… ‘Maybe they were waving their arms because there is a rip tide, there’s no shark at all’, I tried to tell myself.  ‘But then, if there’s a rip tide’, my mind continued as my body was in auto mode, ‘I will be pulled out to the sharks anyways, so I am no better off!’  Then, oddly enough, in those same moments of my life or death sprint, a scene from my years on the John Muir High School swim team came rushing back to me, and I was actually thinking about my form, and that it was a good form, nice, strong strokes, Shelly, and I envisioned the timer at the end of the lane telling me I beat my best time.  ‘Uh, YEAH!  Of course I did, I was outrunning a freaking shark, thank you very much!’  As I approached the kelp belt near the shore, I shot up and scanned around me, ready to see it there by my side, my arms continuing to pull the water so I moved forward.  I knew sharks can come in knee deep water if they feel like it, so I started to swim once more, not feeling completely safe until I was on the other side of the kelp.  Then, I stood there on the shore, dripping, staring out from where I just came, and I saw fins, they were  swimming past where I had just exited the water, I thought it must be 6 feet long.  Standing in horror with my hands to my chest, terrified, staring out at this enormous creature who just seconds before shared the waters with me, I was in a dreamscape, a tunnel vision, an altered state, unable to take my eyes from the fins swimming further down the shore.

Two of the people who were waving at me walked up to me just then.  Seeing my panic still, they told me in their south american accents, “We ask the life guard and he says to us it is a carp…”  “A shark?”  I repeated.  “He say no worry, that he don’t hurt, is a carp, but be careful anyway!!” they said, walking away hand in hand.  My blood rushed back to my body and I let out a exhaling laugh.  ‘Biggest fucking carp I’ve ever seen’, still not believing it’s a carp, ‘I know what carps look like!!’  I came home to Google ‘enormous carps’ and couldn’t find anything that looked similar.  But I have to trust that the lifeguard knew what he was talking about. 

Most of the time in life, you feel invincible, you are unaware mostly that you feel this way, but it’s just a natural thing I suppose.  You go on with your routine, your life, your fill-in-the-blank, and you don’t think of the next step to be the one that could end your time on Earth.  You have escaped death a million times, especially if you have siblings and survived childhood, it’s just what you do.  But today, I actually felt for a few long, salty moments in time, that I am indeed flesh and blood.  I felt what it’s like to say in my mind, “Awww, shit!  Is this how it feels to have death take you by surprise?”  I was angry at myself for wading out so far without concern, this oversight being the likely cause for my expiration.  Life now slowed down to mere arm strokes.  Nothing else existed, I was exposed, vulnerable, human.  

It could be life imitating art in a way for me right now.   All of these things, I have been contemplating these past few months… What it means to be vulnerable, can I expose my fears and get over them, how do I live fully present during the hard questions life brings me?   And, maybe the answer to these was given to me as well by this gigantic, fearful carp creature.  My fears and insecurities are the shark, but really, they are just carps out for a Thursday afternoon swim.  

42nd in the Thirty Fifth

“I’m debating whether or not to go” I texted Scotty with a snapshot of the stormy weather report for Cartagena that weekend. 

“Is the Pope Catholic?!!!”  he responded… and with that, I realized my fears were toying with me, and I booked my ticket. 

 

It was one of the better decisions I’ve made about travel, to just hop off for my birthday weekend without a plan or a care.  I knew I had to get out of Miami, or my insatiable monkey mind was going to continue nibbling away at me.  I am reminded now of times in the past where I’ve gone it alone, and then later read my own words reminding me to never be afraid of it again.  Ireland, Belize, South Africa… Yet still, on the way to the airport, the monkey searches desperately for reasons to turn around, but it doesn’t win.  I get on the plane, the boarding door closes, the safety demo begins, the wheels start to move, and I know I am committed.  My heart races a bit, I begin to wonder who I will meet, what adventures are in store, will I be alone, will there be a clear reason why I came, will I have a so-so time or the time of my life?  At the end of the day, none of that really matters, it’s just about the trust in the journey.  I set good intentions, and they have never let me down.  

It was only during our final approach that the questions turned instead to pure, childlike excitement, as I stared out the window at the cloudy landscape below.  I had to hold back a yelping smile from breaking out as my brain wanted to scream, “Oh my God I’m so excited this is so great wow wow wow!”  Instead, I let my voice go to the man next to me as we finally spoke, and told each other our plans for the weekend.  Neither of us had been there before, and we are both very pleased to have come.  

What is true about going a journey alone is that with every turn, you wonder, “are you someone I’m supposed to meet?”, “will this encounter be significant?”, “could this moment be the reason I came?”.  I know, it’s a lot of pressure to put on oneself, but it’s hard to control, everything just seems so meaningful, and maybe that’s the thrill of it all.  Maybe we should have more of that in our normal lives, keep things exciting and new…  

"Love, exciting and new.  Come aboard, we're expecting you... And love, life's sweetest reward.  Let it flow, it floats back to you.  Soon we'll be making another run, promising something for everyone.  Set a course for adventure, your mind on a new romance.  And love won't hurt anymore, it's an open smile on a friendly shore.  Yes, Love!" (sorry, you may have this 80's tune stuck in your head all day if you know what it is!)

Cartagena ended up being full of love, and adventure.  I felt like every turn brought someone new.  One passed me off to another, like a magic genie was there going “Poof!!! Here’s another! Have fun!”  Jose- the amazingly happy, fast-talking Airbnb host, Hans- the cutie Swiss flatmate/exploring partner, Cesar- the chatty man on the wall/eager city guide, Andres- the handsome birthday dance/perfect kiss, Ryan- the American Baru companion/poignant conversationalist, Don Carlos- the Canoa hostel owner/moto arranger, The Girls- my beautiful children companions/photo inspirations, and Rody- the Argentinian man who finally gave me my answer why I had come while wading in the sea at dawn.  

Thank you Col0mbia for being my sweet thirty fifth country on this grand forty second trip around the sun.  

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Mona

I'll never forget the moment she chose me;  The moment my soul split wide open and she nestled herself inside, resting her fat paws gently but firmly upon my heart.  It was as if she had been waiting for me... and when I appeared, she knew me already.  It was nothing I'd ever felt before, I had no other choice but to bring her home.  

Her name was going to be Shongi.. Zulu for "filled with love".  But when she slept, she slept hard, and when she curled up on our pillow, this fat little ball of fur filled every crevice of space between our heads, and she would make these little groans…these little moans. Hence, as it turns out, she also chose her name.  Thankfully, one night I decided to record her soft snoring, which I replay on the days I miss her most.  I believe I may have been listening to those sweet moans during the very moments when Mona chose to leave this earth, three days ago.

Of all the animals in Africa, Mona was most terrified of cows.  She would stand in the dark of midnight and stare back at the Wildebeest as their forty eyes shone in our torch light, bark at the massive wart hogs with their long tusks, stare at the giraffes in wonder… But get a cow within 200 yards of her, and she would literally leap into my arms and bury her head in my chest like a little baby.  Cows.  I would laugh at her, but I have to admit that I loved it when I got to hold her and console her when she was afraid.  

Being 1/2 Pit Bull, 1/4 Alsatian, & 1/4 Husky, you would expect her to be a bit wild.  But it was just the opposite.  As soon as she got to greet you, (licking toes was a favorite greeting of hers, to the dismay of those who wore sandals) she just hung out with you.  That was her favorite thing to do, just be next to you.  She was my shadow… I went to the kitchen, so did Mona.  I went to the toilet, Mona laid at my feet.  I showered, Mona… well, Mona moaned if she couldn’t see or touch me.  She would chase the occasional squeaky bat ball toy, but really, she just wanted to lay beside you, wherever you may be.  

Those first days in South Africa were gentle, we weren’t working hard and the days were leisurely.  I had plenty of time to spend training Mona, working with her constantly from the day I brought her home.  She was just seven weeks old, and already following my commands on cue.  I didn’t have to teach her not to stray, because she would never leave my sight.  She learned the natural boundaries of the lodge, and she stayed within them.  I won’t deny that she had a torrid love affair with the kitchen, probably the more logical reason why she never went far!  The lodge staff loved Mona, and Mona truly loved them back.  In Africa, people don’t revere dogs as companions like we do here in the U.S.  So, when the locals fall in love with a dog, you know her soul is out of the ordinary, rather extraordinary.  

When life in my perfect world started to crumble, Mona was the being that kept me from falling apart.  She was my only companion during the long days with my ever more distant husband.  She stayed by my side in bed when he would leave me alone at 2 am.  She would walk every morning with me through the fields at sunrise when he would turn me away and chose solitude.  She would lay with me on the cool floor, chin on my lap, while I caressed her sweet head in the mid day heat.  There were weeks where I wouldn’t really talk much to anyone, my husband sinking every day further into his self destructive abyss.  Without Mona, and the smiles and love she brought to me during that time, my life would have been consumed by sorrow.  And that last night when he yelled and cursed at me at the top of his lungs, when I locked him out of our bedroom crying and shaking, hearing him pound on the door in protest… Mona was right there, nestling into my tears and standing guard against anyone trying to hurt me.  

My heart broke into pieces when I had to leave her.  I promised her I’d be back for her, and I meant it.  There wasn’t a day that went by in those seven weeks that I did not speak to her in my heart and send her love.  But when I returned, I knew she had a new home…with new friends, 7 of them, dogs of all shapes and sizes that she got to love and play with every day.  And most importantly, she had a new woman who loved Mona as much as I did.  I am forever thankful to Marlice for loving her so deeply.  Her heart is also shattered right now, for Mona was no ordinary dog.  She was an angel who came to those who were in need of healing light.  I don’t know why she left, but I know that in her short year here, she saved our lives.  

My mother always tells me, “Shelly, you’ll never know love until you feel the love for your child…you have no idea!”.  This is the closest I can imagine to that kind of love.  If I’m lucky, the day will come when I get to feel it again.  

My sweetest doggie, I know you will always be with me.  I’ll see you in the stars, in the winds that blow, and in every cow that I ever pass.  I love you my Monakie, my Monsie, my Mona filled with love.  



When Florida calls...

Getting a taste of Florida these past few weeks has been such a high! I was lucky enough to land here in time for Art Basel, one of the top art exhibitions in the world!  I have also been treated to loads of sunshine, Cuban coffees, and inspiring people from Boca to Miami beach.  Seeing as this will be my new home come January when I start flying for the new Eastern Airlines, I've been busy exploring and taking in the fresh, tropical air.  

My favorite parts of town so far:  Wynwood in Miami, Delray Beach up north, and the backyard farm of my new friends, Svetlana & Marty, from Heritage Hen Farms in Boynton Beach.  From artsy to organic, they all have a special flair that makes Florida feel like home.  

Beautiful afternoon on the Florida coast!

Beautiful afternoon on the Florida coast!

The sweet Ava, backyard playtime with the kiddos!

The sweet Ava, backyard playtime with the kiddos!

Kate playing with her new friend, Misty at  Heritage Hen Farms  in Boynton Beach, FL

Kate playing with her new friend, Misty at Heritage Hen Farms in Boynton Beach, FL



And so it comes...

I've been back in the States for exactly five weeks now.  It seems like a lifetime in a way, each day has brought so much.  I feel like I have a stronger purpose than ever right now, and am working on several avenues to make my dreams a reality!  As tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I'm sending a huge, massive, enveloping hug and thanks to all of my families who love & support me through thick & thin.  Without you, being a gypsy would be no fun!



And so it goes...

Staring out the window as we approached our landing in DC, my eyes couldn’t stop from welling up with tears and my emotions overflowed as I pondered where this next path would take me.  I wiped my tears as we touched down, and said a silent prayer that I had the strength to keep the faith.  My dear friend Justin had arranged a place for me to stay with his friend who had recently lost her husband, “I think you two will be good for each other” he said, “I can see you staying up late over wine talking for hours, connecting…”  I trust Justin, as he’s always been there for me since we were 20 years old, kids running around in Spain together; but I was still terrified.  My life had just turned up side down, and as strong of a cookie I proclaimed to be, I was torn apart at the seams. 

Turns out Justin was right.  Donna and I became fast friends, sharing stories of love and loss, hope and rebuilding.  During the next two days, I explored Old Town, with all the gas lamps lit on the historic front porches, made friends with Liz the bartender at the local pub, and ran the banks of the Potomac in the morning sun.  Then, as the rains came, I caught the bus to New York to see my dear Scotty for a few days.  I knew we would laugh and drink and joke, and I knew he would help me heal. 

Finding out that the man you married is an illusion, a tortured soul who causes pain to ease his own… it rips you to pieces and threatens the very trust you based life on.  Yet, I consider myself lucky.  I was able to leave the nightmare.  I believe that the Universe conspired to bring me to Africa, and it knew I was strong enough to handle the consequences of the path that led me there.  I do believe I have a purpose there, I felt it ever since 2005 when I went for the first time. The community there has welcomed me with open arms, and has shown me beautiful love and acceptance, and I have vowed to help them in return.  Maybe I just had to go there to meet my Mona, my baby dog, my sweet spirit of an animal who sat on my lap and chose me as her human.  I don’t know, but I will be returning to do more work, feel more connected with the heart beat of the Universe, and build more connections between there and here.   But for now, I am here with the chance to go hug all of the people who I missed terribly, spend time with my friends who I love here in the States, and find a base.  

I’ve been afraid to tell the world that my fantasy life and fairy tale story turned out to be a sham…but I’ve realized that in fact, it wasn’t.  There is much to come from this experience, and at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change much.  I love Africa, I love my life there, I love the people, the land, the openness, the honestly, the rawness of character, the absence of arrogance, nature.  After posting today on Facebook a short confession of truth and hope for future, I have been overwhelmed with the feedback from my community of friends.  You all have shown me compassion, strength, inspiration, hope, joy, and pureness of spirit & love, and I can’t thank you enough.  I am certain now, more than ever, that I am living my purpose, being helped by all of you with your light, and that I am capable of whatever I conjure up in my wildest dreams.  I’m excited for this next path, where I combine my worlds and make an even better one in the process.  I fall asleep with love… thank you.  

don't know the photo credit for this beauty, but had to share, as he is wildly hopeful and such a stunning portrait!

don't know the photo credit for this beauty, but had to share, as he is wildly hopeful and such a stunning portrait!

Bushfire

I woke up startled from a short mid-day nap yesterday.  Something was off, but I couldn't quite grasp what immediately.  I heard the sprinklers, but they sounded louder than usual.  As I walked out on the porch, my tired eyes saw massive amounts of water coming out of sprinklers that weren't there when I laid down.   Huge white sprays of water loudly rushing out of somewhere...then it clicked.  That wasn't water.  It was smoke, and it was touching our fence line. As I scanned around the house, all I saw were flames and smoke, with faint men's voices scurrying in the midst of the billowing white and black thick air.  One came running up to the fence, "Do you have wire cutters?" he said in a half-panic, pointing to the other fence which the fire had jumped. They needed to get the car through, but were stuck.  I had none.  As I looked down, I noticed my grass was alive with the scurries of a thousand grasshoppers escaping the flames.  

In any other town, I would have been panicking.  But last month I learned that this is the time where everyone burns down their dry winter fields, in preparation for summer and the green grass that lies below, awaiting the burn so that it can rise.  It was a little surreal, standing in the middle of a fire on all sides, but this is also another reason why I love it out here; you just never know what to expect.  

The following are shots from last month when they burned the fields across from our old lodge.  I was surprised that there were quite a few ladies working on the fire crews.  When I brought out my camera, they posed happily for me, proudly asserting that they were kinda bad asses.  

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Ephram

"Ephram...like in the Bible", he said when we asked his name.  When we moved in to the Farmhouse, our friend CaspersMom (the sweetest lady, but I can never remember her name, so she is just 'caspersmom') sent a garden boy to help clean up the garden.  After a few hours, Ian asked Ephram if he was looking for work.  "Yes" he replied.  "Are you married?  Do you have kids?"  "Yes" he said once more.  "Come by tomorrow with your family and stay the week."  We liked Ephram, he worked hard and seemed like a good soul.  He showed up the next day with Colleen and little Smanyilay.  She was a tiny thing, and she screamed her head off every time Mona came near.  

It's strange for me to have 'houseboys' and 'maids'... It just seems so colonial, so not me.  But here in South Africa it is the norm, and I just tell myself that I will treat them with the upmost kindness. One can get very used to it as well;  floors are cleaned daily, the garden kept, leaves raked, chores done, dishes washed... "It's just you two here?"  Colleen asked.  "Yes, just us..."  "No kids?"  she asked, perplexed.  "No..."  and I added "not yet" to make us both feel better.  This is a four bedroom house, too large for just two people, especially in their eyes I'm sure. They are three, living in a space the size of a modest bathroom, yet within two days, they turned it into a quaint room, humbling me as I saw the pride they took in making it a make-shift home.  

They went home to their other home for the weekend...I wonder what it looks like, what they are like when they are not at work for the mlungu.  Before they left, I asked them if they wouldn't mind taking some photos, a family shot.  They agreed, and just before hopping in the car with Ian to go home, I got to see them for a few minutes as a family.  

Ephram & Smanyilay

Ephram & Smanyilay

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Tagging along to go tagging: Impala

One of my favorite days on the reserve so far has been tagging along with the men on their mission to tag one of Joe's female impalas and move her to another camp within his farm.  She had jumped the fence during a fright from a storm, and now they needed to get her back, as the cold was about to set in and she was terribly frail.  I showed up with Lara, the little beagle pup I was sitting, and we all had coffee while the boys contemplated strategy.  Joe got the syringes ready, loaded up the dart gun, and made his plan.  "It takes eight minutes once the dart hits her, we have to move fast"  he said, eyes squinting with a stern calm.  

After about thirty minutes of slowly preparing, everything moved in warp speed.  Joe shot her through the bathroom window, we roared towards him with the truck, swooping him up, all eyes on the target and where she bolted off to.  "There she is!" shouted one of the guys, "don't lose her!" and we sped over the bumpy road through the bush on her trail.  "Six minutes."  Joe said calmly, but you could feel the tension filling up every inch of the cab we were sitting in.  We had her in sight, and saw her start to wobble as she tried to walk.  "Seven minutes..."  She was frozen now, her gaze in our direction as our eyes darted back and forth between her and the clock.  I was amazed that right at eight minutes, she fell.  And not two milliseconds later, Lara and I were alone in the cab, watching the boys dash out to grab her.  They picked her up and carefully walked back as fast as they could, laying her down in the back of the truck, one stayed in the back cradling the impala while we sped off once again to make it to the other camp.  "We have only a few minutes to get her there before she starts to come to, and she's very fragile right now", Joe explained.  Along the way, we heard a yell from the back, "She's going into shock!", we saw her convulsing, and time seemed to go in slow motion.  We made it to the camp, the truck was not even stopped before Joe popped out and began to assess his girl and administer aid to her.  My heart was pounding!  Was she going to be ok?  We were racing against the clock, both for the dart to wear off, and for her own little body to hold out long enough for Joe to help her.  He gave her several shots, and her body started to recover, her piercing eyes started to open, groggy but alright.  It seemed we were in the clear.  Little by little, she showed more signs of life, I stroked her to say it's okay, and her big brown eyes shone into mine;  I was overwhelmed with appreciation that I got to feel the magnificence of this being.  

There are so many people out there who pay to come to Africa and kill.  I am lucky to be on the side of those whose aim is to protect and care for such beautiful creatures.  When you see and feel these animals close up, you absorb a piece of them into your soul, and you are never the same.  I may have given up some of the creature comforts in life to move to Africa, but what I receive here is beyond what any fancy new app or hot new happy hour can ever give, and I am grateful.  

seven minutes...

seven minutes...

I bribed a cop, and I liked iii-it! (sung to Katie Perry)

I knew moving here that bribery was a big part of Africa's 'culture'.  So, I wondered when this little initiation was going to take place for me.  Turns out it was sooner than I thought, and if this were a test, I got a big fat F.  

I had heard more than several stories about Ian and others dealing with bribes, and had tucked away pockets of information away in my brain so that I would know what to do when I got into a situation.  I have to laugh at my complete lack of retaining all of that data, but everyone has to make their first blunder now, don't they? 

We saw the lights flash behind us on the dark highway, I was in the car with Brook, the photographer from Australia who had just finished leading the week's photo safari.  I asked him to take over driving for a bit, as I was not comfortable yet driving here at night, and he happily obliged.  So when I heard him outside the car telling the police his driver's license was in his other pants at home, I felt awful as threats of fines and police stations whirled around him.  Remembering a few words I had heard Ian use to be polite, I called the cop over... "En Fooet!  Come here please!"  I said, as I motioned for him to come to my window.  "What must we give, just to go home?"  (Blatant offering of bribe; not in the 'to-do' manual) "Ahhh", he smiled and said, "Let's see what you have?"  I thought I had heard the fine was to be $150 for not having a license, so I was scared that he wouldn't take my measly offering of $30 bucks.  I was happily surprised when he smiled even bigger, folded the three 100R bills in his hand, and said "Have a nice night...".  Brook climbed in the car with a grin, and I told him how I got us out of it, very proud of myself.  "Ahh, I thought I had convinced them!" he said.  "I just offered him some money and used some words I used from Ian!" Still slightly proud of getting us out of it, but also feeling bad that I took the spotlight away from Brook.  I just felt terrible that he drove for me, and then was going to get busted for it, so I wanted to make it all go away as quickly as possible.  We drove off home, and brooke said to me, "You have to blog about this!" 

If you are South African, you are already shaking your head and laughing at the amount I gave to my "en fooet" cop friend.  For the rest of you, let me shed some light as to why all of my friends are in tears hearing this.  You see, he told us that the ticket for not having your license was 150....RAND.  Which, is the equivalent of $15 US dollars.  Yes, I 'bribed' the cop to 'let us off' paying twice the normal ticket charge.  In addition, I was since reminded that they will never take you to the station, it's only a test.  If you stand your ground (like my friend Brook was doing just fine a job at when I interrupted), they will let you go.  At the most, you give him 'money for some food' of about 50R, or $5 USD.  

So, my "en fooets", if you do come to Africa for a visit, and you get stopped along the road to see me, just ask the nice po-po if he is hungry and hand him a 50.  Rand that is.  Then come laugh with me.  Thanks, Brook, for driving us home, hitting 180, and teaching me how to say Ketchup in Aussie speak!  See you again soon for more Africa antics!  

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