It's amazing to me how a six ton animal can virtually disappear in the thick of the bush in the blink of an eye. Their huge pillars of legs lifting off the ground with such grace, setting down again so gently that the long grass below hardly notices its being taken down to meet the earth. Of all the animals I've come across, the elephant is one of my favorites. Maybe it's because their eyes meet yours when you pass, being at the same height as you in your vehicle. You find their tiny orbs staring into yours just long enough to sense that they acknowledge you as a fellow being on the planet, sharing space, connecting for just a moment. You hold your breath because you are in the presence of such power, such massive strength. You sit there quietly listening to the whoosh from the flapping of their ears, you can almost hear the thick air split in two when they lift their trunk up high, then release it, falling towards the ground with a muffled snap. When their canvass of a head turns to look at you, everything in your body wants to crawl inside itself and hide, but you savor the moment instead, daring to look in his eyes to say hello. He turns his head forward, continues on, and you are left with the residue of awe tingling in your veins. Eles, they are very special creatures indeed.
Whenever I am anxious or afraid of a future journey, I just need to think back to this day.
What amazing people I've met so far, and it's technically only the first 'day'... Even though it must have been two at leas. I mean, I've eaten four dinners, slept three times, had five rounds of wine-bubbly, watched two movies and all of the latest season of The Mindy Project (which, by the way, I believe is the best show on non-tv, and not only do I have a girl crush on her, but find myself actually wanting to BE her. Well, maybe not, but I do love the show.) Anyways, this kind of adventure is what I live for. Starting off, I thought this journey was going to be so long and so difficult, until I would finally reach my destination of Ulusaba. What became clear over the past 24 hours, and what I probably knew deep down to begin with, is that the journey really IS the magic, not just the destination. Meeting Nicole from Melbourne in the stand by line and loving her to bits and pieces, laughing out loud in the Etihad lounge amongst the room full of austere men, having Peter the barman run over to keep our glasses full and snap shots of us with our iphones, waiving a cheerful goodbye to everyone as I bolted out the door, running late because I couldn't tear myself away from the fun we were having with conversations about travel, life, growing up, and being kindred spirits; the luck of being seated next to another Nicole from the US/Portugal/Brazil on board the flight, (she was supposed to be working the flight but had a cold soar, and had to call out sick because of the strict appearance standards that Etihad holds) chatting about the flying life, Abu Dhabi, and adventure; striking up conversation with Jason, a native South African from Durban who's job is to deliver boats across the seas and was on his way home until his next assignment; feeling the camaraderie from the beautiful mixture of international souls that made up the flight crew, all of us finding ways to send little treats to each other...chocolates, bubbly, tea, stories...
I'm so excited to be in South Africa when I step off the plane, happily far away from everything familiar for the next three weeks, surrounded by possibility. Away from the usual, my heart beat is energized by the little gems of each turn. I feel wonderfully vulnerable and open, yet admittedly still slightly nervous. This is a good beginning, and I cheers this last glass of bubbly as I watch the deep, yellow moon outside the window as the faint lights of Africa start to appear below. Hello again...
For all of you who are wondering about what I'm doing this month, here's a little glimpse!
As most of you know, last year I was beyond blessed to have been chosen to represent Virgin on an ambassador/mission trip to South Africa. Little did I know how much I was about to fall in love... The week I spent in Africa was one of, if not the, best week of my life so far. They say once you go to Africa, a bug bites you, and you will forever dream of returning. This happened to me in 2005 during my first time there where I spent a month in & around Cape town. There is indeed something special and unexplainable about it. I could go on & on, but I'll cut to the chase and share with you my project for 2014.
I'll be returning to Ulusaba, Richard Branson's private game reserve about eight hours drive from Johannesburg.
As they did last year, the amazing charitable organization Pride & Purpose will be hosting me, and I am really excited to see everyone again! My purpose in returning is to embark on a photo project that in turn helps the people of the surrounding village of Dumphries. I'll be bringing cameras down to teach a bit about photography and how to capture their world using the lens. I will curate a collection of their photographs to come up with a gallery that we will hang at their community center (which we helped put together last year!) Visitors from the lodge will have the opportunity to purchase these one of a kind pieces of art, and the money will go directly back into the community. Additionally, I'll be taking portraits of the people who live in the village, as well as the volunteers and staff, and creating a photo documentation of life in & around Ulusaba. I plan to put together a show back here in San Francisco, and send the proceeds to Pride & Purpose.
Many people might ask the question, "Why do you have to go so far to volunteer? Why Africa? Why not right here in your own backyard?" I've contemplated this question a lot, and what I have some to realize is this: When you are far away from anything familiar and comfortable, you really have the chance to sink in to what you are doing. There are no distractions, no Facebook events to attend, no sunny day at Dolores Park to play hookie for, no checking your phone every five minutes for texts. Your soul gets to really be there, and with that, it gets a little shake up, your senses are heightened, you actually feel yourself living every moment. This is just my own experience, but it is pretty powerful.
Returning for this project makes my heart skip. I am nervous, I have expectations for myself that may or may not get realized, I don't know exactly what I'm doing... But it feels good to be afraid and go anyway. I have an idea of what I am going for, but I look forward to it morphing into something totally different. Richard Avedon said, "You have to be surprised for it to be magical."
If you would like to contribute to this project, please donate to my Indiegogo campaign at http://igg.me/p/623317/x/1052876. The money I raise will go towards my travel expenses (airfare, bus, cost to check baggage-photo equipment, etc), software for photo editing, and time & cost of preparing the art shows both in Ulusaba and SF. Each person who contributes will be gifted with an original 8X10 or larger print from Dumphries.
I thank you all tremendously for all of your support, & cheering me on! I couldn't do this without all of your encouragement.
First leg of my journey, and already it has taken me on swings and dips that have taught me my first lesson. Loosen the grip.
As I sat in the passenger seat last night on my way to SFO, Rob asked me, "So, are you excited?" I realized that I wasn't really showing signs of being so, and admitted that I was just anxious about making all of my flights and worried that things would go haywire. I was flying standby the whole way, and I had an incredible amount of luggage, at least for my standards. Was I getting myself in too deep? Should I have left the lighting equipment at home? Were they going to let me on with my heavy carry-ons, or my batteries? I couldn't relax through these beginning stages of nerves. After all, I had been planning this in my head for over a year, and the day had finally come. I was actually doing this crazy adventure, and my self doubts were creeping in. I had planned, yeah, but not really. I've never been one to outline an idea, make bullet points and excel sheets, budget, or line all my ducks up in a row. No, unfortunately for my sanity, I am the fly by the seat kind, trusting that things will fall together if I just lay down the right pseudo foundation, and I believe that things morph anyways so why plan too strictly? This doesn't fare well for stress when things come down to the wire.
So, it didn't help when the first flight I had booked was full and I had to come back home, tail between my legs. But worse, I had a little devil appear on my shoulder whispering that this is how the whole trip was going to go now. I found myself talking to it, agreeing that maybe I should just scrap the whole thing, I mean, it was so far to go, and did I really know what I was doing, and I am just getting over being sick, and... On the BART ride home, I WhatsApped my friend Luke in Abu Dhabi, pleading to see if he could find out more certain flight loads from AUH to JNB. He calmly and lovingly told me that it was still up in the air as to what would happen, but hey, if I got stuck there I could stay with him and have a fun visit. All of the sudden the little devil disappeared into a poof of thin air as I texted back to Luke. "Well, la aventura es la aventura!" It's all an adventure. And with those words, I found my excitement. Because now it was not about succeeding or failing, getting thrown off path or having plans work out perfect, it's about the adventure. This is MY adventure that I created and nurtured, and now I get to step into the vision and just see. Just see what beauty walks with me, just see how I feel in this place, just see about me, and feel the emotions that only come by stepping out of your comfort zone. I still have expectations, hopes, and fears, but they are all enveloped now by the excitement of possibility. And that's what is making my heart beat with excitement today as I soar above the country on the way to my first stop: New York.