Day 41: Giving a sheep a haircut

We had just finished watering the trees at the front of the farm when one of our neighbors in his white pickup truck (a “bakkie” here) pulled into the gravel drive.

Rob, the farmer in question, got out to talk to Riette, one of the owners of the farm who has put up with us for these past weeks. When they were finished, he mentioned that he had to get back to his farm because they were shearing the sheep that day, and when he had left, the ram was still waiting for his haircut.

And so, in a continuation of my suburban-girl-working-on-a-farm education, I ended up in the back of the bakkie, bouncing along to Rob’s farm where, after brief introductions and brief instructions, I was handed a pair of clippers and told that I could go for it. One of the farmhands asked me if I had ever sheared a sheep before.

I shook my head. “Never.”

So much of the past two and a half years of my life have consisted of me doing things that I never thought I would do in my life. But, after 24 and a half years, I’m starting to figure out that’s what life’s all about. Sometimes, the things that mean the most are the things that you never thought you would be doing. 

Day 59: Dam jumping

I stood on the edge of the limestone cliff trying to convince myself to jump. I wiggled my toes on the uneven ledge and cautiously leaned forward to try to see the water below me.

We had paddled out in kayaks to this rock island in the middle of man-made dam near the farm we were staying with the intention of paddling and toasting to our last week in South Africa with cider on the water. That morning, when I learned the water in the dam around this island that juts out in the middle a good number of strokes from the shore was deep enough to safely jump into, I added this to my list of things to do that afternoon.

Like many things, though, the visualization of me sailing through the air and gracefully landing in the water below is much easier before I was standing on the edge of the rock face looking at the jagged rocks that seem to lean out from the side of the island waiting to catch me before I make it to the water.

When I was little, I was ace at talking myself out of doing things that I was scared of doing. I was that Girl Scout who climbed to the top of the 40-foot repel tower, only to climb back down later after seeing what the view looked like from up there. Only after years of missed rock climbs and ziplines and rollercoasters did I learn how to push myself into doing those things of which I was scared. It took years for me to stop allowing my fears dictate what I did and didn’t do. (Also because no one was ever able to legally literally push me into these activities.)

I still get scared. I was scared when I moved to college. I was scared when I boarded a plane to Benin. And I was scared while I was standing on top of that rock island in the middle of the dam.

But then, I jumped. 

Day 28: Border crossing

There’s something about crossing the border between Namibia and South Africa at 4 a.m. when there are no other lights besides the one street lamp outside the office where we officially leave Namibia and the only other people are the people who are also on this Intercape bus and the lady who’s stamping my passport says nothing and looks like she also just woke up from what she intended to be her full night’s sleep and the headlights of the bus that reveal little about the landscape around us as we enter South Africa that makes the whole thing feel like we’re sneaking in the country. 

Day 17: Meat!

The past six years, I’ve casually called myself a vegetarian. (While always hoping to be able to sneak a piece of bacon off the plate. One of the worst days was the discovery of a bacon bar at my cousin’s wedding. And the first time I went home after I stopped eating meat and my mom already had the bratwursts thawed and ready for the grill. I was, perhaps, one of the worst vegetarians ever.)

I stopped eating meat because one day in college, I just didn’t have the desire to eat any more eat. I watched Food Inc., and I read Michael Pollan, and then, I really didn’t have the desire to eat any more meat.

I kept it up when I came to Benin. There, it was easy. There really was no meat to eat. (except for the occasional can of Skyline chili).

Then I came to Namibia. Where there is a lot of meat to eat: oryx and zebra and kudu and the ambiguous “game.” Three times a day and sometimes in between meals. We told a campsite owner once that we weren’t planning on building a brai that night. He was baffled.

But, like in South Africa, Namibian meals are more about the preparation than the actual eating. Hours spent building a fire and drinking wine and having conversations while the food cooks. What’s on the brai doesn’t matter as much as the people who are around it.

So, I’ve started eating meat again. Because it’s (usually) fresh and (usually) local. Because it’s part of the cultural experience. Because oryx steak is good.

I think I kept up my vegetarianism for so long because I had gotten used to it. And  maybe a little because I didn’t want to have to deal with the comments about me eating meat again. Then, one night, as I was being poured another glass of red wine and handed a plate of food that had just come off the fire, I decided that nothing other people would say would make this steak less delicious. 

Thoughts from places: South African safari campfire

It was about three days into my vacation in South Africa that I realized how much I had needed this vacation. I was sipping red wine (from a bottle not a box) and talking to other guests at our safari lodge when I realized that this was the most comfortable I had felt in a long time.

I love Benin. I love the path that I have chosen to walk for the next 15 months. And really, I don’t want to be working anywhere else right now. But that doesn’t mean that path is easy all the time.

What I realized that night while I spoke in a language where I didn’t have to stop to think about any words before I said them, where I didn’t feel like I was a substitute for television for any kids, where I didn’t have to worry about anyone asking my for money was that I had not failed. My overwhelming need need to get out of the place that I’ve called home for the past year did not mean that I wasn’t integrated into my community, that I wasn’t good at what I’m doing, that I had chosen the wrong path.  It simply meant that I needed a break.

I realized that night that the person I was in South Africa was different than the person I had been in Benin for the last three months. And I liked the former much better. 

I realized that I had needed these 10 days off in order to allow that person to still be there when I walked off the plane in Cotonou the next Sunday.