It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me...

...and I'm feeling good.

I'm sitting here, at my computer, at home. In St. Louis. Connecticut and Arkansas. Represent.

And it's weird.

I've washed Africa off my body, my hair, my clothes. Reluctantly. Okay, it's true, I REALLY enjoyed the long hot shower I took this morning, but I did think about how much water I was wasting for at least 30 seconds. Thankfully, Africa is here to stay in my mind, my heart, my everything. And in my cup of coffee. I brought back the world's greatest instant coffee: Africafe. It's awesome. I don't even drink coffee anymore, but I did a lot of things in Africa I don't do anymore. No worries, not THAT. Or that. Or that, either. But there's nothing like a cup of Africafe to jolt you into life every day.

I've unpacked, done laundry, sorted gifts, began going through email and the mound of real mail. I walked around the neighborhood, going to the bank, the health food store, Jay's international supermarket, picked up lunch at Bread Co. It's nice to have a "real" salad. Every time I need to say "excuse me" in my brain I say "samahani" and I have to think to say it in English. I stopped saying "thank you" back on the second plane ride home because I can't say that in English yet either, and "asante sana" could mean something totally different than thank you to the lady working at Jay's. I've loaded my photos on to the computer. They seem really boring to me, because I feel that very few of them actually captured what I was looking at at the moment. I'm actually really disappointed in them. Hopefully I can lock those images in my brain, burn them into my hippocampus and tell them to get comfortable cause I need them to stay. I think the photos will be neat to others, but I may need an objective eye to tell me which ones are interesting, cause pictures of the streets and the city and the shops all just look like normal stuff to me now.

And to those who asked, no I didn't lose any weight. So much for the Africa diet. Unfortunately an Afrikan mama would rather die than let you go home skinnier than the way you came. Not to mention the instinct to eat everything you can when you're served cause you're not really sure when you'll be eating again, like on safari. So it's the 8 week oh-god-i-hope-i-can-fit-into-my-wedding-dress diet for me now.

But regardless of the physical weight, I feel lighter. I have a different perspective. I realize the way I've been living has been crazy. It's barely living. It's the life of an insane person. I rush around through life like a tornado, trying to fit in everything I can while I'm still young. I think I'm getting old. I think I'll die young. I think I'll miss out on something if I don't do it all, and do it now. It's the same way I used to live in my previous life but without all of the self-destructive substances. But is that really true? Now it's work, school, degrees, papers, accomplishments, marriage, being better, the best... But it all does the same thing, right?

Before I get way too philosophical or introspective for a public forum, let me just say that I've done a lot of thinking. Sam gives me a hard time because it takes me so long and is so difficult for me to make decisions. He was teasing me while we were gone that I even keep questioning my decisions after I make them, so it's like I still haven't made a decision. I thought about it, and realized this: I spent the majority of the first 25 years of my life making really bad decisions, and I'm lucky I survived. So now when I make decisions, it's a big deal to me. I'm terrified of making a choice that will make me unhappy. That said, I also realize that few choices we make are irreversible. I know I'm in charge of the actions, but not the outcomes. I feel that I have a well-developed awareness of what I need and when I need to change something, and the ability to make those changes when necessary. Being in a calm (internally, at least) place for the last six weeks, away from the stresses of daily life as an American, I realize I need to take care of myself more. Emotionally, spiritually, physically. My health needs to come first. So I've been making some decisions. In due time we'll talk about those. Suffice it to say that things are going to be different. Subtly, but different none the less.

But you all don't come here to get inside my neuroses, you come to hear about Africa. So I'll continue where we left off, on the beautiful coastal village of Pangani...

I think the day we woke up in Pangani was June 30th, a Saturday. At 8:30 am we walked across the low tide, probably about 1/4 mile or so into the ocean to alight our trustworthy sea vessel: "Pepi" the dhow. There was a large group of us, Kyle and I, 3 Scottish medical students, 8 or 10 other college-aged American volunteers, 4 Germans/South Africans (which means I think the grandparents were German, but lived in Arusha, the daughter was somewhere in between, maybe a German living in South Africa, and her kid was all South African), and a couple of unknown origin who spoke fluent Swahili, and were so beautiful and gentle and had brought three young Tanzanian boys along. The children were from an orphanage in Moshi, but we never figured out whether they were a family now, or the couple simply worked there and brought the children for vacation. Regardless, it's a full ship. There are 2 crewman, effortlessly working the ropes and the pulleys and the sail, and the rest of us, just watching the water turn lighter and lighter shades of blue as we head out from the sandy grey waves near the shore, seeing the coconut trees and thatched roof huts slowly diminishing, little hash marks on the shoreline where people are trolling the beaches and tide pools for some sort of personal treasure, the horizon dotted here and there with the tiny triangles of other dhows, no doubt on far more noble missions than ours. But that's fine with me. We're going snorkeling.

The Tanzanian crewmen shout "Mambo!" and we all respond with a hearty "Poa!" The sun was hot, much hotter and direct than in partly-cloudy-all-the-time Arusha, but the breeze took the edge off. I didn't even sweat. The dhow is an amazing structure. Completely efficient and effective in its simplicity. There is a single mast made of the trunk of a former coconut tree, perhaps. A rope loops around the mast and is strung through a pulley, and there are two single ropes connecting the sail's boom (is that what it's called?) to the mast. (In my gurnal I have a lovely little line drawing here, but I think when I get the chance a photo will be much more illustrative.) We motor out for a while and then unfurl the sail which billows out proudly, ready to puff its way to India. Or Pemba, which is much much closer. After a while we stop and the crewmen jump in to see whether this is a good place to dive. We all get in, snorkels and flippers and all, but I can't see anything. The flippers are annoying and I can't get my mask on because the waves are too strong. So I just swim around for a bit in this amazingly warm but refreshingly clean blue bathwater. We get back in, sail on, and eventually approach the sand island where we'll be chilling out and having lunch. Just offshore is a good place to dive. We all go overboard and we look like a pod of strange fish, all buoyant butts and snorkel tops, flipping water up when we paddle about, looking at the coral, and the fish, and the beautiful sandy sea bottom.

When we get to the sand island, we make our way through the clear blue calm and collapse, in turn, flat on the sand, and just soak up the sun for a while. I flip, and stare at the horizon for a while. I needed this break. At least once every 15 minutes I am completely astounded that I am here. On a sand island. On a dhow. Snorkeling. In the Indian Ocean. In Africa. It's overwhelming, to say the least. How did I get this life? There's shade set up on the island for us light-skinned fish, and we sit under it and eat our lunches of sandwiches and chips mayai, which is basically an omelette with french fries, and the only gluten-free thing on the boxed lunch menu. The crewmen sleep soundly on their sides, lying close to the water on a spot of dry sand. They're incredible fit and muscular, as are most of the young men in Africa who do physical labor. They can't be more than 22 or 23. Ernest, who works in the restaurant, says he only likes working here so-so because he gets malaria about 4 times a year and he doesn't like that. No kidding. Who would? Malaria is the biggest infectious disease I see here. I know several Tanzanians just since I've been here who've gotten it. It really needs more attention and more money. But I'll save that rant for another post. The crewmen are up now, jogging laps around the island and doing pushups. I get in the water and Kyle and I decide to swim laps around the island, but the plan changes when we see something dark and suspicious in the water that we don't want to cross paths with. So we swim back and forth on one side of the island for a while, the waves carrying me one way, then turning on me when I go against them, crashing into my face and mouth and body. I get stung by a jellyfish and Kyle offers to pee on it. Uh, no thanks.

I'm tired of typing. I'm copying some of this from my journal, and I'm too verbose for my own liking, and for my wrists' liking. There's a lot more interesting stuff to write about. I thought Pangani was paradise until I got to Zanzibar...oh, momma. More to come.

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