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No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.

Mundane Monday

As  the sun begins its ascent on a new week in central Mozambique, I am not without my questions about what it means to exist and do. I am sure we all ask ourselves if what we are doing means anything…especially if you are stuck in a corporate position. The Man clamps down and holds you in his grasp, unwilling to allow you a speck of happiness.

Forget being happy. What about greatness? I am far from the glittering world of commerce and the institutions of higher order in New York, London and the like but it doesn’t change my desire for more.  I came to Africa to really do but the existential unhappiness of the doing still invades the development work. Even my work in development is a drop in one of the biggest lakes of human rights abuses throughout the world. It is enough to keep crying. Tears aren’t going to change the world though.

It is more than that. Insanity and reaching for greatness does not a great mind make.

Maybe it is because pushing yourself to achieve is not enough in life, and it doesn’t mean you are more intelligent than the next person. Calvin and Hobbes are always reminding us about friendship and the fall of humanity, albeit in humorous form. Brilliant! Calvin knows the difference between a boring everyday slave-to-school Monday and the FREEDOM of running around without clothes on. Finally~ Life can begin!

You may beg to differ that inventing Naked Mondays is hardly what a great mind would think. But who is to say?

Aristotle said that a great mind must exist with at least a touch of the insane. So if we question what we are doing because our mind feels as if it is bordering on madness should we question our mind? When we are reaching for something extraordinary … what does that mean? Could it be closer to having a great mind but still unsatisfied?

Who is anyone kidding? Insanity and dissatisfaction does not a great mind make.

Certainly I do not live a charmed life. My idea of a good day is when I haven’t found solvent paint on my face at 5:00pm or swallowed a bad piece of chicken (happens more than you can imagine). Yes I have R&R. I can visit home. I see beautiful places other people don’t dare to see. But daily life – glamorous it is not. Satisfying? Lately not even that. Greatness isn’t often charming either.

My only consolation is that if I am Calvin I have my friend Hobbes. What if Hobbes wasn’t there? I guess Calvin would have to rethink Naked Mondays for a start. What fun is that without a friend to appreciate the true inventiveness of Naked Mondays?

Do nothing. Then you are exactly that.
Do nothing. Then you are exactly that.

Perhaps the question is not about questioning the familiar, the mundane, and the boring. It is about using the dissatisfaction as fuel to change the things you can control even if it makes you go crazy. If I was Calvin, I would say Hobbes is my secret ingredient – madness, a little bit of being clever and a friend to cheer you on or tell you when you should rethink things. Criticism comes not only from our enemies, but also from the ones we love the most.

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

If we don’t constantly wish to be more, to change what is stagnant, we may never have to worry about the thoughts of others. But what if we do? Then we fall prey to the many bystanders, pits of vipers and those waiting for us to fail. I’ve had my share of criticism and it isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m reminded that I am surrounded by friendship that never questions my character, my passion, and who I am. An ambitious mind is one that is vulnerable, especially if your passion is on the line. Vulnerable to criticism, envy, and FAILURE.

Admittedly this can be a hard place to be. My mind is not far from misery right now. But one cannot fear what is not known – greatness is not something often achieved alone. Lately I am not so sure about my own strength.  But I do know who my friends are. If I know I am crazy, they know I’m crazy, but I still know who my friends are. So life isn’t so bad.

Maybe I could push myself over the edge to something great after all. They say that a man is only as good as the woman standing behind him. Well I may not be a man but perhaps that doesn’t matter. Maybe being female means all the women behind me make me stronger. I don’t have one; I have many! If one is measured by all those behind her, then I may have some greatness in me after all. Thank God.

I wish it was only my mind that was on the chopping block but if one’s passion is part of the motivation I’m in trouble. It is also my heart on the line.

Sometimes that is harder than it seems. Cheers to you ladies!

Here’s a balloon from Moz. Or two or three. Who said African living isn’t weird and weirder and maybe some kind of wonderful?

Nacala Juventude Drive

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Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

When a person loses so much sleep, there is a strange phenomenon that occurs.  It is almost as if your nightmares begin to tread with you during the day – like a shadow you cannot shake.  This shadow haunts your steps because any actual accomplishments are obscured in knowing that dark cloud is still with you.

I just departed from my time in Africa for some precious days in Ireland not 2 weeks ago where friends took a similarly long journey from Canada, Australia and the like for a wedding.  There seem to be several of these lately.  No matter: it was a much needed respite from the tyranny of the humidity that lays waste to what I call home in Nacala.  Neglecting my composition responsibilities, I have resumed in full flush deciding that these pages will require more ink than usual in the coming weeks.

What awaited in Cork was bitter cold and daily rainstorms but the latter has become a daily habit of Southern life at home.  As D always says, “It was all grand. All lovely.”  Yes, there was singing, dancing, hugging, and the depths of conversation explored – my favourite.

A private beach near Kwalala, in Nacala Porto.
A private beach near Kwalala, in Nacala Porto.

On my return, I was plunged back into a world of mud, thunder, and lightning which conveniently occurred in the middle of the night during most storms. I haven’t slept in five days.

Thus, the psychosomatic daydream I carried from the weekend may be an indicator of the subconscious just waiting to resurface. My nightmares are always the same – manifestations of weirdly real and ugly elements conjoined to my fears. All I can dream about is the NGO sector and as this is clustered with some distorted faces and chases in which I always fail.  The solution, I decided, was to go running when my dreams had no control over my chases.  Outside.

4:35am. Darkness covered the tall baobabs outside the house, and I strode towards the hill. Giving myself two minutes to wake up my mind, I quickly trotted into full stride thinking about all of the messy factors that are interrupting my natural sense of calm – the uncertainty of life in Africa, incomplete research, and job opportunities that continually appear and disappear within days.

4:44am. One shoe hit the pavement and the other followed. I could feel the callouses building underneath: the satisfaction in knowing that your muscles will be properly tired later. As my breath steadied into a rhythmic bent, the trees began to lift their branches, as if unburdened as the clouds drifted apart to let the sun begin its slow ascent.

4:53am. My eyes adjusted to the grey haze that comes from an early morning that is still truly the end of the evening, and no mosquitos or flies to be heard or seen. (That, of course, does not mean they were not there.) Why is it that calm escapes when it is so attainable?

4:59am. A figure came towards the road in a long skirt and misshapen body – it is actually the form of a semi-wicker basket type container balanced on a long, lean shape. Just a few moments passed as I turned to quickly head across in order to return before another 30 minutes had gone by. Another shape huddled behind a tree and climbing from the shadows appeared and began to materialize in the sunlight as I turned a corner.

5:05am. Brilliant in pink and yellow, the ball of light pierced the sky with its unflinching gaze and squinted at the Earth below. I think that calm is definitely attainable.

5:15am. On the floor and staring at the ceiling, I breathed in the artificial air that colors my ability to think in any appropriate manner. Hot, hot, hot. The pulse in my wrist throbbed and would continue until I could feel the cold from the floor begin to dissolve into me.

The truth is this. Living in Mozambique requires more than the average amount of patience and as one tries to build anything of substance, it slips through the fingers like grains of sand. A praying kind of girl myself, I have taken to a lot of solitary moments. It is one of the only ways I begin to feel sane and yet, my human levels of patience are just that. Human.  It is like the beauty of this country – always beautiful, always there but elusive when the thunder and the lightning mask the trees, the ocean, the beaches with its angry roars and sharp light.  Thunder and lightning is beautiful and mysterious in its own way but it doesn’t compare to the day the storms pass and the peace after resides on the shores.

When I look around at the people who work so hard and receive so little in return, it seems such a small price to pay – patience. I suppose that is what African living is actually about, at least for me: humility. Awe in light of the fact that things do not always go the way one plans. And being okay with that. Perhaps then Africa could start to feel like home. Perhaps then my restlessness and ambition could materialize …if the waiting can teach me anything at all.

Welcome back, I say to myself in dreams. Welcome.

If you want to go fast, go alone.

Taking a journey to a new place is thrilling, surely.  However, the pragmatism that seeps inside the mind questions the WHY behind it all. There are the obvious reasons: research, opportunity, and excitement. What about that last one?  As a fairly conservative student of life until the age of 18, this student has a wondering, winding list of the whys that counter-act the old traditional path of success.  While I may judge my expectations of this continent often from a bright-eyed awe of the Africa I do not know, there is the question that surfaces as I ask myself about this journey. Do I have the wanderlust?

I am reminded of a wise man’s words who often writes of his journeys and what he sees in the journeys of others: “Not all who wander are lost.” A new twist on wanderlust. So today I began contemplation of the parable of the turtle and the hare. The boastful hare speeds on to win the race as quickly as possible but his arrogance allows him “kip” as the Irish say, while the turtle limps along but ultimately crosses the finish line first. Slow and steady wins the race. While surrounded by the harbour and port of Nacala Vehla today, it was only a few days ago I was in Gaborone watching a giant turtle that slowly made its way around the lodge we were staying at. Red and orange sands made this a dusty, warm destination with not much to do but prepare for a wedding, which was the main reason for Christmas in Botswana.  Or you could jump in the swimming pool. Oh there was rhino trekking in the nearby game reserve too! (More like safari driving and a few steps of well-ordered shushing as a small handful of us prodded through desert and tall weed, but save that for another story at another time perhaps.)  Botswana is known for its supply of diamonds and is a success story often touted in economic terms for Africa. As for Gaborone, it is a large enough city with its supply of South African imports like the occasional juice stand, sky high hotel, and pricey restaurant, but also houses the wandering cow that meanders across the road to watch you eat your dinner on the evening terrace or cars which blaze horns as a herd of kid goats slowly walks across the pavement for a blade of grass. The juxtaposition is just part of its charm.

Being in Botswana reminded me of how fragile life is: it could be gone in an instant, but all the while you are seeing things truly weird and wonderful. (A phrase borrowered from my best friend and partner in crime in Southern Africa.) They say that the paradox with such a love of travel is that the wanderlust makes one so thirsty for a new adventure that you have an insatiable desire for the new. Let’s take this in contrast to the person who never goes far from home. If one never leaves, then it is hard to appreciate or even simply attempt to understand what is foreign and unusual to what is known. However, if one always has the wanderlust, then nothing will ever seem like home. So here lies the traveller, one who wants to learn but remember the familiar and know her way home. The key to this is knowing where you came from and taking those you care for on the journey with you, wherever you go. So today I am reminded that as far as I am from where I started, thousands of miles even, I take a piece of home with me which is why I am grounded (like the turtle) who may not be first, but will cross the finish line when he is ready.

For quite some time, I acted on my own. This is exciting of course and life is full of exuberance when you have youth and speed on your side. Being a young twenty something in Hong Kong not long ago, I felt like I was moving very fast.  I enjoyed it too. If I continued in this way I could live a life that was entirely devoted to my own ideals and wishes. I could simply do as I liked. This trip is different somehow – while I am here to explore and to learn, this departure is about going to a place that is more than simply my own but it is a departure I take with someone. The man who said, “Not all who wander are lost” was J.R.R. Tolkien, a writer who expounded his observations of struggle, challenges and the like into a story of magic from one of battles and terror during real-life war. I admire this kind of story. Each step of a journey can produce more than a moment that is quickly forgotten but a narrative of its own. So today I am reminded of the ones I have left behind in places around the world, but who are with me wherever I may be, and of course my best friend who brought me here and encourages me all the time to go, to move, and to explore great things ensemble.  An old African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

In the Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana, the capture of this leopard turtle was obtained.
In the Moremi
Game Reserve, Botswana, the capture of this leopard turtle was obtained.