Vumba Mountains and My Own Zim/DRC Debate

From a famous writer or celebrity, to a
blogger or someone close to you — who would you like to
be your biographer?

This is the prompt for the day and I believe I would vastly prefer to write enough that others are not compelled to fill in the blanks of my life…or even search through the blank areas of my life for that matter. Unfortunately, my own writing is often stymied by the locational imperfections. By that I mean, I am not in a beautiful little mountain cottage in Zimbabwe overlooking Mozambique. When I was there, I decided with utmost certainty that that place was the most ideal location on the planet to write a memoir. I vowed to return and I shall explain the beauty of it.

By all means, we’d gotten off to a rocky beginning heading up to the mountains. Having been dropped off at the supermarket for a short spell to grab groceries for the long weekend (whichever actual days they fell on is not important), the boys wandered around aimlessly, making me do all the planning. Of course long-term budget travel in the developing world in general demands a certain comfort with whimsy, but there were physical realities to which they seemed unconcerned and thus the burden fell to me. (“Of course I will be doing the cooking anyway and yes that does mean I should probably be in charge of deciding ingredients, but perhaps the two of you could help me find a few thing on the list because the man who has so nicely decided to take us is in fact waiting for us in the parking lot at this very moment!!!”)  By the time we got in the car with what would NOT be enough food (just like I said it wouldn’t), I was ready to clock the both of them.

It’s my fault though really, I intentionally choose travel partners who are plan-less and careless so that I may plan out trips to my heart’s content without even the slightest interference. They dislike the planning bit, but still want to travel and in truth, are happy to go anywhere I dictate. Occasionally this backfires on me.

Anyway, despite our inauspicious start, we made our way up to the mountains. As the temperature dropped, I unwound myself from the frustrations of earlier. After a long time searching (and a faulty LP map if I do say so myself), the place we sought materialized and we were dropped off at the bottom of the most beautiful estate. Horses galloped in a meadow to our left as we walked up and rented a house, sight unseen, for the next several days. The woman who owned the place was apparently popular enough in the area not to have ever been chased out or murdered by Mugabe’s men but the place (as she herself lamented) had certainly seen better days. The benefit to us as rare tourists were her rock bottom, developing world prices for what were absolutely developed world amenities. Zimbabwe had been like that. People were so incredibly happy to see us (poor backpackers) that my mind began to imagine other places where tourists had once been common and were now rare. That is the trick I think. They had to have once been common or there is no infrastructure for it. I remember going to Nicaragua before there were tourists and prices were astronomical because the locals hadn’t yet gotten into the business of tourists. As I write now, I am imagining the kind of deals that can probably be had in Egypt. Who is holidaying in Cairo at the moment? All that isn’t to say I don’t have empathy for the dear woman running things who I would like to hope soon has so many people coming up to her place that she is forced to raise her prices and succumb to the forces of supply and demand.

So, over the next several days we stayed in a home with a hot bath and a good desk (at which I decided a good memoir ought to be written). A man brought fresh veg and I believe honey to our doorstep to sell to us and we were grateful. We went horseback riding and hiking and Gavin went golfing. We watched the most glorious sunsets and sunrises over the cliffs next to us. We peered out across Mozambique (our next destination) and it appeared lush and peaceful. I imagine there was a time, not so long ago, when straddling that border was not quite ideal but when we were there, wrapped up in the safety of the present-day, it was simply an exquisite view. Had I not been with the guys on a trip and thus compelled to keep moving, I would have wanted to settle there. Find a small job. Live there forever. In my mind now, it is still the most perfect place to live.

So I am studying Africa from the center outwards. Why? Why start with the Congo? Why have I decided to live in the Congo? What on earth is the draw? Why not Zim if it is my favorite? A place with the friendliest people? I have to go back there to thank the man who was the reason I went back to school. I have to visit again at least. It was a good country with good land and good people. So the DRC? I don’t know. I guess in the end I will go where I get a job…But maybe travel again first. I would like to eventually say that I have been to every country on that continent, but I am not adding countries if I keep returning to the ones I have been to before. Sigh…first I must get a degree which means I must stop blogging and begin homework…so till next time…

Travel Stories at Home

“If one experience or life change results from you writing
your blog, what would you like it to be?”

Well This is a tricky prompt and not really one that easily conjures old memories that need to be written down or will surely soon be forgotten forever (which is why I am blogging in the first place). Perhaps I can make it past tense. What experiences have happened in the past because I have been blogging? Well, I haven’t blogged much, so that narrows the scope of the answer. I guess one thing I have done in the past is write for specific readers. If I know that only a few people read my blog (or only a few people are superfans of my blog) I begin writing with what I imagine to be their preferences for material in mind, thus, as a traveler, I begin living my life with their preferences for material in mind. “What am I seeing which would interest X?” “How can I frame this to relate to X?”

In no small part, this I why I am blogging now anonymously. No comments. No friends aware of what I am doing. If no one reads it, that’s fine by me because the reality is that I’m blogging for myself because I just don’t want to forget. I think living in Portland now for two and a half years (longer than I have lived anywhere since I left home at 18) has really made me feel like that other life I lived is fading away. That life where I spent a decade traveling to and living in over 50 countries on earth. As I am here in this city (and rarely leave that city in fact) I begin to feel like it wasn’t real. Did it actually exist? Did I do that? All alone, was it was me that was so audacious? Was it this me?

Also, blogging is nice because telling people about my life in conversation is never ideal. Everyone talks about things in their past in conversation, but for me the backdrop can overtake the story and in fact depresses me because I am more acutely aware of the drab, dullness of my life here. For example, someone the other day talking to me about how fun and exhausting it was when they recently jumped on a trampoline as an adult. As a child they could do flips for hours but age had taken its toll. Had I jumped on one as an adult they asked? My mind quickly scanned its contents and yes! I had done so. In Namibia at a campground in the desert. There was a large warthog following me and I was afraid and came across a conveniently (and surprisingly!) placed trampoline. It was dug into the ground and thus level with it and not the perfect escape, but I bounced with all my might and deterred the warthog because 4 legs are not better than 2 on a trampoline, haha. And yes, I did find it more exhausting as an adult.

From this example, it is easy to see that while my story was in fact shorter in length than the one I had heard from the other person, the backdrop obviously became the focus. Of course further explanation was demanded and then I felt like it might have been better to just say, “yes, a few years ago” and leave it at that. No one wants to be the person who does an interesting thing (say travel for a decade) and then spends the rest of their lives telling stories about it. No one wants to hang out with that person either. I don’t even want to hang out with that person when it is myself. Therefore it is easier just to pretend it didn’t exist…for myself and for sake of those around me. The stories of my life barely work without the backdrop, so I keep them light and superficial. Otherwise I run the risk of making myself melancholy and jealous of my own past as well as conjuring up bizarre comparisons from people trying to relate to me.

It is of course a tendency of humans to try to relate something they are told of to their own lives and thus not infrequently there are people who, after hearing from someone that I was a traveler, make a point to come talk to me about when they went to the coast last summer or some such and how crazy and difficult it was because of this and that. I listen and I do care but I can’t help but wonder at the differences in the yardsticks we each use to measure whether or not a situation was ‘very difficult’. I keep that wonder confined to my mind and to this anonymous blog however and wait for the day where I escape back into a world where my stories can be told to audiences with their own similar stories and where I don’t feel like a jerk for including the backdrop.

I guess I got off topic here, but it doesn’t really matter. Nonetheless, rather than get back on topic, this blog must end here because I have a Farmer’s Market to go to where a friend of mine recently told me she could hardly go because it is “just so crazy and way too crowded”. We stood there together and surveyed what I believe to be the the most orderly and polite group of market goers on the entire planet. Everything being entirely set up with utmost comfort and happiness of the upper middle class customer in mind. The entire thing could have been a movie set about a Utopian city market. “Hmmm”. I nodded and kept the shock and awe of her statement to myself.  

The Beginning of the ‘Mochilera’

What was the one experience that completely changed your life? What happened? How did it change your life?

There have been several real game changers in my life. I discussed them once with my sister and she believes that my life has been more affected by major experiences than perhaps is normal. Of course, what is normal? Anyway, one experience that absolutely changed my life (though not the first) was in fact a combination of two events. The first was the ending of a relationship and the second was a death.

In 2005, I had been dating a Nicaraguan man for two years. We were planning to marry…sort of. Looking back, I’m not sure if I ever would have actually married him; I had certainly put it off enough times. He’d bough a ring, but I had recently tacked on a few more years to the age I wanted to marry and he had had enough I guess. That is a longer story for another time, but whilst trading insults toward the end, he said I was ‘fancy’. He used the term derogatorily, as in not very tough, and said that I could never travel. I had wanted to do just that someday…to be a backpacker. He said that I could never, never be a backpacker, a mochilera. I have no clue why, at the time, I put any stock in this statement being as I had already traveled far, far away from my village in Southern Oregon to go live in a world where I did not initially understand a word of the language or an ounce of the culture and in truth hadn’t taken a hot shower in heaven knows how long at that point, but the term ‘fancy’ smarted, as was its intention, and I certainly set out to prove him wrong. Cannot be a mochilera! I’ll show you!

The death actually happened beforehand, but not long before, which made it a rough year for me to say the least. Erik died. He was so much to me during my adolescence. I loved him really. We were the best of friends. He was slightly crazy which was why I liked him. In that simple little town, he thought…really thought about things. I loved that about him. We went to prom together. We never actually dated and though the both of us had plenty of other romantic entanglements over the years, a part of me continued to believe that there would always be Erik. I wasn’t awesome to him the last time I saw him. Which over the years I have become okay with I guess. Friendships have ups and downs and I certainly wasn’t terrible, just not as nice as I would have been if I had known it was the last time. I felt like he wasn’t doing what he could have with his life. He wasn’t. I’d always viewed us as being on the same trajectory which was to get out of that tiny world and he wasn’t doing that. I personally had thrown every ounce of strength I had into that singular goal…and he hadn’t. I couldn’t understand why not. Hadn’t we both agreed, innumerable times that this was the only goal? To get as far away from that place as possible? Aside from an abortive attempt in a town an hour north, he never left. Then, a few years later, he died in a car accident. God, it killed me. I cannot describe how devastated I was at that loss.The idea that there was a heaven and that maybe Erik was in it gave me something that could almost be described as a death wish, I certainly wasn’t afraid to join him anyway.

My breakup gave me something to prove and Erik’s death made me fearless. That combination was potent and assured that though the man himself remained firmly in the ground, Erik’s memory would indeed leave that place. His ghost accompanied me to the most far flung regions of the world. He traveled. And we weren’t fancy. We were tough. Nine years, fifty-one countries. Long after I knew there was no heaven to go to, he and I continued though mountains, deserts, savannas, jungles, seas, forests, cities and villages. We spoke to more kinds of people than we could have ever imagined had existed.

So that was it. I answered the question and WordPress did ‘Inspire Me’ to write yet again. I did not edit this so grammatical errors and typos are expected. At least I wrote.

Lesotho – 2009 – Mohale Damn


The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.

Well, that is the writing prompt for the day, so in order to get myself writing again at all, I guess I will use it. I looked for daily travel writing prompts, but couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I decided to use the wordpress prompt and just make it work.

Houses. Enlightened houses. Ghosts. Hmmm. Ok.

Lesotho, 2009. We had been driving and driving, Liam, Gav, Tess and I; squashed into the rental car we’d rented in Capetown and were beating the living daylights out of. The roads were as bad as the scenery was good. It was indeed spectacular and after 7 months kicking around South East Asia, my entire body and soul relished the cool climate. The most unfortunate thing about the roads, aside from the damage to the underbelly of the vehicle we would be paying for later, was the fact that we were not making the progress we had anticipated in the tiny country. This itself wouldn’t have been such a problem except that we were on a deadline to turn in the car and also, as night approached, we found ourselves without any idea how far we might be from a town and we did not yet own our beloved and incredibly useful ‘Shelly’, the tent we bought in Upington. Like turtles, we traveled with our home or ‘Shelly’ on our back.

Anyway, in a land that for the most part, seemed devoid of modern trappings outside of the cities, we came upon the most extraordinary sight: a village of houses, darkened, in the style you might see in any random American suburb. To say that we were a bit taken aback was to put it quite lightly. At the entrance to the strange vision was a lit-up building that must have said ‘management’ or some such because I do remember we confidently parked and went inside. We learned that apparently we had stumbled across the homes built for engineers who had at one point been building a damn. Now the damn brought electricity and the engineers had moved on but the homes remained. Vacant. Dark. An oddity in the mountains. I wondered what locals thought of the strange and empty neighborhood in their midst. After some haggling, we rented an empty house.

We cooked with the basic things we could find and ate by candlelight.

Who had stayed there before us? Who had lived in those houses? What engineer and from where had been assigned that project? Who decided to build a damn? Who loaned the money for it? To which country did the electricity go? Who lived here before? Which families? Lesotho is not far from South Western Africa which is where I have heard the first humans evolved. How many different homes had existed on that land before the one I slept in that night? These were the ghosts that can be imagined from the writing prompt. These ghosts and questions I did not imagine that night when I slept when curled up on the floor of that empty house, comforted by the solidity of the roof, the walls and equally discomforted by the emptiness of the neighborhood I knew surrounded the house. Enlightenment takes thought and thought takes more effort than I had energy for that evening. So that night there were no ghosts and no enlightenment, but oddly enough, when I saw that the prompt called for one to conjure a house, this was the first one I thought of…why? I guess I have stayed a million places, but not so many houses. Hotels, hostels, campgrounds and a variety of homes to be sure, but this was just a house. It was not constructed to be a home, just a house. So that apparently is where my memory took me and of all the places in the world it could go…it was I guess, as usual, back to Africa.

Now I have written something for the first time in a too long. I will not edit it or spend a million hours trying to perfect it and in the end getting nothing done at all. I will break the cycle of perfectionist writer. It’s an anonymous blog anyhow with comments disabled, so typos and grammatical errors be damned, I shall post anyway. I shall remember my life.

Photos: Ripped without permission from my ex-boyfriends blog.