Stateversary

Because so many Denverites are transplants from somewhere else, many people celebrate their “Denversary” every year on the anniversary of the day they moved to Denver. Denver is such an awesome city, it’s worth celebrating!

A year ago today, I left my beloved Denver in search of adventure, and to begin my career with the Department of State, so I thought I would celebrate my Stateversary with you. It’s a great chance to pause, reflect, and evaluate the last twelve months.

I won’t spend much time at this point explaining why I chose to leave a city I love, with people I treasured and valued, and a church and church family that was such an integral part of my life, but let’s just say I needed adventure and this was the adventure that worked out. I made no bones about the fact that I wanted to live in another country, preferably Africa, and that my first preference would have been to come as a missionary, but coming as a missionary didn’t work out and a career with the State Department did, so here I am.

A year ago today, I had just finished dealing with all this mess in the packing out process:

Packing out

And I was off:

Peace out, Denver. I love you; I'll miss you; I'll be back.

Peace out, Denver. I love you; I’ll miss you; I’ll be back.

And what do I have to show for my past year? And what do I have to say about it?

Evaluating a time period has so many faucets. There’s the personal, introspective side of things; there’s the interpersonal involving relationships with family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers; there’s the professional side involving not only work, but career and professional development as well; there’s the spiritual dimension looking at our how we’re ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling’; and oh, so much more.

Where do I begin to throw even a semblance of meaning over the past 365 days? It makes most sense to start with the simplest things and work my way deeper as I go.

The intellectual and informational mountain I’ve climbed: I can honestly say that I don’t think I can remember a 365 day period when I have learned as much as I have during this one, and in so many different categories.

My African geography skills, for example–you’d actually want me on your trivia team for that skill alone. I know almost every country and capital–not because I have studied them, but because I live them. I talk to and about people in all these countries; I know people who live there; my office walls sport multiple world and African maps. And not just geography, but history and culture and people as well. It’s a whole new world and I’ve reveled in exploring it. And the inevitable happened, as many predicted: Africa has crept into my heart.

Professionally, I’ve broadened my horizons and learned more than I ever thought possible. I dabble in tropical medicine (who’d ever heard of schistosomiasis? Now it’s a household word!), prenatal care (my first baby I took care of in utero just returned to post and oh what a cutie he is!), and bureaucracy like there’s no tomorrow. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed the latter, but at least I have loved the rest of it.

Adventure-wise, it leaves nothing wanting. Climbing Kilimanjaro, seeing gorillas up close and personal, safari-ing all over East Africa, chimpanzee trekking, staying at the famous Hotel des Mille Collines, hiking the hills upcountry. And we haven’t even been to the source of the Nile yet! We’ve only just begun!!

Interpersonally, it’s been so rich. In many ways, the embassy community, because it is so small, operates like a family (or a fishbowl, depending on your perspective). I’ve made friends with wonderfully interesting people who have lived all over the world, speak multiple languages, and have a wide variety of political and social beliefs and positions, some of which I share, some I don’t. Because we practically live and work together, we’ve gotten to know people much more quickly than one might in a different (more normal) setting. I’ve definitely left my bubble! And it’s been oh so fun for this people lover!

The other side of the interpersonal coin is missing family and friends back home. I thought this blog would help me stay in touch, but it’s very one-sided. And with our spotty internet, the time difference, and a busy life here, keeping up hasn’t been easy or convenient. Even with wonderful things like Skype, it isn’t like sitting next to someone on the porch swing, or at the kitchen table, or going for a hike together. Conversation tends to be awkward and superficial and infrequent. So if you’re back home reading this, please send me a long newsy letter updating me on all that’s going on with you. I miss you! 🙂

[This reminds me of a song my mother sang to me when I went off to summer camp as a child: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”]

As for the spiritual challenges, they’ve been monumental. We’ve been so abundantly blessed to find a church where we can worship and serve, but it ain’t no Fellowship Denver or Grace Bible. And God has amazingly blessed us with a couple to share this journey with, for which we are incredibly thankful. But with no small group, and no real community of believers surrounding us and meeting weekly, I have thirsted for fellowship. And thirsted for conversation on a deeper, more eternally significant, level. But God has shown himself sufficient and that, my friend, is all that is needed.

In closing, I can say that I’m loving the adventure as a whole: the new and exciting experiences, the learning and broadening of horizons, the challenges, and yes, even the bureaucratic frustrations. And despite missing home and being close to family and friends and Denver and winter and mountains and restaurants and sporting events and the ease of civilization, I have no regrets and wouldn’t change my decision to go.

It’s been a year to remember and the adventure’s not even half over yet!

Overlooking Bujumbura at sunset

Overlooking Bujumbura at sunset

There's nothing like your very own classic hippo photo

There’s nothing like your very own classic hippo photo

Another Burundian sunset

Another Burundian sunset

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

To the best of my knowledge, except for some animal sanctuary in Georgia, the three animals named above do not reside together in any natural ecosystem. Africa is home to lions, Asia to tigers, and North America to bears, so I’m not sure why Dorothy and her friends were expecting to meet them on the yellow brick road. I guess in reality they didn’t really know very much about their environment.

And I guess I didn’t know very much about the wilds of East Africa either. When I moved here, I assumed that at some point I’d “go on safari” because there are certain things one does when one lives in certain places, and “go on safari” is most definitely something everyone does here. But I have to admit I had no idea what it really meant to “go on safari”. I couldn’t even have identified “The Big Five” (so don’t feel bad if you can’t either; you can read more about them here).

So, as you’ve probably guessed by now, we went on safari, and this blog post is going to recount that experience. I was going to title it “Self-Drive Safari Do’s and Don’t’s”, because although it was an incredible experience, especially the “self-drive” part, there were things I might recommend you do differently, depending on your perspective and your taste for adventure. Like do a little research ahead of time. And make some lodging reservations when you are in the middle of nowhere with limited options. But some people would disagree with me and say it’s all part of the adventure. It’s all about your comfort zone, and everyone’s is different.

Here’s how it all went down:

Our son Adam, ever the adventurer, had this idea that he and his dad would drive across East Africa, making a loop around Lake Victoria, safari-ing along the way, and crossing through Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and circling back home to Bujumbura. It was quite the ambitious plan, which eventually morphed to include only Tanzania. Forget about looking at a map; if you know anything about the roads around here, you’ll think it was a wise evolution of a plan.

So they headed east, and I was to meet them in Arusha for our climb of Kilimanjaro a few days later. For the general tourist, the Kili trip is often marketed as a week of safari, a week of climbing Kilimanjaro, and a week at the beach in Zanzibar. I guess we’ll catch Zanzibar another time.

The trip east was fairly uneventful (I think to Adam’s disappointment and Randy’s great relief), except for one small speeding ticket which Adam refused to pay unless they took him down to the local courthouse, which was what the ticket actually stated should be done. I still can’t decide whether I’m disappointed or relieved that I missed that circus. (If you want details, contact Adam. He’d love to recount the story. “Eighty-eight.”)

So we met up in Arusha as planned and I had great plans for my one day off before beginning our hike. The plans went something like this: sleep in, breakfast, morning nap, lunch, afternoon nap, re-pack my kit multiple times, early bed. They had other plans. They had spotted this national park on the way over, and they thought we should go check it out. Since I am genetically and constitutionally incapable of saying no to any adventure, (some would say I have a bad case of FOMO*), I went along, although I had never even heard of this place.

And by the end of the day, I had a much better idea of what “go on safari” meant, and it wasn’t at all what I’d expected. I guess I pictured hours of driving around, patiently waiting to spot some exotic animal in field glasses, (well, I mean, the animal wouldn’t be wearing the field glasses as that sentence appears to read) and taking a few unidentifiable photos because our zoom lens wasn’t powerful enough to capture anything worthwhile, like the photos of the first time I saw a bear in Yellowstone.

But at least on the day that we drove around Tarangire National Park, it wasn’t at all like that. It was up close and personal, more like this:

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The first animal we saw. We were pretty excited. Little did we know what was to come. Thing is, for no particular reason, I’ve never liked ostriches. But we were excited for our first spotting of an animal in the wild.

And then there was this guy:

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Altogether, in the three national parks we visited, I can honestly say, without exaggeration, we saw thousands of wildebeests. Thousands.

And then we were treated to these beauties:

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It was hard to chose favorites, because it was so awesome to see them all out in their natural habitat, but these guys were way up there. (No pun intended.) They are so much fun to watch, and especially to watch them run, which is so incredibly graceful–like filming someone in slow motion.

Now these kids in their striped pajamas were to me the most fascinating of all:

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They seem so very horse-like (indeed, they share a genus Equus and a common ancestor), and it seems African civilization could have used a horse-like assistant, for transportation and agriculture as well as for their military, yet they have never domesticated the zebra. Why? I do not know, but ran across these interesting observations while investigating the mystery.

Then we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to see an elephant? And along come these big fellas:

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We saw them far away, down near the river:

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and causing a Tarangire version of a traffic jam:

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And we saw them up close and personal, like this:

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(Of the thousands of photos from five different cameras, this is one of my personal favorites. It was right about here that one of the tour guides in another vehicle yelled at us, in a language incomprehensible, something that we gathered through hand motions and context was ‘get back in the car’. However, the fine print in the park guide did not specify that we could not exit a vehicle; it just said that we couldn’t put ourselves in danger from an animal. I guess the definition of danger from an animal demands personal interpretation. This is not the closest encounter we had. Stay tuned.)

And then there were these wild animals:

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Then towards the end of that first day, we came upon this scene. First we just saw the one lion on the right in this photo, obviously standing guard.

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Then we looked a few feet over and we saw this whole pride hanging out in the shade under the trees.

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Then we saw this guy going back and forth:

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Then it took us a few minutes to figure out just what was going on: mealtime.

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Wildebeest for lunch, anyone? Ah, the circle of life. We felt so privileged to be party to this little feast; it wasn’t to be our last.

And finally we saw these ferocious looking dudes right as we were circling back to leave:

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Little did we know they were the first of so very many cape buffalo we would later see.

And in addition to the animals, which is of course, what you “go on safari” to see, there was the beauty of the landscape:

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And the brightly colored birds:

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And the famous baobabs:

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(If you don’t know about the baobabs in your life, you should read “The Little Prince”.)

And that was Tarangire National Park, the first of three.

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From there, Adam and I headed out to conquer Kilimanjaro (which you can read about here). Upon our return, we continued on our self-drive safari at Ngorongoro Crater, and another amazing day. Again, hard to pick a favorite, but this place was amazing. We headed out early thinking daybreak was the best time for animal viewing, not really knowing what to expect from the “crater”. Our early morning started in the mist:

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We got a little view down into the crater:

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then headed down into the crater for an eventful day:

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Another traffic jam:

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Male and female he created them:

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Great view of the crater lake at the end of the dry season. You can’t tell from this photo (and the roads don’t go any closer, because presumably in the wet season this lake covers the whole area), but the dots you see are hundreds and hundreds of flamingos.

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And no words will do this photo justice:

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Nor this one: (I have friends who think warthogs are cute. Really??)

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A little baboon grooming session:

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And then came one of the highlights of the day:

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We came upon these guys with their heads down in the grass and barely discernible; they were so well camouflaged. Had we not seen others cars stopped, we might have missed them.

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We made another loop and circled back to see this guy seeking some shade:

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And then this beautiful moment:

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These were the only maned lions we saw in the three parks. I could go on with the lion pictures forever. It was so hard to chose the best shots of the hundreds we took.

Then we saw this herd of cape buffalo charging, and figured there must be a reason:

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And sure enough, we circled back again to watch a lioness take down the slowest cape buffalo from this herd. It was quite a ways from the road, and while we watched it for over an hour through the field glasses, unfortunately the photos didn’t do it justice. She did chase away three of these opportunists:

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After the cape buffalo stopped struggling, she rested for quite some time, then feasted on the most treasured delicacy. If you’re familiar with Rocky Mountain Oysters, then you can guess what she devoured first.

After this exciting event, we caught a rare siting of the critically endangered black rhino, one of the Big Five:

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And so we drove up out of the crater, got lost but eventually found Olduvai Tented Lodge, one of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed, where we spent the night and were treated to a sunset walk led by our very own Maasai warrior.

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In the morning we made a quick stop at the Olduvai Gorge, where Louis and Mary Leaky excavated the famous hominin footprints

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then headed on to the Serengeti, the largest and probably the most well-known Tanzanian safari destination.

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Each of the three parks we visited were different, and incredible experiences, and special in their own way, but the Serengeti was most noticeable for its vastness, its variety, and its sheer numbers. We saw dozens of species of animals we could neither identify nor had we seen previously, as well as herds of wildebeests and cape buffalo and Thompson’s gazelles numbering in the hundreds, sometimes thousands.

These peaceful guys were lounging alongside the road just after we entered the gates, as if they were assigned the welcome committee duties:

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We saw so many thousands of gazelles, it feels wrong not to include them.

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There were multiple types, each with different, but distinctive markings.

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Now I know I must bring this blog post to a close, and I hate to shortchange the Serengeti, so I’ll end with this Close Encounter of the Third Kind. There is a river that runs through the western part of the Serengeti, and although the road parallels it, it doesn’t come very close to it except here.

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Periodically, there were vague dirt paths (OK, maybe we made some of these paths up) that could bring you all the way up to the river. So off we went, in search of our last predator, the crocodile. Before we found any crocs, we saw this scene. Now coming from Bujumbura, the land of the hippos, we don’t get overly excited about seeing them, but the sheer numbers here are incredible. Every dot you see in this photo is a hippo.

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And then we found this croc shoot, a place where they slide down into the river:

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We navigated down dirt paths a few more times, caught a few sitings of some babies, some crocs off in the distance, and even some crocs and hippos hanging out together. (Who knew those two lived together in harmony?)

Then we drove up to find three large crocs sunning themselves on this bank. Immediately two of them jumped into the water and swam off, but one stayed to taunt us:

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As we drew nearer, he grew a little more threatening:

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We took advantage of some photo ops while he stood his ground and smiled for the camera:

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We made a little lunge towards him and he showed a few more teeth. (It is worth noting here that the “we” refers to the two people in the photos above. During this entire scene, Randy is sitting in the car just this side of a heart attack.)

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We made a final threatening move in his direction, and off he swam. Chicken. I couldn’t believe we’d had a showdown with a croc and won!

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And the last scene we saw as we drove out of the Serengeti to begin the long drive home was this hyena taking advantage of someone else’s work. It takes all kinds.

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The circle of life continues, and the three of us made it back to Bujumbura, safe and sound, with a new appreciation for the wilds of East Africa, and for the splendor, the beauty, the magnificence, and the variety of God’s creation, as well as the inability to ever see wild animals in a zoo again.

 

 

*FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out

 

 

 

 

Lessons Learned from the Streak

A word of caution:

This post is about running. If you hate running, or reading about running, or even if you hate runners (OMG, no way, right?!?!?), go ahead and move on to the next item on your reading list.

So I belong to a group of runners from all over the world. It’s really fun and interesting to read about their escapades, their races, and all their adventures from exotic places. (Well, at least they seem like exotic places, but then again, Bujumbura may seem exotic which it decidedly is not.)

Generally I have been mostly an observer to the group, but when someone threw out a challenge in mid-November, I decided to join in and go for it. The challenge was to run at least one mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. And when you think about it, that’s quite the challenge, since traditionally that period is reserved for mostly eating and mostly not sticking with any kind of exercise or activity program.

New Year’s Day was a great celebration of my last of 36 consecutive runs: some good, some less than spectacular; some long, some short, but always at least a mile; some fast, some very, very slow, but 36 in a row! I have been running (off and on, but mostly on) since 1978, and I have never, ever run 36 days in a row. It was quite the experience.

And here are some lessons learned from the streak:

  • If you throw down a challenge, I will do almost anything ethically and morally possible to meet the challenge. But then again, I guess those who know me would admit that we all already knew that. 🙂 And as it turned out, there were still a couple of things I never had to resort to, which included running around my yard (which would have been hazardous, not to mention the guards may have decided I’d finally lost it completely), and running at lunch–something I have never done and did not end up doing these 36 days.
  • If need be, you can run almost anywhere, anytime. You can squeeze in a quick run on the way home from work, right before sunset; or in the rain; or right before guests are arriving; or while on vacation; or after you get back from an exhausting chimpanzee trek; or any other equally inconvenient, short or seemingly impossible time slot. All these things, I did do during these 36 days.
  • The circumstances don’t have to be perfect to get in a run.  I used to think everything had to be perfect to run. It had to be the right time–usually first thing in the morning. If I missed that time slot, I missed my opportunity. The weather had to be just right–not too hot, not too cold, not too rainy. If the weather wasn’t as perfect as I wanted, that was enough of an excuse to skip. I had to be “feeling it”. If I wasn’t feeling it, it wasn’t happening. But as mentioned in the second bullet point, you can run almost anywhere, anytime. The circumstances don’t have to be perfect to run.
  • Running short distances decreases the list of excuses for running slow.  I have to admit that I love the LSD run– the Long Slow Distances, despite the fact that all the research shows that we should run smart, not long, and that shorter, faster runs are overall a more beneficial investment than my favorite LSD run. So having to quickly squeeze in some short, relatively-speaking faster runs made it really difficult for me to play my silly mind games about slowing down so I could complete the longer distance. I’m already plenty slow enough; recognizing the need to speed up just a little (and the lack of excuses for not) was a valuable lesson for me.
  • Running goes better when you have a goal or a challenge and some support. I can’t describe how much a difference my fellow streakers made for me–how encouraging and fun they made it, even though I have never met nor actually gotten to run with any of them. I definitely would not have kept streaking without them. So even though I don’t have any running partners here in Bujumbura, and I don’t know of any races I can realistically train for, it’s good to know I have my fellow streakers to spur me on. I will need them more than ever now that the streak is over!
  • Grace and forgiveness make the world a better place, even when it is directed towards oneself. In fact, maybe especially when it is directed towards oneself. We live in a fast-paced, high pressured world, where expectations for perfection and accomplishment run high. Some (although admittedly not all) of us can be very hard on ourselves. On Christmas Eve, due to a packed schedule and spending time with our visiting daughter Megan, the day came and went without a run. By the time I looked at the clock and considered running around my house in the dark, it was already 1:15 in the morning–the streak was already officially broken. So instead of quitting and admitting defeat, I gave myself some grace and forgiveness, ran twice on Christmas Day to make up for it, and re-instated my standing in the streak. Sometimes getting back in the saddle after a fall is more important than never falling. I can’t put into words how important this little lesson was for me. To experience that self-directed grace and forgiveness made me appreciate how important it is for all of us to give and to experience grace and forgiveness more.
  • There are always lots of life lessons to learn from running. But like the first bullet point, I already knew this one too. And I’m not the first person to recognize this: Paul made lots of running analogies in his letters to the churches recorded in the New Testament. I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps, pun intended. 🙂

Happy New Year! Happy running, happy lesson learning, and thank you a million times over to my fellow streakers for the support, encouragement, and opportunity to experience these 36 days together and these lessons learned. Although I never posted any pictures of my runs, here is the sunset on the second to last day, and me celebrating with my husband and daughter at the close of the streak, my first day without running since Thanksgiving! Enjoy!IMG_4890

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