Sunday, July 20, 2014

Africa: it's a continent.

So, I'm moving to Uganda soon and the whole process has obviously gotten my friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances asking questions. That being said, I'd like to take a minute to discuss my frustration with people who directly or indirectly refer to the African continent as a country. With questions like "What's Africa like?" or "Are you going to learn African?" (SERIOUSLY, AN ADULT ASKED ME THIS) I am saddened for those that have been failed by our education system, and furthermore, embarrassed for those that have failed to educate themselves. I have been fortunate enough to experience a few countries, and I will happily tell you about those. I cannot tell you about Benin or Ghana or Angola. There are countless languages, religions, traditions, foods and people all over the enormous continent of Africa. And trust me, enormous is an understatement. Check this out:

BOOM! Click on the picture to read about how skewed our global maps are. With a continent that big, how can it all be the same?

While I believe there is a cultural side of pan-Africanism (in the sense that there are commonalities and overlap due to early nomads and migration, and a tangible brotherhood between many enlightened people based solely on the fact that they are Africans), there are extremely diverse cultures existing all over the continent.

Morocco, for instance, is essentially completely Islamic. Deserts stretch over a vast majority of the country and it has a population that many of our untrained eyes would consider "vaguely Middle Eastern". Oh, and couscous. Lots of couscous. 

These photos are from my badass friend Abbey who is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Tata, Morocco. You can get more insight into her life and experience with Moroccan culture here.

Zambia, on the other hand, is constitutionally Christian. It also boasts a beautiful tropical climate, is full of black babes, and upon visiting you will eat copious bowls of mealie-meal. Mealie-meal wishes it was couscous.

These photos were ruthlessly stolen from the internet. I know it's an extreme example, but they're clearly different countries, right? Thank you.

These contrasting lifestyles exist from North to South, East to West and are often right next to one another within the borders of a country (thank you, Berlin Conference). This causes chaos and conflict because as much pan-African love as you see, there is xenophobic ignorance and religious opposition at every turn. Sooo not the stuff of one singular community!

Ignoring the wonderful differences within and between each country not only belittles their national identities, but it perpetuates and validates the ignorance that Western society has subjected them to since their varied beginnings. Now, I think it's safe to say that no one who dreams of someday, "going to India, Brazil and Africa" actually THINKS Africa is one nation, but you don't know the damage your words do to the global perspective on the region (Plus, you sound silly and then it gets awkward when I ask you where exactly in Africa you want to go and you say you "have no idea, on a safari or something"). It's bad enough that so many media sources give us an overarching image of the poor and starving African, but if we continue to assign this singular identity to an entire continent, we're no better. Let's use this wonderful thing called the internet to educate ourselves and those around us and be mindful of our words. It doesn't cost nearly as much as a plane ticket. BBC posts awesome country profiles, or you can Google it! You can do just about anything, but don't ask me what Africa is like.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Nicas and Ticas

Before I continue with all of the word writing and picture posting, here's a video that exemplifies my experience in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. These countries are vibrant in every sense of the word and I hope that my dreamy love affair with them is adequately conveyed through this old school iMovie mashup. You do what you can with what you've got, ya know? Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Costa Rica Part 1: Adventures in Leslie / A Wedding in Heaven

This time last year, I was trying not to slip on the marble floors of Saint Ignatius with tears in my eyes and a diploma in hand. Then, I danced down the streets of San Francisco with amateur nudists, part time hippies and professional drunks. But THEN, well, then I got on a plane and went to Costa Rica for a wedding I will never forget. 

I was miserably sick. Run down from endless nights of equal parts filming, editing, writing, having existential melt downs and attempting to cherish every last breath in my collegiate lungs. But, all of the stress, exhaustion, and questions about my future vanished when the wheels hit the ground in San Jose and I found David, a friendly German face, waiting for me at the curb. I collapsed in my bed that night, drunk on warm air and good company.

 The next day, we ventured into the maze of green that stood between us and Volcán Arenal. We met a handful of David's closest friends from his college days in Hawaii and immediately headed to a hot spring that epitomized my imaginations version of Costa Rica. Leaves of every shape shaded us from the sun as we wandered around exploring this little slice of Heaven we had managed to find off the side of the road. We swam, skipped rocks and investigated lizards that clamored mysteriously over both water and rocks. 

It eventually came time to leave our jungle paradise and venture off to find the Monteverde Cloud Forest. But first, because the travel gods love us, we were able to witness clear skies around Volcán Arenal, a rare and dare I say, trippy sight. It forced me to recognize the magnitude of what stood before us. I mean, REAL VOLCANIC SMOKE was replacing the usual clouds that kissed the mouth of Arenal. We were remarkably close to something that spews killer lava. Just days before that I was drinking beer in Golden Gate Park! With my friends wearing silly costumes! And now I was watching volcanic smoke snake into the sky like I had only seen at the sacred Volcán Onion de Benihanas. Mind blown. 

After a potholed drive in an ill-eqipped rental we named Leslie, we arrived in Monteverde and I was promptly overcome by the germs in my body. What truly, deeply sucks about this is that cloud forests are SO COOL and I missed it! They are rain forests that exist high and alone in the mountains, so the species that live there have evolved differently from other areas. Plus, there is a steady cloud that hangs low in the trees (go figure) that gives the whole place a very dreamy vibe. The day or two we spent there is a haze of coughing and wearing yoga shorts in the rain (My bag was left in San Francisco...So chill). My only real take away is our night hike where we lured enormous spiders from their homes in the side of the path by “tickling the holes” in which they slept. Needless to say, I'll be back. 

Eventually, we drove to Jaco and physically pushed Leslie over the speed bump at the entrance of Los Sueños Ocean & Golf Resort. Out of place? Oh God, yes. But, truthfully, I’d ride in a grocery cart full of street trash if it got me here. This was where we joined the wedding party (and my backpack) and filled the next week with all the appropriate celebrations for two beautiful people in love. 

One of the afternoons, all of the pretty young thangs ventured into the nearby rainforest on horseback with Discovery Horse Tours, an organization that rescues horses and spoils them on their 1,500 acre reserve. It was amazing to see that their horses happiness was truly their first priority, but our fun was a close second. We rode through their stunning property, learning about the history of the area and the magic behind rain forests until we found ourselves deep in the fauna. Then, with cups of fresh guava juice in hand, they led us to a natural pool where we proceeded to cover ourselves with volcanic ash mud. That stuff is like a time machine for your skin! So we were maybe ten hilarious and terrifying jungle monsters giggling and splashing around in this hidden pool, miles away from any other people and it was phenomenal.

It was finally time to hop into a shuttle and wind our way up a mountain to their wedding hideaway. The first stop was a jaw dropping view of the hills around us. Ephemeral clouds floated into the crevices of the landscape, rising and falling amongst the surrounding forests like a watercolored tide. With every changing minute it somehow became more beautiful! At certain points, we could see the ocean sparkling as the sun hung in it's best hour. The world we stood in felt like a painting, and we were merely blurry, insignificant figures in the foreground of the masterpiece. Of course, the secretly strong cocktails and heavenly strumming of acoustic guitars didn’t hurt. 

After a while of gawking at what lay before us, we walked to a canopy positioned strategically at the edge of yet another breathtaking outlook. Eric, the groom and David’s good friend from college, nervously awaited his bride. A truly touching ceremony followed, and as I write this now, I hope that the year they’ve shared together since has been no less magical than that string of moments. 

Of course, we danced the night away in a blur of whiskey, tear inducing speeches and sweat soaked dress shirts. Silliness ensued into the earliest hours of the morning, and we came home and promptly fell into dreams that tried their best, but failed to compare. 

The next few days were full of more hiking, celebrating and even a trip to see a man about some frogs. But soon, our friends made the dreaded trip back to real life, and David and I were left with nothing but our backpacks and a faint idea of where we were headed next. 

1. Cloud castles over Mexico
2. Getting some sun on my San Francisco skin
3. Boys throwing rocks
4. Our group with Arenal
5. And then we came out of the hot springs and could see the whole thing!
6. Healthy humans Jen and Brandon enjoying the Monteverde
7. Some cool cloud forest plants
    8. Our friend Ryan was an expert hole tickler.
    9. Jen and one of many push starts for Leslie
    10. This is how the boys celebrated
    11. Dangerous Dave at it again
    12. We cleaned up for the rehearsal dinner
    13. Sippin on some coconuts
    14. Golf cart relays
    15. Discovery Horse Tours home base
    16. Welcome to the jungle
    17. Mud friends
    18. Mud family
    19. It was so romantic, they couldn't help themselves
    20. Dreamy, right?
    21. Me and my handsome date
    22. Eric, the groom, waiting for his DESTINY!
    23. Heaven? Is that you?
    24. Mr. and Mrs. Eric Bookland, everyone!
    25. Ah yes, that is you
    26. Boys playing with their food
    27. Beautiful lanterns that almost set the forest on fire
    28. But then, they didn't
    29. Utter chaos
    30. Richard, king of the dancefloor
    31. Hiking the wedding hangover away
    32. Funguys
    33. Nature is cool, they like it.
    34. This is me taking a break from swimming
    35. A cool red frog!
    36. David waiting for our boat to Montezuma
    37. Beach babe