Friday, April 8, 2011

It's a Bird, It's a Plane...Nope, It's Definitely a Bat

(Written on 3/14/2011 from Plettenberg Bay, South Africa)
Saying goodbye is harder and harder with every stop.  The departure from Katie's village was a teary one and Mama (Katie’s host mom) actually cried when we hoisted our backpacks onto our shoulders and gave a saddened “salani kahle” or “stay well.”  In Zulu culture it’s not common to cry, and showing any emotion like anger or sadness is rare.  Knowing this, Katie and I were shocked at Mama’s reaction.  We witnessed her vulnerability, and her capacity for such immense love in such a short time as she said goodbye to one of her “American daughters” whom she had only known for 2 weeks. 
I was touched and at the same time crushed.  For some reason it was more difficult than my other departures – perhaps because I doubt that I will ever make it back to Isandlwana once Katie leaves (unless she marries one of her Zulu admirers, which I know wouldn't happen because she loves her shoe collection at home far too much - no wonder we're such good friends).  Or perhaps because although I’ve received amazing hospitality from everybody – the Zulu people’s generosity is astounding.  The things they have given me (food, gifts, etc.) require personal sacrifice - and they wouldn’t have thought twice about it.  Another example of Ubuntu.
Over the last few nights we watched “Generations” (think Zulu version of Days of our Lives) with Katie’s family on a fuzzy TV as we all squished together on their small couch.  On the last night Mama gave me a traditional Zulu bracelet – a gift that I will treasure forever.  For them, this was a huge sacrifice and I was overwhelmed.  This is far more meaningful than any imbuzi bracelet; it was the most perfect gift I could have asked for. 

My last night with Katie's family
On our last night, after nearly a week of hobbling around on a bad foot due to a flesh eating infection, I started taking antibiotics.  We’re fairly certain that I caught the same infection Katie had – I mean, after all we were living in confined spaces sharing nearly everything (including infections – ew).  I'll spare you the details and pictures – but seriously, you can’t expect to go to rural Africa and not contract some sort of virus or bacteria.  I consider myself lucky that my pharmacist armed me with drugs before I left. J
In addition, I had a weird rash that we were hoping wasn't Scabies.  I should really stop reading WebMD.  So I took some Benadryl to see if it would help.  Right as we were finishing packing at 2:30 AM I was beat tired and the Benadryl was kicking in.  I flopped onto the blow up mattress and threw the blanket over me. 
As I was dozing in and out I heard something flapping near my face – perhaps a moth or bee.  I asked Katie, “Do you hear that flapping sound?” 
She responded, “It’s probably a bird or a bat.  It’s probably right outside the house.”
Quick to confirm I said, “You’re sure it’s not inside, right?  It’s really loud.”
Katie, “Nah, go back to sleep.”
30 seconds pass….
Katie: “OH MY GOOOSHSHSHHH….it’s a BAT and it’s IN the room.  INSIDE the room.”
In a state of panic she flicked on the “mood lighting” (battery operated Christmas lights that Katie’s mom sent her and were strung by her bed).  From inside her mosquito net (nice and protected) she started screaming and bolted out of the room.
Katie: “It is IN the NET, it is IN the NET!!!”
In my own panic, I ducked under my blankets – covering my head since clearly there wasn’t a mosquito net to protect me. “Are you CERTAIN?!!!”
Now Katie was seeking asylum behind the door in the kitchen peeking in every once in a while to see what was going on.  Every time the bat flew near the door she would quickly slam it shut and leave me huddled under the blanket like the lone warrior left behind to fight the battle.  Thanks to my mom’s constant warnings about the usefulness of flashlights while travelling, I actually had one with me in my bed.
So when Katie would report “Bat by wall” then I would poke my head out, armed with my flashlight, and try to use my best MacGyver tricks to try to get the bat out of the house.  Shaking the mosquito net he was walking around on didn’t work, and Katie armed with a bucket and a broom also didn't end well. 
Every time I ducked back under the blankets I felt myself dozing off.  The Benadryl was definitely still working its magic.  And then Katie would call from behind the door, “Annie.  ANNIE!!!!  What about if we turn out the light then maybe the bat will fly out?""
Annie: "Katie, bats don't see.  They use sonar."
Katie: "Sonar.  Right.  What's that again?"
Annie: "Basically like bouncing sound off of places to detect the distance."
Katie: "So...hypothetically speaking, if I blew the blow horn Peace Corps gave me - "
Annie: "Bad idea, Kate.  Bad idea."
After about an hour of back and forth and watching the clock tick down, fearing the sun was about to come up, we decided we needed a new strategy.  Unfortunately Katie and I aren’t the most well equipped for missions like this.  Her dad once asked us in high school when he was helping us with a physics projects to build a catapult, “WHY do you always insist on being partners?  Don’t you have any guys in your class??”
Jim was right – we definitely could have used a “manly man” in this situation.  But since we didn’t have one on hand the best plan we could come up with was cowering like little girls under our blankets and hoping to hell the bat would find its own way out through the thatched roof.  It was a fairly anticlimactic ending to an eventful night.
The next morning (2 hours later) when our alarms went off Katie admitted, “I only felt safe to go back to sleep because at least I was under a blanket AND a mosquito net.  You were only under a blanket.”  She’s a good friend.
The next morning, without a bat in sight, we headed off to Durban.  When we arrived it was hot, humid, and not fit for somebody travelling with the equivalent of 3 small children on their back.  It was the longest 20 minute trek I’ve had in a long time (one bag on the back, one on front, and one in hand), and when we arrived at the hostel I could have easily wrung my clothes out from all the sweat...and desperately needed a chiropractor.
Thankfully, I was about to experience my first real shower in 2 weeks.  It. Was. Amazing.  Being able to stand instead of crouch in a bucket has some definite advantages.  In addition, there was stream a of clean water springing from above.  You mean I don’t have to splash my “shampoo” water up on my body to rinse off my “soap water?!”  Ahhhhhhh….to quote Outkast, I felt "so fresh and so clean.”
Well aware of the approaching sunset, Katie started planning our evening, "If sun sets at 6:30 we should hurry to go to dinner so we can get back before it's dark."  I reminded her that in cities, there are streetlights.  And then it dawned on us both, “Wow, we really didn’t have to be back before 6:30 PM.”  Excited as we were to stay out “late” we still headed out for dinner since Katie needed to satiate her appetite for Mexican food.  Mind you, this is the girl who asked me to hand carry cilantro for her from the U.S.  After being stopped by every Customs agent in every country, I hope that crap is worth it. 
After a magical dinner (burritos and salad), a 15 hour bus ride to Port Elizabeth, and numerous entertaining stories, we were all of a sudden (or so it seemed like) at a car rental counter.  Whoever thought it was a good idea to give the 2 of us keys to a rental car for 5 days obviously didn't know us.  Since nobody was stopping us, we struck out on the open road – on the left side.  The most difficult part about switching sides while driving wasn’t actually driving on the left side – but the orientation of the driver to the side of the road.  Katie and I (as the passenger to the driver) would take turns yelling “drifting left, DRIFTING LEFT!” but after a few practice drives around town we were fairly comfortable and ready for our road trip to Cape Town.
Katie driving on the left side of the road
We picked up our laptops and headed to a café down the road – for some serious abuse of their WiFi.  We had both lunch and dinner at this place as we caught up on emails, Facebook (obviously), blogs, and friends.  We even had time to Skype our best friend Jess.  And to our pleasant surprise (and shock) she broke the news that we’re going to be aunties!  We chatted, and laughed, and joked about what our lives would be like now that there would be a new addition to the crew. 
Jess was glowing – just like they say expecting mothers do.  And we were so happy to hear the news.  Afterward Katie and I joked about how “far behind” we sometimes feel.  Katie said, “Man, when we go to our 10 year high school reunion Jess will be married, with an adorable baby.  And I’ll just be getting back from Africa, readjusting to life in America, most likely still socially awkward from being used to living like a Zulu, living at home with my parents, and with few prospects for a job.  I can’t be the only single, unsuccessful person there.  Annie, you better come with me.”
I told Katie thanks for her confidence in me that I’ll still be single and unsuccessful in 2 years.  And although we joked about it – I then set her straight about her success and how envious everyone will be of her amazing experiences in South Africa (even though she’s right….she will still be living 5 minutes from our high school.  And I probably will be too).
We left the internet café feeling high on life – with good news from back home that our friends and family were all well.  And then I started to think about the whole 10 year reunion thing...
Do you ever feel pressure about where you are headed because of the successes of your peers?  Sometimes I freak myself out thinking about where I thought "I would be in 5 years."  I always hated that interview question - seriously, I'm not a fortune teller (okay, admittedly my parents own a fortune cookie factory, but still). 
I haven't had a successful relationship, I haven't found my dream job, I'm not the President of a Fortune 500 company, I haven't summited Everest (okay...that wasn't on the list), and I'm definitely not ready for kids of my own.  Somewhere along the way I feel like somebody accidentally put a "detour" sign on my road of life.  It's not a bad thing - it's just different than what I thought.  I'm constantly in search of what it is that I want for myself, versus what I feel like I want for myself because that's what society tells me.  I encourage you to question deeply the things that you "want."  Do you want them because you truly want them?  Or do you want them because you've been so programmed to want them? 

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