Emily Finds Sudden Interest In The Animal Kingdom

In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey writes, “I have no affinity for animals. I don’t hate animals and I would never hurt an animal; I just don’t actively care about them.”

Tina, I totally feel you on this. Thank you for being so honest and allowing me to feel I can finally come out of the closet regarding my Animal Indifference.

Animals are fine. I grew up on a farm. My childhood home was always overrun by dogs, cats, chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, and the occasional ox, horse, or baby deer.  I obviously think nature is awesome, and I usually consider wild animals to be much better at life than humans. It’s just that I am somewhat “meh” towards animals, as a group. Thus, I never thought I’d be interested in going on a safari. The idea of sitting in a hot 4×4 with a group of strangers, driving slowly through fields trying to spot a rhino or chasing down lions, sounds absolutely heinous/pointless to me.*

But then my colleague Matt, his partner Mandy, and I drove our rental car through Kruger National Park and…Mind: Blown.

If you want to get the thrills of the animal kingdom without pulling a Bear Grylls, drive a tiny rental car through the wilderness where you may just come face-to-fender with animals bigger than your vehicle (scary/awesome). Kruger National Park is the size of Massachusetts and has every crazy exotic African animal you can possibly think of, roaming free. We drove our baby car up and down Kruger’s red dirt roads for a day, and saw one million animals. Really. I counted.

There was definitely something cool about our self-made safari. I think it was because A) I wasn’t surrounded by tourists (I am tolerance-challenged when around other tourists – I know, the hypocrisy, WHATEVER!) and B) we found these crazy wild beasts all on our own, without the help of a guide or a radio or anything but our own eyes and Matt’s stealth-driving tactics. So, I rescind my previous comments about animals being “meh”. At least, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and water buffalo, when seen at close proximity in their natural habitat, just being totally free and huge and beastly, are very much not “meh”.

*Of course, I don’t judge people who go on safari. Just like I don’t judge people for having pets. These things are totally normal and fine activities for humans. They’re just not for me.

Photos!!!

ELEPHANT!

ELEPHANT!

Deer thingies and a wildebeest!

Impala and a wildebeest!

Cute deer-faced thingy!

Cute Impala face!

Wildebeest!

Wildebeest!

Monkeys playing with each other!

Monkeys playing with each other!

One of many phenomenal giraffe sightings! Giraffes are weird looking up close, by the way. They might be dinosaurs.

One of many phenomenal giraffe sightings! Giraffes are weird-looking up close, by the way. They might be dinosaurs.

This pond was teeming with hippos and crocs! Hippos are terrifying! So are crocs!

This pond was teeming with hippos and crocs! Hippos are terrifying! So are crocs!

Zebra! (Common statement by the end of the day: "Oh, nevermind, it's just another zebra.")

Zebra! (Common statement by the end of the day: “Oh, nevermind, it’s just another zebra.”)

Zebra and zebra baby hiding.

Baby zebra hiding behind mama zebra!

We basically drove through the Lion King(dom).

We basically drove through the Lion King(dom).

Blesbok!

Blesbok!

WARTHOG!

WARTHOG!

Blesboks in a line under clouds!

Blesboks in a line under clouds!

The last animal we saw was this elephant. We rounded a bend and there he was, munching on a giant bush, about 3 feet from our car. It was really cool until I realized he could basically just step on our car without even thinking about it. Then it was really cool and a tiny bit panicky.

The last animal we saw was this elephant. We rounded a bend and there he was, munching on a giant bush, about 8 feet from our car. It was really cool until I realized he could kill us in 5 seconds and make it look like an accident. Then it was really cool and also a tiny bit panicky.

Our giant friend.

Our giant friend.

He didn't even pay attention to us. His bush was really tasty.

He didn’t even pay attention to us. His bush was really tasty.

One serious adventure we had in Kruger was a rhino-induced traffic jam. The following slideshow tells this story. It was all very wilderness-meets-the-modern-man.

After a full day of quietly sneaking up on dangerous animals in our teensy vehicle and leaning precariously out the window to take photos, we exited Kruger and headed to a backpacker’s in Nelspruit. The next day, I left the wilderness behind in exchange for a second trip to Johannesburg and then some Cape Town exploration. But I am happy to have experienced this self-made safari. It’s possible that it was, at times, a bit…unsafe. But it’s also possible that it was worth it.

Sunset as we drove out of Kruger. You can see a giraffe silhouette in the distance. Very Southern Africa. Love love love.

Sunset as we drove out of Kruger. You can see a giraffe’s silhouette in the distance. Oh, Southern Africa. Love love love.

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Artsy, Dancey, Rainy Jozi

I spent quite a lot of time in Johannesburg, where I stayed with Heather, an amazing woman I used to work with when we both led very different lives in Washington, DC. Heather has been living in Jozi for a few years now, and is a photographer and blogger (her blog, 2summers, is all about life in Johannesburg, and is pretty awesome – check it out!).

Johannesburg after a downpour.

Johannesburg after a downpour.

The Telkom Tower and some other Jozi buildings, as seen from a Hillbrow sidewalk.

The Telkom Tower and some other Jozi buildings, as seen from a Hillbrow sidewalk.

Heather and I got into all sorts of fun shenanigans in and around Johannesburg. We filled our days with art and photography, live music, and exploration. We also spent a fair amount of time hunkering down in coffee shops playing on our blogs and Instagram, due to Jozi’s decision to torrentially rain for about half of my visit.

Part of the Jozi skyline as seen from Hillbrow.

Part of the Jozi skyline as seen from Hillbrow.

The city as seen from the Melville Koppies (Afrikaans for "hills"). One of the reasons I love Jozi is that it is the biggest manmade forest in the world, with over 10 million trees. It actually looks like a city sprouting up from a dense forest. It's awesome.

The city as seen from the Melville Koppies (Afrikaans for “hills”). One of the reasons I love Jozi is that it is the biggest manmade forest in the world, with over 10 million trees. It actually looks like a city sprouting up from a dense forest. It’s awesome.

I fell in love with Johannesburg, and I really have Heather to thank for this – she showed me so much of the city, and I got to go places and do things I would never have done if I’d been touring Jozi alone.

One day, Heather and I attended an artist's tour of her works in the city. We walked around with Hannelie Coetzee who puts up awesome installations in often dark and otherwise-unnoticed areas of Jozi. One of her works is on the wall beside this underpass, where I snapped this photo.

One day, Heather and I attended an artist’s tour of her works in the city. We walked around with Hannelie Coetzee who puts up awesome installations in often dark and otherwise-unnoticed areas of Jozi. One of her works is on the wall beside this underpass, where I snapped this photo.

Coetzee's installation near the underpass, engraved directly into the wall.

Coetzee’s installation near the underpass, engraved directly into the wall.

Another of Hannelie Coetzee's works, on the side of a butchery in Fordsburg.

Another of Hannelie Coetzee’s works, on the side of a butchery in Fordsburg.

Another of Coetzee's works was in this abandoned and burned-out city post office. It apparently took a lot of work for her to be able to bring her tour group inside, since it's dangerous and condemned. Such a cool place to go, though.

Another of Coetzee’s works was in this abandoned and burned-out city post office. It apparently took a lot of work for her to be able to bring her tour group inside, since it’s condemned. Such a cool place to go, though.

Jozi is sort of like the NYC of South Africa (or, so I hear, of Sub-Saharan Africa in general). I love NYC, but I think I might like Jozi more (gasp!) because it is just a little rougher around the edges, a little edgier, a little more…well, African. And therefore more interesting. It’s big with a big city-feel (~10 million people, skyscrapers, the works), it’s multicultural, it has tons of boroughs, each with its own eccentric claim to fame. Also in Jozi, I found places and events that were the most harmoniously diverse I’ve ever experienced. By this I mean, many places Heather and I went, and many things we did, were about equally attended by people of both black and white race – and everyone seemed to simply enjoy themselves, together. This struck me because even in multicultural epicenters like New York, you’ll almost always find far more of one race than the other at any given bar or event or show. In the US, and everywhere else I’ve been, one race tends to dominate, depending on the scene. This was very much not the case in Johannesburg. I don’t mean to imply there is no longer racial tension or race-based issues in Jozi – there are plenty. And I know the racial harmonizing I witnessed is a relatively new phenomenon in South Africa, too. However, it was an interesting, enlightening, new, and highly positive experience. It’s something I wish was easier to find in my own cities.

Heather and I attended a Vieux Farka Toure concert at Bassline. The band is from Mali, and the music and dancing were incredible. This guy was showing some Malian pride, dancing with his flag the whole time.

Heather and I attended a Vieux Farka Toure concert at Bassline (one of two live music events I attended in Jozi!). The band is from Mali, and the music and dancing were incredible. This guy was showing some Malian pride, dancing with his flag the whole time.

Sunset at an art exhibit Heather and I attended at Circa on Jellicoe, a brand new art museum in Rosebank.

Sunset at an art exhibit Heather and I attended at Circa on Jellicoe, a brand new art gallery in Rosebank. (One of two art galleries/museums I went to in Jozi! My time there really was awesome – full of creative beauty and danceable soundwaves…)

An installation at Circa on Jellicoe.

An installation at Circa on Jellicoe.

Another shot of this really awesome piece of work.

Another shot of this really awesome piece of work.

I hope that this blog post changes some opinions about Johannesburg. The city has a terrible reputation, both globally and in other parts of South Africa, for having a culture of extreme violence and for being highly dangerous for tourists as well as the people who live there. Every time I mentioned to someone – whether foreign or South African – that I had spent time in Johannesburg, the reaction was unfortunately the same: surprise, incredulity that I’d spent so much time there, shock that anyone would want to go there – and then, when I would mention how I actually fell in love with the city, the reaction shifted to disbelief and a shrugging off of my opinions: “Well…if you say so…”  This is really disappointing to me, because I feel Jozi has a lot to offer and is being harshly judged by insiders and outsiders alike, often based on events of the past that are now changing and improving in the city. There is a lot of redevelopment happening in the rougher parts of Jozi, a focus on community engagement, and a rapidly growing art scene, which is amazing and driven by highly active and wonderfully talented street artists, photographers, performers, and poets. Sure, you have to be careful. It’s a big city with its share of big problems. But it’s also full of kindness and creativity and community. Johannesburg is a place I would like to live. You should give it a chance.

Ponte City in Hillbrow. This building is an example of how one of the rougher areas is being improved. At one time, this building was hijacked by gangs. Now, it's cleaned up and becoming re-inhabited by legitimate renters, with a large community center in the bottom.

Ponte City in Hillbrow. This building is an example of how one of the rougher areas is being improved. At one time, this building was hijacked by gangs. Now, it’s cleaned up and becoming re-inhabited by legitimate renters, with a large community center in the bottom.

Streets of Hillbrow.

Streets of Hillbrow.

Hillbrow is one of the more dangerous areas of the city, but Heather and I were graciously escorted by George, her boxing coach. After Heather's boxing session in Hillbrow one morning, George walked us all around the neighborhood. Here is George and an...interesting...restaurant we found.

Hillbrow is one of the harder areas of the city, but Heather and I were graciously escorted by George, her boxing coach, who lives there and seems to know everyone. After Heather’s boxing session in Hillbrow one morning, George walked us all around the neighborhood, giving us the grand tour and sharing his knowledge of the place’s history, having grown up there. Here is George and an…interesting…restaurant we found. It has an “automatical” sliding door!

Heather is part of a group of people who are extremely talented photographers using Instagram as one medium for their pictures. They held an "instawalk" around the Ghandi Square area of Jozi, and I tagged along. My photos aren't edited in Instagram, but I like them nonetheless.

Heather is part of a group of talented photographers who use Instagram as one medium for their pictures. They held an “Instawalk” around the Gandhi Square area of Jozi, and I tagged along. My photos aren’t edited in Instagram, but I like them nonetheless.

Shot on the Instawalk.

Shot on the Instawalk.

Shot on the Instawalk.

Shot on the Instawalk.

Shot on the Instawalk. Reflections!

Shot on the Instawalk. Reflections! This building was really shiny.

Shot on the Instawalk.

Shot on the Instawalk.

Ok, I did edit this one in Instagram. @emilylime3.

Ok, I did edit this one in Instagram. @emilylime3.

Shifting gears from the Instawalk:

Fordsburg, where there are a ton of Indian restaurants and sweet shops. Fun evening out for Indian food!

Fordsburg, where there are a ton of Indian restaurants and sweet shops. Fun evening out for Indian food!

Another building I photographed in Hillbrow.

Another building I photographed in Hillbrow.

At the Lucky Bean, the only place in South Africa Heather's found iced coffee. (I found more in Cape Town, but it was more of a coffee slushy so it doesn't really count). Regardless, this coffee shop was really cool.

At Bean There Coffee Co., the only place in South Africa where Heather’s found iced coffee. (I found more in Cape Town, but it was more of a coffee slushy so it doesn’t really count).

You can buy airtime AND diapers here.

You can buy airtime AND diapers here.

Some of the city, as seen from my walk around Hillbrow.

Hillbrow exploration.

And last, another piece of random and really cool artwork on a wall at 44 Stanley.

And last, another piece of random and really cool artwork on a wall at 44 Stanley.

I heart Johannesburg.

Someone give me a job there!

I Am Not My Stuff

FYI, this is a (rare) personal-feelings-and-stuff post…

Just before my plane left Kathmandu on the evening of December 31, I said goodbye to my much-loved host family, to the biggest mountains I’d ever climbed, to five weeks of learning and sharing, and also to a ton of my belongings.

The first three months of my trip round-the-globe required warm clothes, boots, thick jackets, wool socks, hats and mittens. I was in Europe in autumn and Nepal in winter. But the next part of my adventure is taking me into the sweltering summers of the southern hemisphere – to South Africa, to Swaziland, to Southeast Asia. It’s in the 80s and 90s in these places, sun beating down on the hot earth all day long. The fact that I wouldn’t need my long sleeves anymore meant I could lose some of the weight of my hiking pack. And I also felt it was time I tried to let go of some of my sentiment and attachment to material goods.

My friend Joe just started a blog where he describes a similar urge and writes, “I am not my stuff.”  I like this statement. I am not my stuff. I am not my things. I am not defined by my clothes or my shoes or my look or, really, any of my belongings or the things I cover my body with or fill my room with or have in my bag. At least, I am working towards finding a new definition of myself, for myself, that is not at all related to any kind of “stuff”, to “having” or “not having”.

So, I shed my belongings, leaving them stacked nicely on the bathroom counter of a dilapidated Kathmandu coffee shop/guesthouse, knowing someone would eventually claim them for their own use, to hawk, or to give to someone new.

I could have left clothes I didn’t really care about, clothes I could easily replace next winter at any Goodwill store. But instead, deliberately, I left my favorite things. I did this to challenge myself, to prove to myself that no, I am not my stuff. That I don’t need my favorite things to be me or to be happy. That I really don’t need much at all.

So, I left my favorite knee-high lace-up boots that I wore all over Boston and NYC last winter, working and visiting friends and dating and walking, walking, walking my favorite city streets. I left my favorite old wool sweater that was once a very special boyfriend’s, many happy and painful memories attached to it. I left my favorite blue and red winter hat that I’d bartered for just a few weeks earlier in some mountainous Nepali village, and the woolen mittens my father gave me when I was in college. I left my favorite blue and white candy-cane-striped leggings that I’d worn to my favorite yoga classes over and over again for the past three years. I left my best purple flannel that I have had since high school. And I left my once-favorite jeans and once-favorite corduroys, both quite worn but still perfect in their own ways.

I left my stuff on the bathroom counter, paid my $2 bill, and walked out. It wasn’t easy. In fact, I am still working on “getting over” the loss of my boots. Those babies were awesome. Nevertheless, I am glad that I followed through with my (very-last-minute) plan to detach myself from my belongings. And I take comfort in a quote from one of my favorite books, in which Patti Smith writes, “There’s always new stuff, that’s for sure.”  Patti’s right. There will be new boots and new sweaters and new favorite, worn-in-just-right jeans. And maybe next time I won’t get so attached to them in the first place.

Realistically, I’ll probably forget about most of the stuff I left within the next month, and certainly by the time next fall rolls around and I pull out my remaining warm clothes from their boxes in my grandma’s basement.  And the upside is now I have room in my backpack. Room for gifts from Europe and Asia and Africa. Room for a few pieces of professional attire I’ll have to pick up before heading into Swaziland for my job. Room for lighter clothes to keep me comfortable in the intense heat I’ve just entered.

When midnight of the New Year struck, I was in the air somewhere between Nepal and South Africa. The weight of my backpack had significantly diminished, and I felt lighter, too. At the risk of sounding trite, I feel that this trip has changed me. I just feel different. I feel free of so many pressures and expectations. Yet somehow, I still feel focused and driven. This is so exciting for me, because it’s why I left the USA in the first place. I wanted to figure out how to balance my career ambitions with the rest of my life, including maintaining friendships and making art and spending time in nature and practicing yoga. Can I have both worlds? I wrote in my journal last July, after a particularly challenging week at the office. Can I have my “dream job” and all those other things at the same time? And now, I feel like I can. I feel like I can do whatever the hell I want to do and be whoever the hell I want to be. I’m by no means done with the journey, but I’m happy to be traveling and happy to be in Swaziland next week, doing the work I love with people I respect and being in a new place – still having an adventure, in one way or another. And I’m excited to figure out how to maintain a balance whenever I decide to call this backpacking thing quits.

No, I don’t think leaving my clothes in a Kathmandu coffee shop bathroom on the last day of 2012 led to any big epiphany. Months of traveling and learning a huge amount about myself, and my place in the world, are more likely responsible for the above paragraph’s revelations. But I do think that shedding my belongings contributed in a significant way to how free I feel, as I welcome the first day of 2013, alone in Johannesburg, in a different coffee shop.

IMG_6245

Happy New Year.