Remembering To Be Thankful (My First Safari!)

(I just read an article called, “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind” and it was a wonderful wake-up call that even though I find what’s happening in the US to be devastating, it’s not what I have to think about 24/7.

Confession time: I wake up every morning and I log onto Facebook or Twitter or scroll through new articles from the New York Times, the Atlantic, or the Washington Post. And 9.5 times out of 10, the news this past week has been bad.

Of course, I’m heartened by the 5 million members of our international community who took a stand against Trump and everything he stands for. Of course, I’m thrilled to be from Minnesota, so I can be represented by Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar – who understand the importance of education, women’s reproductive rights, civil rights, diversity, religious freedom, environmental justice…the list goes on.

But also, being outraged is exhausting. So…I’m going to take advantage of the fact that Chandler and I decided to leave the United States. No, when we left last July, we never could have foreseen how far our nation would fall, but we weren’t exactly happy there either.

But here, in Accra, our lives are good. And I shouldn’t tell myself that’s something to be ashamed of. And it doesn’t detract from the positive things I’ve been able to do for the movement: march, send postcards, and email. I’m still working on the whole phone call thing : )

So I’ve decided I don’t have to live every moment outraged. Instead, I can live in the moment and be grateful for past, current, and future experiences. Including our trip to Mole National Park with my sister this Christmas. We had plenty of ups and downs getting there and back, but our time at Zaina Lodge was incredible.

I’m currently reading a book by Frans de Wall called Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? And even spending a week near them has further convinced me that only ignorance on the part of humans could lead us to believe that animals aren’t incredibly intelligent.

Take elephants, for example. They will leave food they’re interested in if it’s out of reach to find a box/stone, kick it back over to the food, stand on it, and eat. They return to water holes hundreds of kilometers apart year after year. They use dirt/sand as sunscreen/bug repellant. Female elephants will charge to protect an infant, even if it isn’t their own. They mourn and “bury” their dead. They work together – something humans could learn a thing or two from.

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I’m sure you can tell, the elephant was my favorite visitor of the trip : ) But we saw other incredible animals at Mole, including baboons, vervet monkeys, and patas monkeys. Monkeys have long been considered intelligent in the scientific community: their ability to use and even make tools, problem-solving capabilities, facial recognition, and more.

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Elephants in Mondulkiri

Conceptually, I like staying awake during bus rides – that way I can see the countryside. But in reality, staying awake usually just means getting carsick. We recently went on a trip to Sen Monorom (the largest town in Mondulkiri, with a population of around 7,000). Lonely Planet describes the road between Phnom Penh and Sen Monorom as “in fantastic shape, including some impressive bridges across the deep river valleys.” That’s wrong – incredibly wrong.

In reality, the road has been mostly worn away – nearly everywhere. Sure, there were a couple of patches of smooth sailing, but I can guarantee that nearly every road I drove on in Ethiopia was in better condition than this one (and that is not a recommendation of Ethiopian roads!).

Additionally, I thought Ethiopians were some of the craziest drivers I had ever encountered, but I am now convinced that Cambodians have them beat. The journey takes large buses anywhere from 8 to 10 hours, Jack (I’ll introduce him later) said it takes him about 6 hours in his truck…it took our minibus 4 hours and 45 minutes.

We arrived into town with rumbly stomachs, but surprisingly, I was feeling well. I say surprisingly, because I never feel well stepping off a bus. But this time, I decided to keep my eyes closed as much as possible. Yes, it meant missing the countryside, but it also meant that I was refreshed and off to a good start for our first afternoon in Sen Monorom (a good thing, since we had a day and a half there).

Sen Monorom is the first town we’ve gone to on our SE Asia trip where we didn’t pre-book a hotel room. Normally, we’ll find something online and book directly through their website or via booking.com. This time, however, our first-choice hotel didn’t have a website, or a booking account, or a phone number they answered. So we showed up in town and began wandering.

We were looking for Phanyro Guesthouse (at $8 a night with air-con and hot water, how could we go wrong?), but were having a few difficulties finding it. We’ve pretty much survived this trip by getting sim cards in each country with 3G and constantly using Google Maps. But we arrived in Phnom Penh during a national holiday and found about 90% of all shops to be closed for the week – including cell companies. Eventually, our powers of deduction kicked in and we followed a couple of poorly placed signs to the guesthouse.

We checked out the room, which had been freshly cleaned, and decided it didn’t matter that the advertised air-con didn’t exist, because Sen Monorom is easily the chilliest place we’ve been during the course of this trip. After returning from dinner, we found fresh droppings scattered throughout the room and spent a rather fitful night trying to get some sleep. A mosquito net would have aided us greatly, alas, the room didn’t have one.

Finally, the next morning arrived. Which brings me to the point of all of this, the reason we were in Sen Monorom in the first place: elephants. Mondulkiri is known for elephants (the region has the largest population of both wild and domesticated in Cambodia) and there are tons of riding/trekking options in the area. We, however, were there for one very specific program: The Elephant Valley Project.

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My Ethiopian Bucket List

I’m not one for bucket lists, really I’m not – I haven’t even seen the movie : ) But in my head I’ve started making a list of the things I want to do/accomplish in Ethiopia (outside of the incredible things I’ll be doing with the Peace Corps of course!).

  1. Pet a baby elephant – if you know me, you know I’m obsessed with elephants! I don’t even know if Ethiopia has many…
  2. Climb the Semien Mountains, preferably up to Ras Dashan, the highest peak in Ethiopia. Will I survive? We’ll see.
  3. Write – not the next great American novel…I don’t even think I want to write a book, I just want to write, weekly, if not daily. We’ll see how motivated I am!
  4. Get over my fear of spiders. I’m 22 for goodness sake. And they’re just bugs.
  5. Learn to cook a truly Ethiopian meal – and have it taste good!

I’m sure I’ll come up with a million and one things to do in addition to these…but it’s a start! T-20 days until I reach Ethiopian soil!