Global Girl: Africa is under my skin

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Guest blogger Jess Shuwalow took time out bumping around Africa to share her experience with us. You’re gonna love it…

I’ve always had an intimate longing to visit and experience Africa, it’s a must before Indie.

I’m not sure if it was when I first watched The Gods Must Be Crazy as a kid that ignited this desire, but for as long as I can remember it’s been there. Now I’m finally here.  Before I left, one of my South African friends said to me ‘you’re going to love it there! Africa gets under your skin.’

For this visit (my first) I went with the security of a tour group for the majority (although I’ve always been adamant I’d never do a tour). It’s a love hate relationship with this truck ‘Roy’ that we live on for most of the tour.

Hate – for the fact I came here to visit and experience this grand mystical continent I’ve dreamed of, but the hours upon hours, and then some, we spend on this truck I feel like I’m just visiting and observing, with little experience opportunities, and it’s creating an even greater desire to be in Africa.

Love – for the fact that through these enduring hours spent travelling on the truck I become absorbed into the gravity and overwhelming grandeur of Africa and see each great country (so far Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia) for the first time. And then, there’s the unique and deep moments and connections you have when you over enthusiastically wave back and forth with the children of Africa and the villagers as you pass through their town. It sounds cheesy, but I believe there is a reciprocated intense curiosity and fulfilment as you eagerly wave, smile and your eyes connect. Two worlds and lives colliding. Then this is sometimes heightened further when ‘Roy’ slows down enough that you get the opportunity to pass books, pens, balls and food out the window to your new fleeting, but eternal friends.

It’s safe to say the people, the beauty of the countryside and the mystery and rawness of Africa has indeed gotten under my skin!!! And yesterday I had my first ‘pinch me’ moment that I’d been chasing since I touched down in Africa.

Seeing the animals of Africa was not a priority for me on this visit, but when I woke at 5am for a game drive through Luangwa National Park and just a couple of hours later saw my first lion, things started to happen.

On the way back just outside the entrance to our campsite we were graced by a family of elephants, somewhat angry ones. Many of this family were missing their tusks, a once unique trend that is becoming rather common, and one which I coincidentally just watched a documentary on recently. It’s believed to be a clever genetic occurrence as a protective measure.

Sitting at the bar that afternoon, which merges with and overlooks the Luangwa river that is home to hundreds of noisy hippos, it was if Noah had just berthed his arc around the corner and one by one across the river hippos, crocodiles, impalas, giraffes, elephants and more appeared.

This is one ‘pinch me moment’that hit me loud and clear.

The day was topped off by a sunset game drive where we bashed through the bush chasing the infamous leopard. This day was made all the more incredible by BJ (Big Joseph), our guide who’s passion and love for his job is so infectious.

‘Wow’ he would say every time we saw an animal as though it was his first time seeing it…

 

Girl in the City: Pants Optional

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Its every Girl in the City’s prerogative to turn her back on a sunny day, sit on her couch with no bra on, take on a Sex and The City marathon and bemoan the latest disappointment in her love life.

When I was a teenager, I was clinically predisposed to Severe Acute Broken Heart-itis. Rejection, betrayal, unanswered phone calls and unrequited love all brought me undone more easily than was probably considered normal on the spectrum of teenage love and loathing.
Cue the soppy love song mixed tapes, frenzied journal writing, diving under the doona and hiding in a sea of self-pity for the weekend, only emerging at the insistence of gal pals and a patient mother who would nurture me back to a standing, rational and functional young woman with a combination of ice cream, girly rom-coms and ego-boosting.
As a grown up, Severe Acute Broken Heart-itis is still a sad and unavoidable reality for many of us. Whether girls in the city are dating, divorcing, reconnecting or jumping back into the game for the first time since they were in an 8AA bra, falling in and out of love is a natural part of the journey back to loving and equitable relationships.
For those who need to indulge in a little woe-is-me, here’s my grown up Girl in the City guide to therapeutic wallowing for love fools based of course entirely on personal experience and Cool Kid focus groups.
Step 1: Take off your pants.
You know those movies where the bloke walks around his apartment in his Y-fronts? Whether your girly version is bridget jones style granny pants or ex-lover’s boxers, strip down to ’em and try it for yourself.
Its incredibly liberating, particularly if you’re planning to dive into a tub of ice-cream. bag of dorritos or local Thai pad see-ew. (Rookies beware: put your pants back on before going out to pick up the Thai food).
Step 2: Take on a marathon.
No, you won’t need your runners, this is a long haul of romcom-porn to bring on the tears, get the laughter bubbling back up or otherwise divert your heart and mind from the heartache at hand. Whether it’s the box set of Seinfeld, Sex and the City or something more hard hitting like Breaking Bad or House of Cards, whatever uplifts your mood is your scheduled viewing for the weekend.
Step 3: Let music make it better.
Highly vibrational music like dance remixes are going to boost your mood, get you off the couch and dancing around your lounge room (pants still optional).
More reflective tunes, like on Adele’s latest album or even a Taylor Swift offering, are going to help the tears flow, releasing all the tension and negative feelings, washing you clean of the doldrums and ready to get back on the horse again.
Rookies: You’ll need both.
Step 4: Let your gal pals in.
As irresistible as it can be to draw the blinds, turn off your phone and keep your closest mates out, your friends are not only the ones who know you best, but who can provide a broader perspective that stops you blowing your heartbreak out of proportion.
When they break into your building and bang the door down, let them in.
Step 5: Put your pants back on and get over it
Whilst the deepest heart ache feels it will never fade, it will.
The sun will come up tomorrow and you will put one foot in front of the other and move on with your life.
You will fall in love again, you will get hurt again and you will continue to live a beautiful and meaningful life regardless of your relationship status.
Put on your big girl pants, some lipstick and heels and strut back out into the world again.
Oh, and remember. Pants Optional isn’t just for doona days. Lazy Sundays, slow Friday nights and cheeky date nights are other great opportunities to whittle down to basics and let it all hang free.

Girl in the City: Here comes the sun

 

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2016’s first sunrise and the start of something beautiful

I started my year with the intention of living unconventionally. Breaking habits, rethinking routines and committing to living a meaningful, interesting life. Not that I hadn’t lived with purpose up until now. Au contraire. But on the back of My Twelve Months of Hell, I made a conscious decision to take control of the controllable and find peace with the mechanics of existence that were outside my control.

And so the first day of My Year of FuNconventional Living this Girl in the City dragged herself out of bed to watch the sunrise.
It didn’t occur to me at the time – perhaps because I was dog tired and mildly hungover – but it was the first sunrise I’d seen in a long time.
Discounting the ones seen from a 747 – which are glorious, but incidental when you take the red eye across continents – the only two that spring to mind were in truly exceptional and glorious circumstances. The first was in Rio De Janeiro where I watched the first sunrise of a new millennium, watching the epic New Year’s Day clean up squad raking garbage off one of the world’s most famous strips of sand and surf. The second was to gain a first glimpse of that marvellously tall rock, Mount Everest, on a trek to Base Camp, where despite freezing temperatures and weariness from altitude and days of hiking, I found an inner peace that has never left me but still takes my breath away when I cast my mind back that far to recall it.
What made my first sunrise of the year – and recent decades – particularly special was the company with which I spent it. An avid sunrise lover admiring of the power and beauty of the sun and how it is reflected in the ocean and the sky of each new day, his enthusiasm was contagious.
Sitting waiting for that golden orb to break through the clouds floating on the horizon, I’d become impatient (girl, look around you, you’re sitting on one of the best pieces of coastline in the world, blue-eyes-and-dimples by your side, enjoy the moment!).
The rays of the sun (I swear I’d never noticed them before) would start reaching up into the sky like little fingers probing an expansive fluffy pie, spreading hues of pinks and pale yellow as far as the eye could see. If I watched it long enough, I swear I saw the sun slowly lifting, painstakingly making it’s way up, up and away on it’s daily journey (a bit like me getting out from under the covers of a morning).
Then… Bam!… it was up, and the Summer day was upon us, stinging our cheeks and our backs with its building warmth.
So I caught the sunrise love bug, but Summer time sunrises unfold around 6am, so despite my best intentions, each morning when my alarm went off there would be a battle in my mind as sleepy head tried to win over heart (and usually won).
If I could manage to swing my legs out of bed and get my feet to hit the floor, I could generally get dressed and out the door to the pavement or the car, depending on where I was taking in the morning glory.
In the dying days of Summer, when the sun would come up at the latest time in the season, I  decided to do a whole week of sunrises, each day at a different vantage point near the coast.
No matter where, how or with whom I did it, the meaning I found was the same…
The smells of a waking kitchen, with first toast toasting and the firing up of the espresso machine; the rumble of urban hum slowly building from hushed morning tones to contained chaos; the moving palette of surfers, runners, meditators, news browsers, dog walkers and companions; the fits and getting fitters; the lovers and the loners; those seeking comfort and peace in company or solitude; the serendipity of running into friends and acquaintances.
And what I learned was…
How optimistic I am so early in the day, before my mind has become clouded and hurried by the routine of the day ahead; how magical it feels to experience the power of a sun that is warm and brings light without fail, even when the skies are cloudy; and how unexpectedly I have to resist the urge to stay all day, admiring the simple yet miraculous beauty of life.
And as Summer turned to Autumn, I manage to take in the sunrise most days.
I’m not inherently a morning person, much preferring to enjoy the still of the night, but I cannot deny that the week of sunrises brought me a peace and calmness that I never found in yoga and meditation (be still, wandering mind!), a better night’s sleep (well, of course, the night owl in me became exhausted!) and an optimism that I feared My Twelve Months of Hell had sucked me dry of.

Girl in the City: Anais in my day

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I can’t remember what drew me to Anais Nin but in my adult life her quotes and writing have been a constant source on inspiration.

A prolific writer and deep thinker, her timeless quotes invoke deep thought, brighten moods and can sometimes help make sense of a chaotic universe.

Here are some of my favourites, guaranteed to get you through the day whether it’s good, bad or damn ugly.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

My all-time FAVE quote. Use this when you need courage to take a risk, comfort that straying from the familiar is OK and as a daily reminder that growth, whilst often painful, is a necessity of living a meaningful life.

Ordinary life does not interest me.

A kick-up-the-proverbial quote. Use this to get you off the mouse wheel, the predictable and mediocre and make every minute of every day mean something.

Maybe it’s not about the happy ending. Maybe its about the story.

Days will be tough. People will be in your life for reasons and seasons, but isn’t that all part of the journey? Use this to reflect as things go wrong or don’t turn out as you expected.

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Oh sigh! Use this to keep appreciating those in your life who bring you joy, who sleep next to you and who make you see all the beauty in the universe like no-one ever has before.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage

Use this when you’re planning your day, your year or your decade. Dream big, do big.

I am only responsible for my own heart. You offered yours up for the smashing, my darling. Only a fool would give out such a vital organ.

Oh Anais you genius! Use this to remind you when guilt, shame, sorrow and any other self-torture has you ugly crying on the floor of the shower feeling like the worst person in the world that everyone is responsible for their own emotional responses to the twists and turns of life.

My life is slowed up by thought and the need to understand what I am living.

Ah the present moment. Use this when you’ve lost touch with the moment, when you feel life is passing you by, when your chest aches because it feels like you haven’t actually breathed in weeks. Use this to appreciate the beauty in every moment of life.

That is all.

The village of the brave and courageous

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Someone asked me recently what I mean when I refer to my village and my tribe.

It’s a new thing that’s crept into my vernacular from the people I surround myself with.

But it’s also a new philosophy I’ve adopted having been myself adopted by my village.

When I found myself not only a fish out of water but out of every aspect of my normal life, a village formed around me.

It didn’t happen in a structured, formal or even visible way, but suddenly I found myself with trusted advisors -my tribe – at every turn.

Whatever I needed, be it a temporary inflatable mattress, company late on a Wednesday night or a good hard talking to, the tribe was there, inviting me into the village where I’d be safe, respected and nurtured until I got back on my feet.

“But how did that actually happen?” my inquisitor pressed.

Well, if it takes a village to raise a child, and a child typically trusts those who promise to care for them without suspicion of motive or fear of being let down, well I was the metaphorical child, who literally allowed people to nurture and care for me in my time of greatest need.

Like a village, there are elders – those with wisdom, who shared great stories and provided valuable counsel based on their own experiences.

Like a village, there are rituals – when we come together to celebrate milestones, important occasions and events.

And like a village, during times of joy and sorrow, everyone comes together to uplift and support their tribe.

Most importantly, and unlike the innocent metaphorical child, I set out to find a village where I truly belonged. After decades of never quite fitting in, adopting a (failed) “fake it till you make it” mentality and much soul searching, I finally arrived in my village.

The village of the brave and courageous.

These bros and sistas are high on energy, generosity, creativity, productivity and spirit. If we were African animals, I’d say we have similar spots and stripes and have the same ideas about hunting, gathering and making our time on the savannah mean something.

Their courage and bravery means they explore new frontiers, they live in the moment and they’re rarely afraid to stick their neck out even though it means they may end up hurt.

It not only takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to make a woman, a man, and their collective tribe into the very best they can be.