I'm not sure if any of you have read, Scribbling the Cat, a short story by Alexandra Fuller, but as she says in the story, you shouldn't be allowed to travel from Africa to the United States in a day. As a traveler I need time to relish in the sweet smell of burning grasses next to the road as well as the somewhat unpleasant smell of burning trash on the edges of small communities. I need time to reflect on the big smiles and outstretched arms of young children in community houses. I need time to realize the cheetahs relaxing in the shadows of the tree were real as were the rhinos foraging through the bush. And, one long plane ride, even a pro-longed 23 hour one, just isn't enough to let it all soak it!
And, one plane ride doesn't even begin to let me process the incredible group of young women traveling together as a solidified TTS22 unit. From the moment they bounded off the truck in Kruger Park to introduce themselves til the sad goodbyes in the airport parking lot, these girls astounded me with their curiosity, intelligence and dedication to get to know everyone as an individual to form unique and lasting friendships.
From Megan's gregarious personality, ready to conquer every activity with an enthusiastic cheer to Emilee's quieter, go get 'em approach, this group is unique. While walking into town one afternoon, I learned Peri is named after the periwinkle color and that she finds clarity through drawing. Game driving through Kruger, I witnessed Ariela's love of photography and Hannah's dedication to films and creating a documentary of the trip. The rafting adventure gave me time to chat with Lindsay about her enthusiasm for sports as we paddled our duckie through the rocky rapids. And although she claimed to be a novice ultimate frisbee player, she quickly caught on and guarded Anne, a nimble and natural athlete, during the first game in Waterval Boven. Anne's athletic prowess is a side-note to her dreams of obtaining an international political degree. Natalie and Mara could be mistaken for sisters with their curly black hair, contagious laughter and interest in the world around them.
Rock climbing outside of Waterval Boven let me witness the camaraderie of the group as they cheered one another up the rock face. Molly quickly picked up a belay line and guided many of the girls up the routes. Although Molly loves climbing, this was her first outdoor climbing experience, and her smile spread from ear to ear all day long. Mara hesitated at first to be the first one up the most difficult climb, but with some cheers, she roped up and scampered up the crag like a pro! Julianna also questioned the rock, and noticed the seemingly lack of hand and footholds, but after Brenna gave her a pep talk, she mastered every climb - doing a couple twice. Emilee was quick to follow the cheers and scampered to the top of the rock to enjoy the view of the valley. With a high five and a smile at the bottom, she sighed, "well that wasn't so bad," and hopped in line for another route.
The rock climbing day was followed by a day of hiking and abseiling. At the beginning of the hike, Megan and I shared soccer stories about traveling for sports and thoughts of being a collegiate athlete. After a short break and a change up of hiking buddies, Eleanor and I clamored up and over tree roots and skipped from rock to rock to keep our feet dry, all the while I learned about her childhood mud fights and her peaceful protests about clothing rules as a grade schooler. After a quick swim under a waterfall, at the top of the hike, I wandered out through a dry river bed with Maeve and learned about her dedication to nordic skiing and her goal of hiking all the peaks in the Appalachians, which happen to practically be in her backyard. At the end of the day, I watched Kat nervously tiptoe to the edge of the rock before the abseil and turn back to the group with a giggle and a salute to have fun and enjoy the ride.
I sat with Sarah while we enjoyed our first sudza dinner and learned about her passion for playing the violin. (She even convinced me to pick mine back up this fall - to fall back in love with making music and enjoying the simple melodies that four strings can make.) Afterwards, we laughed with Anna, "Bird," about how fun it was to eat dinner with our hands while trying new foods. Throughout my stay, Bird continued to make me laugh with stories from home.
And that was all outside of the "actual classrooms" - during classes I was amazed at each girl's ability to connect various concepts and question themes with a deeper awareness of their learning. I watched the math concepts class exclaim as they received their game of life characters and then try to alter their situations to start their practice road to economic success. Science class was always energetic, discussing the animals during game drives, the reasoning for prescribed burns and often having a "TREE! Break" or "FROG! Break" or "SPIDER! Break".
I questioned a Friday night History class at 6:15 PM - Sarah told the girls they needed hoodies and a head lamp and had to be on the back porch not even 10 seconds late. Hmm... let me remind you dusk in Africa is an amazing settling of colors that fades away as the brilliantly red sun quickly hides behind the horizon. The dusk to sunset moments take my breathe away - and last about that long too. So, it is already quite dark at 6:15 pm. And, so the history class commences in the dark and negotiations begin in a secret ANC meeting about how to end apartheid. Listening from below the deck, I hear whispers raise to exclamations during the debate and nervous thoughts about what methods should be pursued. And, when the class/ mock ANC meeting ended, I heard more than one girl exclaim "I really didn't believe learning could be this much fun..."
And they continued to discuss the endless apartheid questions throughout dinner... yes a Friday night... and no, dinner doesn't count as class.
These are only a few hints about your amazing daughters and the community they have created. I can't say enough about how naturally they have come together and empowered one another to be leaders. Each gal is unique and she is finding the space to share her knowledge, passion and questions. They have opened up about struggles and hardships and through these tender conversations, they have created bonds deeper than many of their oldest friendships.
And I haven't even mentioned the teachers - WOW! Each is passionate about her work as an educator, outdoorsmanship and traveler. Their classes are inspiring because they are genuinely interested in the students and the material. I often found myself taking notes because I wanted to know more. They recognize the power of the global community and are transmitting its complexities your daughters.
Now back in Bozeman, I am finally recovered from my jetlag. I've been sharing stories of my adventure and am constantly reminded of the amazing experience TTS offers. I am also weeding through the 600+ photos and will have an album to share in the next few days.
Enjoy your Monday!