Ok, so it’s kind of rude of me to ask you to read my blog and not tell you anything about me, outside of my exploits in South Africa. For those of you who want to know who’s behind this blog, I am an American expat, an East Coast girl who defected to the West Coast for a few years of sun to prepare myself for further defection to southern Africa.
I am the youngest of five and have a severe aversion to doing anything my parents and siblings want me to do (marry, have kids, keep a steady job, live in a place that isn’t crawling with wildlife, etc.). While I share many of their beliefs, and I love my home country, I also really enjoy picking up and plopping myself down elsewhere. Either I can’t grow up (which is the belief of some), or I have commitment problems (which a good number of ex-boyfriends probably believe), or I’m just a wee bit different from the normal picnic (which is probably what the majority of people who know me think). Or, quite simply, I am fascinated and driven by life and learning, both of which are on display in a vivid kaleidoscope when you travel. That’s the description of me that I’m sticking with – I have a pure love of experiencing new places and rediscovering old ones, meeting new faces and notching up ridiculous experiences and face plants to share with the world.
It made sense for me to come here. I love wildlife, I love the outdoors, I love photography, and I love living outside my comfort zone. Really, what better place to go than Africa? Besides, it just sounds cool. And it makes me the cool aunt for all my nieces and nephews, which, you know, is a reason to do anything, really. I mean, if you aren’t the cool relative, you need to take another look at your life and figure out where you can extract some stability and replace it with chaos since that’s usually the ticket to being considered cool by the younger paduans in the family. And that’s usually what my life is – mildly controlled chaos. I’m sure, after reading through these blogs, you’ll likely agree.
Growing up with very conservative parents, it’s difficult to shed that controlling element, or look at anything on the other side of the political fence. It took a while for me to say, ‘Screw this,’ and just live my life without their permission. I’m sure I’m not alone in that situation. I love my folks, but we are night and day. When I hit that point of realizing that the sun doesn’t rise and set over their word, I understood I had a whole different path for myself. Well, ‘path’ wouldn’t be the right word, considering who I am. ‘Direction’ is more like it, and off I set with a machete in hand and a whole lot of bug spray. I carved – and continue to carve – my way out of nothing, probably causing them more than a few gray hairs and sleepless nights. Sorry, parental figures. But again, you have to admit you like telling your friends that your youngest daughter lives in Africa and is saving the world, one microorganism at a time.
I started out as a bio major, lived in Costa Rica for a summer doing research, and found my skills were best-served as the resident photographer, story-teller, and beer-drinker rather than the resident expert on toucans. Shortly after, I changed my major, which, considering my abysmal performance on my bio exams, seemed a wise choice. Thankfully for my parents, drinking and goofing your way through the continents was not a major on offer, not that I didn’t try. I decided to focus on the things I enjoyed and was actually skilled at, which left me with writing, design, and music. My university, while an excellent school, did not have much of an art department, so the design and music side sort of slid by the wayside, but the English department was stellar, which I swear is what landed me a job working for National Geographic while still in university. Why I ever left that position is beyond me, but you can’t tell a 21-yr-old anything, can you? So there’s where I started, writing press releases for NatGeo Television and trying to get their documentaries Emmy nods with my clever word smithery (a word that really should be in the dictionary).
From there I hit NYC for stints in advertising, casting, and PR before moving west to Los Angeles to pursue my other love, music, as well as burn off the mass I’d acquired sitting in front of a computer working for 90 hours a week. In LA, I worked a whole slew of jobs supporting my dream, including catering private events, slinging Starbuck’s coffee, selling baby clothes to the stars, and walking every else’s dogs. I also started freelance writing for some online sites, which translated into me becoming a wedding consultant and specialist (ironic, considering I cancelled my own wedding twice) for one site in particular. Glad to see the world wide web has a sense of humor.
Then I decided to visit a friend in South Africa. I went determined to work with animals as a volunteer, which I did. And it was while working on a reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal that I got trapped by a handsome ranger who roped me to the side of the Land Cruiser and refused to let me come back to the US. Joke. He didn’t really tie me up, and he didn’t take me hostage. (Home Affairs would’ve never let that happen, I promise you. They made it hard enough for me to come here on my own volition.) But he did seriously make me reconsider moving to London, which was my next step on the ‘what place shall I try next’ coaster I was already on. I figured I’d built up enough self-preservation artillery while dealing with the freakshow that is the city of professionally polished sheen, sunstroke-damaged Los Angeles, to be able to handle the wilds of Africa full-time. So I packed up what little I had and moved to South Africa. Easy peasy. Kind of.
At any rate, it was natural for me to be a writer. I always loved reading and writing. My only other skill, really, is entertaining, and I played that game for a while as a touring singer/songwriter and music label owner, but it never seemed enough. My first poem was about the plight of the California condor, complete with references about DDT. My first songwriting foray, when I was about nine, was about the plight of the oceans and how we must love them and protect them. Clearly, I was a bit beyond my years with my subject matter, and Barbie just wasn’t fulfilling my self-expressive needs. Did I really fit into LA, home of reality TV and the excesses of showbiz, when that’s how my mind is wired?
While I could’ve gotten (and did get) involved with non-profits, fund-raisers and other organizations that I believed in, I still felt as though I would be best suited for something more hands on when it comes to conservation, the environment and saving the planet from us and for us. How does writing fit into that? Well, it made sense at the time to pair my writing skills with my photography skills, so I’m sticking with that decision. Since I left the US, I’ve worked as a wildlife monitor and as a bush camp manager. Neither jobs have utilized my writing, per se, but both have used the photography. But I was not willing to give the writing side up. Because of what I’ve been doing, and the unique situation I was in, I decided to use the stories and corresponding images to start this blog. Hopefully, you find all the mosquito bites, animal encounters, and allergic reactions worth your reading time.
But really, I don’t know if I had any other choice. I hate to admit I’m really not good at doing a whole lot else when it comes to work. I am almost entirely right-brained. Logic is not logical to me. Put me in a cubicle and I start to wither at an alarming rate. Sit me in front of a computer with spreadsheets and I sweat and shake profusely. I don’t do math. I find it interesting, but sort of in that ‘huh, that’s cool and those are some really nice-looking symbols, but I have no comprehension of it whatsoever and am very glad someone else is solving the world’s math problems.’ Science is fascinating, but the only elements that stick for me are those relating to animal behavior. And Mendel and his peas. Punnett square, anyone? Chemistry? I don’t think so. The only chemistry I remember is that oxygen is made up of 2 parts hydrogen and one part oxygen and that gold, silver, and platinum are elements on the periodic table. And potassium is represented by a ‘K’. Odd the stuff you retain, isn’t it?
So here I am, living out loud, as a friend of mine likes to put it, and here you are, sharing this crazy ride with me. Thanks for coming along on my South African adventure, my friends. I hope you enjoy the escapades.
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