I saw an Instagram post by awesomeness herself, Elizabeth Gilbert announcing that she’d be teaching one section of a course that Martha Beck was having. I thought for approximately two point nine seconds before deciding to take it. After all, what did I have to lose? Why not see what an online course was like? What else am I doing on Tuesdays from 1-2:30 that I can’t do on Wednesdays from 1-2:30?
Well. Well, well, well. What a fucking thing. The course is offered in three sections. The first being called “Truth.” Now, I am a pretty truthful, warts-here-for-your-viewing- pleasure-tell-it-like-it-is kind of girl, but what I learned from this five week dive, is that the more truthful you are, the better your writing will connect to someone.
It’s not like I haven’t experienced this right here on this blog. It’s not like when I teach advertising students, I don’t teach them about “the compelling emotional truth” and how that’s what you gotta have in an ad to make people connect. It’s not like I haven’t been doing this my whole life (Jesus, someone help me throw out those whiney, but truthful journals stashed upstairs in the third floor closet).
BUT, see Martha has secrets. I mean, they’re not like secrets she won’t tell. And she did, and this woman is brilliant, and skilled and experienced at driving a big-ass four wheel SUV through your pretense. She forced our hands to grab big chunks of our deepest selves. With “I never thought of it that way” examples that had me all like, “HOLY FUCKING SHIT,” and homework that was like having a few therapy sessions, she showed me new ways to getto the truth. This was the money shot for me–that there are like a bajillion avenues, blocked roads and tiny little paths that can lead you to find the real stuff that lives inside your most guarded areas, and if you can uncover those, and put them to paper (or computer screen), you’ve got something BIG, something that other people will read because it WILL BE TALKING TO THEM. Because they have all those protected places too, so they’ll understand. IT’S THE LANGUAGE OF TRUTH. And t’s like any language–you have to study it to learn it, you have to practice, and it takes real time to become fluent.
So, did I know all this before the class, yes. I knew the truth was the thing. I did. I knew that. BUT THIS IDEA THAT THERE ARE MANY WAY TO GET TO THE TRUTH, WHICH WILL TAKE YOU TO THE TRUTHIER TRUTH, THAT’S WHAT I LEARNED.
Also, I learned that people are amazingly resilient. And that many of them signed up for this course! An online community is an extraordinary thing. The kind of love that’s shown to people is palpable. I really can’t believe the tenderness you can feel for someone you have never met in person, and who only lives in Facebook photos and words. There is only one word for it and that is lovely.
Tomorrow is the Elizabeth Gilbert class, which is the whole reason I signed up for this class to start with. But she couldn’t be better than what I’ve experienced in these last four classes. All hail Martha Beck and all the LightWriters. Gratitude, guys. This was a big bowl of pasta with garlic, olive oil and a generous heaping of parmesan, bread and butter on the side, for me. In other words, heaven.
I went on a jam-packed two week trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar, and I thought I would be able to blog, on not one, but two blogs while I was there.
That so did not happen (but you already know that). Between our schedule being rigorous, and the internet service, and my computer telling me my start-up disc was full, which didn’t allow me to download my pictures, and the runs, and general exhaustion, blogging was just impossible.
But my gratitude meter was on! Like, SO ON.
This trip was extraordinary on 1,394,571,398 levels.
It was the first time I had ever visited a third world country, and it didn’t disappoint in terms of BLOWING MY MIND RIGHT OUT OF MY HEAD. There are pockets of poverty that are unimaginable. I started to feel like I was in a Sally Strothers Save the Children commercial. This is a heavily populated Muslim area, so women wear hijab, and their colorful mix of patterns against the dingy, dark colors of downtown Dar es Salaam was especially stunning. (The way the weather hit my hair making it look look like so many dry cornfields we saw later in our trip, I considered pretending to be Muslim for a few weeks, with all due respect, of course).
Here are some sort of random pics of the trip. I have yet to sift through my almost 1,000 photographs!
The city of Dar is a chaotic mix of commerce and traffic, with every kind of vehicle jetting around, including women and men carrying everything from garbage to bananas on their heads, not to mention the occasional goat or cow. Traffic lights are a few, and when they are encountered they’re treated like a suggestion more than a law. Oh, and did I mention they drive on the other side of the road? Yeah, you not only feel disoriented by the vastly different surroundings, but also by the fact that you think you’re going to crash into oncoming traffic every few seconds.
There were eleven of us. Four adults, and seven kids ranging in age between 13 and 18. The trip was planned by a teacher Ally had for a class called Global Leadership. His grandfather began an organization 70 years ago called Pathfinder International, which helps women worldwide with sexual and reproductive healthcare. It’s an exceptional organization, and we were allowed to visit several sites to see the kind of work they do. We visited a small village outside of Dar es salaam where we sat in on a 20 year old woman getting counseled on her birth control options (she had a four year old at home and a five month old in her arms). We then visited the hospital she would get that birth control. We had a raucous party with the Dar Pathfinder staff, visited their office in Zanzibar, where we were taken to a six week parenting class for parents and caregivers to learn how to talk to their kids about how to stay safe. The kids were there for this particular class and it was very emotional to see the conversations take place (even though we couldn’t understand them because they were in Swahili). This was a group of people trying to change cultural norms. It was moving. We also visited a Masai village to learn about micro-lending, where we were greeted with the most joyful song and dance number EVER! We planted trees together and ate goat (well, some of us did). We met with religious leaders in Zanzibar, where we exchanged questions and answers. We visited a maternity ward named for Ally’s teacher’s wife, because she and her husband helped build it many years ago. We met women who had just had their babies a day ago, and the amazing doctors and nurses who worked there. We went to a private school in Zanzibar that rivaled an American private school and which had a beautiful orphanage attached. We met with the kindergarten class, who gave us so much attention and pure unadulterated joy not one of us could stop smiling. We went to The Big Tree School, which a passionate teacher opened in his brother’s house, where three year old’s and five year old’s learned the basics in a bare bones building without many supplies (you will hear more about this, as I am interested in helping this school build a new building and offering them supplies).
We went to a soccer game in Dar where we were literally the ONLY WHITE PEOPLE. Heads swiveled when we arrived, but everybody was incredibly nice to us. It was eye opening to be in the minority.
We also worked with Coaches Across Continents, who uses sports and in particular soccer to instill educational messages. For instance, they will put together a soccer game where boys will come to play and slip in messages about domestic violence, and rape, and birth control. We played soccer at The National Stadium of Zanzibar (where we saw many young people running without shoes, which prompted me to pledge having a sneaker and clothing drive when I arrived home), and soccer with The New Generation Queens, the only girl’s soccer team in Zanzibar. We also played with several other groups of mixed age boys and girls. We learned about how girls playing soccer has not been acceptable because of it being thought of as a “masculine” game. But we saw and heard first hand how it empowers girls and women when they play. There were also lots of pick up games with little kids, who could charm the clothes off your body.
Lastly, we went on safari at the Ngorongoro Crater. It was INSANE! Lions, zebras, wildebeasts, wart hogs, elephants, hippos, gazelles, monkeys, ostriches, and a very distantly visible rhino.
And of course, we learned to bargain (some of us learned to bargain better than others). We swam with dolphins (sort of), and we ate a lot of Indian food.
The people of Tanzania were generous, warm and welcoming. All the Pathfinder staff were incredibly nice to us. We all wanted to bring home our guide in Zanzibar, Fatma, a 22 year old biochemistry student at a University in India, who was the epitome of warmth and grace, and who even invited us to her home to have an enormous dinner with all the things she’d witnessed we’d eaten during our time with her. Her extended family greeted us warmly and treated us like part of the clan. We have invited Fatma to come visit us. We know we’ll stay in touch with her. She is a bright star and we’ll never be able to thank her for her presence or the wonderful gifts she gave us the last day we spent with her.
This trip was something I will be processing for months to come. It was mind expanding and changed my perception of what I spend money on, and how that money could hugely impact a life in Tanzania.
You will hear more over the weeks, but the gratitude I feel about having this adventure (and missing the Republican convention) is YUGE.