Sunday, February 8, 2009

I did it!

Two things really quick about the Nairobi airport:
(1) I get off the plane and enter the terminal to hear... DOLLY PARTON! And not recent Dolly, old school Dolly and it continued to play the entire time I was in the airport. Awesome! This confirms my suspicion that my favorite famous Tennessean is a favorite in Africa and should come give a concert here soon to all her fans.
(2) If Kenyans love Dolly, they REALLY love Obama! Everything - and I mean everything - had an Obama logo on it in the gift shops. From bracelets to shawls to books and magazines to even key chains and bumper stickers, its all pretty incredible.

As most of you know, for my the bulk of my life I've been the first to tell you that I'm somewhat of a fraidy cat. I think this all started to change when I went to Egypt in 2003 and promised myself to try anything and everything that landed on my plate, which resulted in me eating brain, intestine, and a fish with its head on. EW. Everyone knows how picky I am so this was a big deal! In 2005, I traveled to Zambia all by myself and went on a walking safari, which to this day earns street cred in Africa (they think you're crazy to put yourself on the same terrain as elephants and lions - I thought nothing of it). Back home, I started trying things I never thought I could do, such as running a 5K which eventually led me to running a half marathon and raising over $5000 for a good cause.

Then I met Mr. Will.

The fantastic thing about Will is that he acknowledges what I'm afraid of and then challenges me to combat it. Scared of kayaking down class 2 rapids? Get in a boat and try - I'll be right there beside you. Reluctant to try grilled asparagus wrapped in bacon? Close your eyes and take a bite and then decide for sure whether you like it or not - it can always be spit out. Nervous about climbing up to the top of a mountain in the middle of winter during hunting season where no one will hear us if something happens to us along the way? Let's just take the dogs and try (and then he proposed at the top). He got me ride a horse on our honeymoon, something that I had been afraid of doing for an extremely long time. Recently we even went on a zipline tour, and even though I did hurt myself, I surprised myself by having a really fantastic, exhilarting time.

So yesterday was a HUGE deal in terms of Will convincing me to do something I have NEVER wanted to do: whitewater rafting.

For years and years I've had friends try to convince me to go whitewater rafting and for years and years I've said "pass." Even though I spent the bulk of my childhood years in a pool and am a great swimmer, I've been incredibly afraid of what could happen in the white water. I just knew with my luck that I would be the person that would fall out and crack open their skull on a rock, the person that would somehow get tied up in the rope on the side of the boat and be dragged along until I drowned, that it would be me that someone knocked upside the head with a paddle. All of these events are extremely rare freak accidents that could occur, but to me, I just knew they would happen and it scared me to death. When Will suggested it a couple years ago, I looked at him like he was crazy and said "NEVER" - and I assume the expression on my face let him know this wasn't something that I would easily be swayed on.

To make matters worse, Stephanie went rafting on the Nile in Uganda in 2008 and had a DVD that documented the experience. They went down Class 2-5 rapids of churning water, crazy waves, and even steep waterfalls and I watched in horror as each boat when down the rapid and saw the people fall out of the boat and be retrieved by kayakers. At the end of the video I remember looking at Steph as if she was the bravest person I knew. I couldn't imagine doing something like that at all and felt I had lived vicariously through her video to feel as if I had experienced it myself. I thought that was that.

I was wrong.

A couple weeks ago I found out I was headed to Uganda for a conference. When I told Will, he suggested we raft the Nile like Steph. I thought about it - what was I really scared of? Thinking back to the video, I saw that despite the crazy intense class 5 rapids and that people fell out, no one got hurt and they were all quickly retrieved by men in kayaks. I remembered even though it was dangerous, it was still safe. And then I remembered how great it feels to feel scared of something and to try it anyway. So I said yes.

Yesterday morning we boarded Adrift's bus to Jinja with a bunch of other people as crazy as us. Nervously I picked my helmet and life vest. I breathed a sigh of relief when we were assigned to Jeffrey's group, the guide Steph had on her trip and who I knew was a former whitewater Olympian. We got into the boat, practiced paddling, flipping the boat, etc. And then it was time.

We went through a couple rapids until I knew it was time to reach the one that I feared the most from the video - a steep rapid (practically a waterfall) that all the boats flipped on and then a churning 8 foot freak of nature wave that you hit right after that. I was scared to death as we made it down the rapid and even more surprised that although half the boat fell out, my side of the boat stayed in. Unfortunately this meant that I watched in horror as Will fell out and went straight for that freak of nature wave. Of course, he was fine. After we did that rapid, all the other ones were super exciting and fun, even when we got stuck on rocks at a 90 degree angle (I am sure the photos of my face at that point are priceless because I just knew we were going to die).

All in all, I'm super proud of myself (and disappointed that my Neutrogena SPF 55 that I applied 3 times to myself and Will did not do its job). Will I go whitewater rafting again? To answer this questions from Will, "Yes, but not this year." Will said he had never gone through rapids like that so I'm glad to know that whatever we do next might be a little less dramatic. ha!

I feel like I only have a few more things to accomplish on my life. I could care less about bungee jumping, especially since I did that crazy swing thing in Destin which, IMHO, is more fun than bungee jumping would be since you swing and it lasts a good 10 minutes. I really want to go see the Great White Sharks in Cape Town, but I don't necessarily want to get in the cage with them, especially if they throw chum in the water (ew). I'm still extremely hesitant about riding a motorcycle - its just not my cup of tea.

But I can look back at my life and say with lots of satisfaction that I've lived an adventurous life and am officially no longer a fraidy cat.


Nicole Maholic said...

Val, I love this blog. If more people would hold their breath and just jump like you have done (thanks in part to your sweet husband), I think so many people would find themselves genuinely happy and content with their lives. I think the little fears really hold people back and bleed into the (should be) easier parts of life, making their worlds so narrow. So many people live such small existences, thinking they are better for not taking risks or putting themselves in (potentially) harm's way, but then they miss so much! Opportunities and experiences that bring richness to life! What's the point if you're not challenging yourself and making it just a little uncomfortable everyday?

I commend you and Will for all your adventures, your attitude and your subsequent experiences. My best friend and her family are moving to Zambia this summer and once they are there and settled, I am considering coming to visit her and I'd love to see you guys too. Especially since I know you can open me up to lots of uncomfortable and wild adventures. :)

*raising a Red Stripe to you from the beach in Little Bay, Jamaica*, your friend, Nicole

Will and Valerie said...

Thanks Nicole! I appreciate it! Zambia is WONDERUL! I loved my time there. As you can see from the previous post, Victoria Falls is incredibly amazing, regardless of what time of the year you go! South Luangwa National Park is where I went on my walking safari and it is just amazing. The Zambians are incredibly friendly and the country is so very beautiful. You will love a visit there! And of course, if you come to the continent, please visit us - Cape Town is A-MAZING.

And you're right - I know so many people thought we were crazy for getting married and moving here, but it has been such an incredible adventure that I am so thankful for. I will always look back on this time in our life and marriage and think we did the absolute right thing.

Stephanie said...

Zambezi here you come!! I'm pretty sure it's the only river more intense than the Nile...maybe that's what we should do if I come back before y'all leave. hehe!