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Archive for the month “November, 2016”

Bringing Bisexuality and Domestic Violence Into Focus

Bringing Bisexuality and Domestic Violence Into Focus

H. Bradford

11/22/16

Last month, Pandemonium met for the first time.  Pandemonium is a modest bisexual/pansexual/ omnisexual/generally bi+ group that I am working to organize.  Our first meeting was chaotic, but lively.  A disturbing theme that came out of our first discussion was that many of the members had experienced violence of some kind.  Since October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and LGBT history month, I thought that this theme deserved more attention.  As such, I wanted to investigate this topic further and bring my findings back to the group for our November meeting.  Indeed, being bisexual increases the likelihood that a person may be the victim of intimate partner violence.

The Statistics:


According to a 2010 report from the CDC, 61.1% of bisexual women have experienced either rape, stalking, or physical violence from an intimate partner (North, 2016).  If molestation is added to this list, the rare is 75% (Davidson, 2013).  In contrast to bisexuals, 35% of straight women and 43.8% of lesbian women have experienced stalking, rape, or physical violence (North, 2016).  If only rape is account for, 46.1% of bisexual women report having been raped, compared to 13.1% of lesbian and 14.7% of straight women.  Further, of the bisexual women who have reported domestic violence, 57.4% reported that they had experienced adverse effects such as PTSD or missed work, compared to 35.5% of lesbians and 28.2% of straight women.  This means that not only are bisexual women experiencing domestic violence at higher rates, they are suffering more adverse effects from this violence.  Finally, most bisexual victims of domestic violence had been abused by male partners, as men accounted for 89.5% of offenders (North, 2016).  As a whole, bisexual women are the number one target of domestic violence, followed by bisexual men who experience it at a rate of 47.4%.  This is followed by lesbian women, heterosexual women, gay men, and straight men (Davidson, 2013).  This is very startling, as bisexual men and women are both the targets of domestic violence.


In Canada, 28% of bisexuals reported being victims of spousal abuse versus 7% of heterosexuals.  According to the BC Adolescent Health Survey, Bisexual girls between ages 12 and 18 were twice as likely to report dating violence than heterosexual girls (Bielski, 2016).  In the UK, one in four bisexual women and lesbian women have experienced domestic violence.  Among these victims, ⅔ reported that their abuser was a woman, versus ⅓ reported a man.  Four in ten  bisexual and lesbian women with a disability reported domestic violence.  While the UK statistics lump bisexual and lesbian women into the same grouping, the findings shows the intersectionality of abuse (Stonewall Health Briefing, 2012).  In this case, disability and sexuality put the women at greater risk of abuse.  The statistics from the UK, U.S., and Canada each suggest that bisexuality can be connected to increased incidences of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking.  This begs the question, why is this the case?

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The Media:


It is easy to blame the media for social problems, but it is a useful starting point.  Certainly, the media plays a role in shaping public perception by popularizing ideas, framing questions and ideas, focusing on some information over other information, and setting parameters of what is discussed and how it is discussed.  Davidson (2013) observed that the media, especially pornography, sends a message that bisexual women are depraved, immoral, promiscuous, and have commitment issues.  These portrayals of bisexual women actually victim blames them or justifies their abuse through negative portrayals.  This portrayal of bisexuals represents or contributes to biphobia, which often goes unnoticed or unaddressed in larger discussions of homophobia.  As a matter of example, consider the case of Amber Heard.  Before her divorce trial, many people may not have known that she was bisexual.  According to Bielski (2016), Amber Heard was painted as a gold digger in the media, even as evidence of the violence against her from her then husband Johnny Depp began to emerge.  Despite these accusations, Heard actually donated her divorce settlement money to charity.  She donated half of the settlement to the ACLU for the purpose of ending violence against women.  Aside from gold digging, her bisexuality was also used to discredit her, as tabloids portrayed her as promiscuous and that it was Depp’s jealousy that drove him to beat her.  Even in the face of grotesque evidence, such as a video of Depp kicking kitchen cupboards while shouting at her, photos of her bruised face and swollen lip, and a sexual slur scrawled on their mirror, she was blamed for making him jealous (Bielski, 2016).

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Dynamics of Domestic Violence:


While the media plays a role in shaping public perception about bisexuality, it does not explain why bisexuals are victimized to begin with.  Bisexuality may be used as an excuse by gay or straight abusers to exert control over their victim.  To the abuser, it may represent identity, power, and the possibility of sexual attraction to others.  Controlling behaviors include such things as surveillance, such as checking email or text messages and using isolation, such as not allowing bisexual victims to spend time with anyone of any gender.  To abusers, bisexuality itself may be viewed as something that needs to be controlled.  Farnsworth (2016) argued that bisexual people, along with people of color, disabled people, neurodivergent people are often treated as “others.”  “Othering” a group of people diminishes their humanity and legitimacy.  “Othered” people often have their consent ignored.  Bisexuals and other oppressed groups may be told that they deserve their abuse and that no one else would want them.  Many people in the LGBTQ community also face poverty, which is a barrier to leaving abusive relationships as these individuals may be financially dependent upon their partner. (Farnsworth, 2016).  In fact, bisexual women are twice as likely to live in poverty than lesbian women (Kristal, 2016).  Finally, in the larger society, bisexuals are demeaned, sexualized, and ignored.  Until this is changes, they will be at greater risk of violence (Farnsworth, 2016).


Beyond some of the dynamics of domestic violence, shelters may also bear some of the blame.  For instance, in testimonies gathered for a White House meeting on bisexuality, one woman reported that she was denied shelter at a Chicago domestic violence shelter because the shelter was for women with male abusers.  When she sought a resource for the gay community, she was told that because she was bi she did not qualify for their services.  Unfortunately, gender variant individuals and gay and bisexual men have few resources available to them (Hutchins, 2013).  While bisexual men are the group that is second most likely to experience domestic violence, there is only one shelter in the United States that is explicitly for male victims of domestic violence.  This shelter is located in Arkansas, has nine beds, and opened in 2015 (Markus, 2016).  Females are by far the majority of domestic violence victims, but it is important that men also have services, as well as transgender individuals.  Everyone of any sexuality and gender identity deserves to be safe from violence.


Another facet of domestic violence is mental health.  Bisexual women are at greater risk of depression and anxiety compared to gay or straight women.  This mental health risk could be because of the stigma of being bisexual (Buzzfeed).  However, if 75% of bisexual women have been stalked, raped, molested, or victims of domestic violence, this increased incidence of depression and anxiety may be related to trauma.  A study published by the University of Montreal found that among 1052 mothers who were studied over ten years, those who had experienced domestic violence were twice as likely to suffer from depression and had three times the risk of developing schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms.  Among the women who had been abused by their partner, they were more likely to have substance abuse, early pregnancy, childhood abuse, and poverty (University of Montreal, 2015).  Factors such as mental health and substance abuse create a vicious feedback effect.  Abuse creates mental health problems, financial problems, pregnancy, and substance abuse.  In turn, all of these things makes a person more vulnerable to abuse.  As abusers target often vulnerable people, the previous abuse and mental health issues experienced by bisexuals may may play into the abuse (Bielski, 2016).  This is not meant to blame them, but to show that their previous victimization may make them more vulnerable to future abuse.

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Biphobia and Bi-Erasure:


All bisexuals experience biphobia and bi-erasure to some degree.  Biphobia is hatred and prejudice against bisexuals.  A 2015 study in the Journal of Bisexuality found that heterosexuals and gays and lesbians had almost identical prejudices against bisexuals.  According to the reported experiences of the surveyed bisexuals, both heterosexuals and homosexuals treated bisexuals as if they were more likely cheat and were sexually confused.  Both group also excluded bisexuals from their social networks (Allen, 2016).  While bisexuals may be viewed negatively as promiscuous, wild, immoral, and disloyal, their voices, histories, identities, and experiences are ignored.  This is called bi-erasure.  Biphobia and bi-erasure can make coming out harder for bisexuals.  Their partners may not understand or think that a bi person is not satisfied (Farnsworth, 2016).  For individuals who are not “out”, they may face challenges when leaving their abuser.  For instance, in the book, Violence against Queer People: Race, Class, Gender, and the Persistence of Anti-LBGT Descrimination, a woman named Dorothy reported facing an additional barrier when she left her husband since she left him to enter her first same-sex relationship (it should be noted that in this example she identified as a lesbian).  Thus, leaving the relationship made harder by the fact that this would “out” her to others.  A woman named Leslie reported that her bisexuality was used to legitimize the abuse and control her.  The abuse worsened after she was married.  She was accused of flirting with both men and women.  After she was pregnant, he accused her of wanting to sleep with their waitress when they went out to dinner together (Meyer, 2015).  Once again, her bisexuality was something threatening to her partner.  In a 2012 Human Rights Campaign survey, bisexual teen girls reported that they were called “whores” or forced to make out with other girls for their partner (Kristal, 2016).  Again, negative stereotypes about bisexuals resulted in slut shaming and coercive sexual acts.  Because bisexual women are believed to be promiscuous and sexually adventurous, consent is assumed (Bielski, 2016).  Thus, it is no wonder why bisexuals are victims of sexual assault at a greater rate per their population than individuals with other sexual identities.

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Relationship/Sexual Norms:


At some level, bisexuality challenges sexual norms.  While this is not true of all bisexuals, a study that appeared in Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity found that bisexuals reported that monogamy was a sacrifice at greater rates than straights and gays.  An equal amount of bisexuals found monogamy to be a sacrifice as there were bisexuals who found it rewarding.  Nevertheless, gays and straights both reported monogamy as more rewarding than bisexuals.  Thus, while viewing monogamy as a sacrifice does not indicate that the respondents were polyamorous and promiscuous, it does indicate that they were less likely than their straight and gay counterparts to find monogamy rewarding (Vrangalova, 2014).  Many bisexuals that I have spoken with are perfectly capable of monogamy, myself included.  However, to those whom I spoken with, there is often a sense of sacrifice or duty involved with this monogamy.  It is often framed as a sacrifice made for the sake of companionship or a stable relationship with a particular individual.  At some level, bisexuality does threaten monosexual partners.  It does play into their insecurities and jealousies.  This is no excuse for abuse, but this represents a flaw with our relationships.  Society normalizes jealousy and insecurity.  Countless films and television shows feature couples who show their love through jealous behaviors.  An individual who is not jealous, is not viewed as emotional.  Taken to the extreme, jealousy can be abusive.  But, all monogamous relationships involve some level of control over the sexuality of another human being.  So, while bisexuals are capable of monogamous relationship, they are at the same time more apt to question monogamy.  This is very threatening to patriarchy and capitalism, which has treated women as the sexual property of men.


It is only recently, and with that advent of the feminist movement, that women have begun to be seen as having rights to their sexuality.  Today, some states continue to treat marital rape as something different than rape outside of marriage.  It was only in the 1990s that laws began to change so that rape within marriage was considered the same kind of crime, with the same punishments, as rape.  Prior to this, men were viewed as having a right to sex from their wives and implicit consent as part of their marriage.  Since the majority of women have traditionally married, rape is built into the tradition of marriage.  Marriage itself is institutionalized monogamy.  By extension, marriage was institutionalized rape.  Now, certainly there are people who have loving relationships and consensual sex within the context of marriage.  And, bisexuals certainly fought for and benefited from the legalization of same sex marriage.  But, I cannot shake my disgust at the notion that marriage granted men the right to sex without consequence, consent, or criminality.  While consent is considered a part of healthy relationships today, control will always be a part of relationships so long as people attach their self-esteem and happiness to the sexual loyalty of their partner.  In the popular imagination, there is sympathy for “crimes of passion.”  A man who kills his wife after she cheats on him has a legitimate defense.  These circumstances can result in lesser charges or a lower sentence.  A woman who cheats on her husband may be denied alimony.  To some degree, even non-abusive people accept the legitimacy of violence and control for the sake of monogamy.  Control and abuse are enshrined in the law. 47ade34b8769d8976fe72916ab19f89a


What is to be done?


There are many reasons why bisexuals are abused at higher rates than other groups.  Bisexuals are more likely to experience mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and poverty, which both puts them at risk of abuse, but also results from abuse.  Bisexuals experience bi-phobia and bi-erasure.  Their abuse is justified because it is considered a means to control them, out them, that they were sexually confused to begin with, and their consent is ignored.  Bisexuality itself is seen as something that must be controlled.  It is misunderstood.  At some level, it challenges some aspects of monogamy.


Hopefully, this piece offers some insight to why bisexuals may experience greater rates of abuse.  Certainly, more research on this topic should be done.  For instance, I could not find research pertaining to how many bisexuals actually identify as poly-amorous or monogamous.  Besides continued research, more work should be done to end bi-phobia and bi-erasure.  To this end, I hope that Pandemonium can work to create a community of bi+ activists, while fostering discussion, awareness of issues, a sense of identity and history, and action.  As for advocates within the field of domestic violence, I hope that more can be done to become aware of LGBT issues and become more responsive to their needs.  I am a domestic violence advocate myself, and I believe that this very rudimentary research has given me some food for thought in how I approach my work and frame problems.  Finally, if nothing else, this demonstrates the connections between fighting for LGBT rights and the fight for feminism, but also other fights, such as the fight to end poverty and the fight for more mental health services.

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The Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition

    The Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition

H. Bradford

(The following was written for the University of MN-Duluth’s Women and Gender Studies Department Newsletter)

Many people may not be aware that Duluth has its own feminist activist group, so I would like to take a moment to introduce you to the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition (TPWRC).  TPWRC was founded in September 2014 by a group of activists who were involved with ad hoc protests of the 40 Days for Life.  For those unfamiliar with the 40 Days for Life, it is an international anti-choice event wherein volunteers spend forty days outside of abortion providers with the hope of ending abortion through prayer and protest.  The anti-choice campaign began in 2004, is organized through local churches, and happens in the fall and spring each year.  Last spring, the event mobilized 120,000 volunteers through 4,700 churches.  Locally, the 40 Days for Life is held in September through the end of October outside of the Building for Women from 8 am to 8 pm.  Counter protesting them is important because their presence shames women who use the clinic and seeks to sway public opinion against abortion.  Because 95% of Minnesota counties do not have abortion providers, defending our clinic in Duluth is essential for ensuring that women in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin continue to have access to abortion services.  Furthermore,  over the last forty years, abortion rights have been whittled away by a relentless onslaught of anti-choice legislation that mandates biased counseling, parental consent, waiting periods, and funding restrictions.  With this in mind, the activists who founded the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition have hosted regular protests of the 40 Days for Life since 2010.  We sought create an organization which could continue these protests into the future and organize other feminist actions in the community.  This is how the organization came into fruition in 2014.


Since its founding in 2014, the group has organized a variety of feminist events.  Aside from the counter protest of the 40 Days for Life, TPWRC has organized a support picket of Roe v. Wade.  Last year, this involved a “glo-test” wherein participants carried signs and wore glow sticks.  We have also organized “Chalk for Choice” events this fall, which entails using chalk to create positive messages and artwork in the plaza of the Building for Women. The group has also organized a feminist book club, which will resume this winter.  Other events include panels for International Women’s Day and Roe v. Wade and monthly “Feminist Frolics.”  Feminist Frolics combine education with outdoor adventure.  For instance, in August we went for a hike after listening to a brief lecture about how patriarchy shapes our relationship to nature.  In September, we went foraging for wild food while learning about the history and economics of foraging and gleaning.  Another exciting project that our group has been working on is launching a radical cheerleading group.  The Rah Rah Revolutionaries has participated in several local protests since their re-launch this fall.  Through these various activities, the TPWRC seeks to promote feminist activism while educate ourselves and our community about feminism.


Admittedly, our activist group is modest.  At many of our events, we have less than a dozen attendees.  Our level of activity ebbs and flows with the work schedules of our organizers.  However, the call to feminist activism has hardly been greater.  Feminism is misunderstood and misrepresented in society.  At the same time, women continue to be underpaid and undervalued in the economy.  They continue to be sexually assaulted and abused, then blamed and shamed for the violence against them.  Abortion rights are curtailed, while students are provided skeletal sex education, daycare is as expensive as rent, and we are the one of three nations in the world that does not provide women with paid maternity leave.  Shockingly, denying voting rights to women has become a popular demand in some circles!  It seems that even the most basic rights granted to women have been called into question.  Feminism should be not feared and averted, but should be reclaimed and asserted to make the powers of capitalist patriarchy tremble with fear.  If you would like to join this fight, the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition can be found on Facebook or can be contacted via email at Hbradford@Css.edu


						
					

Feminist Astronomy

 

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Feminist Astronomy

H. Bradford

Each month, the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition hosts a “Feminist Frolic.”  A Feminist Frolic is an outdoor adventure combined with an educational presentation.  This month’s presentation was on feminist stargazing, which was held at Wisconsin Point.  The goal of the presentation is to enjoy the outdoors and become familiar with the celestial bodies in the night sky, while connecting science and mythology to a feminist perspective.  With that said, I am certainly not an expert on astronomy, but I enjoy learning about many topics and astronomy is one of them.  Thus, the following is a brief tour of our universe from the perspective of feminist.

Moon:

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The moon is a great place to begin, November 14th marks the super moon.  A super moon is a moon appears larger than normal because it has become full when at perigee, or closest distance to the earth.  Perigee is a word used to describe the nearest point to earth in an orbital path, while apogee is the furthest.  Similarly, the terms perihelion and aphelion are used to describe the earth’s closest and furthest points in its orbit around the sun.  Super moons happen every thirteen months or so, but this one will look particularly large because the moon will become full just two hours from its perigee.  This super moon will be the largest in appearance since 1948.


Even when the moon is not at perigee or full it is super!  And, to many people it has had a connection to women.  In many mythologies, the moon was believed to be a goddess.  The Greeks saw the moon as Artemis, the sister of the sun god, Apollo.  In Chinese legends, the moon was a woman named Chang’e, who drank an immortality elixir to avoid having it fall into the hands of her husband’s rival Fengmeng.  The elixir caused her to float away from earth and away from her mortal husband, where she went to dwell on the moon.  Mayan people have had many beliefs about the moon over time.  In one tale, the moon goddess is the daughter of the Earth God.  The Moon Goddess sleeps with the Sun God, which upsets her father, who destroys her.  Her blood covers the earth, but is collected in thirteen jars from which insects, poison, and disease are created.  However, the blood is also the origin of medicine and a new moon.  The connection between the moon, life, blood, and femininity mark the connection people made between the moon and menstruation.


The moon orbits around the earth every 28 days (or 27.32 to be more exact) in what is called a sidereal month.  To ancient people, the orbit of the moon around the earth was not immediately obvious.  The most obvious change in the moon was the procession of moon phases, or which cycle in a synodic month.  The moon cycles through phases every 29.53 days.  Thus, ancient people marked the passage of time with changes in the phases of the moon.  In fact, the name month comes from the word moon. Many cultures, such as Chinese, Babylonians, Germanic, Hebrew, Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tibetans, used lunar or lunar solar calendars to mark their year.  Today, Muslims follow a lunar calendar, which is why holidays like Ramadan fall on different dates each year.  A menstrual cycle is about as long as the lunar cycle, so ancient people may have connected the moon to goddesses and fertility.  The word menstruation itself comes from mensis, the Latin word for month and mene, the Greek word for moon.  However, there is no scientific evidence that there is a correlation between menstruation/fertility and lunar phases.


While the moon may only be feminine in a metaphoric sense, it certainly has life-giving qualities in the scientific sense.  Not unlike Chang’e, who drifted further and further away from her mortal husband, the moon is drifting further and further away from earth at a rate of 1.5 inches per year.  As it does this, the earth’s rotation is slowing down as it loses gravitational energy.  When life began evolving on earth 3.8 billion years ago, the moon was twice as close and days were half as long!  Some scientists believe that the violent tidal activity may have enabled the evolution of life, by tossing around the proto-nucleic acids that eventually formed into DNA.  Tides themselves allowed for ocean dwelling creatures to evolve into terrestrial life, by creating a nether environment between land and sea.  The moon also created the conditions of life by stabilizing our climate and slowing our rotation.  Before a Mars sized object slammed into the earth, creating the moon, the earth rotated every six hours.  The moon’s gravitational pull slowed us down, resulting in less severe weather and daily temperature changes.  The moon’s gravitational pull also stabilized our axial tilt, resulting in static seasons and a stable distribution of oceans.  Thus, in a way, the moon is a giver of life to our planet!


Venus:

    Another celestial body with a connection to women is the planet, Venus.  This month, Venus can be seen in the early evening Western sky.  Venus is the brightest of the planets and looks like a large, peach colored star.  Because of its proximity to the sun, Venus is never seen above 45 degrees from the horizon, which is another clue of how to locate this planet in the night sky.  Venus is a unique planet because it has the longest rotational period of all of the planets.  A day on Venus is 243 days and it rotates in an opposite direction than all of the other planets.  Venus has a dense atmosphere that is 96.5% carbon dioxide.  This makes Venus the hottest planet, as it has a runaway greenhouse effect of trapped heat.  The average temperature on Venus is 864 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to melt lead.  Due to the thick atmosphere, the atmospheric pressure on the surface of Venus is same as we would experience at 3,000 feet below the ocean on Earth.  If the heat and atmospheric pressure are not hellish enough, the planet features clouds made of sulfuric acid and a water-less landscape of thousands of volcanoes.  Because of the hostile environment on Venus, studying the planet has been challenging.  The Soviet Union was the first country to successfully send a probe to Venus through its Venera program.   The Soviet Union began launching probes in 1961, but did not successfully land on the planet until 1966 with Venera III.  Venera IV was destroyed by the atmospheric pressure before it could collect data.  Venera V managed to collect 53 minutes of data.  Venera 7 survived for 23 minutes on the surface of Venus before it was destroyed by heat and pressure.  Later Venera probes managed to send back photos.  It is coincidentally sexist that the most hostile planet is also the only planet named after a woman.

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The Sumerians connected the planet Venus with the goddess Inanna.  They believed that Venus was a morning star and an evening star, since they only saw the planet at those times of day (as it is only visible when rising and setting due to its proximity to the sun).  Inanna was the goddess of fertility, love, and war.  To Ancient people, the planet Venus moved in unpredictable ways, which accounted for Inanna’s warlike, capricious, and duplicitous personality.  The Greeks associated Venus with Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love.  The cult of Aphrodite drew from love goddesses of the near east, including the practice of ritual prostitution in temples to her.  The Greeks also borrowed the idea of Venus as a morning star and evening star from Babylonian astronomy.


Beyond mythology, the volatile and hostile nature of Venus has been used to stereotype women in modern times.   Although it is dated, the best example is the 1992 book Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which reifies the gender differences between men and women through relationship advice that panders to gender stereotypes.  In the worldview of the book, men withdraw and women seek closeness.  However, humans are complex.  Some women are emotionally withdrawn, some men seek closeness intimacy, and all humans exhibit these traits to varying degrees.  By stereotyping women as out of control, unpredictable, irrational, or emotional, it dismisses their perspectives, experiences, needs, and oppression.  The woman who asserts herself and her rights is thus dismissed as an irrational, angry feminist rather than a clear-thinking critic of social ills.  Of course, ancient people had no idea about the hostile nature of the planet.  Still, they chose to personify the mysterious planet as a foreboding female.


Taurid and Leonid Meteor Showers:


    The month of November features two meteor showers.  The Taurid Meteor shower peaks this weekend around the 11th and 12th, but can be viewed until early December.  The meteors appear to originate near the constellation Taurus and are best seen after midnight.  While the Taurids only yield a few meteors per hour, it is a shower that is likely to create fireballs.  Fireballs are simply meteors that are particularly bright.  The Taurids are the caused by debris left behind by the comet named Encke.  Encke is a small comet which orbits the sun every 3.3 years.


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The Leonids also appear in November.  This meteor shower peaks around the 17th of the month and is created from the debris left behind by Temple-Tuttle, a comet which orbits the sun every 33 years.  The Leonids can feature more spectacular meteor storms.  For instance, in 1833, it yielded over 100,000 meteors per hour in 1833.  This meteor storm was noted by Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and Joseph Smith.  Smith believed it was a sign of the coming of Christ.  The 1833 meteor shower resulted in the first accurate explanation of their origin as particles in space.  Meteorites, or meteors that land on earth, have been valued since ancient times.  The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was believed to be built where a meteorite landed.  Meteorites were also used as a source of iron for tools and weapons by ancient and indigenous peoples.


Ursa Major/The Big Bear:

Moving on to constellations, we can begin with Ursa Major.  This is the easiest constellation to find because the seven large, bright stars that make up the asterism called the Big Dipper.  An asterism is just another word for a pattern of stars, and in this case, the dipper is part of a much larger constellation in the shape of a long tailed bear.  Many groups of people saw a bear in the sky when they looked at this pattern of stars.  However, Anishinaabe saw a fisher instead.  Arabs saw a coffin and several mourners.  The Chinese saw a wall.


In the Greek version of the story of Ursa Major, the bear was once a nymph named Callisto, who served Artemis, the virginal goddess of hunting.  Zeus found Callisto to be particularly attractive, so he disguised himself as Artemis to gain her trust, then raped her.  He then abandoned her for Mount Olympus, offering no support to her or the son that she eventually had as the result of the rape.  Rather than feeling sympathetic towards Callisto after the sexual assault, Zeus’ wife Hera became jealous of her.  Out of jealousy, she turned Callisto into a bear, leaving her human son, Arcas, without both a mother and a father.  Eventually, Arcas grew up and became a hunter himself.  He happened upon his mother, in the form of a bear, and tried to kill her.  Finally, Zeus intervened and turned Arcas into a bear so that he would not kill his own mother.  He then placed both mother and son, in the form of bears, in the sky where they remain as the Big Bear and Little Bear.

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As a whole, the Greek version of the story can be connected to the idea of rape culture as it features elements such as the entitlement of powerful men, rape as commonplace, and victim blaming.  Zeus raped women in many stories in Greek mythology, but there is little consequence for him but the jealousy of his wife.  Because of this, the rape is never taken seriously, and Zeus himself is a forgivable Bill Clinton or Donald Trump sort who can’t resist the ladies.  Boys will be boys…and Gods will be gods!  His biggest problem in life is his harping wife, Hera.  While the victims of rape in Greek mythology are depicted as virginal and pretty, often putting up some kind of resistance, they don’t have much agency.  Callisto has a son, becomes a bear, is almost murdered, then gets thrown into the sky.  Becoming a bear was a punishment from Hera.  So, Zeus was never punished.  Instead, the victim was blamed.  Perhaps this illustrates that women don’t always have the power to punish men, so they learn to punish other women.


On a final note, the Big Dipper, which makes up the body and tail of Ursa Major, is also known as the Drinking Gourd.  It is believed that slaves used this asterism to find their way north, as the two stars at the chest of the bear or front of the gourd point up to the North Star.


Ursa Minor/The Little Bear/Polaris     

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Following the two stars at the front of the dipper cup, upwards, one can find the North Star, or polaris.  Polaris makes up the end of the tail of the Little Dipper/Little Bear/Ursa Minor.  In Greek mythology, the small bear was Callisto’s son, Arcas.  The Little Bear is much smaller than the Big Dipper and the stars are far dimmer.  Even Polaris is not all that bright and noticeable.  Polaris, or the North Star, can be used to find north.  The star happens to be located near the Earth’s axis.  As such, as the earth spins, the constellations appear to move around Polaris, which stays still.  The height of Polaris in the night sky can help a person figure out their latitude.  The further a person travels north, the higher polaris appears in the sky.


Bootes:

    If you follow the star (Alkaid) at the end of the tail of Ursa Major in an arc to the next brightest star, you will find the constellation Bootes.  This bright star is called Arcturus, or guardian of the bear.  It is part of an asterism of the same name, which is shaped like a diamond.  This diamond shaped asterism is itself part of Bootes, the bear herder or bear watcher.  The story of Bootes and his relationship to his neighbors, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, is murky.  Nevertheless, Arcturus has a rich history.  For instance, the star was used by Polynesians to navigate north from Tahiti to Hawaii, as once it appeared overhead above the equator, the Polynesians knew to turn west towards Hawaii.


Draco:

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    While star gazing near the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, it is worthwhile to point out Draco, a giant constellation which literally snakes between the two constellations.  Nine of the stars in Draco are known to have planets orbiting them.  To the ancient Greeks, the constellation represented Ladon, a giant serpent killed by Hercules or the serpent child of Gaia.  In Roman myth, Draco was a serpent defeated by the goddess Minerva and tossed into the sky.  In Arabic astronomy, the constellation represented four mother camels protecting a baby camel from two hyenas that were trying it.

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Serpents have a long been connected with women.  In the Greek story, Ladon guarded the apples of Hesperides, a tree owned by Hera which offered immortality.  This serpent, woman, and magical tree story is also part of Christian beliefs.  In Christianity, the serpent convinces Eve to eat from the fruit of knowledge, which introduces sin into the world.  Interestingly, Islam and Judaism do not have the concept of original sin, so Eve’s introduction of sin into the world is a Christian belief.  Some feminists have argued that ancient matriarchal religions often involved a serpent goddess or serpent cult.  For instance, Minoan figurines of a woman handling snakes have been found on Crete.  It is believed that these figures could represent fertility and renewal and that Minoans had a goddess centered/woman centered religion.  Temples to the Phoenician goddess, Astarte, were also decorated with serpent motifs.  Some feminists have argued that the association of serpents and women was a way to honor female sexuality and that the advent of patriarchy re-cast serpents and goddesses as evil characters.


Cassiopeia:

Another iconic constellation is Cassiopeia, which can be found this month by looking to the northeastern sky for a “W” or “M” shape in the sky.  This is another circumpolar constellation, so it can be seen all year, but moves higher and northward as the evening progresses.  Although Cassiopeia is usually depicted as white, the Greeks believed she was an Ethiopian queen of unrivaled beauty.  Perhaps the whitewashing of the constellation represents European artists inability to view Black as beautiful or consider Black people as powerful leaders.  Because of her boastfulness about her beauty, she was placed in the sky and her daughter, Andromeda was tied to a rock to be eaten by Cetus the sea monster.  The Persians also saw a queen when they saw the constellation Cassiopeia.  They saw a queen with with a crescent moon and a staff.  Celtic people saw Anu, the mother goddess in this pattern of stars.  Arab astronomers saw the constellation as a hand that had been tinted with Henna.  Thus, many cultures envisioned something feminine when viewing this constellation.

cassiopeia                              Cassiopeia: a suspiciously white looking Ethiopian queen….

Andromeda:


The Andromeda galaxy can be found as it is a blurry spot located between Cassiopeia and the constellation Andromeda.  The deeper “V” of Cassiopeia points to the galaxy.  The Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away and is the nearest galaxy to our own.  Interestingly, the Andromeda galaxy is expected to collide with the Milky Way in 3.75 billion years.  While objects in the universe are actually moving away from each other, the gravitational force between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxy is enough to offset this expansion and pull into each other.  This could result in a new elliptical galaxy once the two combine.  While the impact on our own solar system is unknown, it could result in an entirely different night sky!  The Andromeda galaxy is the only object that we can see outside of our galaxy with the naked eye (in the northern hemisphere).


In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of the Ethiopian queen and king Cassiopeia and Cepheus.  In art, she is almost always depicted as white, despite her heritage.  After she was chained to a rock to be fed to a monster, she was rescued by the Greek hero Perseus.   Of course, Andromeda was already promised in marriage to Phineas, whom Perseus conveniently turned to stone by showing the Gorgon’s head.  Later, when Andromeda died, she was placed in the sky by Athena as a constellation, after which the galaxy was named.

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Andromeda: the very white looking princess of Ethiopia…as seen in the film Clash of the Titans.

Milky Way:

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If the night is dark and clear enough, it is easy to spot the Milky Way, which looks like a pale cloud of stars spread across the entire skydome.  Everything we see when we look into the night sky (without a telescope and with the exception of Andromeda) is part of the Milky Way galaxy.  The band that is seen overhead is the view of disc of our galaxy, made up of billions of stars.  Our eyes cannot differentiate the light of these billions of stars, so we see them as a misty arc across the sky.  The dark areas within the band are clouds of dust.


To Babylonians, the Milky Way represented the tail of Tiamat.  Tiamat was a primordial serpent goddess who mothered an ancient generation of gods, who in turn parented another generation of gods, whom she sought to destroy with eleven monsters.  In Greek mythology, the Milky Way was created by Hera’s breast milk, which spilled when Hercules tried to suckle too aggressively.  This sounds painful and terrible.  Despite Hera’s victim blaming of Zeus’ rape victims, perhaps she can be sympathized with for her horrible experience with breastfeeding.  Just as women sometimes shame other women for their sexual assaults, women shame other women for breast feeding or not breast feeding.  This only serves to divide women from their common interests, thereby doing the dirty work of patriarchy without men.  Egyptians also saw the Milky Way as milk, though they saw it as cow’s milk and personified it as Bat, the goddess of fertility.  Estonians saw the Milky Way as the wedding veil of a spurned goddess and the Chinese saw it as a bridge of birds used to unite two lovers.


Pleiades:  


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The Pleiades are a cluster of related stars that can be found near Taurus.  In the early evening, they are lower on the horizon, situated downward from Cassiopeia.  The star cluster is one of the nearest clusters to Earth and only about 100 million years old.  In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the Seven Sisters, or seven nymphs who served Artemis.  In one version of the myth, they were put into the night sky by Zeus to protect them from Orion, who still chases them across the sky.  Presumably, Orion was chasing after them to sexually assault them.  Thus, this is one of many Greek myths involving women being turned into something else to avoid rape.  Other stories include Apollo and Daphne (who was turned into a tree), Philomela (who became a nightingale after she was raped), Leda (who was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan), and Europa (who was raped by Zeus in the form of a bull, and is also a moon of Jupiter).  Even Hera, Zeus’ sister, was raped by him, which is why she married him.


Aside from the Greeks, several other cultures saw them as women.  The Mono people saw the stars as six wives who left their husbands to eat onions in the sky.  Lakotas saw them as seven women who were giving birth.  Cheyenne envisioned them as seven puppies conceived by a young woman who fell in love with a mysterious human in the form of a dog.  The Basotho people of southern Africa saw them as planter women, as their disappearance from the night sky marked the onset of winter.  To the Javanese, the stars represented seven princesses and the beginning of the rice planting season.  Of course, to some people the stars were brothers, stored grain, the head of a tiger, and a market place.  Nevertheless, many sisters or wives are a common interpretation of the star cluster.

 

Conclusion:

    The supermoon made it a bit more challenging to see these these celestial objects/phenomenon.  Certainly, there is far more to see in the night sky.  This is just a tiny sample of our wondrous universe.  Hopefully the presentation offered a little bit of science, some interesting stories and legends, as well as some insight about the role of women on Earth and in the cosmos.  Join us next month for another fun filled feminist frolic!

 

Travel and Overcoming Fear

Travel and Overcoming Fear

by H. Bradford

When I was younger, I never really considered going to Africa.  Although I could make some basic differentiation between countries and histories, it always seemed like a place that that was scary.  It was a place where there was war, disease, poverty, crime, and uncertainty.   It is only in becoming an activist, and by extension, becoming interested in issues of racism and anti-colonial struggle, that I developed any interest in Africa at all.  In subtle and not so subtle ways, racism shapes the way that many people view Africa.  Racism is such an inescapable American experience, that it is not possible to think of Africa as a continent in the same way we think of other continents.  With that said, I recognized a long time ago that I was afraid to travel there.  I was afraid to get sick or that something bad would happen.  I feared this more than other destinations.  But, I often tell myself, “life begins where fear ends.”  Yeah, some Indian mystic said that.  I would almost rather that Cecil Rhodes or Theodore Roosevelt said it.  I believe that the things that we fear limit our lives.  I have a lot of fear, but I don’t want to let fear limit what I do in life.  My life is already limited by my geography, gender, class, place in history, etc.  While I can never overcome fear, I can at least challenge it from time to time.  So, that is one reason why I wanted to go to Africa.  I simply didn’t want to miss out on going out of fear!  And, after figuring out where I wanted to go and how I wanted to go about it, I started to feel a lot less fearful.  Of course, my brother injected some more fear into my mind.  He was also of the impression that Africa was a monolithic continent of war, poverty, and disease.  He had a rough time visiting some Pacific Island nations and questioned if I was ready to take on the third world.  Life begins where fear ends…so, I set off anyway, despite some advice to reconsider.  Thus, here are some reflections on my fears, some scary situations, and how I overcame them.


Lions:

I have never actually been anywhere where the wildlife is something to fear.  In Minnesota, we have bear and wolves, but both mostly leave people alone.  Deaths connected to bear and wolf attacks on humans happen by the handful in a century in Minnesota.  In southern Africa, this wasn’t the case.  There is so much wildlife in some areas, that it hardly seems real.  There is a false sense of security, since animals are everywhere.  They hardly seem wild at all, as they become a normal part of the adventure.  However, while camping in the Okavango delta, we met some lion researchers.  A group of lions was staying on the other side of the river from our camp site.  In fact, I could hear them at night.  Elephants also were known to pass through the campground from time to time.  This made for a very interesting night of sleeping, as I could hear many animal noises outside of my tent.  A tent is not a very secure sleeping arrangement in the midst of lions and elephants.  Worse than this, I had to use the restroom at about 4 in the morning.  This involved unzipping my tent and walking through a narrow path…a path lined with tall grass…about 200 meters to the toilets.  Now, I was very afraid.  It was dark out and I had to walk through a gauntlet of grass that seemed like the perfect hideout for a giant cat.  I overcame the fear by trying to be rational.  A.) What are the chances that a wild animal has been waiting in that very spot for my passing?  B.) How often our tourists actually killed by wild animals?  C.) I need to use the restroom so what other choice is there?   Still, there is nothing like the darkness of night, the call of nature, and the sound of unfamiliar animals to draw out a primal fear of being mauled to death.


Fear Level: 3

Fear Strategy: Trying to use reason

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Scorpions:

Early on in the trip, I became fixated on scorpions.  While there are snakes and spiders to worry about, scorpions made me feel the most uneasy.  No one else seemed to share this concern.  There is something villainous about scorpions.  Even their dens are shaped like the letter v.  V for Villain.  Some scorpions glow in the dark.  Some are deadly.  Even a relatively benign scorpion could create a sting that might require medical attention.  Doctors and medical facilities were not always easy to access.  Now, to overcome the fear of scorpions, I became angry!  I actually told myself, “I am not going to get stung by some f’ing scorpion.”  I would say this as I checked my bag, shoes, the corners of the tent, and under the mattress.  The anger created determination to hunt down the little villains and prevent them from ruining my day.  Anger creates action and purpose.  Some say it leads to the dark side, but, clearly they have never dealt with scorpions.  Oh, I didn’t see any scorpions the entire trip.  I saw some scorpion holes and one or two were spotted near our campsite.  However, no one was bothered by them.


Fear Level 2:

Fear Strategy: Anger

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Even the home of the scorpion looks menacing.

 

Spiders:

I do not have a phobia of spiders, but at the same time, I rarely find them to be a welcome addition to my life.  While in Namibia, I went on an educational hike with a San guide.  The purpose of the hike was to learn more about San culture and survival techniques.  The guide was wonderful and taught us many things about the wildlife.  Towards the end, he spotted some spider tracks and began digging into the sand.  Soon, he uncovered a spider tunnel and grabbed the spider in his hand.  The spider was folded up, gently sleeping in the cold, early morning.  This was a pleasant way to “enjoy” a spider.  But, just when I thought that I was safe, the spider uncurled itself, doubled in size, and hurled itself towards the group.  I actually let out a scream.  Yes, I screamed.  I was so surprised by the sudden explosion in the spider’s activity that I screamed.  This was embarrassing.  The guide talked about how he and his father lived around deadly animals, yet remained calm.  He said that when confronted with a deadly snake, like a black mamba, he learned to remain still, even letting it crawl over him, and it would go on its way.  Finally, he said that people who fear/hate spiders, snakes, or other creatures are the same people who hate San people.  This made me feel bad for my fear of the spider, or for that matter the scorpions.  Fear sometimes comes from a lack of control, experience, or understanding, so I can see why people who fear animals might also fear people.  At least for me, I find that my fear of creatures lessens as I have more experience and knowledge.  Thus, I tried to reframe my fear.  The spider was actually quite beautiful, my my reaction was because it surprised me.  As for scorpions, my relationship remained pretty antagonistic, but I guess it is neat that some of them can glow in the dark and spray their venom.  They are 430 million years old, so we are evolutionary embryos compared to their long history on this planet.  I can appreciate their place in the world.  I think they have a fierce looking appearance.  The constellation Scorpio appeared brightly in the Southern Hemisphere sky, a reminder of their hidden existence all around me.


Fear Level: 1

Fear Strategy: Cultivate Understanding

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Sickness:

I have emetophobia, or the fear of throwing up.  This is an actual phobia.  However, my fear has diminished over the years as I have been thrust into confronting it.  I work at a Domestic Violence shelter, thus I am constantly exposed to a lot of germs and vomiting.  I have become pretty sick over the past few years, with a very memorable bout of extreme nausea and explosive diarrhea on my flight back from Prague.  I have had to accept that I really don’t have a lot of control over vomiting.  Yet, the fear remains.  Travel to less developed countries results in exposure to more diseases and more challenging food and water situations.  Overcoming this fear requires all of my fear strategies.  I need to be reasonable.  I need to give up my need to be in control.  But, at the same time I make preparations in case the worst happens.  As such, I always pack ginger candies, pepto-bismol, and Emetrol.  These things can stave off mild digestive problems and comfort major digestive episodes.  I also try to pack a plastic bag in my purse, so that if I must vomit, I have a baggy for it.  One part of my fear is that I will have to vomit, but that there will be nowhere to do it (thus I make a mess on myself, others, or the floor).  These precautions allow me to face the digestive unknowns that travel present.   At the same time, I have to be rational.  A person can get food poisoning here in the U.S., and often this does happen!  So, even though our water sanitation and refrigeration is more predictable, nowhere in the world is safe from sickness!


Besides my phobia of run of the mill vomiting, I was worried about more serious health risks.  It seems that almost every traveler that I speak with has some horror story of a great sickness they obtained.  Sometimes it is malaria.  Sometimes it is dysentery.  These tales often end with the traveler waking up in a foreign hospital or passing out somewhere, only to be attended to by a friendly denizen of their destination.  One story resulted in an unconscious trip directly to the Mayo Clinic.  Travelers laugh about these stories, since they lived to tell them.  They terrify me.  Well, I really don’t want a story like this.  So, again, I sought out some pre-trip preparation.  This brought me to a travel clinic and resulted in a barrage of vaccines, malaria pills, and anti-diarrhea tablets.  However, it also bought me the confidence that perhaps I wouldn’t become deathly ill.  Thankfully, I didn’t!


Fear Level: 4

Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Sexual Assault/Crime:

Another one of my travel fears is that I will be the victim of sexual assault or a crime.  South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world.  40% of South African women have been raped.  This is a terrifying number.  I have never been sexually assaulted while traveling, but as a solo female traveler, I worry about it.  This is why I often join up with groups when I travel (though I try to do activities on my own, I like to have a group so that if something were to happen, there is a group that expects my return).   I don’t know what I can do to absolutely safe guard myself against sexual assault.  I don’t drink alcohol.  I avoid walking alone at night (though the next items on my list will show that this doesn’t always work out).  I am not a very social person, so when I travel, I am not really hanging out with men.  Still, it is impossible to avoid all risks.  While sexual assault is usually perpetrated by someone known to the victim, there are instances of strangers doing this.  The best I can do is try to be alert of my surroundings.  At the same time, I know that because of rape culture, if anything happens to me, I would be blamed for being foolish, going out alone, or putting myself in danger.  It angers me.  Maybe the best defense against being raped is to fight against rape culture.


I also worry about being the victim of a crime.  This is a more plausible concern, since muggings and pick-pocketing are common travel experiences.  My trip was going to end in Johannesburg, which has reputation of having a high crime rate.  At least as of 2010, 50 people were murdered each day in South Africa.  I think my fear of crime did limit my enjoyment of Johannesburg in particular.  I did not stay there long at the end of my trip.  Even the resident taxi and shuttle drivers said that it was unsafe to drive after 9pm.  I went on a Hop-on/Hop-off tour, but that was about all I did in Johannesburg (and that tour was far less eventful than the Cape Town one, which you will read about next!).  Beyond limiting my time in Johannesburg, I was afraid of having my money stolen.  While I am certainly wealthy compared to the majority of people in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, I am not a wealthy person.  I had a fixed budget.  Having money stolen would have been a hardship.  Also, because many of the places I travelled did not have ATMs or accept my Mastercard Debit card, I carried almost all of my money with me in cash.  This made me feel particularly vulnerable.  However, I did take a few precautions.  A.) I wore a money belt under my pants.  B.) I carried some money in a bra (I purchased a sports bra with re-moveable pads and put the money where the pads would have gone.  This was cheaper than buying a special travel bra).  C.) I carried a fake wallet with some expired cards, a few dollars, and some old IDs- so that I would have something to give someone in the case of a mugging.  D. )  I secured my travel purse zippers with carabiners, so that it could not be easily opened.   Thankfully, I have never been the victim of a pickpocket or mugger.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Hop on Hop off Bus from Hell:

Hop on/Hop off Buses are super dorky and ultra touristy.  You ride around in a giant red double decker bus while listening to an audio recording of your route.  Cities all around the world have them, and Cape Town is no different.  After returning from Robben Island, I thought that catching the Hop on/Hop off bus would be a great way to see the city, but also head to the Table Mountain.  Yes, the Hop on/Hop off bus actually went all the way to the Table Mountain!  It was a really extensive route with a lot to see.  So, off I went.  I made a stop at the Table Mountain, took the cable car up, and explored.  It was wonderful.  I felt like it had been a productive day.  Then, I took the bus back to the harbor.  I had studied the time table and the buses were in operation for another hour when I arrived back to the harbor.  Thus, I decided to stay on the same Hop on Hop off bus to do part of another loop (as this would take me back to near my hotel).


All of the tourists disembarked from the bus at the harbor.  I didn’t worry, as I figured that I was alone because it was near the end of the day and no one was interested in doing the loop at that time.  So, I stayed on the bus.  The driver said nothing and continued on the route.  Only, after a few stops on the route, the bus deviated from the route.  The driver picked up some friends and began making unofficial stops.  The bus veered further and further away from the route.  The recording stopped.  The bus deposited the driver’s friends.  I grew increasingly terrified with each passing second.  Finally, I just asked to get off of the bus- as I had no idea where it was going and no one seemed to mind the one white tourist who was sitting in their midst on what was clearly NOT the scheduled tour.  In retrospect, that particular bus was probably done for the day, even though the routes themselves had another hour.  I was terrified, so I disembarked…


Fear Level: 6

Fear Strategy: Flee

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 Run for your life!

This is part two of the previous story.  I thought my day was going to end with a Hop on/Hop off Tour.  Instead, the bus went rogue and I got off!  The only problem was that I wasn’t sure where I was or how to get back to my hotel.  The other problem was that it was getting dark.  After all, it was winter and the sun set pretty quickly once six pm rolled around.  As the sun set, the area took on a sinister look.  Markets folded up.  Businesses shuttered their windows and doors with metal gates.  I had a map, but I didn’t want to look vulnerable by opening it up on the street.  So, I ducked into a Burger King to study the map.  This was difficult, as I was not on the street, with the ability to compare streets with the map as I moved.  I ducked in and out a few times.  I thought I had a general idea of which way to walk, so I set off.


There are some things I try to do while wandering around in unfamiliar places if I feel unsafe.  One, I try not to look lost.  I try to walk quickly and confidently.  Two, I try to find a group of women to follow or walk with.  There is safety in numbers.  Well, there were zero women.  None.  Not one woman.  There were plenty of men loitering outside the closed businesses, socializing, smoking, and talking.  I was the only tourist, white person, and woman around.  It was scary to be different.  People asked me for money as I walked by.  I walked quickly, ignored everyone, and tried to just keep moving, even though I was lost and terrified.  A man grabbed my arm as I passed through group.  After that, I jerked my arm away and started running.


I don’t remember being that afraid before.  I am really glad that although I am a terrible jogger, I can run for a half an hour to an hour.  I kept jogging.  I watched an arm guard walk a car dealer to his car.  I jogged by police, asking them for directions.  They looked at me as if I was crazy.  There was a concern look in their faces as they told me how far I had to go to my hotel and how to get there.  I kept jogging.  I stopped at another hotel to make sure I was going the right way.  The bellman also looked concerned.


I finally made it back to my hotel.  This was met with relief and a rush of adrenaline that I had made it.  I made it!  I survived the crazy bus and my jog!  Was it wise to run?  Travel advice always says to be inconspicuous and purposeful.  Jogging draws attention.  However, I figured that if anyone wanted to hassle me, it would be too much trouble if I was moving too quickly.


Fear Level: 8

Fear Strategy: Flee

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I am a terrible runner.  But, I am thankful that I CAN jog.


Keep Calm and Don’t Get Trampled On:

There is a time to run and a time when it is not good to run.  I think that getting off the bus and running when I was afraid of my surroundings in Cape Town was an okay time to run.  I will end with a story about not running.  Now, I had camped in Africa for over 22 days before arriving in Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe.  Throughout my trip I went on many wildlife drives.  These drives consisted of sitting in an open vehicle and searching for wildlife, often at watering holes.  There were many close encounters with wildlife, but at no point were we allowed to disembark from the vehicle.  This was the pattern throughout Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe thus far.  As such, when we went on our final wildlife drive in Matopos National Park, I assumed that it would follow this same pattern.  I was mistaken!


After driving some ways, the truck stopped and we were allowed to get out of the vehicle for a quick refreshment from the cooler of sodas.  I assumed that we would resume our drive, but the guide informed us that we were going for a hike.  This was really exciting!  I wasn’t offered many hiking opportunities because hiking is not safe in animal reserves.  Then, we were told that not only were we going to go for a hike, we were going to try to sneak up on some white rhinos.  Okay…what?


The guide was a rhinoceros expert who had actually been on the Animal Planet.  He told us that we could get close to the rhinos, as they couldn’t see very well.  However, our ability to get close to them required us to move carefully, stick together, and NOT RUN.  So, if anyone in the group got scared, they were not allowed to run or leave suddenly.  Our safety depended upon everyone in the group’s ability to remain collectively calm.  We were told that if we ran, we could get charged and trampled.


The group had some hesitations, but we headed out together in some scrubby brush and tall grass.  It didn’t take long before we spotted some rhinos.  We slowed down and those at the front of the group crouched in the grass.  By crouching and moving slowly, we were able to follow the small group as they grazed.  We took turns moving to the front to get a better view and better photos, tenderly stepping our way closer.  It was a little frightening.  Rhinos are enormous.  These enormous endangered animals were just a few feet away from us.  Each time they moved or stepped closer to us, I became a little afraid.  It seemed impossible that they didn’t see us, yet, they kept munching on their food and minding their own business.  Eventually they moved on, deeper into the thicket.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Staying Calm

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Trying to be as cool as a cucumber.


This isn’t a comprehensive list of every one of my fears!  And, I fear that talking about my fears makes light of the real conditions that people live in.  While it is funny to talk about my fears, it is not funny that so much of the world lives in conditions of poverty, disease, and danger.  At the end of the day, I get to return home, where there is clean water to drink and no threat of polio or typhoid.  At the end of the day, while I fear having money stolen, it would not sentence me to grinding poverty.  Nevertheless, I hope that the discussion of my fears helps to offer insight into how fear can be managed.  The world is amazing.  Fearless people inspire me.  I met a medical worker who traveled to West Africa during the ebola crisis as a volunteer.  That is fearless.  I met a woman who was in her 60s and went scuba diving with crocodiles at Victoria Falls.  Amazing!  I also hung out with a young Korean woman who was traveling across the entire continent of Africa all by herself, with limited English skills.  That is pretty fearless!  I will probably always be more limited by fear by those people.  Some fears can be overcome.  But, sometimes there is no negotiating with fear and you really do have to run!

My African List

My African List

H. Bradford

This past summer I went on an overland tour of Southern Africa.  This involved traveling on bumpy, dusty roads for hours on end and camping.  It also involved travel with two dozen strangers from around the world.  The social part of travel is always very challenging.  I don’t make friends very easily.  If everyone is an ice cream flavor, perhaps I am avocado, cardamom, or red bean ice cream.  SOME people may like these ice cream flavors, but few crave them.  Time and time again, I have been stuck with groups of strangers.  I have watched from the sidelines as strangers become friends.  I have seen people who hardly knew each other, part in tears.  There are hugs and sorrowful farewells.  All the while, I am empty and alone off to the side.  The My Little Ponies were right: friendship is magic.  I have seen the magic do its mysterious work all around me, but so rarely on me.  That is how I feel when I travel with groups.  I feel that everyone will become friends and that I will leave alone, just as I arrived.  Ireland, Russia, Korea, Eastern Europe, the Baltics…for the most part, this is the most common outcome.  I certainly have friendships that I cherish, but struggle to make friends when I am plopped together with strangers.  Most of my friends are fellow socialists, atheists, feminists and activists.  However, I don’t find too many of these folks when I travel (unless traveling for a specifically political purpose).  So, like many times before, I found myself with a group of strangers.


The strangers around me were certainly interesting.  They were nice people.  I could converse from time to time.  However, I didn’t really connect, as it often happens.  While the others began to have more fun with each other, becoming more comfortable…I could feel myself drift further away.  So, I began reading and just looking out the window of Ottis, the behemoth of an overland vehicle.  Everything outside of the window was fascinating and unfamiliar.  There were scrubby deserts of giant aloes, mountainous orange dunes, cruel spiked plants, and brightly colored birds.  Everything was strange to me.  As strange as a Dr. Seuss book.  All of the trees.  Every bird.  All of the stars in the sky.  I decided that I wanted to know everything.  I craved knowledge.  I hungered to know the names of all the unknown things that surrounded me.  Thankfully, I brought a guidebook of southern African animals, plants, and birds with me.  I began to make a list.


It wasn’t long before the list became an obsession.  By the time we arrived in Etosha National Park, I used our lunch breaks to wander around the campsite trying to painstakingly identify all of the trees and birds I could find.  I walked alone, baked in the midday heat, looking at leaves and bark, trying to compare what I saw to the guidebook.  Of course, this made everything very exciting.  While the others became excited when they saw lions or zebras, I started to become elated each time I could add anything to the list.  Even a new mouse or weasel was exciting.  I actually was more enamored by the ensemble of three species of vultures I saw in a tree, than the lionesses eating a giraffe below them.  Three more birds to add to the list!  Some animals, reptiles, or birds moved too quickly to be identified, which was met with immediate disappointment at the lost opportunity.  In the Okavango delta, I found almost a dozen species of butterflies in one area.  I spent a few hours chasing butterflies, waiting for them to land and spread their wings so I could quickly eye their markings.  As a result of all of this classification work, I quickly became more competent in the natural world around me.  I could identify birds or trees that I had seen earlier in the trip.


Socially, the list didn’t win me any friends.  However, it made me stand out.  It suddenly became a trope in the group.  Each time a new species was seen, it was pointed out to me so I could add it to the list.  Or, from time to time, I pointed out species to others.  I was the weird girl with the list and a “junior naturalist.”  The list opened up some conversations and questions.  Did the list connect me to them?  More likely it set me more apart, as I was in my own little African scavenger hunt.  I am sure the list was an emblem of my supreme nerdiness.  At the same time, the list made each moment more meaningful.  It gave me a goal.  I obsessively searched for more creatures to add to it.  I decided that I wanted to document 200 species.


The list was also a ritual and distraction.  Sometimes things were a little challenging.  We often awoke early each day.  I was usually the first person awake, as I wanted first dibs on the shower or bathroom.  This meant that most days began in the wintery darkness of 5:30 am.  Sometimes it was earlier.  Each day involved setting up and taking down a tent.  Again, this was usually in chilly darkness, as the winter sun rose late and set early.  The day’s weak heat disappeared very quickly in the dry, cloudless sky.  There was also some cleaning and food preparation that needed to be done.  Rolling up sleeping bags.  Packing and unpacking.  Jostling for long hours on extremely bumpy roads, sometimes through choking clouds of dust.  There was no heat or air conditioning.  Everyone had a pretty good attitude.  But, I think that the other group members obsession with wine and daily drinking was a way to cope with some of these hardships.  Because I don’t drink, I had no similar comfort.  My list was my best distraction.


With that said, here is the list, with a few notes on some of the species.

Birds:

  1. Blue waxbill
  2. Southern ground hornbill
  3. Black collared barbet
  4. Hammerkop
  5. Gray lorie (Goaway bird)
  6. Egyptian goose
  7. Secretary bird
  8. Red billed hornbill
  9. Black Winged lapwing
  10. Crimson breasted shrike
  11. Cardinal woodpecker
  12. Pied kingfisherfscn0934
  13. Bank cormorant
  14. Spur winged goose: This goose is not actually a goose, but in its own family.  It is also poisonous to humans because of its diet of blister beetles.
  15. Little bee eater
  16. Fish eagle: An iconic bird of the Okavango Delta.
  17. African jacana
  18. Malachite kingfisher: One of several kingfishers seen in the Okavango Delta.fscn0867
  19. Red Collared widowbird
  20. Ostrich
  21. Greater flamingo: I saw a flock of flamingos by Walvis Bay.
  22. Cape gannet
  23. Reed cormorant
  24. African darter: This bird has a neck that is slender and crooked like a snake.
  25. Sacred ibis
  26. Helmeted guinea fowl fscn1064
  27. Cape sparrow
  28. Sociable weaver
  29. Cape white eye
  30. Karoo korhaan
  31. Great white pelicandscn0360
  32. Great white egret
  33. Yellow billed hornbillfscn0514
  34. African pied wagtail
  35. Red eyed bulbul
  36. Dark canting goshawk
  37. Cape glossy starling
  38. Pied crow
  39. Kori Bustard:  Everyone called this a Kori “Bastard”  I corrected them on the spelling for popularity points.
  40. Green wood hoopoe
  41. Dark capped bulbul
  42. Spoonbillfscn0993
  43. Lilac Breasted roller: Probably the prettiest bird that I saw!
  44. Marabou stork: This was on my must see list.  It is bald headed, scavenger stork.fscn1055
  45. Red billed oxpecker
  46. Squacco heron: One of several herons spotted in the Hwange National Park area.
  47. Gray heron
  48. Cattle egret
  49. Purple heron
  50. White faced duck
  51. Gray headed gull: I was excited by this one, though everyone else had negative opinions of gulls.
  52. African Skimmer
  53. Yellow billed stork
  54. Caspian tern
  55. Laughing dove
  56. Magpie shrike
  57. African crowned eagle
  58. Trumpeter hornbill: A magnificent large hornbill spotted near Victoria fallsdscn1202
  59. Black kite
  60. Hooded vulture
  61. Fork tailed drongo
  62. Black crake
  63. Red winged starling

Mammals:

  1. Hyrax: It’s closest relative in the elephant!dscn0188
  2. Gemsbok: Survives on water from their food, thus surviving extreme dry conditions.fscn0491
  3. Springbok
  4. Kudufscn1348
  5. Cape fur seal: I saw hundreds of seals in a colony!
  6. Hippopotamus: These were first viewed from a canoe!fscn1283
  7. Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra
  8. Southern Right Whale
  9. Bottlenose dolphin
  10. Impala
  11. Elephantfscn0584
  12. Giraffe
  13. Plains Zebra
  14. Cape ground squirrelfscn0513
  15. Meercat
  16. Chacma baboon
  17. Red hartebeest
  18. Blue wildebeestfscn1322
  19. Black backed jackal
  20. Steenbok
  21. Black rhinofscn0600
  22. Honey badger:  There was a honey badger or ratel at the watering hole with a rhino.  Proof that the honey badger don’t care.
  23. Leopardfscn0712
  24. Slender mongoosefscn0774
  25. White tailed mongoose
  26. Banded mongoosedscf4007
  27. Aardwolf
  28. Spotted hyena
  29. Warthog
  30. Striped mouse: not the most exciting find.
  31. Vervet monkey
  32. Cape buffalo: The last of the big five that I saw. fscn1114
  33. Waterbuck
  34. Sable antelope: the largest of the antelopes fscn1019
  35. Lechwe
  36. Tree squirrel
  37. Elephant shrew
  38. White rhinoceros
  39. Cape hare
  40. Vesper bat

Invertebrates:

1.White lady spider: A large, terrifying white spider that lives in a tunnel.fscn0308

2.Broad banded yellow butterfly

  1. African monarch

4.Green veined chiraxes butterfly

  1. Painted lady butterfly

6.Orange tip butterfly

  1. Purple tip butterfly
  2. Red tip butterfly
  3. Scarlet tip butterfly (so, I basically saw several species of “tipped” butterflies in one area)
  4. Autumn leaf vagrant butterfly

11.Meadow white butterfly

  1. Gaudy commodore butterfly
  2. Guineafowl butterfly (a great name for a great butterfly spotted near Victoria Falls)
  3. Lion ant (one of the small five!)
  4. Common garden snail

Reptiles/Amphibians:

1.Painted reed frog

2.Tinker reed frog

3.Nile crocodile: It was pretty exhilarating seeing my first crocodile sluggishly flop into the cold, early morning water of the Okavango delta.fscn1343

4.Web footed gecko

5.Bushveldt lizard

  1. Bouton’s skink
  2. Common flat lizard
  3. Water monitordscn1106

Fish:

  1. Catfish (not sure what kind)

Plants:

  1. Wild sage
  2. Large fever berry
  3. Marula
  4. Night lily
  5. Day water lily
  6. Quivertree
  7. Camelthorn
  8. King protea
  9. Peach protea
  10. Tree aloe
  11. “Ostrich Lettuce”
  12. Mopane tree
  13. Bread leaf camphor
  14. Pencil Bush Euphorbia
  15. Paper tree
  16. Red thorn acacia
  17. Namaqua fig
  18. Broom karee
  19. Shepherd’s tree
  20. Strangler fig
  21. Crane flower
  22. Red grass aloe
  23. Red ivory
  24. Natal bottlebrush tree
  25. Papyrus
  26. Sausage tree:  (This was one of my must see trees!)
  27. Poison apple
  28. Lowveld clusterleaf
  29. Jackalberry tree
  30. Cape reed
  31. Rush- juncus krausii
  32. Sedge- cyperus dives
  33. Sedge- cyperus obtusi florus  (I was trying REEEEAL hard to get to 200)
  34. Wild hibiscus
  35. Tree fuchsia
  36. Boabab (Another iconic African tree)
  37. Leadwood
  38. Wild basil
  39. Khaki plant
  40. Khat
  41. Tree Euphorbia
  42. Candelabra tree
  43. Red milkwood tree
  44. Natal wild banana
  45. Tree wistaria
  46. Broad leaf ficus
  47. Zimbabwe teak
  48. Lavender tree
  49. Coral tree
  50. Ana tree
  51. Umbrella thorn
  52. Boer bean
  53. Transvaal Sesame
  54. Buffalo thorn
  55. Bead bean
  56. Nyala tree
  57. Small green thorn
  58. Giant raisin
  59. Greenstem corkwood
  60. Knob thorn
  61. Paperback thorn
  62. Morning glory (of some kind)
  63. River bushwillow
  64. Wild date palm

An Overview of Overland Travel

An Overview of Overland Travel

H. Bradford


This past summer I went on an overland trip through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe through Nomad Overland Adventure Tours.  I chose Nomad because they included The Great Zimbabwe complex on their itinerary, they were reasonably priced compared to other companies, they had good reviews, and their website looked appealing.  The tour that I chose was “Four Country Trek” which involved 25 Days of camping…in southern Africa.  I had never actually gone camping in my life!  So, this is the review of a novice camper.  Because it was my first time camping, I did have some misgivings.  I feared that I was not be up for the adventure.  My brother tried to talk me out of it, or at least talk some sense into me.  However, there are plenty of people who go to Africa on overland camping trips.  I am sure I am not the weakest or least adventurous of this lot.  Am I?  Well, maybe I am.  Who knows. dscf3967


The Flight:  I flew from Duluth, Mn to Cape Town, South Africa.  This in itself was an adventure, since it involved a flight to Amsterdam followed by a flight to Cape Town.  This resulted in over 20 hours of flying time.  It was pretty amazing to fly over ALL of Africa.  I arrived in Cape Town at 11 pm and was glad that I purchased a transfer to my hotel, or for that matter, a hotel.  While I try to be a frugal person when I travel, I have found that it is nice to stay in a hotel when I first arrive somewhere, rather than a hostel.  This allows my body and mind time to adjust to my new environment rather than being immediately thrust into the discomfort of hostels.  I was happy to have a hotel for my first two nights.


Cape Town: I spent the next day exploring Cape Town, which was the most beautiful city that I have ever seen.  It is hemmed by cloudy mountains, strange forests, and the meeting point of two oceans.  My solo adventures in the city involved visiting Robben Island, going on a Hop on-Hop off Bus Tour, a visit to the top of the table mountain, and wandering around the waterfront.  It also involved a 45 minute frantic jog back to my hotel through darkened streets after a man grabbed me by the arm.  That is another story for another blog post.  I will only say that Cape Town was wonderful.  I particularly enjoyed seeing a hyrax (a rodent like mountain animal which is related to the elephant) and a variety of unique plants (the Cape is one of several plant regions, which families of plants found nowhere in the world).   Oh, our tour guide at Robben Island was once a prisoner on the island and was once part of the Black Consciousness movement. dscn0186 dscn0110


Registration and the Truck:

The next morning, I went to Nomad’s office to sign in for the trip.  This is where I first met the people who would be traveling with me, the guides, and the truck.  Our overland truck was named Ottis.  Ottis could fit 24 passengers.  We were each allowed a soft duffel bag or soft backpack with a daypack and assigned our own locker on Ottis.  Ottis contained all of our tents, cooking equipment, a freezer, electrical outlets, food supplies, a water tank, and basically everything we would need for our camping journey through southern Africa.  Ottis was a sturdy truck with the capacity to take on the worst bumpy and dirt roads on our trek.

dscf3584

The People:

There were about 24 people on our trip, so Ottis was packed!  We were squeezed onto the truck pretty tightly.  The passengers came from all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany, Belgium, Canada, France, United States, Netherlands, Denmark, South Korea, Switzerland, and Japan!  I was one of three Americans on the trip.  As a whole, it seemed that Netherlands and Dutch speaking Belgians made up the majority of those on the trip.  This is perhaps owing to the fact that South Africa was originally settled by the Dutch and Afrikaans is closely related to Dutch.  Just as there was a wide spread of nationalities, there was a wide range of ages.  Most of the people on the trip were in their 20s, but there were a few people in their 30s, as well as some adults who were in their 50s and 60s.  It can generally be said that everyone was well traveled and had a spirit of adventure.  It can also be said that everyone was at least somewhat athletic, with several individuals who had trekked up mountains or hiked extensively.  Many of the travelers enjoyed pursuits such as scuba diving, mountain climbing, skiing, biking, hiking, skydiving, etc.  Compared to the others, I was definitely on the lower end of fitness and propensity for adventure.


The Guides: Both of our guides were from Zimbabwe, which was great since I was most excited for my time in Zimbabwe.  The driver, Dingi, was a little older and generally had a good sense of humor.  Dingi was patient and never lost his cool as we faced long, arduous days on dusty roads.  Prince was younger and had spent some time working and living in the United States.  Prince did more of the cooking than Dingi and was a fabulous cook!  We all helped to prepare meals by washing and chopping vegetables, cleaning dishes, or otherwise helping as needed.  Prince worked his magic over the rudimentary burners and campfire to create flavorful southern Africa meals.  Both of them worked from before 5am to after 10 pm each night.  They did not get breaks between tours, so they worked non-stop from early spring to December.   They both tried to have a good attitude about it, as even the hyper-exploitative conditions paid better than jobs that they might find or not find in Zimbabwe.  Their low wage is bolstered by the tips they receive at the end of the trip.  So, as a note to fellow travelers: be sure to budget tip money.


The Camping:

My introduction to camping was my first night in the Cederberg region of South Africa.  We stayed at a campsite that was adjacent to a farm/vineyard.  A burly Boer regaled us with tales of leopards that pass through the farm.  I went to bed feeling giddy with my new adventure.  However, that night it rained very hard and became chilly.  My tent got wet inside.  I got wet.  I was miserable as I had to take apart my tent in the rain, pack it up, becoming covered in mud.  This was not the best introduction to camping.  This was one of the worst nights.  I will note that camping was much colder than I had prepared for.  I thought that it would be warmer…after all, it was Africa.  I come from Minnesota, where winter can involve 110 inches of snow and weeks of below zero temperatures.  I could not believe that winter in Africa could possibly be cold.  I was wrong.  There were nights that were near freezing, especially in desert areas.  I did not prepare myself well enough.  My sleeping bag was not up to the task.  So, there were some miserable, shivering nights.  However, there was also a sense of accomplishment and adventure.  Each day we had to get up early and take apart the tents.  Each day we had to put them back up.  It ended up being more work than it sounds like.  Also, because it was winter, the sun set early.  We were always putting up and taking down tents in the darkness of winter.  We chopped vegetables and did dishes in the dark, coldness of desert night.  It was fun, challenging, and beautiful all at once.  I never felt demoralized, but I also counted the days to my next warm shower and bed.  Thankfully, our longest stretch of camping was about five days.  Then, we had a reprieve in a city, where we stayed in a hotel.  This would be followed by another stretch of camping, with the eventual reward of a stay in a city.

fscn0203


Showers and Bathrooms: The shower and bathroom situation was better than expected.  To be fair, I expected that I would probably be digging a hole and burying my pooh.  I also expected no showers or only cold showers.  In actuality, the bathroom situation was pretty good in South Africa and Namibia, which public restrooms at gas stations (which could be accessed for a fee).  The camp grounds featured flush toilets.  Showers tended to be either extremely cold or burning hot, with no way to moderate the heat.  This made showering a challenge, but since I was always extremely dirty it was worth the challenge.  Showers often did not have any lights, which meant showering with a flashlight or headlamp.  We did “bush camp” in Namibia for one night, which meant there were no showers and only an outhouse.  Really, I don’t mind outhouses.  In Botswana, the toilet situation took a turn for the worst.  The gas stations no longer had public toilets or running water.  I remember at one point, I had to use the toilet, but there was no toilet.  So, I had to trek away from Ottis, our bus, to find a secluded area to do my business.  However, ALL of the trees were variations of acacias.  Each tree was covered in terrible sharp spikes!   I squatted by this not very concealing, thorn covered tree…which jabbed by butt with a nasty thorn.  I pulled up my pants in disgust!  I was so angry that I couldn’t even answer nature’s call.  I felt angry at nature…angry at these mean trees that were neither concealing nor kind.  There was also a public restroom in Zimbabwe which was basically a tennis ball sized hole in a cement floor.  Despite some minor challenges along the way, I had access to flush toilets for most of the trip and a temperature controlled shower at least once a week. dscf3896


The Food:

The food was far better than I expected.  Each day that we camped, we started the day with a modest breakfast.  The breakfast consisted of cereal, tea, instant coffee, toast made over the campfire, fruit, and granola.  Sometimes the guides would make us bacon or eggs, but I never had these since I don’t eat meat and I prefer a light breakfast.  Each morning, I basically ate toast, fruit, and tea.  Our lunch was usually taken very quickly at a rest stop.  So, this usually consisted of cold sandwiches.  I ate a lot of cucumber, cheese, and tomato sandwiches on the road.  Since we made bathroom stops every few hours, there were opportunities to buy snacks and drinks.  Dinner was more of a production.  Once the tents were set up, we helped prepare dinner by cutting vegetables, setting the table, washing, or whatever else was needed.  Prince tried to make traditional foods, but also catered to my vegetarian diet.  I was the only vegetarian and didn’t ask for any special treatment.  Despite my protests, he always made me something special.  Our evening meals consisted of cooked squash, sweet potatoes, mealie pap, chakalaka stew, game meats, fish, pasta, curry vegetables, etc.  The food always tasted fresh and delicious.  There were always plenty of vegetable dishes and I never felt hungry.  Also, I usually get sick when I travel.  However, I did not become ill the whole time!  So, my digestive system handled the food very well. dscf3691

 

 

Health:

Before I went on the trip, I visited a travel health clinic.  Actually, it was my first time doing this, as usually I have not been too worried about my health while traveling.  I was given a variety of vaccinations, including yellow fever, meningitis, Hepatitis A/B, and typhoid.  I was also given malarial pills and anti-diarrhea pills.  I was told to take the malarial pills before beginning the trip.  Really, I was the only person on Ottis who was taking malaria pills (until Botswana).  Oh well, at least I gave my body a long time to get used to the malaria pills. I had no symptoms from the malarial pills other than vivid dreams.  I took them at night with my dinner, rather than at breakfast, since I did notice they gave me a little diarrhea and it was easier to deal with diarrhea at night rather than during the day while on a truck.  Otherwise, I had no major health issues during the trip.  Because it was winter during the trip, I really didn’t see any mosquitoes.  I had a few bites on my hands (since the spray was washed off), but mosquitoes were not very active.  Winter was also useful because snakes, scorpions, and insects in general were dormant during the trip.


The Days:

The days were usually long and involved a lot of driving.  There were places where the roads were extremely bumpy and dusty, resulting in hours of a slow slog through clouds of red dust.  At one point, the vibrations from the bumpy roads caused one of the windows to shatter into thousands of pieces.  We used a mattress to cover the window until it could be repaired.  I usually awoke before 5am, however I rose early to make sure I had enough time to shower and take down my tent.  I never wanted to make people wait for me.  Usually, we were sleeping by around 10 pm.  On days when we were not driving, we usually ended up in a vehicle …as we did wildlife drives to see animals!


The Excursions: Many of the activities were covered in the activity package I purchased.  However, many of the stops had the option for some optional excursions.  Many people did not partake in these optional excursions due to the price or the fact they wanted to relax after spending time on the road.  I went on several optional excursions, which I found to be fun, but not necessary.  For instance, I went canoeing on the Orange River.  I thought this was a good activity because I wanted some exercise after being cooped up in the truck.  While I Swakopmund, I went on a tour of the Cape Seal Colony via a boat ride.  This was also well worth the money, since when are you going to see hundreds of seals on a beach and in the water?  The land was dotted with the swarm of dark bodies.  I also went on a night wildlife drive at Etosha National Park.  Once again this wasn’t necessary, as we had a drive earlier in the day.  However, it offered me the opportunity to see nocturnal animals such as hyenas and an aardwolf.   This tour was freezing cold, as we were in an open jeep.  However, a group of hyenas brushed by our vehicle, a few feet away from us.  I also went on a helicopter ride over Victoria falls.  This was spendy, but worth it, because I had never been in a helicopter before and it offered the full view of Victoria falls.  Nevertheless,  a person could be perfectly satisfied without spending any money on extra excursions- as there was plenty to see and do without these excursions. dscn1225 Money: On a day to day basis, I didn’t spend much money.  I don’t drink alcohol, which was popular with other passengers.  I also tried to limit my snacks, as I didn’t want to gain weight (from the sedentary days on the truck).  Most days did not have optional excursions, as there were included activities such as walks, wildlife drives, or city tours.  My main expenses were water, soft drinks, and supplemental snacks.  This made me feel less guilty when I splurged on a helicopter ride.  I don’t like buying souvenirs, so I waited until the end to pick up a few small items.  In the end, I had money left over in my budget as I had not spent as much as I thought.


Highlights:

  1. Seeing rhinos and elephants acting aggressively towards each other at a watering hole.
  2. The Great Zimbabwe Ruins
  3. Climbing Dune 45
  4. Seeing the Cape Seal Colony
  5. Visiting Robben Island
  6. Taking the cable car up the Table Mountain
  7. Sitting a few feet away from lions eating a giraffe (in an open vehicle)
  8. Squatting in the grass a few feet away from a wild white rhino!
  9. Seeing 200 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants
  10. Sitting in a canoe- watching hippos in the Okavango Delta
  11. A helicopter ride over Victoria falls
  12. Star gazing in the Southern Hemisphere
  13. Visiting Cecil Rhodes grave
  14. Spotting a leopard!
  15. Spotting all of the Big Five: Lion, leopard, cape buffalo, rhino, elephant
  16. Seeing my first elephant, first lion…first zebra…first….etc.
  17. Scurrying across the border to Zambia..by myself
  18. Seeing both sides of Victoria Falls
  19. Meeting lion researchers in Okavango delta
  20. Surviving!

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Overall:

Overland camping involves long days in a crowded truck on bumpy roads.  In the winter, it was uncomfortably cold with late sunrises and sunsets.  I was covered in dirt and my skin became extremely dry.  However, it was still less challenging than I thought it would be.  It involved early mornings, effort, and cooperation.  Nevertheless, I think that anyone with a positive attitude, patience, and open mind could enjoy this kind of trip.  The reward for sleeping in a tent, is waking up to fresh, brisk mornings and nights under the expansive and exotic sky of the Southern hemisphere.  The group effort and shared discomforts builds camaraderie.  There is also something nice about sitting in a circle around a campfire with people from around the world.  They all have stories about where they have been and what they have done.  It is inspiring.  The days on the truck are also rewarded with sights of birds and animals that you would otherwise only see in the zoo.  There is something wonderful about seeing these animals in nature, behaving as they would naturally (eating one another, fighting, or showing indifference to each other).  Each day I saw or experienced something completely unique and fascinating.  It enlivened my curiosity and made me feel like a child.  With that said, I highly recommend overland camping!

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