Monday, May 11, 2015

Hergott Adventures Part II: Bienvenidos a Guatemala

If you are following the blog (or our life), you should know by now that we have left Malabo and moved to Guatemala City. But can you believe that we have now been here for over a month!? When we moved to Malabo, I felt like I counted every single minute of the day. We have been here for 8 days and 12 hours. Only 721 days and 12 more hours to go!  And while our first few weeks in Malabo were filled with meeting the chickens at our pool and chasing lizards with a broom, our introduction to Guate has been just a little more adventure packed! (although, to be fair, we did go on a pretty cool hiking adventure when we first arrived in EG...but enough about that)

In our first month in Guatemala, we saw the Alfombras in Antigua, went on a weekend road trip with some new friends to the Copan Ruins in Honduras and a cool Guatemalan town only accessible by boat called Livingston, explored some of Guatemala city, and today, we hiked our very first volcano! More on that below, but first, a few photos from our other adventures!

The start of a beautiful alfombra. This, like many, is made of colored sawdust

Others were natural, made of flowers and grass.

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

The red macaw is the national bird of Honduras.
As we were leaving the park, they were all taking a rest on the ruins.

On a short boat trip from Livingston.

Shortly after this photo, we got caught in a downpour.

After our long weekend roadtrip, we figured we would just take it slow this weekend. However, when we got invited to join a group and hike our first volcano, we just couldn't pass it up! Pacaya is one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala. It also (luckily) is one of the easiest to climb.  So we packed our bags and headed just outside Antigua to the beginning of the trail.  After hiring our guide, and a few horses for the kiddos, we took off. It was a little cloudy, but we still saw some great views!

When we reached the top of the ascent, we overlooked a large lava field in the shadow of the volcano's crater. Then we descended down into the field and were able to roast marshmallows in one of the steam vents in the lava rock!  After enjoying our delicious marshmallows, we headed back up over a ridge with some awesome views and made our way back down to the cars. There are at least 7 more volcanoes on our list to enjoy during our time here!
Do you see the lava stream marks?

The descent to the lava field. We toasted our marshmallows off to the right.

It is with a sad note that I close this post, as it will be the first time that it will not be read by my most dedicated blog reader, my Nana. While others might occasionally end up here through a Facebook link (or apparently by searching Pico Basile!), she had it saved in her bookmarks and would check it religiously, often worrying about us if I hadn't posted in awhile. She was always one of my biggest fans, supporters, and advocates. I hope that in my lifetime, I am able to have as many adventures and wonderful memories as she did.  I know that she'll always be following them, no matter where we both might be.
Love you forever

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Girando el Cuerpo...and other Spanish terms I learned today

We arrived at our new post in Guatemala over three weeks ago now. We have been busy exploring the city, staring in awe at the produce section in the grocery store, and trying to find a place to live so my beloved Tucker can join us in our new home! But more on that later, because I just had to tell you about my first experience with Guatemalan yoga class.

Last week, I was informed two times by one of the women who works in our building that they were starting Monday and Thursday yoga classes at the pool in the afternoon at our temporary apartment. As I now work from home I both (a) need a reason to leave our temporary housing and my makeshift desk made out of coffee tables and (b) work on East Coast hours so am free for afternoon yoga at the pool.

Last Thursday, I was ready for yoga. I wore my yoga clothes all day long in preparation. But then, as 4pm neared, I started getting nervous. My yoga mat was still in a box somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. I couldn't remember if you wore shoes or not. I still had to finish writing a report for work and might be 3 minutes late, would that be okay? I hadn't done yoga in 3 years, would everyone laugh at me? After a serious debate in my head, I chickened out and figured watching a TV show on the couch (the internet is so good here, we can stream movies!!) was equally relaxing and beneficial to my health....(?)

Today, I kind-of sort-of ended up at yoga by accident. Upon finishing up work, I decided I would head to the gym before Matt got home from work. As I looked at the clock, I realized it was almost yoga time. But I was still unsure about the whole, no-mat, out of practice-ness, so I devised a plan. I put on my yoga clothes with my tennis shoes, grabbed an empty water bottle, and my earphones. You have to pass the pool deck on the way to the gym/location of the water dispenser, so I figured I would casually check out the yoga while I headed to fill my water, and if it didn't look promising, I could just run on treadmill. So I walked passed the gym and saw no sign of yoga. I breathed a small sigh of relief as I geared up for a run and filled my water bottle. Just as I was about to get on the treadmill, the nice woman who told me about classes rushed into the gym, super excited, asking if I was there for yoga class! A little perplexed because I didn't actually see any yoga occurring, I just couldn't tell her no, so I gave in and told her I'd give it a try.  I headed to the pool deck and learned that I didn't think yoga was happening because I was the only one who showed up (which in all fairness, there are probably only a few people even in our building at 4pm). I was going to get my very own yoga lesson. Guess no worries about getting laughed at, AND they had a mat for me. Things were looking up.

The nice male instructor walked in, smiled, and then rambled something off to me in Spanish.

Oh no.

In all of my worrying, I had left out this very crucial detail in my attempt to convince myself not to go to yoga. I had absolutely no idea how to speak "yoga Spanish".  I took language training. I worked for two years in a Spanish speaking country. I have written reports in Spanish, given presentations (albeit, not in the greatest Spanish, but it was comprehensible!) and held high-level meetings, all in Spanish. But it turns out that after all of that, I had no idea how to say "invert your body", "hug your knees", "rock back and forth", etc.

After my slight mental freak out, I decided I wasn't going to bail. I fumbled a bit, and then just smiled and asked for my instructors name, told him mine, and entered class. He asked what I believe was "have you done yoga before?", I again fumbled through some terrible Spanish response with horrible conjugation and vocab (I was so flustered!) and then he asked me something else, which I thought was maybe "do you want to learn anything special?". I decided the most appropriate answer to avoid talking more was "no", so I went with that and it seemed to work. We were going to start. Phew. Now I could just watch him and copy what he did. No yoga Spanish needed.

Turns out, this was one of those "do as I say, not as I do" instructors. So after our initial stretch and breathe period, there was no more imitation, solely verbal instructions. He would say a body part, my mind would frantically think through all of the yoga I knew/limited Spanish vocab and try to put the pieces together. Luckily, when we were learning Spanish, I thought it would be great to learn all of the body parts, just in case we had to go to the doctor, so I had an idea of what the body parts were. Even more lucky however, was when another student showed up as I was trying to remember if "rodilla" was "ankle" or "knee" and why he kept telling me to "alarga mi hombro".

We were quite a pair my yoga savior and me. She had never done yoga before, I had no idea what our instructor was saying. So it was a back and forth or listening to the instructor, understanding either the body part or the verb ( all honesty, sometimes I understood neither), and then simultaneously slowly beginning what I thought he told me to do while peeking at my neighbor to see what she was doing.

In the end, I started picking up the commands more and more, and was especially proud of myself when I understood "girando el cuerpo" (rocking back and forth) and "soltando" (releasing). It was also beginner's yoga, so there was a lot of laying down and breathing, both of which I am quite good at.

In conclusion, I survived. And might even show up on purpose on Thursday. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

De dónde eres?

We just wrapped up a glorious two-month home leave in the US before departing to our next post. I could go on and on about the great things we did, but no one really reads this to hear about Colorado, DC, and the West Coast.

However, in-between being overwhelmed in the grocery store at all of the options and progressively making my pants tighter as I stuffed my face with delicious food and drink, a familiar question would arise everywhere we went: “Where are you from?” 

In Spanish, the equivalent of this is “De dónde eres?” and the person is asking where you were born. Always. No exceptions. You were born in Peru but moved to the States when you were 3? You are still Peruvian.

On the Spanish standard, we are from Colorado. This is what I told people while we were abroad, and everything was fine. However, my parents also tell people they are from Colorado, when in fact, in the Spanish sense, neither of them are “from” Colorado. So why do they say this?  In the US, it seems that where you are “from” means where you identify with, and where you call home. I think that is why, when back in the States, it is such a difficult question for us to answer. For two years, my home was in Malabo. That is where our life was. Where my dog greeted me after a long day. But then, overnight, we were without a home. In the "transition stage" if you will. Which means there was always a slightly awkward pause and exchanged glances when someone asked us "and where are you from?. We would switch it up. Some days we were from Washington, D.C.  Others, we were from Colorado. When we were really brave we gave the “we just spent two years in Central Africa and now we’re moving to Central America” (that gets lots of great looks….)

At the end of the day, I will always be “from” Colorado. I think no matter where we end up in life, I like the Spanish sense of this phrase, and the answer that allows me to claim being from the greatest State there is. But in the American sense of the phrase, I am from all of the places that define who I am. All of the places I have called home. And all of the places we will call home in the future. And for now, I am just glad we are back in a Spanish speaking country where I can confidently answer "De dónde eres"

Malaria Myths

In January, we bid farewell to all of the wonderful friends we had made in Malabo, packed up Tucker in his plane-approved kennel, and headed back to the good 'ole US of A. As our time in Equatorial Guinea has now come to a close, I have a confession to make: My name is Dianna. I am a Westerner that lived in Africa, and I didn't take malaria prophylaxis. And after two years of not doing this, I did not get malaria, and I did not die (who got the Mean Girls reference?!)

I found it incredibly frustrating and shocking each time that I would have a conversation with someone who was clearly so misinformed about malaria. I studied malaria in school and worked in the field for two years, so I had a leg up on knowledge. But I continually found that companies who send their employees to malaria-endemic countries aren't giving them the facts. There is no education going on. Just scare tactics. So, I wanted to take a minute and debunk some myths for all of you out there who might be heading to a malaria-endemic country soon. Therefore, below you will find some of my favorite misguided malaria quotes, and why I secretly died a little inside each time I heard them. 

1. "You don't take prophylaxis? But you work outside all day. Don't you get bit?!" Yes, I do go to the field during the day. And yes, I often come back covered in bugs (those stupid no-see-ums are the worst!), but those are not malaria carrying bugs. To save you the scientific mumble-jumble, here is the simplified version: there is only one species of mosquitoes that carry malaria. Those that do, ONLY BITE from dusk to dawn. Those pesky mosquitoes biting you during the day won't make you sick with malaria.

There were lots of tiny bugs hiding in the plants.

2. "I got bit by a mosquito at night. I am 100% going to get malaria now". Not all of the mosquitoes that CAN can carry malaria DO. First of all, only female mosquitoes carry malaria. So you are already at a 50% chance that the one mosquito wasn't carrying malaria. Additionally, a mosquito would have to pick up the infection from another individual in your area. The number of people with malaria in an area is referred to as the prevalence. Thanks to increased funding in malaria prevention and treatment, and malaria control programs that deliver nets and spray houses, the prevalence in all of sub-Saharan Africa is decreasing. The fewer people who have malaria = the fewer mosquitoes have malaria. Therefore, the chances that mosquito that just bit you transmitted malaria are getting slimmer and slimmer. 
A woman gets her finger pricked to check for malaria.

3. "Oh, well I take my prophylaxis because we have the type of malaria here that can kill you" This one was told to me while visiting our friends in another West African country. This misinformed individual either did not understand that the "type of malaria that can kill you" exists in all malaria-endemic African countries, or maybe he just didn't know where Equatorial Guinea was (either are plausible). "Malaria" is caused by a parasite referred to as "Plasmodium". Currently, there are five different types of plasmodium that cause malaria in humans. The most common in African countries is "Plasmodium falciparum". Due to it's biology, when it exits the liver, it causes red blood cells to burst, and can make blood vessels sticky. This can harm organs and shut down oxygen to the brain, leading to death. This last line is usually all that Western travelers here before going to malaria-endemic countries. But please read on...
This really has nothing to do with malaria. But it's a pretty picture of Bioko!

4. Millions of children in Africa die of malaria everyday. Remember above when I said I studied malaria and work in malaria control? You can imagine my excitement when people gave me facts about malaria. Yes, I am aware of this. What they did not seem to be aware of is that these children die because they don't have access to adequate treatment. Either they can't afford it, they live too far from a clinic, or it's not available in clinics. Malaria control programs in multiple countries, and tons of NGOs and foundations are addressing this issue by trying to improve access to free and effective treatment. And this works because Malaria will not kill you if properly treated. If you get to the stage where your organs are being deprived of oxygen, you start to seize. This is referred to as "cerebral malaria". This occurs at least 24 hours after fever onset. Additionally, if you are treated within a few hours of starting to seize, their are very effective treatments. Far too often, Westerners die of malaria because they get a fever, think it is nothing, and don't get it checked out until it's too late. If you are in a malaria-endemic country and you have a fever, get a malaria test! If positive, take the medicine, take 3 days off of work, and you are good to go. 
Thanks to Malaria Control Programs like the one in EG,
these kids now have better access to treatment

5. If I take my medicine, I won't get malaria. Prophylaxis treatment does not prevent you from getting malaria. In fact, most of these drugs are used to TREAT malaria. This means that they act on the parasite once it is in your blood stream. To get to your blood stream, that means it sat in your liver for 7-10 days growing big and strong. With a prophylaxis, your body is just always prepped to fight the parasite when it comes in the blood stream. Now, there are some vaccines in development that are working to prevent the parasite entering the bloodstream (check out Sanaria's vaccine!), but until that becomes available, there are no medicines that prevent malaria from entering your bloodstream. Additionally, it is far too often the case that if you are taking the meds for a long time, you forgot a dose here and there, making you more vulnerable to getting an infection and not getting yourself tested!

6. The mosquitoes will bite me while I sleep. This is a valid and mostly informed argument about mosquito behavior. Malaria carrying mosquitoes bite and night, and people are usually sleeping at night. This is why using insecticide treated nets is an effective control measure. If the mosquito can't bite the person, it can't transmit malaria. However, most Westerners living in malaria-endemic zones are not living in huts or wood houses like in the photo below. They live in houses or hotels with closed walls and often air-conditioning or fans. One of the biggest tools to combat malaria is development. If you build houses that don't let mosquitoes in, you can't get bit while inside. So if mosquitoes that carry malaria only bite at night, and you are inside your house at night where the mosquitoes can't get in, the chance that you will get malaria is pretty low. 

Typical housing. 

This post was in no way meant to tell people not to take prophylaxis. It is a personal choice, and often, when only travelling for short periods of time, an excellent option, because when returning to the US, there are not a lot of people with great malaria knowledge. It is also dependent on your situation, the country you are going to, and how close you are to proper care. However, I found too often that people were blindly medicating themselves without understanding the true nature of this disease. So I wanted to offer some helpful facts for anyone who wants to know a bit more past the "take your meds. Because if you don't, you will get malaria, and you will die" speech.  

South Africa Road Trip

Right before we left EG, we decided to take a trip down to South Africa. I studied abroad there during college and loved it (I had a blog at that point, but can't find it. I know you are all super bummed you can't read the inner thoughts of my 20 year-old self...), and after I talked it up so much, Matt really wanted to go. Since we were about half the distance from Cape Town as the first time I made the trek, I figured we'd get there in no time. But then I remembered we were travelling from West Africa, and nothing is ever simple. While the actual flight time was less than travelling from the US, when we added in the overnight in Addis, the total trip time was actually LONGER from Malabo to Cape Town than from Denver to Cape Town. Luckily, when we got there, it made the journey worth it.

We flew into Port Elizabeth where we rented a car to start our journey. As we were not in the US where automatic cars are all the rage, and my mother always taught me that if God wanted us to learn to drive manuals, there would be no automatics, Matt volunteered to book the car and do the driving. Unfortunately, we did not take into account shifting and driving while on the LEFT side of the road. Needless to say, I think about 4 hours into the trip, we were wishing we had sprung for the automatic. Luckily, he got a hang of it and took us on our way, and I was quickly reminded of why I love this place so much.

On our first day, we headed a bit north to go sand boarding. A small boat took us down the river to beautiful sand dunes where we spent the morning boarding down the hills (and hiking up them!) and then cooled off by sledding into the river. A bit different than snowboarding, but I liked that it didn't require you to put on multiple layers of clothing!

There are no ski lifts on the sand..

A bit different attire than on the mountain! 

After an awesome morning, we headed south to Nature's Valley, where we spent two nights enjoy Savanna Dry  hiking around, and enjoying the beautiful views of the beach! 

We hiked to this cool waterfall from our hostel. 

This is why I love it here. 

"This one time, in Africa, all I drank was Savanna".
Seriously though, this is the best cider I've ever had.

We decided to take a break from relaxing and go Canyoneering. For those of you who don't know what that is, we started off the morning by repelling down the edge of a cliff into a river bed. We than swam down the river, jumping off of cliffs and ziplining down waterfalls. Yeah...if was as cool as it sounds. 
Matt heading down into the canyon!
Before heading out on the adventure!
Wading through the water with our group.

After an adventure filled few days, we headed down to Cape Town where I took Matt to all of my favorite spots. We had breakfast with penguins, ate a 12 course fish fry on the beach, and hiked Table Mountain. The pictures are really better than anything I can write here, so I'll just let you enjoy. 

I once went to Napa after being in South Africa and
was disappointed that all wineries weren't this expansive

They were so close!

A beautiful shot from Boulder's Beach

On Cape Point. 

Lion's Head and part of the 12 Apostles. 

Where we enjoyed our 12 course fish fry!

For about an hour of this hike, we walked through that large cloud.
Luckily the view from the end was worth it!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Malabo Christmas

Making mulled wine for the first time. It was delicious!
For the first time in my 27 years of life, I did not spend Christmas with my immediate (husband not included) family, nor my husband's family.  Instead, we spent Christmas with a different kind of family: our Malabo family. The day started with Matt, Tucker and I opening some gifts from our families and just relaxing. Then we continued our Harry Potter marathon with the neighbors before two more friends came to join us for dinner. We all contributed something special from our own families for the occasion (and thanks to our friends from England, I think mulled wine will become a new tradition in our household!), and enjoyed a lovely evening chatting, playing games, and laughing. While I missed our parents and the little nephews running around (thank goodness for Facetime so we got to see them!), I didn't feel too sad, because we were still surrounded by great people whom we love.
Turned the A/C down low and put on our fireplace DVD
so we could cuddle up in our new Christmas scarves!

I read a great post recently by a fellow FSer, about the friends you make during this crazy life style (you can check out the original post *here* if interested). And what she had to say really hit home. The friends we have made here are incredible, and what I hope to be life long friendships. And we became friends in an instant. I remember moving to Washington, D.C., and not really knowing anyone. I did tons of volunteering outings, social activities, etc., in an attempt to try and meet people. My two best friends in DC were friendships that developed over months. We would see each other once a week, chit chat about superficial things in our lives, and slowly we got to know each other and realized our mutual awesomeness.

In EG, there is no time for that process. One, there is limited time to spend here, so friendships need to happen quickly (on the plus side, as everyone moves in and out so quickly, no one else has friends either, so they are easy to make!). And two, there is not a lot to do here, so life would be pretty rough without any friends. During our first 9 months here, we survived with a small group of friends (thank goodness my coworker decided that we could be friends!), but were constantly looking out for additional friendships to be had (I love being friends with guys, but I really needed some lady friends in the mix!) When we heard that a new young couple was going to be moving into the Embassy soon, we became VERY excited, and started planning how we would introduce them to the Island and become great friends (thankfully, they weren't too creeped out by this and decided that we could still be friends, despite our slight obsession with hoping they would be awesome). Over the past year, we continued to add wonderful friends into the mix, and they all have been made following this pattern: 1) spot a young looking male or female 2) establish that they speak English and don't seem super weird 3) awkwardly make an attempt to exchange contact details 4) instantly become friends and start hanging out.

Looking down the beach.
Tucker protecting our tent.
To wrap up our Christmas weekend, we packed up the dogs and the tents and headed back down to the south of the Island to enjoy a final weekend camping on the beach and swimming in waterfalls. On our second day, we thought that we would stay an extra night, eventhough our neighbors had decided to head back to the city. However, when we came back from cliff diving (check out Matt's awesome first person video!), and saw that all our friends were packing up, I realized it wouldn't be the same without them there (plus, sleeping in an actual bed sounded pretty nice!). As we caravaned back to Malabo, reflecting on our time spent here in EG, we looked at our friend's car and said "thank goodness they showed up!"

The waterfall next to our campsite.

The boys hiking in.

The view from the drive in. No more having to hike down the cliff!

The waterfall that we looked at while cliff diving.

As we get ready to leave Malabo for our next post, I am truly grateful for the wonderful friends that we have made here. They have made our time here much more enjoyable, and I can only hope that we are lucky enough to make some friends close to as cool as these ones in Guatemala. And while we may have only known them for a short while, due to the circumstances, I have a feeling that when we leave, it will not be "Adios", but "hasta luego"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Riding in Cars with Dogs

There are plenty of dogs wandering the streets of Malabo. However, there are very few that wander around connected to weird chains with a collar on their neck. And I think there may only be one who gets to ride in the car with some crazy white lady so he can play with his other doggy friends and go on walks along the beach.
On a sunset stroll on the Paseo after his day at
"Doggie Daycare". He may be a little bit spoiled

Yes, I am that crazy white lady and Tucker is the infamous dog in the car. 

We had a work visitor a few months back who asked me one day, “what makes Guineans smile?”
His question was valid, based on his observations during his time in the country, that the Guinean people don’t appear openly friendly. There’s no smile when you pass them on the street, enter their office, or walk into a restaurant. Most days, you are lucky if the look they give you is one of disinterest, instead of anger/intimidation/etc.

But I have found the secret. A fail-proof way to always get a smile, no matter what. That crazy dog who rides in the car, gets hooked to a leash and prances around Malabo. Little kids in the back seats of taxis point and get the attention of their siblings. They all wave frantically, laughing hysterically the whole time. Grumpy looking men do a double take before flashing a smile, shaking their head and nudging their buddy to take a look as well.  And my personal favorite occurred when we took Tucker to go hiking when he was still too small to jump over the back seat (we have since tried many different methods to keep him constrained…) We had been stopped by a military man at one of the checkpoints who was gruffly asking us for our documents, where were we going did we have….but then he stopped, because as he was peering into the car, Tucker popped his head up over the back seat, excited to meet a new friend! The officer immediately started laughing and his whole demeanor changed. He wanted to know if we were taking the dog to the beach. When we told him we were instead taking him hiking today, we got another weird look (why anyone would want to hike is a mystery to the Guineans, why anyone would take a dog is probably even more perplexing…), but instead of just rudely waving us on like normal, we got a smile and a “have fun!” as we drove away.  I hope Tucker was the topic of conversation for the rest of the day.

So, the next time you head out on the streets of Malabo, make sure you take your dog. You’ll find that people appear much friendlier if you do. And if nothing else, their fear and confusion over why you have your large dog on a leash or in the front seat of the car, should keep them from coming up and yelling at you. J