After a few crazy weeks filled with so many new experiences, it has taken me some time to find myself at a place where I feel ready to write. For those of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know that I have been beyond privileged to travel to some incredible places and really have been enjoying my trip of a lifetime. At this point it’s difficult to decide what to write about, and what not to write about. What do I want to share with the world, and what do I want to keep to myself. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to write. However, suddenly, after a few bites of a bar of raw organic dark chocolate that I found at the Organic Foods & Cafe here in Dubai; I decided it was time to just ‘shut up and write’. So here I am, attempting to depict the past few weeks in the words of Chloe’s Countertop.
Since I left Vancouver I have done some serious world travel. Being based out of Dubai- I have followed my dad to the beautiful, romantic city of Rome; the crazy fast-paced city of Abu Dhabi, and just recently to where I have left my heart, in South Africa. As you can probably assume, I am going to be spending most of this post writing about my time in South Africa. I will try my absolute best to paint an accurate picture of my limited and treasured trip to Durban and the surrounding area of Zululand.
First, to begin- I must fill you in with a bit of my past, in relation to Africa. At this point, if you are a follower of me, my blog and my business- you probably know that I am a passionate lover of animals. Animals are what guide me in life, and they are what I lean on when I can’t find myself. This has actually proven to be a challenge for me here in Dubai, where animals are most definitely not prolific and to be honest- I prefer it that animals stay out of Dubai- it really isn’t the place for them. I remember years ago, when I was working here in Dubai for a summer, and I first saw the Dubai Zoo. What a heart-breaking site. Large animals (like giraffes!!!) that should never been in cages were locked in cages that were only inches taller than them, leaving them barely enough room to walk around. Needless to say, it’s not a desirable place for animals. Animals are here primarily for entertainment. Aquariums, water parks, zoos– a large depiction of animal exploitation. For instance, the new mall, the Dubai Mall, which is the largest mall in the world now- is home to a large indoor aquarium, and a small zoo. The fact that you can be sitting down sipping a cappucino or browsing stores, turn a corner and see sharks- really does upset me quite a lot. Sharks are not meant to be in shopping malls. Anyways, this is something that I really do want to spend more of my life working against, or rather, changing. Without rambling on too much about this (because believe me, I absolutely could spend hours talking about this and how it pains me); it’s safe to say that I am happy to know that our family horses are safe and happy at the expansive Albertan countryside at our ranch and Ollie is happy and warm in his bed in Vancouver with my two best friends Paulina & Gary, as he sleeps off a long day of wandering around the Endowment Lands (Ollie’s happy place).
Growing up, my dad and I would always talk about the wildlife in Africa. Ever since I was a little girl my dad would say to me- one day you are going to go live in Africa and take care of the animals. I’m sure my dad said many more things about many other things- however this always stuck with me. It was like innately he knew that this would be something I would do. I think I always knew that I would make my way to Africa and finally experience what it’s like to see one of the ‘big 5’ in the wild, in the middle of the stunning, majestic African countryside. I always knew that I would find my way there. Of course, along with this, I definitely catch myself going into the story of “what about everything else I’ve done– psychology, english, nutrition– now animals?”
The thing about this trip, that has really become a repetitive lesson and reminder for me is that life really is about right now. Life isn’t about yesterday, last week or 2 weeks ahead. For a lot of my life I have had a hard time living in the present. I spent so much time and energy thinking about the past. Holding onto past relationships, old feelings, memories with friends/boyfriends/family and holding onto images of myself when I was my ‘skinniest’ or ‘prettiest’. In fact, I don’t think I have really spent too much time or energy thinking about the future. I have been heavily stuck in the past. I would always be so fuelled by how I felt in a certain moment in the past. I would think about how I felt with a boyfriend, and why I didn’t feel that feeling anymore. This made letting go of things really difficult. This made moving on and adjusting to change very painful. This infatuation with the past was something that I used to glorify. I used to think that it was a power of mine. Because I put so much energy into my emotional memories, I had and still have quite a fantastic memory. As we know in psychology, your emotional memory is the strongest, because the amygdala (home of emotion) solidifies memories (rapid neuron firing). I can remember the most ridiculous details of a large portion of my life. This, is something that I found as my power. What I am now realizing is that, as with everything, there is good and bad. There must be balance. So, what was something that I found as my power and a talent of mine, has also been something that is my weakness, my achilles heel. Oh life, sometimes you are so funny, the way that you work!
Although I do still very much hold onto the past, and catch myself reminiscing throughout the day; I am finding that through my awareness of this pattern is has less power over me. Of course, there have been moments where it has come close to really hurting me again and sometimes it does. Hung-over mornings where I begin to go through in my head exactly how much I drank, what I ate and how I wish I could go back to how I felt the day before. This is something I used to do daily. Especially in the worst days of my eating disorder. Relying on my magnificent memory to recount every single thing that entered my mouth. & if I decided it was over the mark or my net calories was not acceptable (aka I wasn’t in the negatives), I would find myself performing some form of self-destructive behaviour. Now, do I think that this pattern/story/behavior/thought process will never ever happen again. Absolutely not. I am sure it will make an appearance in my life again, very soon. However, the point is to be aware of it. Notice it’s arrival. & not fight it. Just allow it to pass me by. Greet it, as if it were an old enemy that I no longer want to fight with or have problems with or an old relationship that no longer served me.
Another big lesson that I have really come to terms with in the past month is that we all have a certain challenge/pattern in our life. Depending on your fixation and your orientation (this is a whole other topic of conversation based on something I was introduced to by my mum called the enneagram)- this challenge is something that manifests in all different forms throughout your life. Just when you think you have solved an issue and combatted a destructive, bad pattern in your life- it finds it way into your life through another form. What I mean by this is basically that through each challenge in your life you can find a sense of familiarity. There is a common thread in what is brought to you and what you go through. Once you start to notice these underlying patterns, it makes it a bit less complicated in terms of finding the silver lining or holding your head above water (avoiding drowning/ the pain that we can get stuck in). For me, I am noticing that my driving force in life is to feel loved. Now, I know that everyone needs and wants to feel loved. However, for me- this desire to feel loved is what drives me in every aspect of my life. Every decision, every behavior, every movement. There is always an underlying desperation to feel loved. Now that I am more aware of this, it makes it easier for me to not get stuck in these moments of pain, when I find myself in a bit of sticky situation. This doesn’t mean that I will completely get rid of this desire/drive. It will always be there, however- having a certain awareness makes it more manageable for me to recover from certain painful situations and perhaps sometimes make a different, less destructive decision:)
Enter animals. Just like everything in my life, animals are in my life because of love. Animals are a complete, absolute, unconditional source of love (that is of course unless you find yourself in a situation of trying to hug a lion, in which case- the feeling of being loved may not be the end result). I know that deep down I will always have animals in my life. Ever since I was a little girl, I was begging my parents, daily, if I could get a dog. Instead of getting dog I would receive dog breed books for every birthday and christmas present. As a result, I am a bit of an encyclopaedia when it comes to dog breeds (i’m sure theres many girls out there that share this trait). It wasn’t until I finally moved away from home that I was given the gift of my lifetime (by my boyfriend at the time, Mark and my brother Sam) one Christmas in 2008, my first dog, Ollie.
It’s actually quite a funny story. This particular Christmas our family were spending the holidays in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (where Sam and I grew up). On Christmas day Sam presented me with a box. I open this box, remove the wrapping paper and find a card that has printed photos of a puppy. It took me a few moments before I realized that this was not just any puppy, this was my puppy. A baby Miniature Australian Shepherd, who was all mine. I immediately grabbed the phone (after hugging Sam for a few minutes, and my parents) to call Mark and ask him all about this new puppy who was about to change my life forever. The bad news is that to my parents dismay, I almost immediately changed my flight and flew home to Vancouver a few days later (before New Years) so that I could be united with Ollie.
That was 7 years ago now, and just this October (October 23rd) Ollie turned 7 years old! It’s hard to believe the time has flown by so fast. Anyways, I am sitting here right now, tears-deep, with a pile of used tissues beside my computer- really, seriously missing Ollie. Probably one of the most painful things about this trip (don’t get me wrong, there haven’t been too many painful things about this trip of a lifetime) has been leaving Ollie. The silver lining though, has been that he is in the hands of my dear, dear sister (soul sister, best friend forever, you know what I’m talking about) Paulina and her dear boyfriend Gary. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I am so fortunate to have them there for me, making sure that Ollie is surrounded by an abundance of love (and maybe a few treats here and there);)
So you can bet that as soon as we landed in Durban, South Africa- I told my dad that all I cared about doing while we were there was going to a reserve to see the wildlife. Everything else I would happily accept with open arms and lots of smiles. The next day, we made our way at 6am to the Hluhluwe-Imflozi Game Reserve in ZuluLand along with our trusted guide David. The drive to the reserve was 3 hours- but I thoroughly enjoyed it as David was filled with knowledge about the Zulu’s, African Wildlife, history and South Africa in general. Also, I was in awe of the view. Everywhere you looked all you could see was beautiful greenery. I really felt at home. We spent the full day there, driving around the reserve, observing the African wildlife in the natural habitat. What a day. I will cherish this day forever- and I know that this is a place I will return to, soon. Most game reserves in Africa are known for what they refer to as the “Big 5”– rhinos, elephants, lions, leopards, and buffalo. The term was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot.
Within minutes of being on the reserve we had already seen 3 of the ‘Big 5′ and experienced the highlight of the day; observing a pack of Wild Dogs or African Painted Dogs, resting after an early morning hunt. The reason why this was such a highlight is because similar to the Rhinos (especially the black rhino), the Wild Dogs are sadly on the endangered list. Although they are not hunted by poachers for a reason (like rhinos, which are hunted for their horns)- they are heavily killed by poachers and locals alike (mostly due to the fact that they get in the way of poaching). I couldn’t help but want to just jump out of the SUV and hug all of the dogs- however, luckily, my desire to feel loved by these beautiful creatures was trumped by the fact that these dogs are some of the most vicious and successful hunters in the African wild. In comparison to lions who are successful in their hunts 30% of the time, Wild Dogs hunt in packs and are so skilled that their success is rated at an unbelievable 80%! Needless to say, it was a good thing I stayed in the car and observed from afar:).
The thing about being on these game reserves and being in such close vicinity to these animals is that you realize how unbelievably majestic, beautiful and gentle they are. There is something about animals in nature that melts your heart and makes you want to be an activist so bad. It really makes me realize more and more how angry I get about humans intervening with nature. I’ve always said (since I was young) that I would much rather die in an animal attack than be murdered by a human (I apologize for going dark there). This point became seriously clear to me when we stumbled upon the rhino on the reserve. Aside from the fact that these stunning creatures are herbivores, they really do not have an ounce of threatening energy. No wonder so many rhino have been killed and they are quickly disappearing from our world. They are such easy targets for us dangerous humans. Seeing the rhino, I made a decision right there and then that I would do something to help protect them and conserve them.
In total, dad and I were so lucky to see all of the following: 5 rhino (2 males alone and 1 mother and baby + male), 2 elephants (beside a river, munching away), 1 giraffe, 2 zebra, a pack of 4 wild dogs, a group of baboons, a pack of vervet monkeys, many impalas, the African Hoopoo bird, Vultures, Eagles & a family of Warthogs. At the days’ end we were slightly upset to have not seen any of the cats- however, it was a fleeting moment of sadness. We were so filled with excitement and appreciation for what we did see and for where we were. It was like all these years later we were finally able to live the dream we always spoke about- to be together in Africa observing the beautiful wildlife.
Back in Dubai now, processing my trip of a lifetime to South Africa- I know that I must return. I feel like I barely touched the surface of South Africa. I heard it many times while I was there, South Africa is like a small introduction to Africa. There is SO much more to see & to experience. I feel like my place is there. I know that I want to be there. I know that the next stage in my life will involve the African Wildlife. As they say in South Africa, I will “hold thumbs”, and hope to return soon. I am ready to really take myself on an adventure. I just recently finished reading Cheryl Strayed’ book ‘Wild’– which I highly highly recommend that you read if you haven’t already. I am researching volunteer/job opportunities right now in South Africa and in Wildlife Conservation and will most definitely keep you updated. It feels good to have some direction. I’m still going to be focusing on each day, as it comes, and feel it out. Nutrition is still my life. However, I know that animals are as well. My hope is to somehow combine the two. All I can say now, is that I am really really excited about where I am, and who I am.