Friday, March 02, 2007

Truth Talk

When I was writing Defying Gravity, I implored my interviewees to be as truthful as they possibly could. "The more honest you are," I said, "the more your story will help others.”

Looking over my Africa entries, I hope I haven’t created the impression that I’m some brave adventurer who thinks nothing of traveling alone to a third-world country.

The truth is that in the weeks approaching my departure, I had a lot of anxiety about the trip. I worried about getting mugged in Johannesburg. I worried that I would feel compelled out of politeness to eat all sorts of foul-tasting, exotic foods. I worried that the civil unrest created by Zimbabwe’s imploding economy would spill into the tourist areas surrounding Victoria Falls. I even worried about the weight of my wheelless duffel (wheeled luggage doesn’t drag well on dirt roads), which I knew I would be schlepping on my shoulder as I walked from place to place.

As it turns out, I didn’t get mugged, didn’t contract malaria (I got bitten by mosquitoes in the Chobe Game Reserve, but was taking anti-malarial prophylactics), didn't feel unsafe at Vic Falls (except while sharing the ladies' room with a troop of baboons), and wasn’t forced to eat anything I didn't like. (I ate crocodile, but it was by choice.) Yes, my bag was heavy, but I was able to carry it myself. (That's me, at left, waiting to collect my luggage at an airport in Botswana.)

I’m sure luck played a role in my good fortune, but it wasn't luck alone. I thought through the risks and prepared for the worst. Before leaving the States, for instance, I e-mailed the proprietor of the guest house I was staying at in Johannesburg and asked him how much a cab should cost from the airport to his place. I also printed out directions. When rogue drivers accosted me at the Johannesburg Airport, I avoided eye contact, walked straight to the rank of official cabs, and interviewed the drivers to see which one would take me to the guest house for a fair price.

Perhaps I'm a brave adventurer after all. Who knows?

All I can say is that I’m grateful to have Bonnie Orton as a role model, grateful to have finally seen Botswana’s breathtakingly beautiful sky (see photo above), grateful to have met so many huge-hearted people, and grateful that I didn’t let my fears get in the way of my dreams.

Photo Credit: Kris Verswe (from the website:

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