Sunday, January 30, 2011


     It’s been a while since I’ve been truly flabbergasted.  That word sounds funnier than its real meaning, which is a shame when it fits a particularly unhumorous situation.  In any case, chuckle-worthy or not, that’s exactly what I was a couple days ago as I took a few minutes to assess this moment of my life in the big picture: flabbergasted.  Be careful about exploring the big picture unless you’re ready to take a good, long look… more often than not, it’s really big.  Some might say TOO big… 
    Can you tell it’s late at night and I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say?  That’s exactly the point, though.  Because while I was sitting and thinking, and sitting and thinking, all about my last three weeks in Africa, how much I had to do and how fast it would go, how fast it had already gone, and how fast it was coming at me (“it” being time, of course, not an albatross or something silly like that) I realized that I have only been focusing on my time in Africa ending and the next chapter with the girl of my dreams beginning, and not what any of that means.  I flashed back to another moment, when I was sitting and thinking… thinking how to explain to my parents my wild idea about heading off into the wild blue yonder and living in East Asia, India, and Africa for the next 2-3 years.  After 30 minutes of breathless and scattered explanation, they leaned back, looked at each other, and said “sounds great, go for it!”  That was four and a half years ago, and it all seemed so dreamlike, so far away, even when I was right in the thick of it.  But for the first time it now hits me that in three weeks that plan, every step of it and more, will be finished.  The path I’ve been walking on for years has come to its conclusion, and I have absolutely no idea how I feel about that, except for one word:  Flabbergasted. 
     What I do know is how I expect the next month to feel… and the closest I can come to describing it forces me to use “tornado” as an adjective.  The next month with be extremely tornadoy!  The week in front of me must produce a first draft of my survey report.  This project has taken up most of my working hours (a motley collection of sporadic lengths of time, I confess) in the last four months, and the database of results 
alone has taken four people working most of the last three weeks to complete.  Now it’s time to start churning out charts, graphs, and ideally lots of intelligent words to explain the charts and graphs, with very little time to do all that churning.
Ndelilio and Sig translate tirelessly

Kirsten dives into data-entry!

Jacob crunches the unrurly numbers

I run about waving large stacks of paper...

...and twitching nervously whenever
piles of data rear their...stacks.

     The following week (Feb 5-12) I intended to set out on my long-planned trek.  No, not up Kilimanjaro ($1000+ is a wee bit out of my price range after 18 months of gallivanting), and not even through any national parks or any place that a tourist has heard of ($100 per day is still out of my price range).  But I was determined to find something to match to my Buddhist pilgrimage in Japan and Hindu Pilgrimage in India, so when I heard about a large volcano in the wilderness north of the Serengeti which the Maasai call
Ol Doinyo Lengai - The Mountain of God
The Mountain of God,”I knew I had to go there.  And it’s only 150 km from Arusha, why not walk there?  Okay, 150km across sun-baked wilderness, where water is scarce, people are scarcer, roads are nonexistent, and animals are not scarce enough for comfort… but hey, who wouldn’t call that fun?!  Yes, I’m nervous about this one, it will not be easy, and I’m not in good enough shape for it.  And I hope to end 5 days of walking at a massive volcano, and still have the energy to spend a day climbing up to its steaming bubbling peak.  The guys I work with at Pamoja have found a guide for me, a local guy they refer to as “Bushman,” who lives “about 15 km off a path that is about 50 km past the middle of nowhere” where he lives traditionally as a hunter-gatherer (seems it’s not unlikely that I might get to sample antelope that was killed by an arrow while on my trek).  He’s agreed to guide me, though he lives on the other side of Arusha and doesn’t know the area around the Mountain of God: “But Bushman,” says Jeremy, my director, on the phone with him, “won’t you get lost?”  “I CAN’T GET LOST” he thundered back.  At least I’ll be in very confident hands!  And I know what the first words of my chapter about the experience will be!
The next chapter...
Need I say more?
     When/if I return from that trek, I’ll have 5 days left in Arusha to tie up loose ends, maybe try to fit in an actual safari (unlikely, which means I will have spent 6 months in east Africa without seeing a single lion), maybe visit a few more schools to do some meta-surveys (“80% of your friends want to meet Obama, why do you think that is?”), do some last minute shopping, then bussing up to Nairobi and flying out on the 20th to Istanbul.  Celine will meet me there the next day, and then I’ll have 5 days in a new exotic city to do nothing but walk old streets, eat good food, and be with the woman I’ve been falling more in love with every day for the last 7 months.  Enough said. 
    After that we fly to France, and I try to understand the notion of slowing down a bit… while I work on finishing the Tanzanian survey report, getting a summer job in Korea, applying to universities in Germany, learning French, and continuing to spend real time with my girlfriend that’s not interrupted by power-outages or time-differences.  Hmm, maybe “slowing down” won’t be that slower…
     If you want to know the plan from there, it surprisingly hasn’t changed since my most recent “THE PLAN” post. 
     I realize this post isn’t that interesting, but I haven’t been able to pull together anything more interesting in the last month, and probably won’t have time to post much in the month of February.  Never fear (and don’t go away!), I’ll be back in force in March, if not before, with tales of Maasai volcanoes, Turkish rendezvous, and French cuisine!  Until then, thank you all for your messages, interest, and friendship!   I’m constantly reminded that the best and most intrinsic part of this amazing life I’m leading is you, each of you reading this now.  You so often leave me flabbergasted! I’ll see you on the other side of here-and-now! 


  1. Nicely written Caleb. Have fun on your next adventure and ready yourself for the adventures after that.
    Much love,

  2. I think I have not read your blog nearly as often as I should have. Part of me wishes I was doing the crazy things you are and and another part is fine with settling into my own altered culture. I wish we you could come down this way for a few days so we could take you to see a lion.