A Different Kind of Blog

I must admit writing this blog has given me unforeseen challenges. I ask that you bear with me as I attempt to fumble my way through writing these blogs in order to convey some semblance of the reality of traveling across the world in a different hemisphere, and the magnitude of the impact this trip to Botswana is having on all of us. I was reading my last blog and realized the inadequacy of what I was communicating. The blog sounded too formal and not personal enough. Then I saw the statistics and was overwhelmed that over 100 people are reading these blogs. That is both and honor and kind of terrifying. I want to do the best I can to tell you what your loved ones are experiencing without trying to ‘speak’ for them too much. In lieu of all this I read my favorite author’s blog (John Scalzi) and found that there are pretty much two types of blogs that can be written: the informative and the conversational. My last two blogs were informative. They have the rhythm of, “then we did this, then we did this..” In reading Sclazi’s blog I realized that the ‘conversational’ blogs were a lot more personal and interesting to read. The informative blogs are still important to convey a lot of information in a limited amount of time. In the future I will request others to write blogs like Shandra did so eloquently, but I will also include both informative and conversational. I must admit, at times I have stared at the computer for hours and thought, “How am I supposed to convey this information?” Here is my attempt at being conversational. (The scary thing is, conversational blogs break all the rules, like switching tenses and going from first, to second, to third person point of view!)

Let me tell you about one of the top 5 days of my life (possibly the best day of my life). We were on a trip to Tantebane Nature Reserve to do some team building activities. Here I am with 15 of some of the world’s best people. On a side note, I am the only male on this trip. When I was in the military for 8 years, the infantry had only males so this experience is the exact opposite for me. I must give the ladies on this trip all the credit in the world for including me and not making me feel like an outcast.

Going in to the team building activities some of us had an idea what to expect based on past teambuilding experiences. Almost all activities were new to me. The two workers, who’s job title can best be described as ‘motivational guides,’ immediately expressed their genuine excitement to lead us through the team building activities and then fed us the best grill cheese and ham sandwiches I could have imagined. Today was going to be a great day.

One of the first activities they challenged us with was where everyone was in a large circle with a hula hoop in the middle. A team of two was set to be in the middle with one in the hula hoop and the other guarding the person in the hula hoop. The rest of us threw 3-4 balls to try and hit the person in the middle. To say the least, it was tough. Afterwards the question was asked if we felt safe when the balls were being tossed? Did we trust the person blocking for us? The motivational guides did a flawless job of relating these games to actual applications in real life. They have perfected their craft and demonstrated excellence at their job.

One incredibly frustrating activity I have participated in 3 times in my life and have seen attempted a few more times. I have never seen or heard of it being accomplished. I was led to believe that it was an impossible task. I was told it could not be accomplished and it was used as a method to teach learners to be ok with failure. The task was to lower a hula hoop to the ground as a group with each of us 14 people putting a finger on the hoop without a single person losing contact with the hula hoop. The rules are the finger must be pointed at the person across you in a ‘gun’ shape so there is no hooking the hoop with a person’s finger to pull it to the ground. A hula hoop weighs approximately 1.5 – 2 lbs. Broken down this means that each person, all 14 people, must engage with less than 2 ounces of pressure without losing contact while lowering to the ground. This task took forever. I had zero confidence in our ability to accomplish this goal. We tried numerous plans. We failed at least 25 attempts. All that being said, not a single person quit. Everyone stayed amongst some of the most frustrating and infuriating attempts. People lamented on this being the most difficult task they’d ever been assigned. People expressed exasperation on not being heard in the planning phases. But no one quit. For the first time I’ve heard of we accomplished the goal of lowering the hoop to the ground. I debated about how much to write about this frustrating task. The activity really stressed us as a team and brought us down. I look at it now as a victory that amongst the frustrations and anger we remained a team and did not quit.

Two more activities that shaped us. First we had a task of being blind folded and grabbing a rope and creating a square while linking the ends. Amazingly, we accomplished this task incredibly quickly. However, we had zero organization and no plan. As a group we have struggled to engage in the planning phase on this trip. This task reinforced that. This task mirrored our ability to perform under pressure without adequate planning. At the same time, we all agree that if we put a little more time into planning then the days (or in this case the activity of creating a box with a rope while blindfolded) would go smoother. It is almost like the professors asked the motivational guides to arrange this scenario.

Our championing moment came after this revelation during the blindfolded-rope-box game. Our task was to take a bucket of “toxic” waste (a bucket full of ping pong balls and muddy water) and dispose of it in a bowl in the middle of a large circle. The rules were we had ropes at our disposal, but the ropes were not allowed to touch the center of the circle while we dumped the toxic waste into the large bowl. Obviously we were going to have to tie a rope to the handle of the toxic waste bucket and then to tie the ends of the rope to two other people to act as anchors while somehow managing to dump the bucket into the bowl without spilling it or letting the ropes or bucket touch the ground. Easier said than done. We accomplished this task incredibly well. We accomplished it by planning, engaging with one another, listening to each other, and make a solid, executable plan.

Later in the evening we were invited to Matilda’s (our contact in Botswana who graduated from Ohio University PT school in the 90s) for a cook out. Anders and Matilda had provided more food than you can imagine. I had the honor to help on the grill. There was filet mignon, sirloin steak, chicken legs, sausage, the best potato salad, mixed salad, fruit dessert, and a couple of traditional tswana foods that I can’t remember the name of currently – I’ll add them later. Many commented that it was the best meal of their lives. As I sat at the table I was so overwhelmed with joy I was nearly in tears. This trip is changing me, it is molding humans, it is forging friendships and bonds that will stand the test of time, it is reaching out to a population that is growing in knowledge, access, and understanding of their own health, it is reaching out to the people of Botswana to show that we care, it is teaching us that we have so much more to learn about life. It was a tremendous day. I sat with my eyes welled and grateful for the hospitality of Matilda, the people of Botswana, and the opportunity to be a part of this trip.

OH! Did I mention we saw giraffes, zebras, impalas, monkeys, and these very large birds while at Tantebane!

 

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