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What an overland trip through the continent of Africa taught me about creating a new normal

How resilience took my life to a new level after meeting extraordinary challenges like bonding with strangers to survive in the wilderness

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As an archeologist and philanthropist, world travel has been my lifeblood and has led serendipitously to the transformation of the lives of orphans and the welfare of abused animals in five countries over the last sixteen years. I met ordinary people who, like me, just wanted to make a difference in this world. In this time of the Coronavirus, the world has shuttered. Suddenly our passions, projects and even our connection with people have been put on hold. How do we keep transforming ourselves and the world from the confines of our four walls? How do any of us continue to do what we’ve always done with such dramatic life changes? How do we find a new normal?

As I’ve lived through these first months in the new reality of the Coronavirus, like many of us I felt blindsided by grief. After all, my whole life has been devoted to helping people through personal connection so that they would discover their passions, and live them out to the full while meeting their healthcare and nutritional needs. How can I possibly carry on this connection and forge new bonds virtually? How can I continue to connect people to their own glow when connections with human beings are life-threatening at this hour?

When I got caught in the lie that I’d never dealt with this type of situation before, it got me thinking. I’d faced this and a lot worse. I could figure out a new normal from the lessons I’ve learned when tragedy sent me on an overland trip through Africa on my first visit to the continent. This first adventure would send me on a larger journey that found me returning again and again to the outskirts of Nairobi to continue the work of Mama John, Director of Merciful Redeemer Children’s Home, after her death.

“Oh yes, finally, we’re going to look at some wildlife!!! Yay!!!” This was the general consensus of the twenty-two people traveling together on our first day of exploration out of Cape Town and into the wilds of South Africa. Packed together somewhat comfortably on the Intrepid Travel truck equipped with lockers, tables, and a few spots in the back for storing a couple of coolers and bins for snacks and small items like extra backpack and camping gear. My fellow adventure-seekers and I were in for some surprising bucket-list encounters with iconic African wildlife and the vast continent’s epic, unusual territories. 

The beginning of the trip was not a comfortable experience. I had been so used to relying on so many different devices. I fought giving up the old life I had where I could pick up and drive somewhere if I needed a break from the routine. I wasn’t able to grab the phone and call a friend if I wanted to. Everything had changed. I had to sit down, take in the scenery, talk to my fellow passengers, journal, and take photos. Repeat. For hours on end. I had to find a new normal, a new way of living in the context of the van and the camps we set up every night. I had no idea how life-changing swapping old habits for new would be in the beginning.

We’re all in this place of our own personal wilderness where we can make equally mind-blowing discoveries if we can take the time to let go of the old and embrace the new, our own African wilderness within. What if the ultimate adventure in life is the journey of our heart, of going within and connecting with ourselves as deeply as we feel the need to connect with others, in my case, the animal world? How much more awesome will the world be when we’ve all dug a little deeper into our passions, pleasure, and identities? I thought this period of sheltering in place during the Coronavirus would be a period that might rob my glow. But now that I relive that African overland trip, my glow has always brightened in the resilience needed to take life to a new level after meeting extraordinary challenges like bonding with strangers to survive in the wilderness. 

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