Tag Archives: Engagement

The Delicate Mzungu at the Delicate Arch

Please read the Preface first if you haven’t yet done so–

If you can’t tell already, I love stories. So I am particularly happy when a special event in my life has an interesting story attached to it, even if it is a little embarrassing on my end (foreshadowing).

Setting: Summer of 2008. P’s family had left after a five-week visit. Meanwhile for months I had been desperately searching for an exit strategy from a job I really didn’t like, and had finally found a new position that was a lot closer to both our home and my field of interest. P, S, R and I had been talking about taking a trip, but the timing was never right, so I thought– hey, I can leave this job a week before I have to start my next job, P and S don’t have work for the summer, only R has to take off from work, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a crazy trip somewhere.

Our plan was to drive across the United States in 9 days, hitting as many highlights as possible. We knew that we didn’t have enough time to see anywhere in-depth, but we decided to embrace the “road trip” mentality and hoped for an interesting experience overall. The itinerary was as follows: Day 1: Fly from NYC to Los Angeles, rent a car, and drive up the coast on Route 1 to San Francisco. Day 2: See the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park and spend the night in Las Vegas. Day 3: Hoover Dam–Grand Canyon–Monument Valley–and stay in Moab, Utah (right outside Arches National Park… which I made sure was on the itinerary). Day 4: Arches, Salt Lake City, stay in Idaho. Day 5: Grand Tetons National Park, Yellowstone National Park, stay in Wyoming. Day 6: Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park, stay in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Day 7: Sioux Falls to St. Louis Missouri. Day 8: St. Louis Arch– drive to Cincinnati. Day 9: Cincinnati back to New England. In true “techy” S fashion he created an interactive website with GPS connectivity so that people could follow our road trip on the web and see live updates, pictures and maps (that’s why R is “Married to a Geek”)

Before the trip I had dropped hints with P that it would be quite romantic to be at Arches, this place I’d wanted to visit since I was in eighth grade, and who knows, hint hint, have something special happen there. Yet as time grew short, and there didn’t seem to be any discussion of it, I figured that P wasn’t ready.

And off we went…  the road trip was pretty crazy– long hours on the road (our first day we left NYC around 8 in the morning, but we didn’t reach San Francisco until about 2am California time). S was taking many of the evening shifts (since he’s a night owl) and I was forcing everyone up at the crack of dawn to get on the road. I wanted to keep us on schedule so we could see everything we wanted to see, but it was tough when each individual destination was so interesting, and everyone wanted to stop and spend longer in each place. Most nights we didn’t reach our final destination until long after the sun had set.

On Day 3 we ate at an IHOP in Las Vegas before starting out on the road. P got up to use the restroom and then we met out in the car… we drove through Hoover Dam, and saw the Grand Canyon. My dad had visited the Grand Canyon the year before so after we left I called him up to let him know, “Hey Dad, just saw the Canyon. It was pretty neat.” The phone was quiet on the other end, then he said, “…And?”

“And what? Nothing much, having fun… the weather is hot.” I answered.

“Oh, okay… That’s it?”

“Yep.”

“Alright then, be safe and have fun.” Then he hung up the phone.

P and I at the Grand Canyon

As we got closer to Utah, we started seeing signs of the Delicate Arch everywhere. Prior to our trip I hadn’t realized it was such a famous landmark for the state. As we entered Utah near Monument Valley the “Welcome to Utah!” sign had a picture of the Arch. Many of the Utah state license plates had an image of the Arch. I learned later that the Olympic Torch from the 2002 Olympic Games even made a pass under the Arch. Going to bed in Moab, it was exciting to know that the next day I was going to see the Delicate Arch from my eighth grade postcard project.

R and I pose with the "Welcome to Utah!" sign on the edge of Monument Valley

P and I at Monument Valley

After driving through Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Southern Utah I was starting to get worried about the heat. I knew the altitude out west was higher than what we are used to in the east, and that higher altitude, drier weather, and blazing sun were a ripe combo for dehydration. After my experience in Kenya I was terrified of another severe sunburning/dehydration episode. As R, S and P got ready in the motel room the morning of Day 4, I watched the weather on the morning news–it was supposed to be in the high 90s, maybe even the low 100s–and I was already sucking down glasses of water like there was no tomorrow.

Arches was beautiful. High red/orange rock formations with thousands of sandstone arches carved by the harsh elements of the desert. The four of us spent most of the morning climbing through various archways and trails, visiting some of the park’s most famous landmarks. I kept urging everyone to drink water because of the dry heat and slathering sunscreen on my pale mzungu skin.

Hanging out at Arches...

After a few hours of driving and hiking through various parts of the park we finally reached it. The Delicate Arch. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting… it was way up on top of a large sandstone outcropping of rock. According to the map it was a 3 mile walk away. It looked so small from the lookout point, but it was there. The day was starting to get late and I figured for sure we didn’t have time to go.

You can see the faraway Delicate Arch in the middle of the picture.

“At least we had a chance to see it, even though it is all the way over there.” I said.

“What?” S exclaimed, “I didn’t come all the way to this park to see this famous landmark from so faraway. We are going up there!”

“S! It’s about 100 degrees out… a 3 mile walk on exposed rock in the blazing sun in the middle of the day is not a good idea. What if we get half way up there and something happens? 3 miles is really far to walk up hill in the hot weather, plus we have been outside already for so long… we don’t have a lot of water left!” I protested.

“I don’t care. I’m going up there. I already came this far!” S exclaimed.

“What if we get sick?” I said.

“Do you think you’ll get sick?” he asked. I had been pounding waters all day, but it was really dry and hot, and I was paranoid and scared from my previous experience. They all knew the story, but they hadn’t seen the delicate mzungu in action.

“I’m a little worried.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” He said, “Let’s go.”

So we started hiking. Uphill. On the exposed rock. In the noontime heat. It didn’t take long until R and I looked like we were wilting. We passed other tourists coming down the hike, their faces red, but they all assured us it was worth the difficult hot hike up. When we got about halfway, there was a meek little cactus type tree that R and I tried to sit behind for a bit of shade. We shared a juice box, sweat beading up on our faces. S looked at us, and looked up the hill and I’m sure he started wondering if this was a good idea or not. By this time we had already made it half way so it didn’t seem to make sense to turn back, queasy sunstroke-y feeling or not. Because at this point I wasn’t feeling quite right.

We started out again into the strong sun, up the red rock hill, and after a few paces I was hit with nausea. I ran up to a cliff edge and promptly threw up a stomach full of water. R and S were surprised and P gently scolded, “If you weren’t feeling good you should have told us. Is it the sun? Do you need to get out of the sun?” But usually right after  you vomit your body feels better, like it has rid itself of what was ailing it, and I genuinely felt recharged. S started apologizing for dragging us up the mountain, but I took a minute or two to catch my breath, wiped the sweat out of my eyes, and said, “Let’s go… we are almost there.”

The walk up was not fun... R, with P and I in the background. I'm bringing up the rear... clearly hurting at this point.

As you climb up the rest of the way, the path at the top is obscured by a rock ledge, so you don’t realize the Arch is right there until you emerge from around the edge of it, and then bam, it’s right there… beautiful and unique and picturesque. It truly is a sight, and was definitely worth the hike… nausea or not.

When you first see the Arch you are on the opposite side of a rounded rock outcrop that has largely been eroded into a steep drop off. To get from the path to the Arch you have to carefully walk along the edge of the outcrop. S told R, P and I to run over to the other side and stand beneath the Delicate Arch while he took pictures.

Finally! Standing below my postcard picture Delicate Arch! Me, R and P.

After taking so much time to get up there, S wanted to make sure we got our money’s worth. So he snapped lots of pictures then called out for someone to run back over so he could be in a few pictures. P ran back to take control of the camera, and S came to pose. We took a breather in the shade, and then I started to walk back towards P on the rock ledge in the sun. He started walking towards me, his hand in his pocket, but at that moment I could feel the sun effecting me again, and a wave of queasiness made me rush by him to run back toward the shaded rock ledge close to where S was originally taking our picture. P called out and told me to wait, but I said, “I have to get out of the sun for a minute.”

He followed behind, and found me standing with my back to the shaded rock ledge, out of view of the Arch and S and R. He walked up to me and put a box in my hand and asked, “Will you be my life partner?” My head was still swimming a bit from the sun, so at first I was confused. P wasn’t one for big surprises like this. I opened it up and saw an engagement ring.

“Well?”

“I can’t believe you actually did this!” I exclaimed, “You had this hidden the whole time?”

“Yep.”

“And my dad, did you ask my dad?”

“Yeah… I called him yesterday morning, from the IHOP in Vegas.”

“Did R and S know?”

“No, they didn’t. I’m glad S argued with you to get you to come up here… otherwise I’m not sure what I would have done.”

“How should we tell them?” I asked.

“I have an idea… ” he said, and took a picture of the ring on my finger with the camera.

So we emerged from the back of the ledge to find R and S still posing for pictures near the Arch. We walked over to them and P said, “Something interesting happened over there” and gave R and S the camera to look at. They scrolled through a few pictures of the Arch, and then saw the picture of the ring. R looked up with wide eyes and yelled, “Is that what I think??” and they both congratulated us, and took more pictures…

The steep rock outcrop across from the Arch that we had to walk along. It is hard to tell how steep it is, but take my word for it. The arrow points to the ledge behind which P proposed. The tiny black figure near the arrow is S, taking our picture while we stand under the Arch.

A pose in front of the Arch... Now that the "deed" has been "done." You probably can't tell, but the sun is still bothering me in this picture... and I'm worried I am starting to have some heat stroke.

R insisted we take a recreated "proposal shot" even though P wasn't on one knee when he asked.

As we made our way down the trail S started joking, “We went up 1 engaged couple and came down 2!” and “Good thing P proposed, otherwise C would have been mad at me the rest of the trip for forcing her to hike up in the sun and making her sick!” and lastly, “How cute… the delicate mzungu got engaged at the Delicate Arch!”

We got about three-quarters of the way down the path when I started feeling woozy again, and moved off the path to vomit up more water, and after that I didn’t feel as good as the first time. S’s face turned serious and he volunteered to run the rest of the way back down to the car to grab an extra water (we had since run out on the hot hot hike up to the top). I insisted I could make it down, but I wanted to get out of the sun as soon as possible because the direct sunlight was making my head swim.

S caught back up to us as we were nearing the end of the trail and I drank a bit more water. We climbed into the car and headed to the park Visitor Center. I felt better out of the sun, but still wasn’t feeling 100%. In hindsight I think I was so scared about getting dehydrated that I actually over hydrated and that was what made me sick combined with the direct intense sun. Hopefully I never get shipwrecked on a desert island, I probably wouldn’t do so well.

I called a few of my family members before we left Moab and the cell connection died. My dad said that he thought P was going to propose at the Grand Canyon (“That’s where I would have done it…”) and that was why he was confused the day before when I called but had no news. Apparently P had called him when he left the table to “use the restroom”  at the IHOP and said to my dad, “Um… I wanted to ask you for C’s hand” my dad probably didn’t know what P was talking about and said, “You want what?” so P (a little flustered, and already intimated) changed tactics and said, “I wanted to ask if it is okay if I ask C to marry me.” to which my dad said “Sure.”

I spent the next few hours before we reached Salt Lake City passed out in the back of the car, recovering from either over hydration, sunstroke, or some bizarre combination of both. Luckily I was good to go for Day 5.

So there’s the story. I don’t know too many people who throw up both on the way to getting engaged and on the way back (I promise I’m not always so “delicate” the sun was just not my friend in either story)… but it was a memorable experience and Arches will now always have a special place in my heart.

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The Proposal: Preface

In honor of the good news, I wanted to share P and my engagement story (in two parts). The first part is more of a preface and will give more context to the actual story of the event.

The Post Card

Part of this story actually stretches back to the summer before eighth grade (can you believe it?). I was really bored, and spent half my time daydreaming about adventuring off to faraway places that I never thought I would ever get a chance to visit. One day I happened upon the big roadmap/atlas my family had stuffed in the family car and started looking through it and realized there was a list of addresses in the index for national parks across the United States. I decided if I couldn’t go anywhere, I’d try and get other places to come to me (in a way), plus I loved getting mail.

I devised a fake summer project for school, and crafted letters to send to national parks across the country asking park rangers to take a picture of what they thought was the most interesting or beautiful place in their park. I must have sent about 25 letters out, and in a few weeks time I started getting things back in the mail. Some parks I never heard back from, but most humored me in some way. I didn’t get any actual photos, but I got a lot of park maps, park newspaper clippings and post cards—many of the postcards I still have to this day! Rocky Mountain National Park, Hawaii Volcano National Park, Glacier National Park, Haleakala National Park, Yellowstone National Park… etc. But one park stood out, because they sent me something unique.

Arches National Park in Utah sent me two postcards… one of the beautiful Delicate Arch and one of Balanced Rock, as well as a commemorative stamp of the Delicate Arch from the park. I was really intrigued by the stamp and the postcards. I’d never seen anything like the towering orange rock… it looked like the surface of Mars to my almost-eighth-grade eyes. Utah might as well have been Mars, it seemed so far away, I never thought I’d actually go there. But I always thought it would be really neat to stand under that arch some day, and I never forgot it.

This is a scan of the *actual* postcard I received from Arches in eight grade.

The Delicate Mzungu

A different kind of “delicate”… trust me, this could be a story all on its own, so I will try to keep it short. I’ve discussed before my love of and interest in Africa, but being a mzungu (the Kiswahili word used in East Africa for “white person”), especially a mzungu of Irish ancestry (as Russell Peters joked, “Irish people are the whitest white people on the planet… so white they are practically translucent!”), doesn’t always mix well with the intense African sun.

While I was in Kenya I was frustrated by the story of the “delicate mzungu.”  Every time I wanted to do something I was told that mzungus were very delicate and I should just sit and watch. Living with rural farmers in Western Kenya I wanted to carry buckets of water on my head, and help harvest the crops, and help wash the dishes and laundry in soapy buckets of water in the backyard as chickens ran around my feet. I wanted to experience rural Kenyan life, but I was met with protests… “No, no, it’s okay. Mzungus are delicate. Please, sit, have some biscuits.” I’d protest… “I’m not delicate! Please let me help! I’m here to learn!” and inevitably I’d either mess up (spill all the water), or something odd would happen (randomly get a nose bleed while washing dishes) and this would seem to reinforce their theory of the delicate mzungu—so sit and have some biscuits.

I ran into this “delicate mzungu” theory the whole time I was there, and I kept trying to fight it. I might have been a little more successful, had I been a little smarter.

Fast forward to another point during my stay… now I’m living in hot, arid Southern Kenya… a stone’s throw distance from the Tanzanian border, living with the pastoralist Maasai community. I’d been in the field for about a week and a half, living in tents near several family settlements (“bomas”). Our group had run out of all the water we had brought from the city, and had been relying on local bore-hole water boiled over a campfire. It was cloudy with bits of stuff floating in it, and tasted weird.

I wasn’t the best at drinking water in general, and had suffered a few bouts of minor dehydration earlier in the semester from not giving myself enough bottles throughout the day. Weird tasting bore-hole water wasn’t helping me in the water drinking department. And for some reason I got it in my head that I could do just fine on far less water than any of my comrades, and over the course of about 4 days I had drank no more than about one Nalgene bottle full of water. Couple this with the dry hot heat and the fact that I hadn’t bathed or even touched water for almost two weeks, I’m sure my body was ready for something to tip it over the edge.

Enter stupid delicate mzungu syndrome: The last few days of our field experience we were going to be scattered in various bomas across a wide expanse of land. I was paired with one other student and left with a Maasai family that spoke no English and hardly any Kiswahili to live in their small mud and cow dung huts and sleep on stretched cow hide. We were going to help the family herd their goats and sheep, cook with the family, and help them with their daily routine. However there was a special “age-set graduating ceremony” happening a few miles away, so the family thought it would be fun to take us there.

After a night sitting by the fire under the stars in one of the most remote places I’d ever been, singing songs back and forth with my homestay “mother” who was probably younger than me, I awoke the next morning to a cloudy cooler day. I helped with the goats, then had some tea for breakfast, and then got dressed for the age-set graduating ceremony. I had asked if I could dress like my hosts in traditional Maasai gear… two strips of cloth tied sarong style, a belt and beads (mistake #1: I’d been wearing light-weight long-sleeved billowy cotton shirts to protect my neck, and arms from sun since I don’t like sunscreen so much and a big floppy hat for protection, now I was very exposed. In addition I still didn’t put on sunscreen—it was cloudy in the morning and I wasn’t thinking, and I had only about half a Nalgene worth of water).

Yep, that's me, dressed like a Maasai woman, standing in front of one of the mud/cow dung huts at the age-set graduating ceremony

I went to the ceremony and my friend and I were the only two mzungus in a sea of about two thousand Maasai so we were quite popular. Little kids stared or cried because they thought there was something wrong with our skin, elders came to meet us, even the chief invited us to his hut as an honor to share a beer (my first ever) with him. I sat in the sweltering mud hut drinking large warm Tuskers with him, my head swimming. Then his son came in—“You honored my father, now honor me… please, have another.” I couldn’t without getting sick, so I settled on a warm bottle of coke. These were only dehydrating me more.

After a full day in the now hot bright sun I knew I was burnt to a crisp, and I was starting to feel a bit woozy. I had been very gracious to my hosts, trying to translate for my friend in Swahili, but I wasn’t feeling good, and eventually someone gave me an umbrella and I sat on the ground hiding beneath it until someone decided to take me home (a few miles walk away). I nearly passed out on the walk, but I chalked my bad mood and queasy feeling up to a bad sunburn.

And when I say bad, I mean, the worst sunburn of my LIFE. I wouldn’t be exaggerating in the slightest if I said that I literally LITERALLY looked like a lobster. That night I was in so much pain trying to sleep on the cow hide mattress. I could barely stand to wear my clothes.

The next morning my professor picked us up and brought us back to camp. As the students slowly filtered back from lots of other settlements people kept asking me if I was okay… and other than a few little bouts of wooziness, and a sore neck and shoulders, I did feel relatively okay. That night our group went out on a night game drive looking for lions, we were all standing on the seats of the Land Rover, our heads popping out the top, excited and singing as the sunset. I felt good, honestly, sunburned but not sick.

Until it hit like a freight train all at once. By then it was dark and we were miles and miles from camp. I instantly became incredibly nauseous, incredibly motion sick, and the world was spinning out of control. After trying to deal with it unsuccessfully, and seriously afraid of getting sick all over the car, I asked the professor if we could turn back. That was the longest, hardest car ride of my life. By the time I got back to the camp site I could barely walk straight. As I was helped out of the car I promptly vomited (the first in a long long night of vomiting), each time I got sick, it made me even more dehydrated.

I was put on a cot outside in the open air, where my professor thought I’d be more comfortable, and he and a friend tried to force me to drink water laced with packets of rehydration salts. It took me four hours to actually drink one small glass. I was feverish, borderline delirious, and kept getting sick. I literally though I was going to die. I’ve never in my life before felt so utterly terrible. I was terrified of the next morning when the sun came up and it would again be so dry and hot. I was convinced that the heat would kill me. I was genuinely terrified.

There was no way for my professor to contact our program compound in Nairobi, we were far beyond cell phone reach, so he had arranged for the camp land  rover to take me half way to Nairobi the following morning, calling the other program director in route, and try to meet someone to come pick me up on the side of the road and bring me the rest of the way to the hospital.

By morning I’d gotten a few hours of fitful sleep, and had at least one glass of water in my system. My back had broken out in huge sunburn boils, and I struggled to stand up. The professor loaded me in the car, and again I had a sickening drive back to civilization.

Nairobi Hospital is the fanciest hospital in the country, once called “The European Hospital” during colonial rule, it was the hospital that our program brought students to when we ran into trouble. Most Kenyans dressed up in beautiful outfits to go to Nairobi Hospital and here I was, dragged in fresh from the bush, filthy, dusty, barely able to walk. They did a few tests, and said they had to draw some blood.

Here’s a secret… I’m afraid of needles. It is totally in my head, I understand that, but the thought of getting an injection usually makes me hyperventilate. I rationalized with myself that I didn’t want to be the delicate mzungu freaking out about a routine blood test when there were probably people dying of AIDS in the same hospital, so I took a few deep breaths, and tried to calm my racing heart. I warned the doctors I was a little afraid of needles and braced myself for the prick. It took quite a few rubs of alcohol to get my arm sterile enough. Between embarrassingly apologizing for my filthy appearance, I remember saying to them about the injection, “that wasn’t so bad, I barely felt…” and the next thing I woke up on the floor with nurses staring in my face. “I think you are more than a little afraid” the doctor said, and admitted me to the hospital.

I wound up being in the hospital for four days on a rehydrating IV drip (another needle I didn’t enjoy, but knew it was necessary). I also had to get all the blisters on my back popped with needles. Every time a new nurse came on duty and read my chart that said that a “mzungu dressed like a Maasai was badly sunburned and dehydrated with sun poisoning and heat stroke” they had to drop in and meet the mzungu who would dress up like a Maasai. One look at my burnt back and the black Kenyan nurses usually exclaimed, “The sun can do that to you?”

On the second day I was there the director of the hospital—a big dark Ugandan man, who was a personal friend of the director of our program and one of the urban homestay fathers—came to my room to check in. He looked at my chart, and looked at my back and said, very stoically as he held out his fist, “See this hand? It is a strong African hand, I can put it near fire and it will not burn. But you… you are a delicate mzungu… and you are weak.”

Crushed by the theory of the delicate mzungu! How can I argue with that?

 

Asking My Father

Last but not least…

On my mom’s side of the family, I’m the eldest cousin, but on my dad’s side I’m the third eldest… meaning my two elder female cousins set the tone a little bit on the protocol for marriage. Both of their significant others first asked the permission (privately) of their dad before they proposed. P knew about this, but found it intimidating. My dad is the big silent type. He doesn’t always say much, and can seem daunting to talk to one-on-one.

“I don’t really have to do that, do I?” P would ask.

“I think you should. It would be nice. Keeping with tradition and all.” I’d say.

“Can I send an email instead? I don’t think I could ask him to his face.”

“An email? That’s kind of impersonal, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know… I don’t like this tradition…”

So hopefully this sets the stage for the second part. Sorry for the length, but hopefully it was interesting.