Out in to the Ether: I’m Traveling for How Many Hours/Days?




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Sunday I start my way toward Washington, D.C. before I board a plane to
Senegal, West Africa to start my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. Actually if
you count the fact that I am actually at my mom’s house in southern Minnesota
to visit for a week, the travel has actually already started. Being in limbo
and extended traveling isn’t new to me and I actually thoroughly enjoy it, that
is with enough planning.
Flight home from South Korea back in 2006
is another fellow expat and Minnesotan who has lived abroad in Somalia for a
few years now and writes about her adventures, family and life on her blog, Djibouti Jones. I have followed her blog for a few months now pouring over her site
looking for packing lists, cultural norms to be wary of and finding out I
should prepared to sweat and be dusty, sometimes at the same time.
In a
recent trip for her back to Somalia from Minnesota she gave this WONDERFUL list
on her traveling tips. I will be using all of them in the hours or days I will
be traversing the earth for a while.
Travel Tips
1. Eat whatever you want. Food eaten in airports and on airplanes doesn’t have
2. Fly like the American you are (if you are one). This means feel free to
carry a large, ugly backpack, wear large, ugly shoes, and large, ugly pants.
Whatever it takes to be comfortable for the next 27 hours.
3. Be nice to the airline employees. You will see a lot of them and they know
where the extra toilet paper is kept on the plane.
4. Pack your carry-ons so you will only need access to one during the flight.
5. Bring a bottle for water. Even if your husband thinks you won’t need it. He
will be asking for it somewhere above Europe.
6. Bring reading material you are willing to forget in the seat carrier in
front of you.
7. Make sure young children use the bathroom before flight attendants lock you
in for the 45 minutes preceding landing. Ditto for yourself.
8. Don’t look at your watch or any time-revealing devices. It won’t help.
9. Explain to concerned passengers and flight attendants that the pile on the
ground beneath your feet is just lumpy carry-ons, not a sleeping child. Even
though it is a sleeping child and you are secretly jealous.
10. Remind yourself that a whole new world awaits you. As well as, hopefully,
all of your luggage.
From my research I believe the plane trip to Senegal is
somewhere around 7 hours, but if you count the total hours I will be on a plan
next week it’s closer to 13.
  Back in 2006, I traveled to South Korea on a 15-hour
flight with a lay over, but nothing could beat the flight back. We left around
10:30 am Friday morning and woke up with the sun that day to see it set and
rise again on the plane only to land around 11 am on the same Friday we left. I
saw the sun rise and set that day twice and took me a while to get my head
wrapped around that for a while after.
Being in limbo,
traveling, whatever you call it, is a strange place to be in. Time is not what
it is, you make yourself as comfortable as you can, check your patience and
calorie counting at the door. They say its not the destination but the journey
that matters, same goes with traveling. A little planning goes a long way on
making yourself and others comfortable.
I am slowly
checking things off my list, writing as much as I can not knowing when I will
get the chance again, seeing as many friends as possible, eating all the things
I think I would miss and excited to start my new adventure in Africa.
All in all I have been blessed, prayed and chanted for, had a monarch butterfly released in my honor and protection, had guardian angles asked to be my side while traveling, hugged, kissed, drinks bought for, fed well and wished well in SO many wonderful countless ways from friends, family and complete strangers. I can honestly say I’m speechless (and if you know me-that NEVER happens) 
So THANK YOU ALL, the UNIVERSE and all other wonderful things. I’m excited to get on a plane and start seeing more of this wonderful world.
Jones, Rachel Pieh. Marathon Miles:
10 Travel Tips. Rachel Pieh Jones. 2012. Available at:
Accessed August 20, 2012.

Day in my life-Working at the bee farm

Almost every day is different for me so picking a day to do is a no brainer, a day I go work at the bee farm. Apiary, beekeeper, honey-maker. Any way you put it, it’s my favorite job.

5:30 am: Wake up and wash my face, dress, finish packing my clothes in to a cinch bag & food into a bag for the weekend make some coffee and grab some breakfast. During this summer I travel to the farm and stay there for the next 3-4 days because it’s a 45 minute to an hour long commute. It’s much simpler to stay and I can put in 10-12 hour days.

Oak grove I walk by on my way to the bus stop

6:10 am: Catch the bus a block away from my house to downtown Minneapolis where I transfer buses to a park and ride where my lovely co-worker picks me up and takes me with her to the farm.

The amount of stuff I bring with me. Left is an “overnight” bag while the right is some food 🙂

8 am: Arrive at work, say hi to everyone, turn the radio on to mpr and start cleaning. This might sound backwards, but I’ve been extracting honey (don’t worry I will explain this more through out the post) this summer and only one doing it for the most part. So I need to clean the dripping wax that is now dry, pull melted wax from water baths, wash empty honey buckets that have been returned from clients so forth and so on. Work is never ending here, which is a good thing.

Extractors in the back (large silver drums), extracting stand (square silver thing) and stacks of honey supers (squared colored boxes)

9 am: Cleaning is done. Start to stock my room (yes I have a whole room to myself mostly) with supers of honey and clean empty pails, grab needed tools and start extracting honey. Work until I need a break or need more of something.

Overall Extracting Process: 

Starts with capped honey in frames which are in bottom-less boxes called supers (see above:1 frame from a super)
Uncap the wax on the cells exposing the honey on each frame using an extracting comb, put 9-10 in the large extractor and let the centrifuge pull honey from the comb
Empty frame of comb after being extracted
Open spicket on extractor and let honey run through a double filter into food safe pail and you have honey to bottle

So I do this process over and over during a 10-12 hour day over the course of 3-4 days during this summer. On my best day I go through 26 boxes/supers of honey and with each of those supers weighing 40ish lbs, I move a lot of honey.

Different Frames of Capped Honey

But with honey and bees being very interesting (at least to me) there are very interesting things you see through out the day. Such as the differences of wax and honey colors. Above shows how the wax capping the honey can be of very different colors. This being due to how much the bees walk on it or the amount of time the honey is left on the hive. In this case the newest being the whitest and the darkest being the oldest.

Detail of the wax capping on the honey

The wax also has very interesting shapes, contours and feelings. We use 9 frames in most supers giving the bees a little more space to work, which can also make for some unusual frames as they will fill space as they need it and a simple frame can be attached to another or a few making my job more interesting trying to save as much honey as possible.

Detail of looking through honey in light colored comb

But with a few bees flying around and the radio on I can make pretty quick work of it all. Tasting honey, looking at all the colors that are made from the different plant sources the bees take nectar from making honey, seeing their wondering construction of comb and the amazingness of it all.

Left: Lit smoker while working hives, Center: Melon Farm where we have some of our hives, Right: Female worker bee, I usually have one on me during the day

Needless to say, I don’t just extract honey. Any given day, I could be helping work the bees with Dan, our master beekeeper; out picking apples in one of the many orchards, helping bottle, label or get orders ready for the farmers market, help anyone else around the honey house do what they do, which is almost everything. We all do almost everything here. Which is nice especially when everything needs to be done all the time.

Left: Freshly picked Honey Crisp apples, Center:Beeswax Candles, Right: One of our stands at the farmer’s market

Strangely, I always bring my camera to work with me. Most of these pictures have been captured over the 3 years I have worked at the farm and usually try and snap some pictures when I see something new or was learning the trade.

Left: Owner Brian holding up a frame, Center:Apples still on in the orchard, Right:Beehive in the front yard in the shade

I could literally go on for hours about bees, honey and anything that goes with it. By the end of the day I usually smell a mix of sweat and honey (which isn’t a bad combination). I grab something to eat (I usually snack all day), shower (so I get all the odd sticky spots off my arms) and read until I am to tired to anymore and do it all over again for a few days a week.

I hope to work bees when I’m in Senegal and CANNOT wait do to that.And hope to show some of the differences and similarities in that process there.

Any questions??? Feel free to ask!

Things to look forward to…

Situated north of the Cap Vert Peninsula in Senegal, northeast of
Dakar, Lake Retba, or as the French refer to it Lac Rose, is pinker
than any milkshake you’ve ever come face to straw with. 
And once you see it, you too will agree that a sippy straw may be in order over a boat. Experts say the lake gives off its pink hue due to cyanobacteria, a harmless halophilic bacteria found in the water. If
the color weren’t enough to make you smile, it should be known that
Lake Retba has a high salt content, much like that of the Dead Sea,
allowing people to float effortlessly in the massive pink water. In
fact, Lake Retba has an almost one and a half times higher salt content
than the Dead Sea. (via Pinterest -thanks Jo!)

There are some very beautiful places in Senegal, like Lake Retba, to see. This is on my list to visit if I can.

  • Simply getting on a plane-I love to travel and flying (anyplace)!!
  • Meeting the rest of my fellow volunteers, there is usually about 30 of us that go through first 3 months of training together before we go to our individual sites within the country. 
  • Meeting my host family & seeing Senegal for the first time. 
  • Fruit trees! So far I have heard of grapefruit, mango, coconut, orange, lemon, cashews, seetax, bananas, guavas, palm dates, papaya and boabob fruit. 
  • Senegal football (soccer to Americans) team the Lions of Teranga, are pretty darn good from what I hear. I am going to try to go to a semi-pro game while I am still in Minnesota and read up on them.
  • Shea Butter!! They make this from scratch and I am very interested to see the process along with weaving/textiles/basket making and anything else.
  • Having clothes and a big floppy hat made. I do know how to sew…but it’s still fun to have things made for you!
  • Seeing the markets of course…I find markets in other countries wonderful and so vary interesting. 
  • Being able to carry everything I own, having less and doing laundry when I need to rather than weekly because it seems reasonable
  • Learning hectares, Celsius, pecks, bushels (and all other non-American measurements), do currency conversions in my head and haggle over things that are cheap enough but you do so out of respect. 
  • Reading a ton of books! I already read a lot, but I hope to get my reading list down to a manageable level and I also plan to keep a list of the books I read while abroad (I wonder how many I will get up to)

And not looking forward to (from what I’ve heard/read)

 “I pull it off and watch the watery blood pour out of my would. Leeches have three jaws, and each jaw has ninety teeth that saw open the skin so the leech can secrete an anticoagulant that helps him/her ( they are hermaphrodites) suck blood. I have no idea how the little guy/girl got through the pants that were tucked into two pairs of overlapping socks and heavily sprayed with Deet. Although, he/she was a lot smaller when he/she started out.” – Tales of a Female Nomad  

Needless to say I checked after reading this I wanted to know where leeches lived. 

  • I do know scorpions, snakes and other fun deathly stinging creatures do live there. So I will learn to live with them and the precautions to take living in such a place. This post from an expat living in Senegal about cultural normal (past and still present) are very interesting & helpful!!
  • No toilets (either latrine/hole in the floor) and taking buckets baths…this sounds worse than it is (my grandparent still had an outhouse). At least I have water and some sun to power solar panels for electronics, right?!? (see there is an upside to everything-and yes I know that that motto will not work for everything while I’m in Senegal)
  • Lack of quiet (this I hope to get used to and have noise canceling headphones in case I don’t)
  • Unable to drive a motorcycle (it’s for my own safety) but will be missing my Honda motorcycles for sure.
  • Missing friends, family and very unexpected things that I had no idea I would miss. 

I hope to make a once a month list while I’m there of things of good things & not so good things and see how it changes. I think about the one of the Buddhist four noble truths that says “Life is Pain” and idea that idea that instead of running from pain you learn to sit with it, be aware of it and self-improvement is the way away from the pain. There are plenty of things that right away will seem painful because of being in a new culture, but finding ways to deal, learn, or simply understand will help my tolerance as I’m sure my Senegalese counterparts will be thinking similar things of me.

Plan for the worst and expect the best, right???? 

How and Why

This is an idea I have been thinking about for a while, but did not have my head wrapped fully around it or maybe did not know if this was something I would need to explain to friends, family myself and new acquaintances. But when you plan to go abroad (for me this is to Senegal from the United States) for a few years people start to wonder why, if you are right in the head, and think that 2 years is a very long time.

Baobab Trees in Senegal

The article “Regrets of the Dying” written by former palliative caretaker Bonnie Ware helps sum up some of the reasons I am doing this. Some people look back at their lives and have regrets. I hope to not be one of those people.

Serving in the Peace Corps will be a life changing experience in ways I can not even start to comprehend at this point, but living abroad and being immersed in another culture for a few years is, I think, a whole other bag of worms. Good or bad, you learn more about yourself and other human beings (good or bad) on this planet by living within non familiar culture for a few years. You are able to build bonds, understanding and a life that being there for few months you might not be able to do.

2012/02 Gagan Diesh – I’m not a creative, I solve problems creatively. from CreativeMornings/Vancouver on Vimeo discusses the difference between what you do, why what do you do matters, and how does it impact the people’s lives that it touches. With my degree being in design, I think about these things. Frankly I have a hard time creating things because of this. Fashion design is one of the most wasteful industries which makes if difficult for me to work in an industry that is slowly making a better way of making things.

How am I going to do this?
This statement makes me think of the phrase “Even the dumb squirrel finds a nut”. Life is what you make of it and I think that life can be as difficult or as easy as you want it to be. I am not saying that everyone wants an easy life has it and that hard life is brought on it by yourself. But many people have more choice than they know and I think in many cases they simply do not exercise that choice.

Author Martha Beck writes about how many people “[n]ever ask themselves why” what their consistent purpose of doing the things they do is in her book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. Her way to solve this is ask the purpose for what your doing and then ask the purpose of that until you find a consistent answer.  Interestingly enough my answer is because it’s something I have wanted to do all my life. This is coming from a girl, that for the life of her, can not remember what she wanted to do when she grew up. Go figure.

It’s not hard to take a leap of faith if you are naive enough to not know what your doing before you actually get there. I have done that before with a few projects. By the time you are knee deep in it, there is simply no turning back and it’s better to cuss your way through it than to loose face by giving it up. Right, I’m sure I’m not the only on that has been there. Am I crazy? Maybe. But that’s okay. I might just find my nut.

Why am I doing this?
Why not? The U.S. economy isn’t exactly the greatest right now. After graduating college in 2006 I was laid off not once but twice within a few years. Honestly I am more than happy to go to a country that living off a few dollars a day is being rich. I’m not saying that it will be easy. But show me a place that there isn’t something to complain about. It’s all relative and depends upon what you are able to tolerate.

That being said, 2 years is a long time, if you are counting the days as they pass and looking forward to going home. I think of all the things I could have done n 2 years if I knew I had the time and foresight to plan ahead. In some ways preparing to leave for this trip makes me think of even more things to put on my life list not only because they are things I want to do, but frankly, handy when traveling. Teaching English as a foreign language certificate, paramedic training, writing a book and interviewing more people about their adventures are just a few.

I am doing this because if I didn’t I would have wished I did. I’m doing this because a few people didn’t think I could and others want me to stay. I’m doing this because I can and sure I will be a better person for doing so. Hopefully.