A Lesson on Friendships from HIMYM

How I Met Your Mother hasn’t been as entertaining in recent episodes. They are wrapping up the series and while I will miss it, I think it comes at a good time for the show. But where they missed it lately on humor, they nailed it on life lessons. My dear friend Simone pointed out 10 Things she learned about Love from HIMYM in a recent post. In the 2nd to last episode, the narrator Ted said something that really struck a chord with me:

“And that’s how it goes. The friends, neighbors, drinking buddies, and partners in crime you love so much when you are young… as the years go by you just lose touch. You will be shocked to learn how easy it is to part ways with someone forever and that’s why when you find someone you want to keep around, you do something about it.” – Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother

And I paused the TV (well my laptop, actually). I sat there, alone, just processing that.

Especially as I’ve gotten older, I have learned that not everyone is meant to stay in our lives. Everyone we encounter, teaches us a some kind of lesson, whether it be about ourself, to help us through a particular situation, to show us who we do or don’t want to be, or just about life in general. Some people are just temporary friends, there to help us grow in some way, and that’s okay.

But then there are those special friends that you want to be apart of your life for the long haul. Those people who make you happy, who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life.

Keeping them around isn’t always that easy. Some just slip and fade away because life got in the way. It it really is shockingly easy to part ways with people forever. There are those we meant to have stick around but just didn’t put in enough effort to make it happen.

We’re not in school anymore and we’re not surrounded by the same people everyday. As kids, friendships were about conveniency. They were right there, everyday. You didn’t need a cell phone because you’d see the darn kid the next day in Homeroom. Now, you have to work on your friendships; you have to make an effort for those you want to keep in your life.

Part of growing up is realizing that all relationships worth keeping, especially friendships, take work and effort. Your family will love you unconditionally, but friendships are easily taken for granted and put on the back-burner. At least now with the internet, it is easier to stay in touch but it still takes a conscious effort. Friendship is a two-way street and if/when you want someone to remain there, you have to do something about it. It doesn’t have to be daily or even weekly, hell, there are those friendships that can go several months without talking but can pick up exactly where they left off, but it is important that the effort is made by both parties.

We often assume those we care about will always be around but things change, people change. Somebody moves, or switches jobs. Somebody withdrawals for a bit to cope with a personal issue. Or starts dating someone. Or gets married. And has a child. Or four. You try to connect for a while with texts or emails, maybe gab over lunch and promise to do it again but then you drift apart because one or neither of you made that effort. And work gets busy and life gets in the way and you find yourself saying, “I’m sorry, I’m just busy.”

Side note: To quote my friend Almie, “do not EVER tell anyone you are “booked”. You are not a dentist’s office. You are a person. People cannot be booked. Got it? Good.” <– Yeah, what she said.

Newsflash, we’re all busy. We all have work and life responsibilities, commitments we’ve made, projects to complete, other friends (heaven forbid!) to see, too. But friendship is about priorities, not excuses. It is about making time to connect with those that matter to us. Period.

I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want those people who make me feel small and inferior in my life anymore. I only want to surround myself with positive people; people who enrich my life, who care about my wellbeing, and inspire me and who make me a better person. People who make me laugh and who I not only want to have around, but who actively want me around too. And I see to it that I do everything I can to keep those people around.

Because as Ted articulately said, ‘When you find someone you want to keep around, you do something about it.”

 

true friends

 

P.S.  I can tell this is important to a lot of people, I posted that quote on Facebook after it aired and it got 26 likes. Be sure to not let those you care about slip away either.

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One Year Ago Today…

One year ago today…

I arrived in Tanzania, Africa for what was the greatest adventure of my life – a month of volunteering & teaching in the community, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, going on Safaris, and visiting Zanzibar. All of it completely changed my life. I’m in disbelief that it has been a year already. I miss Moshi and my experience EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I don’t think a day goes by that I haven’t thought about it in some capacity.

I’m so grateful for that experience.

I can’t believe all that has happened, come and gone in the past year and all that I’ve learned and discovered both about myself and others along the way. Nzuri sana.  It’s funny, I always catch myself first, but my instinct is still to say “Asante Sana” instead of “Thank you.”

In that month, I learned so much about myself, what it means to be a community, how privileged americans are and how much we take for granted. I learned so much about gratitude and appreciating what we have; that being wealthy has everything to do with how grateful and happy you are and nothing to do with how much money you have.  I learned to follow my heart; to express love and gratitude and to live passionately. I learned there is so much more to life than just the items we own or the cars we drive or the life we live. I realized how important it is to experience other cultures and to leave your first world expectations at home when you travel to a third world country.

Time and how we perceive it is an odd thing. I reflect and think about all that has happened in the past year since I first arrived in my host city and I am silenced.

When put in perspective that I’ve already lived in DC for 7.5 months, one year ago feels simultaneously both light years away and just few months ago.  It’s a teeter-totter of emotions and memories. It seems like it never happened; it seems like 6 months; it seems like decades ago and it seems like a year.

So much has happened since I landed in Tanzania. I look back on the impact the children had on me, and vice versa; the fact that I no longer have to dream about someday fulfilling a lifelong dream of volunteering and going on African Safari’s is exhilarating and saddening.  It’s crazy that I actually held residence in Africa. Not at a hotel, but a place I called home for a month. It’s hard to fathom that I climbed the largest freestanding mountain in the world and lived to tell the tale. I think about that accomplishment and it still blows my mind that I DID THAT.  At this point it feels like it is a figment of my imagination, just a dream I conjured up in my head, and I have to look at photos for proof I didn’t make it up. I am still in awe and incredibly proud of myself that I actually did it let alone successfully made it to the summit no less. I accomplished 7 things on my life list.

In the past year since returning, I flew 22 hours alone, my sister got married, I was unemployed for a while, I moved across country on a gut feeling and then I got a new job soon thereafter; one that I love because I know I get to impact lives everyday. I made a new home in that new city and made new friends. I’ve accomplished  2 more things on my life list.  I ran my first 5K. I played league sports and started my own Ladies Only fantasy NFL leagues with friends. I have spent an ENTIRE year eating only meat that was GMO/anti-biotic free.

Man, a lot has happened – and that’s just the start of it all.

From the moment I boarded the plane wondering what this adventure was going to be like – until now – the adventures haven’t stopped. When I woke up a year ago today, I never would have predicted just where my life would be today – all because of that one decision to go to Africa.

I miss Moshi and my students every day. This adventure and experience has become a part of who I am and I am proud of the person I have become. I am strong and brave; I am bold and adventurous. I have learned to be true to myself, to follow my gut and to surround myself with people who make me a better person. I am more positive and grateful. I know that I can accomplish big things; I know I can push myself; I can climb mountains and continually challenge myself. I’ve learned to honor who I am and to do what makes me happy.  I’ve grown more into the person I want to be. Asante Sana.

You can’t predict what the future holds but you do have to have faith that you are going in the right direction. Time is a funny thing. It never stops. And as we get older, it only goes faster. It blurs together and weeks become months and months become years. I still can’t believe an entire year has gone by.

What started as the greatest adventure of my life has evolved into my life being a giant adventure now. I am grateful for my experience and thankful I had the courage to follow my dreams and make it happen. I look forward experiencing (what is now) the upcoming year and reflecting on all that I will have done. Maybe a year from now I’ll be in a different city? Engaged? Single? Maybe I’ll be an Aunt? At a new job? Whatever will be this time next year, I look forward to all the adventures that lie ahead.

Hakuna Matata.

faces

summit

Live Tweeting the State of the Union from the White House

I’ve lived in DC for only 12 days and already I’ve been inside the White House compound to be selected as part of an elite group of social media members to take part in The White House State of the Union Social.

I was selected as one of the 100 social media members to watch an enhanced screening of President Obama’s State of the Union Address live from the White House. Following the screening, we participated in a panel discussion with Administration policy advisors about the visions and policies presented during the speech. Really, is there a better “Welcome to DC” experience than hanging out with the executive branch in the White House compound?

Security was more disorganized than I expected but a lot less invasive, too. Thank goodness it was a beautiful winter night because they had us wait outside for 45 minutes. Security took our ID’s twice at separate gates while we waited for security clearance and to get our badge. Me, being the girl who makes friends and talks to everyone everywhere I go, met two girls while we waited outside. Turns out, one of the girls was likely in my recruitment group Freshman year at Indiana. It’s such a small world, isn’t it?

Once we got clearance, they directed us to the Eisenhower Executive Office. While we were waiting for President Obama to begin, I took a picture with the White House sign.

Sara and I just wanted a photo together with the White House sign but what we got was my favorite photo of the night. It was a complete coincidence and just good timing that this happened:

Oh you know, just the President looking down over us
Oh you know, just POTUS looking down on us

Once the State of the Union Address began, we all whipped out our devices and the tweeting and social media frenzy commenced. The Enhanced Broadcast was streamed live on the website but actually physically being in the room was an awesome experience. Despite the wifi being ridiculously slow, the energy in the room was exciting and electric and I felt like I was somebody to be. People reacted, laughed and clapped in unison. And together, we shared our experience with our followers. While on a bit of a delay for online viewers, the Enhanced Broadcast really made watching the SOTU so much more interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever watch on CNN again. (I hear they had split screens for the shooting?) They had infographics and factoids and all kinds of cool images. We were encouraged to take pictures and get our followers involved (obviously, that is why we were there.)

When discussing equality and equal pay, the Enhanced Broadcast showed the meme of the President and Mckayla Maroney doing the “Not Impressed” face together. Clearly they aren’t impressed by unequal opportunities and believe in equal rights for all. Between hosting the White House Social and the simple act of including the meme in the broadcast, it showed me that the administration is embracing change and social media and is accepting of the fact that things are evolving. It shows me progress. It shows me that our country isn’t rigid and stubborn and set in our pre-historic ways. It shows me that we will advance, not regress. It shows me that they are tuned into what is going on in the world outside of the political agenda.

Social media offers a way for everyday citizens to interact with the Administration and policy advisors, with The First Lady or POTUS, with celebrities and peers. It puts us all on even playing ground and gives the silent a voice. To be able to interact in this way is what makes social media so unique and impactful. This Administration is utilizing social media and giving citizens a way to be heard through things like State of the Union Social and an initiative called Citizens Respond. With Citizens Respond, you can go online to read the SOTU speech, dissect it line by line and discuss it with the President. This isn’t the first presidential address to the nation online as Clinton first did it back in June 2000. But it is just the beginning of social media playing a role in such monumental national and international events.

While delivering the SOTU, the President showed he is one of the greatest public speakers of our time. He showed that he is personable, playful and lighthearted. I like that even though the President was discussing very serious matters, he was able to make light of some situations by cracking a few witty jokes and smiling. His casualness through comments like, “Good job, Joe” or “Germans are job ready by HS graduation. Let’s do that.” or regarding climate change “send me that bill, Why would we be against that?” or even pushing fathers to be more than a sperm donor but to actually care to raise the child, really make me like him more. He showed his personality and as a citizen, I appreciate that about him.

Sotu13

The panel afterwards wasn’t so much of us participating as it was us asking questions and having the policy advisors answer them. There were too many questions (from in the room and online via Facebook, Google +, Twitter etc) and not enough time. I had a couple of questions prepared but never got the opportunity to ask them aloud.

It was such an amazing and unique experience to be a part of. So, for those that follow my personal Twitter account, I am sorry I’m not sorry for infiltrating your feeds with #SOTU #WHSocial tweets. I am so grateful that I was selected to be apart of this special group. I won’t share all of them here, but here are some of my favorite or most ReTweeted tweets from last night:

climate change

Chris Hardball tweetPOTUS is a funny man

minimum wageto be a dad - potusdeserve a voteScreen shot 2013-02-13 at 12.42.20 PMmarriage equality

Side notes or factoids that the Enhanced Broadcast shared or :

  • We saw 645k tweets last year and 1.1 million today during #SOTU Way to make history!
  • There were 24,000 tweets per minute during the #guncontrol portion of the #SOTU
  • I applaud the notion that President Obama wants to put our nation’s interests before the party agenda. This got the evenings first standing ovation.
  • I’m impressed that cyber security got a mention in the speech.

And I’m famous! But I sure hope that wasn’t my 15 minutes of fame. I was caught live on camera during the online Enhanced Broadcast #WHchat after the speech. It is proof I was paying attention and not picking my nose, incessantly tweeting or doing anything embarrassing. See me?! I guess my, “I’m paying attention” face makes me look very serious. I’ve got to work on that one…I'm famous at SOTU

I am honored that I got selected to be apart of this social media event. I can’t help but feel like my efforts as a community manager and social media member have been successful at making an impact on others. Being at this event made me so extremely proud that we reelected @barackobama. America, you like some weird stuff and I don’t always agree, but man, you got this one right! I am optimistic that the next four years will bring great progress and change. I think we are going to see tremendous outcry over controversial things, but I believe we are advancing and evolving as a nation, and  we are finally heading in the right direction.

 

Safari Adventures: It’s like the Lion King or Discovery Channel -only real and unedited.

Best photo bomb ever with the giraffes; a sand tornado, our safari jeep & all 25 volunteers on safari
Can you spot the BEST PHOTO BOMB ever? (with the giraffes); a sand tornado, our safari jeep & all 25 volunteers on safari

In Swahili “safari” means trip or vacation. Not crazy-cool-awesome-African-animal-wildlife-adventure as we know it to mean. How much more rad would it be if every time you got away, even on a weekend trip to say Wisconsin, you said you were going on safari? I mean, even in Europe they call it “holiday.” Both sound so much more like a mystical fantasy getaway than “trip” does.

Immediately after arriving in-country, a group of 25 of us volunteers booked a weekend safari with Pristine Trails. Pristine was simply wonderful and I highly recommend them! Adam our coordinator was fantastic (and adorable) and made everything so easy for us! On our way to the safari parks, we stopped to visit the Maasai Tribe. They are the only tribe (of over 140 tribes) that still completely lives by and follows tradition. They believe they get all the nutrients they need from the cow so they only eat cow meat and drink cow blood. I actually felt scammed and pressured to buy jewelry. Tourists come to see them all the time, so they profit off of us. But seeing their tribal dances and their homes were really neat. I guess the cow method works for them – they live long lives, are all over 6 feet tall, and when they jump vertically, man do they get air!

maasai
The Maasai

To see animals in the zoo is fun for a little while but then you are reminded they are trapped in captivity and you feel bad for them. To see the animals in their natural habitat, roaming completely free and wild in nature is unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. The animals and terrain – it is literally a live version of The Lion King. It felt very much like an out-of-body experience for me, as if I was watching Nat Geo or Discovery Channel only real and without a TV screen to protect me from the wild animals. This was up close and personal with nature at its best.

We got to visit two National Parks: Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park. Between the two, we saw four out of five of The Big 5 (cape buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant and rhino). I was bummed that the only one we didn’t see was a leopard. There are only about 4,000 black rhinos left in the world and we saw 3 of them! We also saw a family of about 30 elephants bathing (one of the highlights!), tons of giraffes and wildebeests, water buffalo, a hyena, a jackal eating a gazelle, a baby gazelle just minutes after it was born and struggling learning to walk, zebras, so many gorgeous and vibrantly colorful birds, hippos, ostriches, baboons and monkeys that even stole our chocolate and cookies from our lunches. The zebras seemed to always be posing for photos. They are very photogenic! One of my favorite, most symbolic photos is of a water buffalo standing besides a skull of another water buffalo.

My group for the safari was so much fun. We took dirty photos of the animals and scenery and kept playing songs from The Lion King; even our driver sang along to Hakuna Matata! Whenever I saw the warthogs, all I could think about was Pumba singing, “I clear the savanna after every meal.” 

One of the highlights: seeing the elephants bathe

 My driver spotted two figures out in the distance about a mile away that appeared to be approaching us. It turned out to be two brother lions that walked right up to our jeeps (and peed on the jeep behind me), and then kept walking. As they passed us, I saw two warthogs notice the lions strolling towards them and they took off in the other direction faster than their little legs could carry them. It was adorable and amusing but a reminder that this wasn’t a movie, it was real life, and I was witnessing the power of the food chain. Lions are cool in a zoo, but in the wild, they are absolutely stunningly beautiful and extremely majestic. I was mesmerized by their beauty. These brothers were slowly strutting towards us with such an arrogance kind of like they were saying, Yeah, look at us you silly tourists, we’re The Kings of this savanna, so we’re going to pee on your jeep just to prove it to you.

The progression of them coming closer and closer.
Beautiful brothers. (All photos here are mine except the one where I am clearly not taking it)                                                            Maybe Bert’s? If it is yours and you want photo credit, please let me know and I’ll gladly update it.

The monkeys were everywhere, on the street and in the trees. It was really neat to see the female cleaning the male, just as I’d seen in videos but this was IRL! During lunch, Chris was enjoying his cookie, when suddenly a monkey came from the trees and snatched it straight from his hand. Another one came towards me, I grabbed my lunch and ran. He grabbed the chocolate I accidentally left behind. He was fascinating to watch and he knew to unwrap it just like humans do. Another group went back to their jeep after lunch only to find a monkey sitting in the backseat eating their food. #cuterascals

Baboons
Bottom middle: the monkey eating Chris’s cookie. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have gotten that close.
Baby Gazelle, Jackyl & Gazelle, warthog, Water buffalo alive & dead, hyenas, hippos & zebras
Baby Gazelle, jackal & gazelle, warthog, water buffalo alive & dead, hyenas, hippos & zebras

This is already photo heavy as it is – so if you want to see more pictures click here.

I wish we could have stayed in tents in the national parks but we didn’t. I think it would be have been so neat to sleep in their territory, listening to them howl before you go to sleep. But we slept at a much safer campsite. I smile every time I look at these photos and still am in disbelief that I did it and am able to cross it off my Life List. There will be a next time because I know I will do another safari at some point. The joys of witnessing nature, no one trip will ever be the same.

The one where Tanzania taught me the true meaning of wealth and happiness

As I mentioned in the previous post, I learned a lot while I was in Tanzania. While it all had an impact on me, I keep thinking about what it means to be truly wealthy and happy.

It takes a village to raise a child. There is a reason this African proverb exists, and to the Tanzanians, it couldn’t be any more accurate. The children really are raised by the community. In America, we are taught “Stranger Danger.”  There, everyone is part of the clan, part of the family. Anyone can reprimand the children anytime without motives being questioned. There are no babysitters because the kids are children of the community. If a mother cannot afford medicine, she can go to the community to help her. Children as young as 2 years old walk to school on their own. They aren’t at risk of getting kidnapped or of pedophiles snatching them up. Everyone protects and looks out for everyone and seem to genuinely care.* It is customary to ask about one’s family, friends, health, and get updated on life before diving into conversation. Tanzanians show interest in each other’s lives and actually mean it. What a concept. I know. I think this sense of security and trust contributes to why everyone there is so friendly, so positive, so happy. It is a true community in every sense of the word.

I would often sit in the front seat of our van on the way to school to watch the community going about their everyday lives and to see the pedestrians wave and smile at me. The kids smile and wave to Mzungus (foreigners) passing in cars like they are waving to old friends. How can you not smile and wave back to a smiling, waving little kid? Smiling and being friendly really is contagious. I would carry those moments with me even after they had passed. I found myself “paying it forward” by waving to and greeting almost every passer-by.

The smiling waving kids don’t have fancy gadgets or many resources at school, and for some, the porridge we served was the only food they would get all day. But no matter what, they glowed with smiles and a sense of cheerfulness. Everyone says it when they return to The States, but it really is true. Despite having very little, the Tanzanians are the most friendly, joyful and happy people. In all my travels, I have never encountered a whole culture as friendly and grateful before. While in-country, I never felt like an outsider and always felt welcomed. My Dad always says You never know what happens behind closed doors and while that may be true, perhaps this is just a front, the Tanzanian’s I met seem to have found something that many of us have neglected: happiness and being grateful for what they have.

*****

Homes seen roadside. Left- woman (hard to see her) sitting inside her house without windows. Right – rusted homes

Of the volunteers at CCS, I was the only volunteer whose teacher invited her to see her home. My teacher couldn’t wait for the day I was able to visit her home so she could show me her cows and pigs. Her home was maybe 10 feet by 10 feet.**  She had a curtain separating the bunk beds from the living room which was composed of a couch and coffee table. Her kitchen was outside in a wood hut with an open fire. And boy, was she proud of her home and farm animals. It gave her such pleasure to show her prize possessions to me, it was truly humbling. Some of the other homes I saw were nice and kept; some had four walls, some had no furniture, or no windows- just holes to let light in, and a rusted old roof. That is not to say all homes were small and rusty but most that I saw were.

I asked some of my local friends if people travel and found out that many have never left the country or even Moshi Town. Many have never been on a Safari or even seen the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, and here I was doing it all. So perhaps ignorance really is bliss. But I don’t think this so-called ignorance is why they are content with this simplistic lifestyle. Regardless if they travel or not, they do have insight into the world outside Moshi with internet cafes, TV’s, papers and radios. Yet, they are still happy with what they have, not pining for more or complaining about what they don’t have.

One day while I was in town printing photos of my students for an art project, I decided to print two photos for my teacher, too. When I presented her with a photo of herself and another of her with her son, she hugged me and got tears in her eyes. To us it might just be another printed photo, but to her, that photo made her day. She didn’t have a camera so that might be the only picture she has of herself. Another day, she came to class and her phone, think circa 1999 Nokia, (no one had iphones) was smashed in two pieces but she smiled and laughed about it. She continued to use it for several days and I thought of the many people back home who would have had a tantrum and demand it be fixed immediately, as if it was the worst thing that could possibly happen to them. Is a broken phone really the biggest problem in the world? Do I hear “first world problems?” I think so!

In America, our problem is we are always coming out with new shiny, flashy, things so we always want more. Status determines wealth. We always want the next best thing instead of being content with what we have.  We always want more, more, more. We live in a society where everything is bigger, better, faster, and now. We need instant gratification. Nothing is ever enough. Tanzanians live very simple, happy lives and are seemingly content with what they have.

I am not trying to imply they do not have their challenges because that just wouldn’t be true. Everyone has challenges and hardships. But perhaps they just handle it better and with a better attitude. Afterall their motto is Hakuna Matata – (yes, the phrase from The Lion King)- and it really does mean no worries/problems. They don’t seem to be bothered by the silly, waste of energy drama or stupid stress that us Mzungus always seem bothered by.

After seeing their lifestyle, the simpleness that surrounds them, the way they smiled and waved at me as I drove by, and how I was treated with such a welcoming friendliness, it became clear to me that having more money and stuff doesn’t guarantee or equate to happiness. We, Mzungus, were often looked at as people who were rich simply because we were foreigners. To the locals I may be “rich”, but in my eyes, it is the Tanzanians who are rich. The Tanzanians showed me that wealth isn’t measured in currency like Schillings or Dollars, but in happiness and gratefulness. They showed me that happiness is not dictated by how many material possessions you own, how much money you have, or by something as silly as even if you are connected to the internet or not. Rather, it is based on what you deem as a priority, your outlook on life, who you surround yourself with, how you treat and are treated by others, and if you appreciate what you do have.

It is this, happiness and gratitude that makes you wealthy, not money or status. And with that, Tanzanians are definitely wealthier.

The photo I took of my teacher; random children on the street waving; lower left: the orphanage kitchen;  Lower right: my teacher’s kitchen

*I don’t mean to imply it is like Pleasantville or anything. It is far from that and I know there are always a few bad apples in a community. Moshi does have a prison but law enforcement is a lot more strict in punishment in order to keep the community safe.

**I don’t know measurements so that might not be accurate. But it was small.