being thankful & learning new rhythms

It has been a few months since I wrote here, and even longer since it was a regular habit. For me, that is what happens sometimes when life gets tossed upside down. In the last six months life took several turns that I did not anticipate: I took a job months earlier than I intended to, moved to California, added Asia to my work travel schedule, bought a condo, and am in the midst of a small remodel. Pause and take a deep breath: the nomad, who two years ago downsized and moved to Africa, then moved back and was preparing for months of travel, photography, cooking, exploring and seeing friends, instead took a job and bought a house (and has done very little photography, cooking, or seeing of old friends). These twists and turns were both unanticipated and beautiful; I am thankful for this journey.

ethiopia well-1937

I feel like when you accept a job, you step into the unknown. It does not matter how much research you have done, how many conversations you have had, or how many details you  have worked out – it is an unknown. There are hopes and dreams and you want to pretend that you know what you are stepping into, but it will be different than you anticipate. The hope is that it will be better in its own way, but it is the gamble taken. I have just completed six months at my job — and I am thankful to say that it is has been better than I hoped for and I am excited about the future. There is so much work to do, so many lives to impact, but I am in a place where I can work and can grow, I am with a team that is strong. We are far from perfect, but  we embrace the challenges and believe in excellence. Trust me, you will be hearing more about my journey at Lifewater and the lives we impact. It is good and I hope you join me in the work we are doing. I am thankful for this work.


Then there is the condo. There is a part of me that never wanted to make such a purchase and a commitment to upkeep of a property, but then there was another part of me that wanted a place that was my home – my own place of peace that I could share with others. Well, I am in the midst of creating the latter: my very own place of peace. When you buy a 1979 condo that had never been updated and had downsized your possessions (or left them trailed behind you in other countries), this is a not small labor of love, but a worthy one. I am thankful for this home.


This is where I find myself: on a most unexpected adventure, but thankful it is where I am. My world has been flipping around, and I am starting to find my new normal, and for that I am thankful as well. I can honestly say that I am excited by where I am and what I am doing. I am excited by this challenge and this journey, and I look forward to sharing more of it with you as I settle into the new rhythms of my life.

remembering life in a village



I am working on putting together some of my favorite photos from the last decade of traveling and living in Africa, which is bringing back a flood of beautiful memories. Some of these take me back to when I was living in a village in Benin doing research every summer. This is a favorite of mine: all of the basins lined up outside of a home – carefully placed in a row and standing at attention. These basins were used to carry water, cook food, do laundry, and to store water or food. In so many ways, they were a central part of life, each one’s shape useful for its task. To me they are reminders of learning how to use each one – how to carry water on my head, to cook over a stove, to pour water into a water jar and shower under the stars. For me these basins hold beautiful memories.

mosquitos in the bush

Last weekend I was sitting around a table talking with friends. The sunset had been nearly picture perfect, the night air was crisp without being cold, our hands were holding gin & tonics, and we had eaten a fabulous home-made meal packed full of fresh veggies. I was in Rwanda at a table of international friends.

Two of these friends began talking about what it would be like to return home to England where a glimpse of sun brings rejoicing and grey sky is the norm. Well, not exactly what I would be returning too. No, the place I was headed was slightly different. With the violent change of seasons, storms pop up that bring trees down on houses. It is hot and humid all summer long – two showers-a-day kind of weather. The mosquitos leave welts (though not disease). Going on hikes means that you must check your body for ticks (which can carry disease). Woods and rivers have snakes, and I regularly kill spiders in my house (in a city). I once killed a small cockroach on my table at a (nice) restaurant. I promise – all of these things are true.

As I created this list, I could not help but laugh because people sometimes express worry about me traveling to the African bush. But here I sit in my Nashville home with welts caused by mosquito bites that are driving me mad with the itching. All because I ate dinner in my yard two nights ago – surrounded by citronella candles and wearing mosquito repellent.


review: hunter

Title: Hunter

Author: J. A. Hunter

Genre: autobiography, nonfiction

Form: hardback, out of print

Recommended: Definitely

Thoughts: This is an amazing book. Amazing because Hunter tells his own story in his own own way of a land that he watched change and no longer exists. Born in 1887, he traveled to East Africa in 1908 and subsequently watched and took part in the taming of vast amounts of land. Yes, he talks more about guns than I care for, but this is balanced by observations of the tribes he worked with, cultural practices like pointing with one’s lips, and places that I have been to (e.g., Ngorongoro Crater) that seem nothing like what he describes. The land he walked in was truly wild in such a way that I doubt exists today, which is wonderfully refreshing. If you can track down a copy of this book, you should read it. Thank you Josh for sharing this book with me.

elephantGiven that you might not have ready access to this book and that every now and then I post ‘safari photos’, I thought I should share a few quotes from Hunter on photo safaris. Also, just for the record, safari means trip or journey in Swahili – nothing more.

“In my youth, the only animals that were photographed were dead animals. This made the problem of animal photography very simple. After your client had shot his trophy, he posed on the dead beast while you clicked the camera. But today people are determined to secure pictures of living animals. The animals seldom care to cooperate.”

“I must admit that animals are sometimes remarkably tolerant of picture taking. I have watched in amazement while a group of photographers ducked in and out of brush within thirty yards or so of a heard of elephants, taking light readings, changing lenses, and assuming the most incredible poses to get unusual ‘angle shots.’ The elephants must have known that they were there and still the big brutes put up with their antics very patiently. After considering the matter carefully, I am convinced that the elephants thought that the photographers were a herd of baboons. Elephants are short-sighted, so this is a natural mistake for them to make under the circumstances.”


This is the sign now hanging above the sink at work as a reminder that there is, in fact, not a fairy who moves dirty dishes from the sink to the dishwasher. Who would have guessed? LH and I rather proud of it.


upcoming travels

On Wednesday I leave for just shy of four weeks in Africa. This trip is a wonderful combination of work and play. I start in Ethiopia for work where I will get to a explore a new land – both in the capital as well as the rural countryside. Then I have a week with my parents in Tanzania during which I will get to reconnect with friends made last year, spend time on the beach and in the water, as well as wander Zanzibar for a day or two. The trip ends with two days in Kenya and four days in Rwanda; both for work. I will update as I can from the road (always remember that in my world, no news is good news.) 

I have promised several people a few statistics for this upcoming trip, so here they are: 

  • I will add one country to my list: Ethiopia. Although one plane I am on will stop in Khartoum, I will resist the urge to step on Sudanese soil.
  • I will fly on 15 planes and pass through 10 airports.
  • I will spend around 43 hours on planes and 33 hours in airports (rough rounding on both counts). 
  • I somehow managed to have a few early departures including: 4am, 5:30am, 7:30am, and 7:45am. I guess I will not have to worry about traffic on the way to the airport those days.

Answers to questions I am frequently asked:

  • No, I did not need to get any vaccinations for this trip. My shot record is long and is up to date. 
  • Yes, I consider my passport a good friend.
  • Yes, traveling alone is ok. Even if I am a woman. 
  • Yes, I sleep well on planes.

Here is the itinerary (overlapping days are due to travel):

  • April 8: leave Nashville
  • April 9 – 11: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • April 11 – 15: Konson region, Ethiopia
  • April 15 – 17: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • April 17 – 27: Dar es Salam, Tanzania (and a few days in Zanzibar)
  • April 27 – 29: Nairobi, Kenya
  • April 29 – May 2: Kigali, Rwanda
  • May 3: arrive in Nashville

More to come from the road… now for some cleaning and packing.

a little bit of africa in nashville

Last weekend I started to work on the leaf situation in my yard. For all of you thinking, “Why in the world is Pam raking leaves in January?” — Keep the comments to yourself unless you plan on taking care of them for me. That is not what this post is about.

In a mad dash before the sun set last Sunday, I raked the front lawn into piles and bagged a couple bags of leaves. On this most gloriously sunny Saturday six days later, I did a little more raking and got most of the rest of the leaves in the front lawn bagged – another 8 bags. Then came the task of moving the bags to one place.

These are relatively big, awkward, slightly heavy bags, and I have a long front lawn. Tiny house, big lawn. I grabbed the first and held in front of me. I imagine this is something like what it feels to be 9 months pregnant. I imagine this is what other Americans do, and this whole lawn experience for me is about embracing the American experience because I do not naturally gravitate towards lawn work. The second bag of leaves was carried the same way, and I as I tossed the bag in the pile I thought it was just stupid. Why would one choose to carry bags in the most awkward method possible that was simultaneously not kind to one’s lower back?   

Bags three through eight were hoisted onto my head and easily transported up my lawn. Having some very white DNA, I still do this best with two hands as stabilizers, but there is enough Africa in my blood, that this was 100% easier than the method that simulated pregnancy. I do not live on a busy street, but I still wondered if anyone drove around the block just to see what was happening. My natural inclination is to leave the leaves where they fall and let the land return to its natural state. However, if you have to perform this arduous task, I highly suggest using one’s head to transport the bags. So much better!

how was africa?

Africa is a continent, not one country or one people, but I find this to be something hard for many to truly grasp as they sit across an ocean from this grand continent. Although I understand where this misconception comes from, it makes me want to ask a Boston native about soul cooking and an LA resident why they don’t have a Jersey accent. Most of the time I refrain as I remind myself that they have not had the same privileges of travel with which I have been blessed. And, when they ask how Africa was, I tell them a word or two about the specific country from which I have just returned.

My new job puts the question, “How was Africa?” in a new context. On this trip I have visited South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, and Kenya. Within several of these countries I have visited locations that are as diverse as Chicago and Chattanooga and Charlotte. In October I will return to visit Uganda, Rwanda, and likely Ghana.

“How was Africa?”

On this trip, the diversity and differences found within Africa seem particularly vivid. This being my first trip to Mozambique, it was fun to find the Portuguese and Brazilian influence on the country everywhere I turned. Homes are painted bright colors, music is tinted with Latin flavors, driving is relaxed, and conversation is filled with the smooth tones of Portuguese. Each country, each region is unique, but this was a new flavor for me. Kind of like traveling across America and suddenly landing oneself in Texas.

Completely distinct from the rest of this trip was Marsabit, a town and region in Northern Kenya. This is the desert region just south of Ethiopia that is largely forgotten by Kenya. The landscape is filled with igneous rocks, and desert trees and scrubs which provide little protection from the harsh sun. The main road to Ethiopia is a bumpy, dusty dirt road; it is by far the best around. Here herds of animals are life, water trips take days, women wear bright scarves, and homes are moved on camels’ back. Sort of like being time warped to a 100 years ago to visit ranchers in Montana.

When I say ‘kind of’ or ‘sort of’ like such and such, I am trying to make the differences and the vitality of life in Africa a bit more real, but I often wonder if it works. How does one take a National Geographic special that is what I have just experienced and make it anything but the two dimensional image of my photographs? Maybe if I told you stories as I unpacked my suitcase so that you could experience the mingling smells of the fresh coffee beans I bring back and laundry dirtied in the villages or if we talked as we bounced along in a four wheeler or if we sat in the hot autumn sun with music taped at villages and schools serenading us in the background, these images, these rich and vibrant cultures, would become real. Yet it is so much more complex to try and communicate an image, an understanding, stuck in my head that is constantly changing and growing. How can I blame someone for seeing Africa as one place when I, who have traveled much, struggle to make even the most simple of stories real to friends I love?

I feel as if each place I visit in Africa adds a color or a layer to an oil painting. With each visit my painting of Africa becomes more detailed, increasingly complex, and ever richer. Somehow the diversity that I experience and try to share with others fits onto one wild canvas. Yet, as I continue to add to this painting, I doubt it will ever be complete. One canvas, one painting, so many parts, sections, colors, and textures.

Maybe as my painting of Africa continues to grow in my head and in my heart, my response to the question, “How was Africa?” will change. Maybe I will simply say, “She is good.”

bénin from a distance

I don’t know if anyone is checking this blog anymore, but I thought I would post what I intended to a week ago just in case someone is.

I am slowly getting into the swing of things here, but it is an adjustment. Life is different here. It doesn’t seem to get dark until after 9pm. I sit at a desk most of the week in front of a computer. I am back in the pool swimming again. The sky is filled with light pollution and the AC chills most rooms. The list goes on…There are pluses and minuses to each location.

On the plane back from Bénin I was already missing parts of village life, and in response to the question of why I love life I in a small village in West Africa, I wrote the following:

Life can be stressful, everything going wrong, but I can always step outside at night to be awed by a night with no light pollution. I can sit in Martine’s kitchen, I can grab a few kids to play with, and I can tease Felicité about showering. I laugh and I play. There is release—release that is enabled by the purity of the land and the simplicity of the people. I think Africa is in my blood.