Prev Next

Adventure Living


Whenever a post from Manya pops into my inbox, I know it’s going to be a good day. Manya, a former magazine editor, somehow let reading APW turn into an explosion of writing (thank our lucky stars), and this talented woman has written about the wedding she should have called off, mortification and the pre-engaged state, and about her own wedding. Personally, I’m waiting for her novel. But today she’s here to write about adventure living. She’s talking about living in Kenya with her husband and family as a long-term ex-pat, but what she’s really talking about is the ways that marriage, and our every day lives, can and should be an adventure: one brave foot in front the other brave foot.Adventure Living | A Practical Wedding

Long before we met each other, my husband, Brian, and I were each discovering adventure on our own. I did some study abroad and had an urban adventure in New York City in my early twenties. We were both Peace Corps volunteers—Brian in Mauritania (a place that he swears is halfway between the Old Testament and the moon) and me in rural Cote d’Ivoire (in a village where sacred masks still dance).

After Peace Corps, before we knew each other, we both spent fascinating and difficult years working in West Africa. I was evacuated from two countries because of widespread violence and war. Brian was once almost killed when a tiny donkey tried to throw him in a well he was digging with a village. We both know all too well what a gamble a fart can be after a certain kind of snack bought from a certain kind of vendor on the side of the road. We have both lost that gamble and are card-carrying members of the I Shat My Pants club (thankfully, not together…at least not yet, but we have yet to visit India). We both have stories we can’t even tell here because our mothers will read this post. And let’s not forget I’m that wedding graduate whose finger got bitten by an elephant two days before the wedding.

There was a time where I was pretty sure that my unconventional career choice in international health and development—and the eccentricities that I have developed because the aforementioned experiences—would prevent me from finding someone I was truly compatible with. I was pretty sure my adventurous life would leave me well travelled, world-weary, and alone.

Then, when I least expected it, I met Brian. When Brian and I started dating, the force that pulled us together was industrial-strength. Because we had so much shared context in our explorations, our relationship felt very easy. My work and my passion for Africa are consuming and defining and central to my identity. So, I almost died when I found out that in addition to being totally hot, Brian speaks the same West African tribal language as me (!?!). Some people think our off-the-beaten-path choices are cool, but I know that they have made both of us a little odd—luckily in all the same ways. We get ants in our pants and a hankering to move every few years. We have similar beliefs about wealth and what constitutes a true problem. We know firsthand how hard life is for most people on the planet, and therefore cultivate a deep sense of gratitude—every. single. day. We are strict with our children: we expect them to respect both authority and their elders. When we come to The States we feel a little bit like strangers in a strange land, yet we are both deeply patriotic.

I mean, how could we NOT tumble into love? I guess you could say he had me at O ka kenen wa.

When people hear we live and work in Africa (Kenya now) they conjure up visions of how exciting our days must be. But the truth is it is not nearly as exciting as it sounds, and it is certainly no better than any other life. These days we both work in offices in front of computers. We do the stuff most American professionals do—go to meetings, keep up with email, pack lunches, go to parent-teacher conferences, go out to dinner with friends, drag our weary asses to the gym. Brian’s oft-taken trips to “exotic” destinations feel like business trips to me—except they suck more because the connectivity is crap, and if he’s gone somewhere where the connectivity is good, then the time difference is crap. We bitch about Nairobi traffic (epic during the rainy season) and pick up the occasional bucket of chicken at KFC.

But while our life isn’t anything like the Amazing Race, overall, it really is pretty amazing. The thing about living in a developing country is that things are unpredictable. That means that running through the banalities of the everyday is an ever-present possibility of discovery, surprise, and wonder. Often amazing translates to acutely uncomfortable. Sometimes that current shocks us in ways that are electrifying and illuminating and hilarious. Other times they sear us, humble us, and leave us aching—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. All of it is good—it awakens deep inner parts of us that might go untouched in more predictable circumstances.

Adventure living is kind of like working out with an emotional BOSU ball for years on end. You are never completely stable and you must learn to maintain your center of gravity over a platform that is constantly changing. As you move, you shift in and out of balance. You have to use thousands of little reflexes and muscles you never even knew existed, just to stay standing. You crash. You hurt. At first, you are not as strong as you thought. But in the end, you become more aware of yourself, more confident moving in the world. And you gain a new strength. Core strength. And ultimately, you grow stronger than you ever imagined possible. Come to think of it, marriage is like this too.

But ultimately, I don’t believe that you have to live somewhere between the Old Testament and the moon to have an adventurous life. I think that adventure living is less about going to a physical place and more about inhabiting a psychological, emotional, and spiritual one. It’s about immersing yourself in learning fully from whatever place you are in.

Want to be an adventurer? I don’t believe that you have to do anything extreme. Lose the inhibition. Pour your heart into the stuff and people around you—particularly those who are different from you. Look for the whimsical and allow yourself to be shocked and moved and delighted. Don’t avoid what is hard—look it in the face and consciously grapple with what you are going to believe and do about it. Act like an anthropologist observing mysterious people in a foreign land. Stop clinging to the belief that things should be some certain way and get curious about all the ways that they ARE. Seek to understand. Abandon the (futile) quest to be “normal.” These attitudes can be easier to adopt when the environment is more exotic, but if you can find a way to do them, then every trip to the grocery store contains the possibility of becoming an epic journey.

Somehow these principles seem to be relevant to marriage too. Building a life with another person is nothing if not an exploration of and journey through a most intimate geography. Why not choose to make every day an adventure?

And a final word: Avoid tiny donkeys at all costs.

Photo from Manya & Brian’s personal collection

More in Recent Posts Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • H

    Wait, what does that asterisk mean?! I scrolled down, and there was no explanation. Now finishing the post.

    • http://www.safarimama.blog.com Manya

      * O Ka Kenen Wa: “Hello, How are you?” In Dioula or Bambara–West Africa’s most widely spoken market language.

      • H

        Thanks Manya!

        • http://shewearsboots.blogspot.com Megan

          Nse…

          Thanks for your reflections. Mali is a long time away from me, but that place/time sure runs deep in me. Thanks for helping me see how it can apply to married life, even here back in the States…

  • SAM

    Thank you for this.

    My husband and I met in the Peace Corps (also West Africa) and, having been domiciled in the States for 5 long years, are about to take the plunge into expat life together. We’re nervous about it in all the ways an RPCV would be nervous about becoming an expat… “How will we meet local people?” “Will we hire help (and are we okay with the social implications of that)?” “How do we avoid becoming soft?” etc.

    It’s a different sort of adventure than Peace Corps was, but an adventure none the less.

    • http://thecelebrationgirlblog.com Marcela

      I was reprimanded by a local in Ivory Coast for not hiring help.He told me that “it was my obligation to share my good fortune with others in need, and that providing jobs was the proper way to do it. I wrote about it in my blog, which is in Spanish but it has a google translate button, if you are interested http://www.marcetrotamundos.com.ar/2010/03/la-solidaridad-bien-entendida-empieza.html

      • http://hitchdied.wordpress.com Robin HitchDied

        I really enjoyed this post, even though it made me feel a little guilty for how much trouble I’m having adjusting to life in the Africa Lite™ of Cape Town, South Africa.

        • meg

          ROBIN! Newsflash, you’ve been in a new country for about five seconds! It took me 2+ years to adjust to NYC coming from impoverished Southern California. Please cut yourself eleventy billion breaks right now!

        • http://thecelebrationgirlblog.com Marcela

          I agree with Meg! I went to your blog and saw that you had just arrived! I wrote that post after 3 years of the day it happened, and after having left Ivory Coast. It took me quite a while to understand the local culture and a while more for it to become a part of me too, to blend it with who I was before Africa. I find that the whole process of turning a very different place into our home takes about 2 years (that’s at least what it takes for me,and I have switched countries several times)

          • http://hitchdied.wordpress.com Robin HitchDied

            Thanks for the smack upside the head, guys! :)

        • Littleredcat

          Hey there Team Practical Cape Town! I’ve been here for 5 months and, um… It’s really hard. Just because this place is gorgeous and I am living a career/ educational dream does not make it not hard. We should organize a Cape Town Team Practical meet up.

  • http://thecelebrationgirlblog.com Marcela

    I truly love reading Manya’s posts… and I wonder whether we may have crossed each other in Ivory Coast…When were you there? I lived from 2005 to end of 2007 and our best man currently lives in Kenya…I wonder whether you may know him!

    • http://www.safarimama.blog.com Manya

      I don’t know… Maybe I do know your Best Man. I was in Cote d’Ivoire from Jan 2000 to May 2003–we were evacuated in 2003 when things got super-intense.

      • http://thecelebrationgirlblog.com Marcela

        I arrived after you left. My husband was evacuated in 2004 and we escaped the evacuation of 2006 because we were getting married in Italy. Our best man is from Serbia, his name is Nenad and his wife is Jelena. They have a child who must be now 16 , Nevena.

  • Richelle

    Manya– we love you!! Ever since you’re first post about the wedding you should have called off I have been amazed by your courage and your devotion to your children. Thank you for writing this, and for this:

    “Adventure living is kind of like working out with an emotional BOSU ball for years on end. You are never completely stable and you must learn to maintain your center of gravity over a platform that is constantly changing.”

    Brilliant. And does apply to trying or coping with anything new and difficult

  • http://blindirishpirate.blogspot.com blind irish pirate

    “Stop clinging to the belief that things should be some certain way and get curious about all the ways that they ARE.”

    Word.

  • Susie

    “Stop clinging to the belief that things should be some certain way” – THIS. True about so many things in life, big decisions or day-to-day stuff. Also I’m a new expat (Malaysia) and so reassured to read that someone else has gone through the same worries upon arrival, so thanks! Wishing you many more adventures together!

  • http://www.lifeatpedalspeedblog.blogspot.com/ Meghan

    Manya – I always love your posts. Ever since I read your first one about the wedding you should have called off, I have felt like I have a connection with you. You are such a good writer and always have such amazing things to say. Thank you!
    This is timely advice for me, and I really appreciate it. The thing I’m most scared of for the next steps in my life is the balancing on the bosu ball, although I haven’t been able to articulate it really until I read this.

    • http://www.safarimama.blog.com Manya

      Thank YOU Meghan. Writing for this community is really inspiring.

  • http://girlonthewing.com Jess

    This post hits home – I am a bit of an adventure and travel junkie. Studied abroad for the first time at 16, attended all 4 years of university abroad, etc. I moved home to be with my now-husband, but after two years in any given place, I feel the wanderlust grab hold and start pulling me away again. This year marks the third year of us living in our home state again, and I’m already itching to move. This post reminds me that I can have my adventures right here:

    “Lose the inhibition. Pour your heart into the stuff and people around you—particularly those who are different from you. Look for the whimsical and allow yourself to be shocked and moved and delighted. Don’t avoid what is hard—look it in the face and consciously grapple with what you are going to believe and do about it. Act like an anthropologist observing mysterious people in a foreign land. Stop clinging to the belief that things should be some certain way and get curious about all the ways that they ARE. Seek to understand. Abandon the (futile) quest to be “normal.” These attitudes can be easier to adopt when the environment is more exotic, but if you can find a way to do them, then every trip to the grocery store contains the possibility of becoming an epic journey.”

    Thanks for the valuable reminder :-)

  • Rachel M

    “We have both lost that gamble and are card-carrying members of the I Shat My Pants club (thankfully, not together…at least not yet, but we have yet to visit India).”

    HAHAHA! This made me laugh so hard. Not in that poop is funny sort of way (even though for some reason it is), but because my first big trip with my now fiance was to India, for two weeks. We both fell ill with food poisoning and spent a couple of days in our hotel in Dharamsala where we resorted to fashioning towels into diapers because we couldn’t afford to lose anymore pants. It was after recovering that he informally proposed by saying, “I still love you and somehow I still think you’re sexy, will you marry me someday?” One of the worst, yet best memories I have from India.

    We just got engaged for real two weeks ago!!! Very excited and grateful to have all of the wonderful advice on APW to help in planning!

    Beautiful post, Manya. I love your writing. And when you two do make it to India, I hope it’s memorable (even if it’s not towel-diaper free).

    • Catherine B

      Congratulations! And what an excellent (informal) proposal story!

    • http://www.safarimama.blog.com Manya

      Oh my God! That is awesome! TOWEL DIAPERS! We call that rocking disease, where you rock back and forth and it’s a party on both ends… So sorry, yet so glad you found a person you could survive Giardia with and still find sexy!

  • http://medeamaterial.com jules

    I read this post as I finished getting ready to head out to the airport en-route to Nairobi for a couple of weeks. Then I’ll return to my home to pack up and move overseas to the USA. I can certainly relate to finding the sense of adventure and facing each day as it comes.

  • http://www.armyamy.wordpress.com Army Amy*

    I love the idea of making an adventure out of wherever you are! My husband recently went on a solo trip from Nuremburg to Munich. (He’s currently living in Germany without me courtesty of the Army.) Munich was only a few hours away, but I was in awe of the fact that he went alone. It really inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and make a mini-adventure for myself as well.*

  • Brian

    i be ta teri muso. je t’aime infiniment.

  • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

    Manya this post is another *winner.* And this…holy cow, your paragraph about adventure living and shifting in and out of balance speaks to me sooo much.

    Thank you.

  • Meg F.

    This post was really inspiring! My husband and I are leaving for Prague in a month, and then traveling to Germany, and I’m both scared and very excited. He’s never traveled overseas before, and I’ve only ever traveled to St. Martin/St. Maarten, which, being from Florida, wasn’t incredibly exotic, though the language barrier and the French food made it interesting and lovely.

  • http://www.stefaniedebestphotography.com Stefanie

    “But ultimately, I don’t believe that you have to live somewhere between the Old Testament and the moon to have an adventurous life. ” – Love it!

  • mimi

    Thank you for this reminder to loosen up and make every day an adventure. I needed it. Sometimes I get too caught up in thinking that there’s only one way (my way) to do something, and of course that’s not true. Time to start exploring and losing inhibitions!

  • JenMac

    So much good advice here. This part especially resonated with me:

    Stop clinging to the belief that things should be some certain way and get curious about all the ways that they ARE. Seek to understand. Abandon the (futile) quest to be “normal.”

    When I was younger, I thought I’d grow up to live exotically in a manner similar to how you and your husband live, but I’ve settled in LA which, while exotic in its own ways, is not what I thought. It’s taken me a long time to understand that the epic journey is really wherever we are, as long as we’re open to it. And so everything you said about being present to the world around us really resonates with me.

    Also, that BOSU ball analogy is pretty epic – and so accurate. Makes me feel like doing more core work (literally AND metaphorically).

  • nicole

    Thank you for this! I am moving abroad for at least 4 years (Morocco to start) next summer and am slightly terrified … but also excited. I am going to ride out both of those feelings but will definitely lean more on the ‘excited’ one and will keep myself open … to everything.

  • Praj

    Hello Manya,
    Please dont comment on India when you haven’t been there..Its a beautiful place & you dont need to eat roadside food as there are many restaurants everywhere…

  • Pingback: My Favorite Things of 2013: Kenya Edition! | Andrea Montgomery Designs