Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"You look pretty, like a muzungu."

"You look pretty, like a muzungu." I was told, once, by a taxi driver who'd known me for ages here in Dar es Salaam.

Muzungu - white person
Mchina - Asian looking person (doesn't include south Asians)

I don't know what came over my driver that day when he said those words. He'd seen me go into that same salon more than a dozen times and come out outwardly unchanged and that was the first time he'd said anything about it. Thing was, it wasn't my eyebrows or upper lips I had waxed.

My friends, Tanzanian or otherwise, reacted in various shades of amusement or embarrassment (not quite sure if it was for me or for the fever), there were some who got became quite indignant at the gall of this man. They asked me if I'd been insulted and said surely I'd said something.

I could've been offended, but why should I be? If his definition of pretty is a muzungu woman, who was I to disabuse that notion? If he was just being nice and had reached the limits of giving compliments in a strange language, then why embarrass him by correcting him or asking him to justify that comment in some way? I replied, "Asante," which is thank you in the local lingo, and let it go. 

It's all about perspective. I choose to think of that as an anecdote of my life abroad. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

It's 150am and I'm awake. Now, most people who know my (former) sleeping habits would probably say, "what's new?" I've been sleeping a lot more these days though, honest. But, I digress.

I'm awake, wide awake, in that excited it's-the-first-day-of-school-tomorrow kind of excitement. 

I'm a teacher now. I've been one for about 7 years. Granted, first day of school is four times a year now for me because our courses are only 10 weeks long. But you know what? This is how I used to feel when I was a kid. And that's not a bad thing to be, or to feel. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A letter to my 16 year old self

I'm 30 now and while I probably am not as wise as I'd like to be, if I could, I'd send my 16 year old self some advice.

Dear Angela,

You're about to finish high school, start university and embark into adulthood. Not! I've lived your life and can tell you that you're as impossibly childish as ever at the ripe old age of thirty. In light of that fact, I'd like to give you advice so that you can better yourself and guide you so that you can have a more fulfilling life.
  1. Avoid older friends who will lead you astray, teach you to party and get you obsessed in The Sims.
  2. Do not read The Wheel of Time series, it will take over your life and the author will die before he finishes the book. Ignore The Song of Ice and Fire as well.
  3. Drinking your weight in beer with your male cousins is bad for you. You will be far too comfortable with men and be able to handle your drink.
  4. Do not skip school, attend rallies, or join university organizations.
  5. Study something useful, like nursing, since you're not afraid of blood. You'll be able to get a high-paying job abroad and being a non-native speaker of English will not be a cause for discrimination.
  6. Do not, by any means, register for classes or courses that will ask you to create ads, make movies, take photos of the sunset or write scripts. They're too much fun.
  7. Decide what you want to do right after university,  get an 8-5 job that requires you to call your bosses "Boss, Ma'am, or Sir" and climb that ladder so you can live according to THE SCRIPT. Stick with it even if you hate it, it will pay the bills and perhaps you'll meet Mr. Right.
  8. Find a job that will not work with your insomnia and one that won't let you go out drinking and dancing during work hours.
  9. Stop yourself from going to Vietnam, don't give teaching a chance.
  10. Steer clear of doing the CELTA. You will meet interesting people who will leave and one who will break your heart.
  11. Stay away from Saigon, you'll learn how to ride a motorbike, drive after drinking, get into accidents and get back onto a motorbike to do the same thing all over again.
  12. Give a wide berth to traveling, there isn't any use to learning different languages, experiencing culture, meeting new people and seeing the rest of the known world.
  13. Keep your distance from people who will teach you a lot about life, love, music and drugs.
  14. Steer clear of jobs that will ask you to make big decisions like moving to Africa and opportunities to re-route your career. Stay in your safety zone of doing that are easy for you.
  15. Give living abroad a miss, who wants to go through funny misunderstandings when you can stay somewhere where everybody speaks your language? Why meet people who will change your life then leave?
  16. Burn this letter.
You are the sum total of good and bad decisions. You are not perfect and that's OK. Perfect is overrated. So, go on. Make choices, don't make choices, live and enjoy your life for as long as you can. You will meet many people and the ones who matter will stay. Savour every experience but let bad thoughts go. It's alright not to know the answers. You are you and no other.

Love, always,

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All you need is a bit of Angela Sunshine

It makes me happy to know that I've brought positivity in other people's lives. Over the past year, I've been told countless times of how much I'm missed---because of my smile, my (dirty) sense of humor, my cheerfulness and the dose of sunshine I apparently doled out unconditionally at work and to friends. Thank you for letting me know. It's that quadrant in my Johari window that's still a tad cloudy.

People who met me last year and became acquainted to the ^famed?^ but diluted Angela Sunshine, I'm glad you can still see my best side.

I was at my lowest point two years ago: I despaired of people not wanting to hang out with me or starting to avoid talking to me because of what I viewed as a vast change in my personality. While I regret to tell you (those who knew me then) that I'll never get that Angela back, present day Angela is just as good and as fun as she used to be. Perhaps better. Or trying. Being. 

"We don't really change. We become more of who we truly are."
 ---sorry I forgot who wrote this and I'm too lazy to google it


Saturday, August 16, 2014

10 Things I'm Missing Right Now

For the past week or so, I've been feeling a bit homesick. While it's a given that I miss my family and friends, I think a few things should also be mentioned:

1. Dirty ice cream
***sorbetes or ice cream sold on the streets in the Philippines. There's nothing quite like it, not even salted caramel chocolate cake, a quart of Snickers ice cream, or a brownie from a local cafe can make up for it.
2. Vietnamese street food
***anyone who has been to Nam gets this (except perhaps my mom). I miss the plastic chairs, beer with ice, tra da (ice tea), pointing at menus because I can't get the tone right, and muoi tieu (salt & pepper) with lime.
**seafood night with the Brogans 
3. Yoko and all the other bars with live music --- usually with bands composed of my friends
4. Malate and the gay clubs
***eye candy (I don't care if they're on my team) who smell and look good, dance well and give me compliments on what I'm wearing.
**music and general ambiance
5. Adobo, pandesal, polvoron and my dad's cooking 
6. Good movies, film festivals 
***my movie buddies and late dinners
7. Taxi meters
8. Riding Steve the scooter, I even miss my toi yeu Viet Nam helmet
9. Filipino songs that have double meanings
10. Speaking Vietnamese even though I suck at it

Monday, July 21, 2014

Are we there yet?

When I was a kid, I used to pack a bag every night, just in case it was the night I could go to another land. In would go a change of clothing, a flashlight (later on, a lighter or two when I realized I'd have to bring extra batteries), a chocolate bar or whatever snack I was supposed to bring to school the next day, and of course, a book. I didn't know where I might end up or what I'd have to do--- Neverland, Camelot, ancient Egypt, perhaps move around the universe by means of tesseract or even find an Indian in a cupboard. I never stopped hoping or wishing for an adventure. 

About four weeks ago, I embarked on a different kind of adventure. One that was as magical and action packed, albeit uncomfortable (insert laugh track here) as any I had ever dreamed of. For half term, I traveled in Uganda and Ethiopia for a week in each country. 

I can continue on with a day to day account of what we did but that might end up with me glossing over the bad roads and disappointing packed breakfasts/lunches we had. Or the time that stupid me sat at the back of the van and almost threw up. 

What mattered was seeing rhinos for the first time at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and arriving at Murchison Falls National Park at nearly sunset to watch the water spray as it hit the rocks and see rainbows in the mist.

Murchison Falls National Park

Yes, I went on a wildlife safari yet again but let me tell you, it's never the same. At least, that's how it is for me - the terrain, the animals - flying, crawling, running --- usually away from us, and the view of the horizon. We had a beautiful boat cruise on the Nile and saw birds, crocodiles, hippos and even an elephant trapped at the side of the cliff (trapped until it found its way back, I suppose).

#midlifecrisis #40yearoldchimp

At Kibale National Park, we went chimpanzee trekking. It was a bit underwhelming as the chimps stayed on branches and were quite difficult to see. The most exciting thing that happened was one pooping and peeing from the branches with us watching odious material oozing from the trees.

my bed at Wagtail Eco Camp
The warm welcome at Wagtail Eco Camp more than made up for our looong drive to Bwindi National Park, where I was given a single room because they probably thought Jeff & Rachel were together. Two whities, ya know (that comment was from Rachel by the way). While they played pool at a local bar, I walked around with some school kids until sunset. Everything I said they found amusing and a boy named Dosh invited me to his home to meet his family.

sunset at Ruguburi

Gorilla trekking started with me hiring a porter to take care of me in case I became too tired to continue. I thought of it as similar to taking an umbrella, you bring one to ward off the rain. It was true enough for me, as apart from carrying my extremely light day pack, he didn't have to do anything else to help me. The rest of our group, were composed of two British couples who won a trip to travel with Ian Redmond, a tropical field biologist and conservationist. We were pretty lucky to trek with them, no complainers among them and all quite interesting individuals. Ian regaled us with tales and information about animals and our guide, Sarah, was very knowledgeable and friendly. We spent a few hours tramping about and saw a <giant> forest elephant while the trackers looked for the Nshongi group. Less than 3 hours after we started hiking, a baby gorilla welcomed us, flower in its mouth, running towards us. It was the best hour of my life so far this year, besides, there was also some X-rated gorilla action.

After our awesome morning with the gorillas, we went to the market with Gordon, one of the guys from the lodge; and then visited their cultural center where we were shown their small museum and two more employees from the lodge, Judith & James, danced for us together with people from their community, a perfect end to our special day.

The next day, four bathroom stops later and our bums aching from the crazy drive over rough roads, we bade Abby, our genial guide, goodbye. 

To be continued...

*gorilla picture taken by Jeff Aspinall

Thursday, July 17, 2014

People and Books

I used to prefer books to people when I was younger. Or I thought I did.

I grew up in the suburbs and I didn't go out of the house much after my dad left to work for Saudi Arabia. My cousins by then had also left to join their mom in Norway and my sister was years older and didn't really hang out with me then. I was left to my own devices most of the time. The maid, who doubled as my nanny, would play with me now and then but for the most part, I amused myself by creating stories for and about my toys. The rest of the time, you'd find me curled up somewhere reading a book.

When I started school outside our subdivision, I was banned from reading books (outside of school books) --- that's another story --- so as soon as I was out of my mom's eyes, I had a book in hand and walked everywhere in school with one. It's not as if I didn't have friends, in fact, I was strangely popular amongst my schoolmates and was involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities. I was often included in school performances and won contests for public speaking quite a few times. In addition to that, I got into fights, played rough and tumble with the boys, ran around school with my skirts flying, in short, I was a regular kid, albeit, a bit of a tomboy. Yet a big part of my time at school was spent with books. Librarians loved me because I read incessantly, helped other people find books, and best of all, organized the shelves without being asked to. 

Books were my closest friends, they demanded much of my time but gave back as much. They kept me company, entertained me, calmed my fears and taught me things about the world, even when they made me cry. I was very comfortable with them, they never crowded me or spoke at the same time, two situations that freak me out when I'm with a big group of people. However, there were always a few people who could draw me out and get me to leave my books, at least, for a while. They were kind and funny, genuinely interested in spending time with me, had stories to tell and were willing to listen to mine. 

Eventually, it dawned on me how much books and people were alike. Let me give you examples:

  1. Sometimes, you meet people you can't get enough of. Like books, you want to read them again and again. They never stop being interesting and there's always something new to discover about them. They make you think, yet at the same time, you're comfortable with them.
  2. Other times, it's enough to meet somebody once. You don't hate them, they're just not going to be your favorite. 
  3. Have you ever tried to read a book a few times but just couldn't get into it? Gave it time and a few days/months/years later, voila, you like it and can't put it down. Some people are strange at first and you might not like them very much, yet sooner or later, you find out you have things in common and they can be your friends for life.
I can go on and on about this. My friends have heard me, time and again, discussing this. I don't see an end to finding similarities between them though. :)

Now, I can't live without both. People are good for the soul, for my soul. I enjoy time with friends and try to see them or be connected to them as much as I can. I still value alone time, but how alone am I when I have my books?

P.S. Sorry, it's not exactly a post about Africa. I promise the next one will be.

For an interesting read (I'm clearly biased)

Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With

Thursday, May 22, 2014

That thing that happened in high school that pretty much changed your life forever

When I was home March 2014, my friends told me something I didn't know. I was bullied in high school. Right now you're probably like "what? Is she on crack? How can she not know she was bullied?" It was a revelation to me. Proof that events are what they are depending on your perception and what you do about them.

Just to give you a bit of a background, let me tell you about my school and what may have led to the bullying. Like high schools some of you have read about, seen in movies or even attended - mine had cliques. I attended an all girls school and without boys to run around with, the tomboy in me was lost. There were the popular girls, some pretty, some smart, some talented - some of them were nice and fairly modest, a few drama queens and some high maintenance ones. There were the girls who played sports, the girls who played music, the girls from the top class from each year, etc. 

I was in the honors class my first year then moved to a regular one my second because Algebra proved to be way too difficult for me. In the school I went to and like most high schools in the Philippines, you stay with the same people year round (and in the same classroom). It was in my second year that I met most of my high school friends. Two of my good friends moved away in my second year but junior year, I found myself in a class that completed the rest of my high school friends. And then senior year, my friends and I were in different classes. 

While I wasn't close to anyone in my class, I don't remember disliking anyone at first sight or avoiding anyone in particular my first few weeks. I was friendly enough to people (or so I thought), minded my own business and spent all my free time with my friends who belonged to other classes. At that time, I used to bring a newspaper at least three times a week to stay abreast of current events and for debate material. This detail seems kind of random but you see that's what started  set off the #meangirls. One day while I was off enjoying the morning break with my friends, one girl (or maybe two) took my newspaper and decided to cut away articles or pictures they wanted. If they had borrowed it and left it in a heap, I would've been mildly annoyed. Like my friends say, I'm ridiculously good in sharing my things. If they had asked me if I was done reading or if they had said they wanted to cut parts of it, I probably would've agreed. As it was, my temper flared and I told them off for touching my things and destroying the newspaper. Really silly, right? I have a hot temper that cools easily though, and while I may be a bit wary the next day, I thought nothing of it and left my bag unattended once again during break the next day. When I got back, someone had squeezed toothpaste all over the inside of my bag. I can't remember if they touched my bag again after that, but soon after that, none of my things were ever left in that classroom again. They were either on my person, in my locker or at my friend's classroom in the room next to ours. How sad that I trusted her class more than mine. I never managed to build a relationship with anyone from my class. I was always the odd one out. 

Looking back, I can remember that for the rest of the year, there were a group of girls in my class who were forever unfriendly and sometimes downright hostile to me. No real altercations of any sort which always made me wish we could've just punched each other and had it all over and done with. 

Why write about all this? Because I remember that it happened BUT I got out of high school unscathed and happy. To this day I have friends who love weird, different me. In some ways I've blocked parts of my high school life but I kept all the fun, beautiful parts that I shared with my friends. The letter writing, skipping out on school events, long commutes home, movies we watched, games we played --- the list of good memories go on and on. I never felt I was a victim because I had their support, acceptance, and yes, love. 

I've had this post on my drafts for over a year because I didn't really know what the ending would be until today. To my dear friends, thank you. 

More than a year and a half in my drafts - finalized 12:27 pm Zimbabwe time January 1, 2016.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Top 5 Beaches (that I've been to)

Although I’m not as well-traveled as I’d like to be, I can’t help but think of my past destinations and the places I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing again. I'm so over this rainy season and just dreaming of awesome beaches.

To make it less complicated, this is just a list of my top 5 islands/beaches I’ve been to

(in no particular order)

1. Coco Loco Island, Palawan, Philippines
picture from
I was here more than 6 years ago with my sister and my aunt, Tita Gelie. It’s a tiny island where everyone has a beachfront hut. The food was amazing and certainly satisfied my beach hunger --- almost like my hungerover :)

2. Boracay, Philippines
picture from
I can’t count how many times I’ve been to this island. It has changed so much over the years but I still remember how it looked in 2004 when I graduated from uni and my sister brought me there as a birthday/graduation gift. I’ll be there again in December for her wedding.

3. Koh Yao Noi, Thailand

This island in the south of Thailand isn’t very big and neither is it party central. It’s amazingly chill though (perhaps too much so) and the best part is it’s so safe we did not lock our doors – we didn’t even have a key – and we left our motorbike keys in the ignition.

4. Koh Phangan
picture from

I debated putting Koh Phi Phi Leh (best known for the movie “The Beach”) on this slot but Koh Phangan won because I can still remember the breathtaking view when you drive around its coast. On a motorbike, you will feel like you’re flying when you’re going downhill.

5. Caramoan, Camarines Sur, Philippines
picture from

Virgin Boracay. This little gem in the Bicol Region is yet another place I need to go back to. I went to 3 or 4 of its islands but as is always the case in the Philippines, there’s always more to see. Be sure to check the weather before you go there though.

and the 15 that I haven’t been to that are on top of my other list

  • Baia do Sancho, Brazil
  • Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia
  • Playa de Ses Illetes, Formentera, Spain
  • Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa, Italy
  • Anse Source d'Argent, La digue, Seychelles
  • Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Hawaii
  • Rhossili Bay, Swansea, Wales
  • Playa Norte Beach, Mexico
  • Tubbataha Reefs, Philippines (can I count that)
  • Bora Bora, Tahiti
  • Cabbage Beach, Paradise Island, Bahamas
  • Palaui Island, Cagayan Valley, Philippines
  • Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
  • Gardney Bay, Espanola Island, Ecuador
  • Boulders Beach, Cape Town, Africa
Who knows if/when I can tick them off my list. I'll definitely blog about it... Do you have a list like mine?