A week ago today, I did something that I never imagined I’d ever do.
Our Heifer and ONE group had spent a long day in Malawi touring hospitals and clinics, and we were lucky enough to then have a chance to take a sunset boat ride on Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi covers 2/3 of the country and it looks like an ocean. It’s enormous and beautiful and nothing at all like Texas lakes. By that I mean that I didn’t see anyone selling turkey legs and Bud Light on the shore, and nobody was blasting Skynyrd from their Ford F-150. No flag bikinis.
After cruising around for a bit and enjoying the beautiful scenery and wildlife, our captain docked the boat and told us all we could jump in and swim. Almost everyone from the group immediately sprinted to the side and cannonballed into the water like it was Caddy Day at Bushwood Country Club and they were allowed just 15 minutes to have fun before the Baby Ruth appeared. It was pretty great.
I didn’t join them.
Instead, I stood on the deck waving and smiling at everyone in the gorgeous water, and quickly decided it wasn’t something I could do. True, I had my swimsuit on and I was ready to go, but the enormity of the lake combined with my not-quite-stellar swimming skills gave me pause. I told myself that the water wasn’t super clear, I didn’t know how deep it was, I might slip jumping off, I had just eaten three hours ago, I sometimes start to sink because I have super dense Norwegian bones, etc. etc. “Besides that, what if there are piranhas in there?” I thought. “There could be piranhas. I bet there are piranhas. I think I just saw some piranha bubbles. They’re probably silent piranhas that are only attracted to blonde leg hair and skirtinis.”
But then I looked at my friend Meredith from Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls floating on her back in the sparkling lake with a huge, transcendent smile on her face. And I remembered something she’d once told me: “Get your hair wet, Wendi.” At the time, I knew she meant it metaphorically in the sense that even grown ass women should take chances and not be afraid to leap. Like “Take that computer class at the community college, girlfriend!” But here, here on this boat, on this lake, on this day, on this trip—was my actual chance to get my hair wet. My actual chance to live the real lesson she’d been trying to teach me. “When’s the next time you’ll be able to say you swam in AFRICA?” she yelled at me. “Huh?”
I knew she was right. First in knowing that I’m highly susceptible to peer pressure and heckling, but more important than that, when would be my next chance to swim in Africa? I mean, probably never, right? I’m way too old to enlist in the Navy. Southwest Air doesn’t fly to that continent. And it’s not like the missionaries will ever let me join up with them because I swear way too much and I thought Barry Gibb was Jesus until I was 32 years old. It was now or never, man.
So I did it. I jumped into the stupid lake and got my stupid hair wet. All of my hair and in every way possible. And it was glorious.
Yes, I had on a pussy life preserver and yes, I lunged at Heather Barmore’s arm like she was the Coast Guard and I was Tom Hanks in “Castaway” gone nutso from talking to a volleyball for 10 years, but I did it I did it I did it. I was in the lake. In Africa. And then, after about ten minutes of looking around at the sunset, my friends and the shadow of Mozambique, I climbed back onto the boat and dried off. I mean, I’m not insane. The piranha could have been just napping for a few minutes. They do that.
But this, this was a pretty damn good day.
Photo by Karen Walrond