Under the Big African Sky, part 1

I love to travel, to see how others live. How they are the same, how they are different. How they eat, not least of all. I’m thrilled by names, places, people, animals, transportation. A tiny international airport in Zambia where they hand-write the tickets and cats wander the waiting area.

I spent four days roughing it in the five-million-acre Kruger National Park in the province of Mpumalanga, “the place where the sun comes out.” It’s fun just to SAY Mpumalanga.

And our guide, Nick–probably worried when he saw two blonde American women–warned us that his motto is, “TIA.” Or, THIS IS AFRICA. Rough translation, don’t even think about whining. My own version of it, when I’d see something crazy, was, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

We met lots of Africans, and not one who had ever been off the continent. Their mouths would gape open with astonishment when I described to them that the week before I got to 95-degree Africa, I was skiing in snow waist-deep. I told them it’s so cold where I live that the hairs in your nose freeze, so you have to wiggle your nose to break up the ice. And your breath makes a frozen vapor cloud. They can’t imagine it.

One asked me, incredulously, “How can the children write in school? Aren’t their fingers stiff?” Central heat (or AC), of course, is something they’ve never experienced.

In the village of Muukuni, 7,000 people live, the vast majority without jobs. No electricity, no running water, no internet. The women carry water in pots on their head. The only junk food I saw was a little hanging stand at the entrance to the village–but only the occasional tourist who visits buys it–and apparently not much, since the vendor’s bags of potato chips were sun-faded.

In my world travels (23 countries on 4 continents the past 4 years), I’ve found few places untainted by Western culture. Even rural Vietnam and China had far too much processed food. The ONLY places on Earth that don’t have processed foods are the places where the people have virtually no access to cash.

Muukuni Village is one of those rarities. The vast majority of families have zero income, and there is no government aid. Unfortunately, they also have leprosy, extreme poverty, and a high mortality rate. The chief can be put to death if the Council decrees so, and once they decided to poison the chief. When he didn’t die, they buried him alive.

My guide, Lumba Simulube, told me her large family was orphaned in 1996 when her father died of a nosebleed. Since you don’t generally die of that, they assume he died of a hex his brother put on him.

Only four in the village own a car–for commercial purposes.

There are things I like about village life. For instance, there is zero crime. Maybe that’s because everyone is poor (so who would you steal from?). But part of it has to be this: look at the photos of the community jail. While I was standing next to it, a couple of young men were escorted in by the village elders. They are questioned, and they are caned by an old woman, only if they refuse to be accountable for their actions. Look at all the kids gathering around–it’s rare that anyone needs discipline, so the kids were fascinated.

The crimes of these youth?

They are referred by parents if they use bad language, disrespecting elders, or refusing to do their jobs.

NYC: hot dogs or raw gourmet? Horn of plenty or fries and a shake?

After my second trip to New York City this year, the verdict is this: in keeping with the diversity of that teeming city as immigrants poured in during the 19th and early 20th century, the city is all things.

Hot dog stands AND lush edible vegetables growing next to the street on 9th Ave. A horn of plenty in the Macy’s parade, and a giant Ronald McDonald and Pillsbury Dough Boy. A huge Hershey’s store on Times Square, AND Sarma Melngailis’ Pure Food and Wine restaurant.

(See them below. My friends Jamie and Jennie were afraid to try the oyster mushroom I am showing in the photo, so I enjoyed most of the 10 fabulous courses myself. Both of my friends suffer from horrific endocrine / hormone problems that cause them great pain as well as infertility. I am working on getting them to see the connection between those issues and diet/lifestyle. Both subsist primarily on junk food, so raw food dishes taste strange to them. Anyway, the food was wonderful, but DARN I didn’t get to meet Sarma.)

A few of my photos

–served and cleaned up at a downtown soup kitchen run by Baptists

–watched the Macy’s parade including Jessica Simpson, Kanye West, and Gladys Knight

–ran all over the city and Central Park on the subway and on foot, impressed in the photo below at the creative places I found KALE growing!

–hung out with some drag queens, firefighters, and Elmo (see photos for proof)

–saw some fabulous shows like Promises, Promises with Kristen Chenoweth, Sean Hayes, Molly Shannon

–found a sports bar to watch BYU lose by one point to the U of U

–and of course shopped till we dropped on Canal Street and Chinatown, and here at FAO Schwartz (or the candyland “FAO Schweetz” here!)

Somehow I missed snapping the parade photo of–I am not making this up–the cornucopia of plenty from the original Thanksgiving followed IMMEDIATELY by a giant fries-and-a-shake. I did, however, capture my Nemesis #1 and Nemesis #2 as they floated past us on the edge of Central Park.

On Thanksgiving I reflected on the abundance and the paucity of modern life. How we can tap the amazing things available to us like never before in history–or we can indulge in those things that are shiny on the outside but slowly drain away our life force.

Teaching and Traveling in VEGAS!

I loved meeting y’all in Las Vegas at Go Raw Café! Thanks, Lu, for hosting–I love what you’re doing to provide raw food to my friends in Nevada.  Love love love Daryl, doing a demo with me below, who rules the Raw Food Meetup that is 600 strong. Also, thank you to three groups who came from California or several hours south–I’m amazed! Check out one of the winners at the class, below, who was pretty stoked. I always give away my favorite stuff.

Another photo below is of 10-year old Ivy, who gobbled up an entire tray of kale and collards without a word of complaint. You didn’t see her green teeth, but I did because I was standing right next to her. My point is always this: go ahead and eat a bigger platter of greens every day, but if you’re not doing that, consider a 10-minute habit that puts ALL that in you, with minimal effort, with cell walls broken down so nutrition is immediately and completely accessible–and no gagging!

After the class, my girlfriends and I were hosted by a friend of ours at Caesar’s Palace penthouse. (See photo below of an interview I did in the suite.) In addition to comp’ed LaReve and Garth Brooks tickets, President Obama checked in on Friday and stayed in our tower. We had to show ID just to get on elevators. Secret Service everywhere.

So guess who was at the hotel gym with us Saturday morning? On the treadmill and elliptical right there next to us, chatting about Utah and skiing and stuff. Yep, the leader of the free world himself.

(I was bold enough to talk to him and shake his hand, not bold enough to ask for a photo. My customer support lead, Jenni, said, “Did you give him your card and tell him you love Michelle’s initiative?” I’m sorry to say I was too awestruck to think that clearly.) We had to be frisked and allow our cell phones to be examined, to get into the gym–he was there first.

A couple of quotes from the trip by Kristi, the alpha female in our group of friends:

1.           “Robyn, we are not ordering EVERYTHING healthy, okay?!” (I suggested “sides” at Joe’s to share, family style. I got an order in for broccoli, then asparagus–and then I pushed my luck suggesting grilled tomatoes. Can you say SHUT DOWN?)

2.           [ordering for all of us, at Earl of Sandwich]: “She’s having the Veggie. Veggie what? Um, just Veggie whatever you got.”

I took my cooler full of pints of frozen green smoothies for breakfast every morning. I’m not saying I’m perfect when I travel, because sometimes what I eat isn’t my first priority–sometimes not annoying my friends is. But I do pretty well: vacation isn’t fun if I don’t feel well because I abandon nutrition. So here’s another little reminder that you CAN eat healthfully while traveling. My favorite travel tip: first thing when you wake up, have some Superfood Greens in a blender bottle, shaken in water.

American processed-food outreach knows no bounds

I seem to be rather clumsy. First of all, I’ve been initiated as a cyclist:

After three months and about 1,000 miles, I finally wrecked my bike. Thanks to a kid changing lanes as I hauled down the canyon at 15+ mph. (Kid was fine.)

See the photo of us on the balcony (on our cruise vacation we just got back from). You can see the road rash on my shoulder. (I have some other banged-up parts that don’t show. Ow.)

Emma and I may or may not have sung karaoke Love Story (Taylor Swift) with an audience of several hundred and a live band including backup singer, see photo below. I may or may not choose to put the video up on YouTube.

But then I was swimming in Cabo a few days ago, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific at a place called The Arch, see photo of Emma below. (Sea lions! Sea turtle! Many beautiful fishies!) And I accidentally got smacked into a reef because I was checking out said beautiful fishies and apparently got too close just as a wave came in.

Anyway, my arm was all cut up. I don’t think my fellow passengers minded, since they figured THEY’D be safe in a shark attack. But the inflatable-boat captain who drove us out to Chileno Bay gave me a lecture, probably for everyone’s benefit, about staying away from the reef.

That’s why we call it ECO SNORKELING, he said.

Well, that’s just rich, I thought. A lecture on keeping the wildlife healthy, from a guy dumping Frito-Lay products by the bagfuls to feed the fish, to entertain the tourists. (Not that I didn’t feel guilty for donating part of my forearm to the coral–I very much regret any harm I may have unintentionally inflicted on it.)

Turns out that saltwater fish feel the same way about Frito-Lay that folks around here do. It was an all-out feeding frenzy.

I’ve been in over 20 countries in the past 3 years. In December I go to Africa. One thing that strikes me in my extensive travels is the Monroe Doctrine of the vast American processed-food empire. American outreach–the worst parts of our culture inflicted on helpless others–knows no bounds. I thought I’d seen it all in rural Vietnam when I saw a two-year old with black, rotted teeth, riding a tricycle and drinking Coke. I’ve seen impoverished Mexican mothers feeding their newborn infants Similac–no doubt given them free in the hospital to encourage them to bottle-feed rather than breastfeed.

And now we’re feeding the tropical fish fried corn chips.

I need a vacation from my vacation!

My kids and I are home from 12 hotels, 13 states, in 14 days. What a wonderful historical experience–but I am now doing a much-needed “Nothing But Green Smoothies” detox this week! My goodness, we did what we could, but we had little control over when and what and where we ate. I will tell you some fun stuff about my trip over the next week or so, with a few more photos.

But first, two things.

First, I want to post something by “Mom of 3″ tomorrow and address the interesting issue she raised, of what happens when Grandma Comes to Town. (Wow, that sounded sinister.)

Second, I want to express my regret about having to cancel the class in Manhattan. Here’s the deal. We had 70 people RSVP’d. I had never been allowed to talk to the manager of the health food store hosting my show despite repeated requests.

Because of that, I got the sense, confirmed only later, that the rooftop where we’d be meeting could hold 25–if some were standing! Further, no electricity–thus, no demo possible. The “in-between” person who brokered the situation had never been to the location, it turns out.

Plus, you had to climb 8 flights of stairs to get to the rooftop. And it had poured rain all day, the forecast 80% rain through the night. (Remember, the venue was outdoors. The in-between said we could meet in the kitchen–it’s 90 degrees in there and holds only 25.)

We were between a rock and a hard place, my friends.

Well, after I made the call and had Chris send out an email to those RSVP’d, of course it stopped raining. But all the other factors still applied. Over 30 people did not get word and showed up, including some ladies who drove 6 hours from Connecticut.

I feel terrible about this, have never canceled a speaking engagement before. (Connecticut friends, Denley got your contact info and I am going to make it up to you.)

Anyway, I’m so very sorry. I hope I have the privilege to visit NYC again and speak in a different location. Please forgive me.

A couple of photos here: attending church in the District of Columbia, at the Smithsonian statue garden, and my children on the banks of the Susquehanna River in PA.

I posted lots more photos on my personal facebook page. (Most of my friends there are actually GSG readers, so come on over! Don’t forget to also “like” the GSG fanpage.)

airport story

Just a warning: today’s blog has nothing to do with nutrition. It’s just a funny story about something that happened in the Long Beach airport on the way home from Anaheim yesterday.

So Tiffani and I got there almost 3 hours before our flight was to leave. We’d been at a raw restaurant with lots of people from the show, raw foodie and earthy crunchy friends with dreadlocks and guitars, the night before, till late. And we’d been talking to people for 3 days straight. My vendors were there. My best friend and her parents from San Fran. One of my favorite readers, Tonya. A few of my former university students who came to hang out with me. A million people trying to get us to try their stuff. Skinny Bitch, the author. Heather Mills, the richest ex-wife in history. The Biggest Loser (who looks to have gained a few kilos). The whole show was a trip!

Point is, we were both in need of a cat nap.

So we saw these comfy chairs with no arm rests between them and we sprawled out. Each of us was taking up two seats. No big deal, in a room full of 250 chairs and about 10 people. Right? Well, you’d think.

A lady and her husband walked up. She had that frown-lined face that speaks of a lifetime of conflict and bitterness. She demanded: “ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE UP THAT WHOLE SPACE YOURSELVES?”

I said we were going to take a little nap. Tif pointed out that there were many chairs, all of them comfy, with hardly anyone in the waiting area. The lady became angry and demanded that we give her the seats. I said, very quietly to Tif, “I don’t think we should do something just because a bully wants us to.”

So Frowny Lady stormed over to a security guard. The guard came over with a triumphant Frowny and asked us, “Do you need that space?” We said yes, and the guard said to the lady, “Well I can’t MAKE them move,” and walked away.

At this point, I was finding the whole thing really amusing and I was fighting a case of the giggles. You know, the kind that you keep trying to suppress–you cover your mouth, you clamp your lips together–but it just going to come out no matter what! I think people who see a room full of hundreds of chairs and want the ONE and ONLY THE ONE someone else has–well, it seemed like great comedy at the time.

So an even funnier thing happened. Frowny stomped over and sat in MY seat, right up against me. She plopped down really hard, with a big “UMPH!” sound, to be extra obnoxious. Wiggled her fanny around to really settle in. Not in the seat next to me, mind you, but IN MY SEAT WITH ME.

Every point of the side of her body was in total contact with mine.

Well, here’s the thing. I love to defuse situations like that by doing what I call THE OPPOSITE. The opposite of what most people would do. The opposite of what is expected. The opposite of instinct.

When I make a driving error and someone flips me off, I employ THE OPPOSITE. I wave enthusiastically as if the person giving me The Bird is a close friend I am thrilled to reconnect with, on the road. (Warning: your children will be mortified by this.) (Tip: do this while thinking of someone you would truly love to see in the other car.)

The person who made the obscene gesture is completely taken off guard. At first they are startled and think (watch carefully and you can see this thought register on their face), “Oh no! I just flipped off a friend!”

Then they see they really don’t KNOW me, and they become very annoyed, because they’ve failed in their goal to make me angry. Instead I’m obviously just stupid in my giddiness to say hello, grinning ear-to-ear.

Back to the airport story. Doing THE OPPOSITE came in handy.

I imagined her being my grandma, whom I like very much. I snuggled into her–burrowed, really–and put my head on her shoulder, closed my eyes. Took a long, leisurely breath. A contented sigh, really. This was going to be an even better nap than I’d get stretched out! Perfect!

This did not, however, go over big. She said:

“DON’T. F’ING. TOUCH. ME.”

Tiffani, whose jaw had been hanging open ever since I decided to enjoy my lovely, soft, Frowny pillow, finally spoke, indignantly:

“But you’re touching HER!”

Well, Frowny got up and stormed off. Everyone in the room laughed so hard, and so long, that very frankly the whole event was worth the stress. Laughter is like raw food, and oxygen–it’s just GOOD FOR YOU!

One woman, an hour later, came over and cozied up to me IN MY CHAIR just like Frowny had, and then cracked up and went back to her chair. One guy couldn’t stop laughing for about 20 minutes. Other people showed up, and they were told the story, and everyone got to enjoy it over and over.

It was great fun. Try it sometime. Do THE OPPOSITE. Anger is toxic. It’s really fun to defuse it.

My friend Laura once said, “Everything that happens is good. Either it works out well, or it makes a great story.” Hope you enjoyed mine.