Africa: Travel Friendships

Whenever you’re in a new place and experiencing new things for the first time, I find that friendships often form more quickly and can sometimes be longer lasting than your standard friendship.  I guess this can be applied to many situations, but two experiences really pop into my head when it comes to this. (Along with a current visit from a grad-school friend – trauma also inspires fast friendships.  Haha.)

The first is the summer that I went to do research in the Sierra Nevadas with Earthwatch‘s Ford Future Scientists program.  Back when I was going to be a biology major.  And then an English major.  And then an Education Major.  But I digress.  I think this was the summer between my junior and senior year in highschool.  They sent a bunch of us to work on a project to collect data for a woman who was doing her dissertation research on the spotted owl and some other stuff (I don’t remember much about the research parts of it other than cutting open owl pellets and getting bit by a flying squirrel that we had trapped).

We were young.  It was the longest many of us had been away from home without parental supervision.  We learned a lot and did our work, but we also had a lot of fun.  Saw some bears, told some scary stories, went swimming in a freezing lake, avoided the hanta virus together, and had to deal with some crazy ornithologists who were staying at our campsite. We talked and talked and talked and talked because we had time to fill and that was just what we did.

And, in the beginning, after we left, we wrote REAL letters to each other (the email was just starting to be a regular communication tool).  We don’t communicate as often these days, but have recently found ourselves in touch again, and while we’re all grown up, we’re all still those nerds that we were in high school – one’s an MD, one’s a geography/GIS guy, one does stuff that I don’t really understand but it’s science/chemistry related.  And we’re still friends.  Almost 20 years later after spending a few weeks together in the woods.

The other, of course, is peace corps.  You get thrown into chaos and start saying words you don’t understand and before you know it you have friends who have seen you violate 3 cultural norms at once and know about the time you either pooped your pants or didn’t poop for 10 days.  I’m still in touch with many of these people (thanks, Facebook!) There are still a few people who know entirely too much about my digestive (and other) issues even though we’re back in the states.  Get a group of us together at any point and bodily functions will take up an hour of conversation, at least.  We were close.  Real close.  All jokes aside, peace corps has given me some of my best friends on this planet.

Coming into a new situation like this, where I’ll be with a group of people for at least 3 weeks – it is prime time for developing a lifelong friendship or two.  Someone will undoubtedly have crazy culture shock.  Someone will be sick the entire time (hopefully not me!)…. I’m just hopeful there are a few good people going on this trip who a) don’t think I’m completely nuts and b) aren’t completely nuts themselves.  I don’t think that’s asking too much, do you?

Have you made some lasting friendships while traveling or living abroad?  Do tell…

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