10 April 2011

Suzanne and Kelly: An Ephelant Adventure

One three-man tent with two occupants for seventy three days.  Who would you pick to share that tent with?

Suzanne and Kelly.  Kelly and Suzanne.

I've tried writing this entry so many times but never could get it quite right.  I wanted to tell you how us travelers brought all our own camping supplies, but the truck provided the tents.  I wanted to tell you how each tent was named for an African animal and after your first night, that animal was both your totem and your roof for the next 73 days.  I wanted to tell you Lisa was in Lion,  Tim & Rachel in Zebra, Sam & Andy in Buffalo, Laura & Stefan in Giraffe, Carly & Kaylin in Hippo and so on and so on.  But you don't know any of these people, though they now occupy the most special of places in my heart.

So we'll stick to this:  Suzanne and I got the Elephant tent.  Her favorite African animal and our home for the next three months.  For this post, anything unrelated to Elephant is Irrelephant.

I'll try and stay focused but....

I wanted to tell you how our tent names became our nicknames. How I could call out "Hyena" and if Frances or Sarah were within earshot they would answer.  How Ewan and Jack became Warthog and Hogwart respectively.  How Jacquie and Nicole were, collectively, the Cheetah girls.  I want to tell you how early in the trip someone misspoke and called our tent Ephelant and it stuck.  If somebody called out "Ephelant!" tomorrow as I cruise the aisles of the grocery store, I'd turn and answer to it.

I wanted to tell you how each time Suzanne or I approached our tent, we'd call out  "Ephelant!" to make sure it was the right tent, to see if the other one was at home, to make sure it was okay to enter.  Privacy is in short supply with tent living, we tried our hardest to give each other a bit whenever possible, though sometimes that just meant averting our eyes.

I wanted to tell you about the intense travel schedule:  Arrive at sunset, set up the tent.  Wake at dawn, take down the tent. Set the tent up, take the tent down.  Set it up, take it down.  Set up, take down. Staying in a place for more than one night seemed like a gift.  Three nights at a campground and it was like we were putting down roots in the community.  Four nights and we all felt as if we had lived there forever.

But I digress...anything unrelated to Ephelant is Irrephelant.

I wanted to tell you that being successful tent mates means compatibility of scheduling.  What time do we need to get up in order to get our "chores" done and still make it on the truck in time for a dawn departure? Suze and I could not be more in sync; each night we'd agree without debate what time the next day's itinerary meant waking up. True, we were often awake earlier than anyone else, often ready to leave before we needed to be and often teased for being early birds ("Hey Ephelant, it's midnight, you probably wanna start taking your tent down now.")  But Suze and I shared the same desire to be squared away, the same preference for being early rather than scrambling at the last second.  Harmonious lives have been built on less.

But synced schedules are not the only thing that makes a good tent buddy.  Suze and I took to calling each other Wifey for much of the trip. So much so that if someone was looking for Suzanne and came across me, they'd ask where my wife was and vice versa. We really and truly operated as a team most of the time. Except, of course, when we didn't want to.  Even spouses need a break now and then.

I had a blister, she provided the band aid.  She needed sunscreen, I rubbed it on her back.  She had a yogurt, I got half - we shared the spoon. She had a cut, I handed over the first aid cream.  I borrowed her makeup, she borrowed my deodorant.  I didn't take out my tic tacs without passing her the box, she didn't spritz on mosquito repellent without sending a spray of it my way.  If there was a toilet at a border crossing, I handed her the paper on the way in, she squirted hand sanitizer into my palms on the way out.

When she needed a spot of courage, I got my ear pierced first so she could watch. When I got panicky climbing a giant sand dune, she sat next to me and calmed me down. Such is the stuff that Ephelants are made of.

We shared bottles of wine, chocolate bars, bags of apples and malaria meds.  We pooled our resources for groceries.  We shopped, cooked and cleaned together.  We gave each other space, we read each other's books.  We were venting partners when group living became too stressful.  We tag-teamed the exhausting negotiations necessary for any purchase of African trinkets.  We guarded each other's privacy when there were no, erm, toilet facilities.

I was the big sister she never had, she was the little sister I lacked.  We talked about boys and about our periods, we lent each other money.  We helped each other clean up after being sick and wiped away tears when they needed to come out. I snapped at her a couple times, she gave me the cold shoulder once or twice. We cried like babies when we had to say goodbye.

When photo opportunities presented themselves....

....I'd wordlessly pass my camera to Suze, pose...

...then turn around to receive her camera and snap the same shot of her.  

Thankfully we occasionally remembered to ask someone else to take a photo of the both of us. 

I wanted to tell you about daily truck life.  How the seating worked itself out each day.  About the cook-group / truck clean rota.  How shopping for cook-group duty was the worst task, how all twenty two of us chipped in to clean up after dinner, how we had to flap-dry all the dishes because dish towels aren't really feasible on a 73 day camping trip. I wanted to tell you how efficient and strategic Suzanne and I strived to be when setting up camp when there were limited resources for what seemed like unlimited people.  Eleven tents but only one pan & brush.  Two shower stalls and thirteen girls.

I wanted to tell you about the big goofy grins we kept giving each other as our safari truck sped through the savannah, our heads out of the roof, covered in a film of African dust, hair getting blown every which way, mouths full of Serengeti grit.

I wanted to tell you about all the real elephants we met. I wanted to tell you the story behind each and every picture.  I wanted to tell so much in this blog post.  Too much?

How can I tell you about Suzanne without telling you the whole story of my trip?  There's not a single part of my adventure that my wife didn't figure into somehow.  How can anything be Irrephelant when the whole damn thing was Ephelant?


p.s. I love you Suze, and am so grateful we got to share this experience.  And anything else is irrephelant.


Anonymous said...

You made me cry when I read this - love you Ephelant xx

Alli Arnold said...

I cried reading this, too- it's so touching and full of love.

I'm so glad you and Suze had this experience together that (much like an elephant) you will never forget!

Shirl, you are a gifted writer.

xo Aa

Tina Haltigan said...

Wow..If i had tears i would have cried too. I am glad you had Suz. she is a great friend and great friends are important in this world! I agree with Shirl very gifted now get off your butt and write something you can make money off of!!!
Love your big Sis, Tina

Anonymous said...

Loved this one. You did give a lot of info but kept it interesting and also showed that this trip could have been a whole different experience if you hadn't made it with Suzanne. so much close time together with the wrong person could have equaled disaster! What a wonderful experience to share with someone and how lucky you both were to share it with each other.