Timonene (hello...in Chitonga!:)
 
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Back in the saddle! The past two weeks were devoid of swimming, as work took me to both Prague and Lyon for Missler’s global conference. My orange RIPPLE jacket and Under Armor were packed and rivers and ponds scouted, though alas, tight work schedules and dwindling winter light made swimming un-impossibly’not. It would’ve been quite the delight too, 45-50 degree air temps…summertime. I did have some incredible runs through Prague and downtown Lyon however.

All of Missler’s global affiliates knew about Chicago and our ‘Polar Vortex’. Between that, the Chicago Bulls and Prague locals being fiercely loyal to Marian Hossa, Chicago has an international intrigue that rings proud to this Canadian ex-patriot.

Returning back to 8 degree weather last Thursday, it was relieving to see Sunday’s forecast of snow showers and a 28-degree high. Respecting Mother Nature and all her frigid ferocity is proving to be quite the challenge these days.

Gardner Yost, a fellow runner and swimmer, has joined me for a second week of Polar Vortex swimming; with our hardest challenge being where to find a suitable place to hop in. With big ice buildup along the lakefront, and safety being of chief concern (seriously), we had to look elsewhere. Having scouted up and down the lakefront, we decided on a harbor swim, as a dock recirculat’or (to limit ice buildup, and hence damage) had created an opening wide enough for a swim…and cannon balls.

Sunday’s weather of 28 degrees with a West wind blowing at 15mph, gave the wind a chill of about 10 degrees or so. And as normal, we ended our 5-miler by heading south to have the wind slightly at our back. Week 8 introduced a new element to the swimming endeavor, a dock. Vs. a gradual run-in at the lake’s side, we had the opportunity to do cannonballs before quickly exiting the chilly water. Videos are here!

Harking back to my time in Prague and in France, I was impressed people knew several facts about Chicago (freezing cold, Marian Hossa, the Bulls, etc.). In a RIPPLE Africa sense, most folks aren’t sure where Malawi is in Africa. I for one wasn’t sure before looking into volunteering in Africa. Thus, I thought a quick lesson on Malawi and its economic and political state would be useful to the readers (yes you).

Formerly Nyasaland, Malawi gained independence after being part of the Central African Federation in 1964. The now defunct state of bordering Rhodesia meant Malawi has a British influence with English being the country’s second language. Malawi did not become a country when Madonna adopted children here several years back!

Geographically, Malawi is located in one of the world’s most beautiful, untouched areas, the Great Rift Valley. Of the 3 primary lakes comprising this valley, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi, are all vital to a population that lives off fishing and arable farm land.

Lake Malawi is comparable in size in to Lake Michigan. Being 365 miles long and 52 miles wide (at its widest) it is known as the calendar lake.

RIPPLE Africa is located right on the lake about 350miles NE of the country’s capital, Lilongwe (LLW). You wanna talk long bus ride…sweet sarsaparilla!

Economically, the country is very much limited in its export market, being landlocked without any meaningful transportation infrastructure. Along with gas shortages and a challenging currency valuation model (devalued in 2013, much to people’s relief) and a dependence on foreign-aid, Malawi is not unlike most 3rd world African countries.

HIV/AIDS also affects much of the population as does malnutrition and poor education standards. Sounds like a real bear to get anything done around here! Sometimes it is. But if resilience ever was defined by a people, Malawians would take the cake.

Malawi’s recent bout of dictator-like rule came to an abrupt end in 2012, when Bingu Mutharika passed away at age 78, after ruling for over 6 years. The governing body took this opportunity to change tact’s by swearing in Malawi’s first female president, Joyce Banda. Under a more democratic rule, her administration has been keen to stabilize relationships within the foreign aid community, provide a sounder economic infrastructure and have a more Pro-western approach to civil law.

There remains a charge in the air that people are not willing to sit back on their laurels, but are empowered with leading a better life.  RIPPLE Africa is a great example of a charity that understands the daily struggles and small nuances of issues that can be solved. One step at a time. Putting effort where it’s needed.

USA Donations Link

UK Donations Link



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Despite his living in a society firmly grounded in tradition, in basing today’s decisions on yesterday’s observations, in the paradox of individualized conformity, Patrick has a remarkable ability to do things purely because he loves them and because he believes in them. His willingness to eschew expected routine is part of what makes him a visionary unburdened by the judgment of others, by the way things ‘ought to be done’, and, potentially, by sanity. His passions have never ceased to expand my thinking, and so, not knowing what to expect, I joined him on his weekly ritual of frozen self-baptism. All the well-established allegories of water lend themselves to his purpose. The lake is a timeless, omnipresent neighbor whose calm, fury, and beauty will long outlive me, you, and the rest of humanity; yet its inconstancy is what makes it so enamoring. To relish its presence not just in the warmth of the summer but also in chill of winter is to shift one’s relationship with the water from spectation to purification, and though stepping into the freezing water is stepping into icy trepidation, the minutes after we scrambled back up the icy embankment were nothing short of giddy. Without romanticizing further, suffice it to say that the arctic swim was cleansing- both from the endorphin mediated rush of escaping the numbing cold and from the existential fulfillment of doing something against the grain and with purpose. I think this is much the same feeling one might feel after helping the needy, contributing to society… in the case contributing to Ripple Africa. I recommend both to all who read this.

 
 
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I'm rather awe-struck knowing that between last Monday's -42 degree wind chill, and yesterday's summertime high of 43 we had an 85 degree variance. Temperature fluctuations don't get any wider than that!

Combined with a gusty southern breeze, the weekend's run/swim had another variable to contend with; the presence of one Gardner Yost. A fellow friend from Winnetka, UIC masters candidate and rower extraordinaire, Gardner's insatiable appetite for running and invigorating January lake water made for quite the swim. He also runs marathons at a stonking pace, and also ran last Monday, exclaiming the run as 'tremendous'. I hear ya brotha!

Alas, another request prior to this weekend’s run, from one C. Marks...no-no, that's too obvious, Chris M. in elaborating further about the swim... My pleasure dear sir. We miss you here in Chicago!

My run/swim usually starts with a healthy dose of trepidation, and some type of stomach butterfly with sub-zero icicle powers. The most uncomfortable part of this weekly reawakening are the moments prior to getting out the door. 

Hydrated, well fed and ready to go, I prepare by bundling up in the proper attire specific to the day's conditions. Sunday was warm, so an extra layer and neck-gator were left out of the equation. I did manage to divide opinion on bringing two wool socks for afterwards. Minus compression socks after exiting the water? The sum of all fears!

Anyhow, Gardner and I left Oz Park and headed East and then South to the lakefront path. Wind direction plays a crucial role in determining routes each week. Having a tail-wind for 1/2 mile prior to swimming allows for a good sweat build-up, an important component of this endeavor.

Kicking in to high gear for the last 1/2 mile or so, we found a good spot to hop in near the Fullerton beaches. Backs faced to the Southern wind, a calm and collected shimmering lake awaits. Remnants of Monday wind and ice are ever-present, though fortunately most of the ice had been pushed off-shore.

Once down to single layer, there's usually a good 10-15 yards of beach or ice buildup between you, the water, disbelief, rational thought, skepticism and sanctity. Baptism by fire then. 

Forward momentum is highly sought after because once you start stripping down, there's no turning back. If anything, you have wide-eyed bystanders keeping your endeavor honest. High knees make way to a Lake Michigan special, the shallow gradient of West-side beaches. 

Flaps up, toes down. Feet being the first to encounter 32-degree water, the prelude to the ensuing hit of cold turns into a flat out sprint. A last cry for reason "RIPPLE Africa" is exclaimed, a deep breath taken and the plunge had. 

For a split-second you can feel your body temperature going from hot to warm...not cold, though. Despite the temperature change and wind being knocked out of your lungs (a big breath before diving in), the sensation is shocking no less, but still reinforces the fact that because you've built up your core temperature, you can handle this.

It's your face, fingers and those 10 little piglets that remind you, "Hey, this water is freakin' cold". At this point, you're making a B-line to the shore. Though, as mentioned in posts past, there's an ambivalent calm that sets in during this shock therapy. The single most important state-of-mind to grasp in all this is being calm and collected. You've earned it through your sweat. Your reward? First, the chilling, all-body re-awakening. Second, knowing your legs are getting a catalyst’ic blood circulating purge. And third, being out of the water, standing in total comfort. No towel needed, no shivering induced. You wanna feel what a pseudo-70 degree air feels like during a Chicago winter? You just did, through your own accord.

Your initial trepidation, butterflies, exertion and run all culminate in this present-minded instance. The height of present living.

Now, who's coming with me!

*I'll be in Prague and France until the 24th (swim report from EU...)

 January 26th, I'll be back in Lake Michigan.


 
 
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This past Saturday proved to be a delightful day to swim. I managed to make it out prior to the recent cold snap we’re enveloped in at the moment. Jippers its nippers now!

SW winds from Thursday and Friday pushed a lot of the ice off shore, allowing me to hop in near North Ave beaches. I even had a quick respite from the wind upon drying off. A welcome lull while catching my breath and enjoying the fresh cool air whilst being shiver'less!

A big component of my weekly swims is to raise funds for RIPPLE Africa's projects in Malawi. Though equally important is informing you guys (folks around these parts) about my time spent volunteering. 

There are hardships indeed, one's that I want to make people aware of, and fortunately answers to these problems as well. Thanks to your donations + RIPPLE's way of operating on the ground, there's a bright future to be had.


As such, I'm keen to paint a vivid picture of the people, landscape and culture of Malawi.

And in our harsh gray (and snowy white) winters here in Chicago, allow me to elaborate on a stroke of good fortune found on my travels to Malawi: Quite simply, a country rich in colors, a pallet of cultural wonders and tropical mystique. The metaphorical ‘bridge’ here is in color. Allow me to explain.

The best part of my run/swim is the few minutes after I get out of the water, and am able to stand comfortably, breathe deep, and reflect on RIPPLE...It's not called 'Reflections for RIPPLE' for nothing!

Seeing the small icebergs being pushed offshore from the SW winds, and their abrupt contrast to the aqua and turquoise colored lake made for a very reflective transport back to the colors of Malawi.

Here are some examples of how color in Malawi really popped off its canvas, forever ingrained and permeated on my own pallet. Enjoy the pictures and captions…and make a donation J

1. Oranges and Lemons
They're green! Primarily due to the elevation and rainy season, both oranges and lemons retain an almost full green color, even when ripe. It's a bit backwards to our orange oranges and yellow lemons, but my are they delicious! Albeit a bit tart, but then again, you would tear up just a pinch knowing how good they taste.


2. Pre-dawn
Malawi opened my eyes to the colors of the sunrise. Seeing the golden orb, or more fitting, the sun star (!) peak above the distant Tanzanian mountain range across Lake Malawi is a true sight to behold. Even more exotic in color, was the realization of discovering the pre-dawn colors. About 30 minute before the sun rises the most magnificent color shine bright in the sky, only then to briefly recede before the full force of direct sun light. If you've never seen the green pre-sunrise color, etched in the sky's spectrum, well...

3. CCM Grey

The Changu-Changu-Moto may not seem so colorful from the outset. It is after all, grey, and gosh-darn that's about the last color we need here in Chicago. However, knowing that this fuel efficient stove is made entirely of local material, like: sand, earth, water and manure, and is able to provide a safer and more effective way of cooking all while reducing wood consumption, just tickles me pink. Paired with a small, concentrated fire the contrast of grey and flame is chilling. You'll never look at grey the same.