Timonene (hello...in Chitonga!:)
First and foremost, a resounding "Thank You" to all who donated to Reflections for RIPPLE so far. Just a few weeks in and already we’ve raised more than $500 dollars globally. Back from snowy Sunday night run, and happy I was able to hop in yesterday in the balmy 45 degree December heat wave! Only a week into Winter (officially), and it already feels like spring…

The lack of wind and abundant sunshine made for a pleasant dip for yesterday's Week 4 swim. Lake Malawi has much of the same in aquatic presence, sound and feel; all the way on the other side of the globe, these bodies of water are remarkably similar.

As we all prepare to ring in the New Year, most of us will pledge resolutions for 2014. I’m heck bent on nullifying my gosh-darn foul mouth. No swearing for 2014. I’m hopeful.

Both small and large, the rationale behind making this pledge is our influence in looking to the future and planning ahead. We’ve adopted this mindset into our culture and daily routine, yet this mindset is not as prevalent in Malawi.

Routine and life is never more than a day ahead of itself. It is a trait most often seen in impoverished communities, where little thought is given to planning ahead. And though this delicate balance of present-minded living and a fruitful outlook is a tight-rope neither Western culture nor 3rd world country walk perfectly, it is an educational staple that shows great potential if balanced properly.

RIPPLE Africa’s environmental conservation projects help promote sustainable initiatives that otherwise would deplete natural resources in the areas. From deforestation by-laws, enacted by local villages, to fish conservation projects on the lake, RIPPLE Africa's educational core is ever-present.

As we all make our New Years resolutions this week for 2014, think of the promise of what that newly-found resolution could make in Malawi. It could mean a world difference, a common thread, worlds away.

Last week we focused on the basic idea of options, whether choosing where to swim (ice free preferably), or the more serious challenge of medical and educational options in Malawi. Options empower everyone to make better decisions.

For my weekly swims, my options are derived from where I’m able to run and hop in to swim. In Malawi, a big component of development and options revolves around bricks. Yep, the very type that Kevin McAlister of Home Alone, throws through that window to bust the bad guys.

 The building blocks of life: A foundation piece of life. Analogies aside, bricks play a crucial role in all projects RIPPLE Africa related.

RIPPLE Africa uses bricks for construction of schools, teachers living quarters, medical clinics and homes. RIPPLE Africa's bricks in Malawi are made of locally sourced materials: water, mud, sand and manure...Manure?

You bet your ass (there’s a pun in there)! Locally-sourced materials enable construction everywhere, devoid of transportation cost and expensive exotic material.

RIPPLE’s famous Changu Changu Moto fuel efficient stoves are a testament to this basic philosophy. Thousands of homes in Northern Malawi benefit from these bricks and the method of how they’re formed. The only cost associated with them is the purchase of brick molds themselves.

Understanding that a simple donation of $10 can empower an entire village to make bricks through using a mold form is a true efficiency in any capacity. It’s repeatable, cost effective, and locally-sourced. Here’s a bare-bones example of how a charity can recognize value in projects that are scalable:

 “Provide a hand up…not a hand out”.

Think about it this Holiday Season. Think about what a $10 donation can do for an entire village. Think about the element of empowering people vs. a handout.  A donation to RIPPLE Africa helps create a foundation piece to better living conditions. Be the educational catalyst for these people, one brick at a time. The building of blocks of life, bricks...

...kind of like how my feet felt coming out of 34 degree water. Bricks baby!

See it firsthand at RIPPLEAfrica.org

Ice! Dang nab. For my Week 2 swim I departed Saturday afternoon for a quick dip near the North Ave beaches. 28 degree air and light wind made for an enjoyable run and pre-swim sweat.

Much to my dismay, once I arrived near the beaches I found there was no place to hop in: Ice had built up from the strong NE winds from the night prior. Not going in here then.

Returning home for a 2pm Ultimate Frisbee game, I then scouted out a few other spots around Chicago where ice may not have built up. Even the Montrose Beaches were out of the question. Belmont Harbor Dog Beach it is!

After Frisbee, I saddled up once more, got a good 3-mile'r in before shedding my clothes, getting some odd looks and breaking through some Titanic-size ice chunks to hop in. The windless night made for a calm and collected few minutes after (shiver'less of course), though I did happen to slice open the ole air box (nose) on some ice.

I was fortunate to have an alternative place to swim this past Saturday. Like many things in life we can all relate to the good fortune of having options: What we eat, where we vacation, where we work, how we spend our free time, etc.

Options are less commonplace in Malawi, and in some cases non-existent. For instance:

Where to attend school - There isn't a school within 25km of here
What to eat - There is only casava, an abundant crop, with little nutrients
Where to seek medical help - The closest clinic is an hour bus ride away and costs money

RIPPLE Africa's charitable work in Northern Malawi helps create options for locals, empowering them in their own accord. Schools are built around the area, medical dispensaries opened, doctors housed and crop education promoted....to name just a few projects.

Through your donations, RIPPLE Africa is able to provide funding to projects like this; often ones that are needed most in the area. Their discretion in understanding what is needed on the ground in Malawi and the mantra of 'Providing a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out' are a one-two punch that creates unparallelled efficiencies for a charitable organization.

One-two punch that ice! Options are a beautiful thing.

Sunday December 8th was my first official winter swim for RIPPLE Africa. I've been testing the waters ever since fall arrived, feeling the water temperature slowly decline to a now 38 degrees. Sunday was an Eastern (ESE) wind at about 12mph, 2-4 foot waves, and a wind chill of 16 degrees. Perfect. 

Just like embarking on a 5-month mission to Malawi several years ago, even meticulous preparation cannot prepare you for the culture shock that awaits; or in this case the chilly water knocking the air right out of ya! Let’s talk about both, shall we.

Like any big decision, I spent months contemplating the idea of leaving my job to volunteer. Giving up the structured life of a 9-5 in pursuit of an unknown adventure was an intimidating proposition. However, once the decision was made and my two-weeks given, I began assessing all the steps needed prior to my journey. Vaccinations (all 13 shots of 'em), medical insurance, international credit cards, flights (one-way!) were all details not be overlooked. Pushing yourself into the unknown is one of life's great adrenaline kicks: One you have total control over. Akin to preparing for a mission to RIPPLE Africa, weekly swims into Lake Michigan require the respect of methodical preparation as well. 

Let's begin Week 1 with answering the question people ask most often: How?

And let's put a cherry on top of it. This is to be done without ever feeling my body shiver. I'm not exactly portly, and get cold easily (this is of course, without the sweat factor): movie theaters, cold office buildings, and the frozen section at a grocery store.....burrrrr I say!

Layering is the biggest factor. Why? Because this shiver ‘less swim is made possible by your own body's heat: It's why you shiver in cold weather, despite being bundled up. And as such, why you shed layers on a winter run. It's science people!

Keeping that body heat in, you need to wear the right clothing and layer properly. Here's what I do:

  1. -Under Armour compression shorts (what I strip down to and swim in)
  2. -Thermo running pants (keep that wind out of ya biz'nas!)
  3. -Compression socks + extra cotton sock layer
  4. -Extra pair of wool socks for afterward
  5. -Synthetic long sleeve T-shirts as base layer
  6. -Second synthetic T-shirt
  7. -Third long sleeve cotton T-shirt
  8. -Fleece /pullover (or cardigan, thanks for asking)
  9. -Basic fleece jacket
  10. -Windbreaker RIPPLE Africa orange jacket
  11. -2 pairs of gloves (3rd pair for once out of water)
  12. -Ski Gator for neck protection
  13. -The biggest hat you got!
  14. -Small hand towel (not for warmth, but for quickly whisking off water)

These layers work up your body’s natural heat, while protecting you from the winter elements whilst running to the lake. It's the pre-swim sweat, often a 5 mile run at 7min per mile pace that affords your body the opportunity to swim in such conditions. 

And not to forget the after-effects of coming out of the water (where most people question such actions), having a non-sweaty synthetic shirt, extra pair of gloves and wool socks allows you to calmly spend about a few minutes devoid of clothes in sub-freezing air, without the faintest of shiver. Actually, it is this moment that is most calming.

In conclusion, to dilute the question of: 'Why' even further, this swim represents a way to overcome a societal and bodily misconception that we can't stay warm in a Chicago winter, even while swimming in Lake Michigan. And like volunteering with RIPPLE Africa, preparing for a journey of life-affirming change, if you're properly prepared it can be a walk in the park....or a swim in the lake.  

Help me support RIPPLE Africa by making a donation below. 

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