POOPx and Capetown

The first week of December, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Total Market Approach and Sanitation workshop in Capetown, South Africa hosted by Population Services International (PSI). After a series of flight delays and arriving in the city late at night, I finally arrived to the Africa 15 Orange Hotel and was in awe. Constant power? Huge beautiful bedroom? Room service? A bath tub? Talk about GLAMOROUS.

I was so excited for my first experience in Capetown where I was surrounded by beautiful scenery and talking about what I always do (poop…duh) in a way that I never had before. According to PSI:

“The total market approach (TMA) is a way to improve market performance to equitably and sustainably increase the use of health products and services, with the vision of achieving universal health coverage.”

So basically, this is a methodology that can be used to determine market failures and how to best work to improve the sanitation problem on a local level. And it is brilliant!


I loved learning from WASH professionals from around the world in the ways that they approach behavior change communications and social marketing strategies as it relates to WASH interventions in their countries and communities. I even had the chance to contribute to the learnings of the week as a speaker and winner of the first ever POOPx! My 5 minute talk covered the importance of human centered design as it relates to product development specifically in the WASH sector. I used many of personal experiences with Wish for WASH as case studies for the talk as well! I had a blast!

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And following an intense week of TMA and sanitation talk, I had a couple of extra days that I spent exploring the incredible, global city of Capetown by visiting its beaches, drinking its wines, and experiencing some of its tourist attractions such as Robben Island and Table Mountain, which is now considered one of the 7 new natural wonders of the world! I loved my time in Capetown and cannot wait for the next opportunity to go back!

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Pit Latrine Emptying in the Kanyama Compound

#Everybodypoops–and this is what it looks like!

Today I got to witness the pit latrine emptying process in the Kanyama compound with the incredible organization Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor! Innovative toilets and sanitation technologies improve community health and we need another $1.5K in order to help in this process! Donate here today to help us pursue our #wishforwash!

 

3 Truths for Living Passionately

Passion is powerful. Defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion, once it takes hold, it fuels life. Whether it is for someone or something, within your personal or professional life or a mixture of the two, passion is a youthful energy that stimulates both innovation and attraction while also acting as a form of communication that transcends age, culture, and language in a pure and raw form. It is beautiful. However, the level of vulnerability that is required to be truly passionate makes it, at times, painful.

For the past year, Wish for WASH, LLC has been the heart of my professional life because during my first year of college, my worldview noticeably shifted after I learned that nearly half the world doesn’t have access to toilets. This shift resulted in a powerful rush of shameless and uncontrollable passion beginning with my 18-year-old self declaring that I would design toilets to my now 23 year old self who is scrambling to make entrepreneurial ends meet in order to take actionable steps towards helping solve the global sanitation crises. People frequently say that I radiate passion for this work and that they really want to find “their toilet”- or something/someone that they care about as deeply as I care for improved sanitation and health equity.

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The frequency of these questions demonstrates the powerful pull passion has for so many people. But when asked “why are you doing this?”, I have to intentionally think about what it means to live passionately and how to maintain that energy. Truly living a life rooted in passion, as I have increasingly found, requires extraordinary resilience. Crazy entrepreneurial hours, constant troubleshooting, repeated failures, perpetual naysayers, or being completely heart-broken. These are just some of the unfortunate realities that come with living passionately.

So, what are some ways to keep going when your once youthful, inspiring, and persistent fire begins to wane? I often find rejuvenation and inspiration by knowing these three truths for living passionately:

1) Define and remain true to your personal core values

Whether it is for your personal or professional life, you must understand the ethics and life experiences that have shaped your worldview and determine which of your core values are unwavering. Knowing these values and reflecting on them regularly allows you to maintain your strength, because when you stand steadfast in your beliefs, you are better equipped to regain the stamina that is needed to move past the next obstacle. Clearly defining and embracing your personal core values allows you to build a solid foundation of confidence. These values will remain true in all aspects of your life and to live passionately, you need both your confidence and your conviction. The backbone of any passionate pursuit is often rooted in deeply held personal values that you want to share with others. This is an incredible resource to help in defining your core values.

2) Align your values with your skill-sets to determine how to add new value

This is your unique value proposition that allows you to improve a relationship, a work environment or the world. By working to blend your core values with your acquired skills, you can more readily find a way that you can add new value such as providing a new perspective, acting as a change catalyst, or adding optimization strategy to a work place. Clearly defining your specific added value goal is essential. As you passionately seek to leave things better than you found them, your mission will develop a sense of urgency and purpose. With the ever abundance of ‘external’ naysayers, you need to insure that your ‘internal’ team, or your inner circle, respects and supports your values. I have found that surrounding myself with unabashed supporters inspires me to reach for new heights and goals despite the odds.

3) Periodically assess whether you are actually creating value

Despite your best intentions and admirable goals, you must evaluate whether or not you are executing your value proposition in a way that is making a difference to your intended recipient. If you find that you are not truly creating your targeted added value, re-examine your personal core values and skill set, reevaluate your relationship or work place, and realign yourself to get back on the path that is fueled by your passions. Living passionately is not about achieving personal goals and accolades; it’s about making a difference for someone or something else.

Passion is contagious and if you are truly living in it, everyone around you becomes aware of your drive and commitment. Building a career or a life with someone that continues to fuel your passion is unbelievably fulfilling, but can simultaneously be painful as your heart or work can be harshly judged by others. I have found that staying focused on attaining my intended long term goal of helping to creatively rectify the global WASH crisis and keeping myself accountable for smaller, short-term goals by surrounding myself with people that continue to challenge me to grow in my passion has kept my fire for this work alive.

In the end, Wish for WASH has opened my eyes to just how hard it is to live passionately, and as a young social entrepreneur, I am still learning the importance of taking time to reflect on my personal value development as a way to build up resilience and intentionality within my work. Despite the barriers our team has faced in project management, manufacturing, business development, and fundraising, we continue to persevere in our toilet hustle because we deeply believe in utilizing our collective business, research, engineering, and design skill-sets as tools in the fight for health equity.

What I believe is working for humanity is when people find their passion, and they fight for it in accordance with Howard Thurman’s sage advice: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

As 2015 comes to an end and a new year begins, I encourage you to begin your search to find “your toilet” while also supporting ours here because #everybodypoops. (Find the original Huffington Post article here)

World Toilet Day

November 19th may seem like just a regular day. Another Thursday. Another day of work. Same old, same old.However, for me, November 19th is THE day that helps remind me about why I do what I do. It is World Toilet Day. Now if you can imagine, toilet people are pretty unique. We are an eclectic bunch that is not afraid to use a well-placed curse word for more than just emphasis but for advocacy. The complexity of the sanitation crisis in our world calls for simplified jargon that everyone understands. I mean in what other field is “shit” considered a “technical term”?

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Toilet people are great. But beyond that, toilets themselves are great. Like we don’t even have to think about this so much in the western world, but the large majority of toilets that we are accustomed to gracefully and effortlessly get shit away from people. And that’s the beauty of them. In order for humans to be healthy, we MUST be separated from their shit and toilets help in this process. And that’s a fact.

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However, there are SO MANY people today that do not have the luxury of using a toilet that magically takes their shit away and are forced to confront it on a daily basis as a result of the wide spread practice of open defecation (or going the bathroom outside) and flying toilets (or going to the bathroom in bags that are then tossed on the ground or on someone’s roof) as well as the lack of sanitation education in many parts of the world. With this knowledge, World Toilet Day becomes an important day to educate about and advocate for a piece of technology that many people take for granted.

For my 2015 World Toilet Day, I attended an awareness event with my fellow GHC Poop Princess, Alexis, in the George Compound of Lusaka.

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Performances were held to grab the attention of the youth while ministers spoke to shed some light on the importance of toilets that was geared more towards the adults. Alexis and I met a bunch of cute new friends and we loved being in the field talking dirty about the importance of hygienic sanitation practices!

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HAPPY WORLD TOILET DAY because #everybodypoops!

 

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STEM in the Social Sector

Sanitation is a story that is often untold. It tends to be the elephant in the room during conversations about global issues; silenced by cultural taboos and disgust, despite the fact that of the 7 billion people in the world today- everybody poops. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, approximately 2.6 billion people in the world today do not have access to toilets, and many practice open defecation — or going to the bathroom in full view of other people — which leads to a host of both mental and physical health problems. The fecal waste often times contaminates local water sources leading to the spread of WASH (or water, sanitation, and hygiene) related diseases costing the lives of about 4,000 children every day.

In 2011, as a freshman at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), I attended a conference, and my eyes were opened to the enormity of this problem. I was listening to a dynamic speaker, Susan Davis, founder of Improve International, who spoke candidly about the extent to which the global WASH crisis has created health inequities around the world-particularly in developing countries. Her speech captivated the attention of my 18 year old self as she revealed that pubescent girls in the developing world often times drop out of school because their schools lack toilets. The information churned in my head as I realized that many girls are hindered from advancing their education because of the lack of something we often times take so much for granted- a safe and hygienic toilet. The anger and discontent that was spurred from that knowledge catalyzed the work that I do today.

I am now an alumna of Georgia Tech, an internationally renowned STEM university, and I earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design, a degree rooted in engineering thought processes and hands on building. But beyond my degree and the prestige that my alma mater boasts, that 2011 conference and the words of Susan Davis truly transformed my life as I pivoted from worrying about design aesthetics to focusing my education on helping to solve social impact related issues with design thinking. Over the course of my collegiate career, I immersed myself further into the social sector via humanitarian oriented programs to better understand how to promote and produce sustainable projects in the developing world, while simultaneously founding my social startup, Wish for WASH, LLC– an organization that seeks to bring innovation to sanitation through culturally specific research, design and education. An interdisciplinary team of students and recent graduates from Georgia Tech have helped propel this company forward, and we have recently produced our first professionally manufactured prototypes.

In summer 2014, our team participated in a multi-agency pilot to assess toilet designs in a refugee camp in northern Kenya after being the first all-female team to win the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize Competition, the largest undergraduate invention competition in the United States. After assessing user feedback and incorporating incredible ‘IDEO formulated’ human centered design principles, we have redesigned our Safichoo Toilet system and are preparing to launch a beta pilot in Lusaka, Zambia in 2016 (more of which can be found on our current Indiegogo page)

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My passion for toilets is weird, but it is also necessary because social impact designers, engineers, coders and makers are essential in creating products and services that innovatively advance mankind. However, beyond just WASH, my journey has led me to put out a call for more people from STEM fields to pursue social entrepreneurship and work in the social sector. In a world suffering from extreme poverty, malnutrition, violence, and inequity, we need more doers, creators, and makers working in this space in tandem with the policy makers, international development officers, and business professionals to create holistic and interdisciplinary solutions to more effectively make sustainable change. My generation, building on incredible learnings from generations past, has an increasing need to do work that leaves a lasting impact on the world in the most sustainable, solution oriented way possible. This is evidenced by the rise of incredible millennial run social organizations such as Code4Rights, Sanivation,LuminAID, TOHL, and Embrace in addition to many more. These organizations highlight the fact that Gen Y is seeking to do more that create socially oriented products and services but is also very actively testing the waters for different ‘for profit for good’ business models such as B-Corps and hybrid models. Because significant money is required upfront to manufacture and iterate new physical product designs, technical and product driven companies may benefit from avoiding the classic ‘non-profit’ status sought by traditional social enterprises and according to Harvard Business Review “selling equity to mission aligned investors [may make] good sense” via impact investing depending on the situation. In addition to these entrepreneurial ventures, many existing humanitarian organizations have a need for socially minded makers such as UNHCR’s Innovation team.

As a recent college graduate and blossoming social entrepreneur, I have a lot to learn; but for now, I stand by my call to my fellow STEM colleagues. You are needed at the table and in these humanitarian discussions; we need rapid prototypers, coders and engineers in addition to people with business acumen in these global conversations to help create the innovative solutions that will genuinely improve the lives of those who suffer most from systemic injustices and disparities. We need you to see this sector’s work as a valuable way to make the most out of those strenuous and costly degree programs. As a Georgia Tech graduate with a heart for humanitarian work, I know first-hand that increasing STEM professionals in the social sector will have a vital role in helping make our world a more livable and just place for everyone. Join me in answering the call. (see original Huffington Post piece publication here)

Bae + HIA + Famlay

In addition to having some incredible realizations about commitment required to pursue communications and advocacy work, I also had a slew of amazing and restful experiences in the US. Jet-setting to Atlanta, DC, and NYC-it was nice to take some time to recharge. Here’s the break down of most of brief stint back in the US.

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BAE: I got to be in DC for a few days and check out Daniel’s new life up there. I LOVE the GW campus and DC is just so walkable it was amazing. The weather was perfect and I caught the metro to his apartment while he was nerdin out in med school classes. It was really great seeing him. We are  both very professionally focused right now, so I really valued our time together just chillen and exploring the sites of DC!

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HIA: New York has had my heart since I was 16. It was amazing to spend a few days back in the concrete jungle in the crisp fall weather. I spent some time in heated debates in intriguing conversations with the other Humanity in Action (HIA) Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellows as well as catching up with my old HIA friends at the annual conference!

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FAMLAY: And of course, I just #burtonblastoffed back to the nest to hang with my family and it was great. Family photo shoots to fancy dinners to surprising Courtney for her 21st birthday; it was a great time and I am so glad that I got to see them.

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Valuable time with BAE, at HIA, and with FAMLAY this October!

Hang on Tight

Where did the month of October go? From recovering from September’s weekly excursions, to traveling around the US to see family and to hustle for toilets, this month has flown by. And despite all the change and the movement, I have noticed that I am in a perpetual state of advocacy for health equity and social justice- which is evidenced by the series of campaigns and experiences that I have lead or been a part of during this month listed below:

  • After touching down in Atlanta following 24+ hours of traveling and layovers, I hit the ground running by attending the 2015 Atlanta Pride Parade with my little sister. Atlanta, a community that struggles to embrace its identity, is both a socially progressive city while also being entrenched in conservative aspects of southern pride. This conflicting reality makes events like Pride particularly intriguing. Weary spectators in everyday attire stop to digest the scene on the outer parts of the city, but as the parade advances to midtown, costumes are present, music is loud and the pride of the LGBTQIA Atlanta community reverberates amongst all those who are present.#FILA #ATLPride

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  • Stop 2 on my October advocacy ride was on October 12th. Colloquially this day is known as Columbus Day in America, celebrating the “discovery of the new world”. But as we all know, discovering this new world came at a high cost-destroying a large majority of the Native American community and annihilating a huge portion of its people. Beyond the one sided perspectives that American history books boast, this became personal for me. As I have become increasingly knowledgeable and proud of my Native American heritage and tribal traditions, the celebration of this day became hypocritical -like a mockery. So in honor of the resilience of the Native American culture, traditions, and people, I proudly celebrated Indigenous People’s Day on October 12th as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day because I am proud to forever be a Delaware. #nanticoke #turtleclan

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  • Next, my GHC and ZamFam sister, Reena, had me thinking about #whyAllGirls matter on the International Day of the Girl. This day of social media activism is intended to show to the world why ALL girls are valuable ALWAYS because as 51% of our global population and the mothers of our future generations, girls have and will continue to change the world. Check out this fantastic piece the Reena wrote in honor of this day here.

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  • Moving to October 15th; it was Global Hand Washing Day. As a WASH enthusiast and toilet talker, hand washing is of course in my direct scope of work and is crucial in sustainable change as it relates to the global water and sanitation crises. Washing your hands acts as a DIY vaccine by preventing the spread of some really nasty diseases so remember to get sudsy yall because #everybodypoops!

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  • Following this campaign came the incredible opportunity for me to become an official Huffington Post contributor for the segment “what is working”, which is blog intended to combat the “if it bleeds it leads” journalism mentality. Never having experienced such a vast and international readership, my first post (an iteration of the “Because I can + Because I Have to” post) was more or less torn to shreds by critics. The deeply pitted emotion that resulted from the onslaught of so much criticism on a particularly vulnerable piece for the first time, really had me questioning whether or not this was the work that I really wanted to do. #findingmyplaceinthefightforsocialjustice

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  • Last on my October advocacy ride, was the launch of our Wish for WASH Indiegogo campaign to support our beta toilet pilot in Zambia next year. With very little knowledge or expertise in fundraising, I have learned just how much work it takes to gain money for a cause that does not directly benefit the lives of the donor, which is how most commercial products/services that I have known attract funding; however, our creative and determined team chooses to press on and are thankful for all of the supporters that we have attracted and all of those that we hope to attract before December 2nd! Help us gain #1000strong supporters by donating because #everybodypoops!

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While this roller-coaster ride of advocacy has been incredible and will only continue to grow since all of these issues are irreversibly interconnected, I have realized that it is essential that I step back to think.

Does being an advocate mean fighting for every cause with all of your heart?

Does being an advocate mean getting attacked for presenting your personal views?

These are questions that I have been asking myself. Advocacy is essential in the movement for global health; however, it can be a slippery slope if you are not intentional with your words and actions. As one of my mentors has told me, in order to be a successful advocate for social change, you have to be smart in choosing when, where and how you fight for your cause in an effort to make the most meaningful impact. Many social advocates suffer from empathy overload- or being incredibly empathetic to seemingly every social problem in the world leading to a depressing and exhausting existence. I have learned that it is important to set personal boundaries for myself so that I do not become crippled with paralyzing sadness; ultimately, being overrun with sadness disables anyones ability to push the needle of change for issues about which they care. I am still new to this work and am very much still learning how to navigate this space, but I do know that those who choose to intentionally pursue communications and advocacy have an under-appreciated mental toughness and commitment in order to start many of these controversial, taboo, and uncomfortable social conversations. I have gained a whole new perspective and respect for this work because it is extremely hard,  but it is also necessary.

Long story short, this work requires a thick skin, an ability to brush off the haters, the capacity to reflect and say “how can I express my perspectives better”, and the overall strength to hang on tight for the exhilarating ride of being a voice for social justice. I am still very much learning all of these things and now realize that it truly is a roller-coaster.

Everybody Poops. Even at Lake of Stars 2015

For those of you who have heard me speak, you know I often start by saying “Sanitation is a story that is often untold. It is the elephant in the room silenced by taboo and disgust”. This is a true statement but I feel the need to discuss it nonetheless. For years, I have been known as the “poop girl”, which has always been figuratively, not literally. Until now.

Last weekend, I travelled with several GHC fellows from Lusaka, Zambia to Mangochi, Malawi to attend a well-known music festival called the Lake of Stars which is on Africa’s third largest lake, Lake Malawi. It was a time to decompress from all the work stresses and to find time to celebrate after the recent death of my Aunt Zanna, with whom I was very close, that I intended to visit next month. ZamFam adventurers- Kalin, Sara, Reena, Brian and I-climbed aboard the most chaotic bus experience of my life. Tickets were oversold so travelers were standing in the aisles for this alleged 12 hour journey where no air conditioning was present and baggage was overflowing from the ceiling spaces; honoring Zambian transportation tradition, our journey started nearly 2 hours late and took 2 longer than anticipated making it 16 hours of sweaty restlessness in a coach that had no onboard bathroom. Finally, after spending an extended period of time at the Zambian-Malawian border, we made it to Lilongwe to meet up with our GHC Malawi friends.

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Greetings were exchanged and food was had as we attempted to freshen up before yet another mini-bus type experience- a 6 hour shuttle ride to the festival venue. Similar to our transport delay in Zambia, the mini bus travel was delayed by a tardy mini bus arrival which caused some tension amongst the Malawi fellows who had planned the excursion. Luckily, we soon made our way and another 6 sweaty hours later we FINALLY arrived in Mangochi and to the beautiful Lake Malawi. Those of you who know my passion for music festivals can imagine how excited I was to be able to attend this festival, on the same weekend that I was missing the third annual, international and magical experience of TomorrowWorld.

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ZamFam lucked out and borrowed sleeping bags from friends and tents from the Malawi fellows which was awesome. We had a sweet little camp site full of GHCers from Zambia, Malawi and the Uganda cohorts and even previous fellows were present. Much to my dismay, literally as soon as we stepped off our last mini bus, my stomach began to growl. And then scream. And then erupt. NOOOOOOOOOOO!

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Without much warning, I was thrown into vomiting and diarrhea fits-my first GHC parasite came at the worst possible time. Luckily, I was traveling with the absolute best crew that was super supportive and even hooked me up with some meds.  As much as it sucked, literally everyone that does development work has been through this at least a handful of times. It was comforting to be around people who were constantly talking about monitoring their bowel movements and who traveled with poop meds in large quantities. I cannot imagine what I would have done without them! Seriously, I love yall so much for helping me out.  Although not ideal, this parasite situation did give me plenty of direct research on the type and quality of toilet facilities that were around for first hand research!

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Luckily, I was still able to enjoy many parts of the festival including incredible artistic performances and a bit of the street food. We spent a day lounging on the beaches and also saw some monkeys in our campsite! As my parents always say, many things do not go as planned, but you have to make the best of it. And I did. It was truly a beautiful oasis of a vacation despite the ass-lava situation that limited my range of activities.

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While I really did enjoy myself, I realized that there was no way that I would make it on another 6 hour bus ride proceed by another 16 hour sweaty journey with minimal bathroom stops. However, as an aside, my friend Brittany told me that shitting in your pants during long bus rides is actually a very common thing that happens to expats—but I am glad I dodged that bullet, for now at least. I had to call in back up.
As much as I want to be a full fledged adult that handles her own crises, I am forever thankful that I have dedicated and devoted parents who are always on standby to help me during my times of need.Fortunately, there were 4 seats left on a low cost flight from Malawi to Zambia, and I had some savings that I could tap into.

After the shows were over and camp was packed, we headed out on another 6 hour bus ride from Mangochi to Lilongwe where I spent the night with the Malawian GHC fellows.  Early the next morning, I was able to relax and have a nice breakfast at the Korean Garden Lodge and then flew back to Lusaka that afternoon with this really legit plane ticket.

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I immediately started taking the heavy duty antidiarrheal meds that were in my room upon arriving back home. Thankfully, I have recovered, and celebrated having my first solid poop a few days ago! Despite the parasite, I had a beautiful time at the Lake of Stars Music Festival with my ever inspiring and amazing GHC Fam.

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Livingstone Ladies

The ZamRoomies and I decided that we wanted to take a weekend excursion to Livingstone, the major destination in Zambia that boasts the breathtaking Victoria Falls and Devil’s Pool, one of the natural wonders of the world.

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Waking up bright and early, we loaded the bus at 6am for a 6 hour journey to Livingstone where we would meet Reena and Sara who were already there. After hours of Kindle reading, snacking and watching really odd movies that portrayed black America in a very disturbing light, we arrived! We quickly caught a cab and arrived at our adorable little hostel called Jollyboys.

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It was a haven of international hipsters and their families living in this hostel where the pools were blue and the bar was always open. Cat were prominent too which led to an overjoyed Kalin and a petrified Effie. I love my roomz. Many people suggested that we eat at a restaurant called Olga’s and Café Zambezi, so naturally we stopped by both. It was a very expat-y community and all of Livingstone was so clean! We were very impressed. After a bit of exploring, we hit the hay and woke up the next day in DEVIL’S POOL.

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Devils Pool is adjacent to the famous Livingstone Island situated on the edge of the world renowned Victoria Falls.

The tour started from the deck of the Royal Livingstone Hotel that overlooks the Zambezi River. Then, departed the hotel via speed boat and headed to Livingstone Island. Upon arrival, we took celebratory, pre-Devil’s pool shots and then were guided around the island. We even got to visit the Loo with a View! Since we planned our trip around the weather, the water levels were low enough for us to swim out into Devils Pool.  “When the flow of the river is at a certain level, often times between September and December, a rock barrier forms with minimal current, allowing adventurous swimmers to splash around in relative safety a few feet from the point where the water cascades over the falls.”

This was our terrifyingly beautiful adventure.

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