Embracing the Unexpected: Tales of a Planner in Africa

Every since I can remember, I’ve always been a ‘planner.’ Whether it’s figuring out what I’m going to eat for dinner, what I’m doing over the weekend (oftentimes down to the hour), or even approximating how many days left I have before I need to replace a shampoo bottle. Born and bred, I’m a planner—and it’s seemingly fit that I get paid to do this as a Media Planner at PJA.

So, imagine my inner panic, when this past July I found myself in Africa for two weeks (Tanzania, to be precise), with every day a toss-up/gamble of what would occur, what we would see, and never quite knowing what scenario (or more likely predicament) we’d end up in.

Now, I’d planned for this. I got my 7x shots, including a semi-unnecessary yellow fever vaccination, which I’d gotten for the 0.01% chance we got detained at the airport over not having it. I did my research, and read the reviews—on the guide site, the tour company site, and even sites of the lodges we’d be staying in. I felt like I had the gist of what would happen, and had pretty set expectations. We’d see a bunch of animals, sit by a pool, visit some locals—it all seemed cut and dry, and I was prepared. I had tons of bug spray, a safari hat, khaki clothes, malaria pills…I felt like Jane Goodall. 

We referred to ourselves as Jane and Jack “Hanna Banana.” 

What I didn’t plan for was the hard stuff—5AM wake up calls every day to see the animals  (and sometimes not having much luck).  There was constant accompaniment by armed guards due to hyenas roaming through camp, an encounter with an angry rogue elephant, and a lack of westernized bathrooms.  We even had the misfortune of having our safari vehicle break down—then almost immediately after receiving our replacement Jeep, having a large rock kick up and shatter the windshield and driver side window—injuring our driver and throwing glass everywhere.

This is what ‘repairs’ look like on the Serengeti. A+ for improvising!

Yet, there was excitement in these moments—these changing bursts of the unexpected—and as a group, we all began to thrive in change.  I marveled to see that even in these moments, everyone rejoiced in the opportunity to see things as they truly were---and realized how lucky they were. When you’re in a third world country, where over half the population lacks access to clean water—it puts things in perspective. All the minor inconveniences were small potatoes.

Being able to abandon my planning skills and thrive in the unexpected for two weeks might seem counter-intuitive, but it honestly contributed more growth to me personally than I could have ever expected.  I feel more able to face challenges and change than ever—both in work and leisure–and I feel honestly humbled by this experience. I definitely take a lot less for granted.  I can’t wait to go back.

My favorite picture from my trip—I wanted to take them all home with me.