The extraordinary gift of those friends who push themselves
Back in 2013, just after I'd climbed Kilimanjaro, I had also set up a ride with Kaskazi, a horse outfitter also based in the same area. I was the only American in a group of Swedish people, all friends and family members of the outfit's lovely owner, Jo.
It was an extraordinary ride. I had spent plenty of time reviewing my riding skills before doing this trip, but swiftly discovered that the better riders were WAY ahead of me. It was beautifully humbling, as was a deeply embarrassing moment for me when I make a patently false and misguided accusation about one of the outfit's workers.
The next morning at breakfast, I stood and made a public apology in front of the whole group. That was hard. Of course. And.
It would have been completely irresponsible to do anything less.
There is something truly wonderful about making a very bad cultural mistake and making your humility public. Not only does that tend to wash the slate clean, but it also opens the door not only for healing for yourself but also for those who were present.
I never forgot that, nor the lovely, heart-cleansing words of the Tanzanian foreman of the group. When I sought him out to express my apology, he faced me directly, and said, with immense kindness,
I still weep when I recall this. There is immense grace in owning your shit, which is precisely why I do it.
People wonder why I travel. This is partly why. If you are willing to be stretched beyond what you think you can handle, travel is for you. It's transformational.
That trip had other lessons. Not only that I most definitely needed to learn how to ride better if I was going to do this more often, but I made a friend. A lifelong one.
Ewa Kron, who is the classic Swedish blonde, wasn't terribly comfortable with me when we first met. I'm not the easiest personality, admittedly, and the group was all Swedes. From the first I suspect that my energy was off-putting, but also, as Ewa has shared, her English wasn't as good as her standards wished it to be. However, within the first few days, something interesting happened.
Ewa, being the best rider of our group, was also given the most lively horse. Said horse kept bouncing and bouncing and bouncing during our entire pre-trip ride, to the point when towards the end of that day, Ewa put her hand under one of her buttocks. We were going to be in the saddle for hours and hours each day, and that didn't look like fun.
I had a much milder steed (I needed it). Before we set out the next day, I snuck over to her horse and tied a custom sheepskin to her English saddle. It was two inches thick, made for the kind of horse Ewa had. I didn't need it.
She protested. I insisted. That may or may not have saved her butt, but what it did do was most certainly add that additional layer of comfort to long days in the saddle. And it might have added a little padding to her attitude about me as well.
I watched Ewa. She rode beautifully. Compared to her I felt like a camel on cocaine. Close to my age, classically beautiful, she was taken to doing yoga during our long midday rests on thick blankets and pillows. I admired her greatly, and wanted to be able to ride like that. Hell, be like that.
When we came in for the evenings, the Swedes would gather by the fire, drink up and thoroughly enjoy themselves. I would shower and write. Most of the conversation was in Swedish, which mean that I couldn't participate. Perfectly all right. I was the thumb.
One night, Ewa, having had her fair share of some Viking brew, walked up to me and said, and I swear I recall this precisely,
"Tell me about me."
Now in all fairness to Ewa that isn't the way it sounds. She knew I was writing about the trip and the people in it, and it was a perfectly fair question. Particularly if you've had a few by the fire, which makes such a question a lot easier to lob.
So I told her.
She was delighted. Truth, she and I are a great deal alike with one very big exception: I am not accustomed to being the most beautiful woman in the room. That was not my lot. However I saw so much of Ewa in myself and vice versa, those things which mattered to her, her insanely wonderful energy, love of life and horses. Her willingness to try new things and not settle for less. Having one hell of a time finding a man who could even begin to live up to who she was. (She found him on that trip, happily; I have finally given up).
I can relate.
Words of acknowledgement and recognition can go a very long way towards creating friendships. That was the beginning of ours.
By the time we parted ways back in Arusha, I cried when we said goodbye. Since then, as Ewa is just as passionate about riding as I am, she and I have sent periodic updates, stories, photos and updates about where we have ridden.
Another riding couple on that trip inspired three weeks of riding in Iceland for me, so when my riding friends make suggestions, I listen. I have gone on to do some pretty stupendous things on my own. Along the way I have put yeoman's work into becoming a much, much better rider. Ewa was the inspiration for that.
When Ewa takes risks, that inspires me. When I do, perhaps I inspire her.
This is how we add value to each other's lives. I sent her a photo of a horse from Kenya, a stallion (above), and she said she'd never ridden one. I don't recall that I had ever done anything on a horse that she hadn't already done. But wait, there's more.
After way too much time in lockdown, Ewa broke out and went riding. She just sent me this:
This is Ewa riding her first stallion with that magnificent seat of hers, easy in the saddle and moving with the horse as one. That is what I wanted to be like.
This is like watching a symphony.
I will never be as good a horsewoman as Ewa, but she inspired me. Perhaps my riding my first stallion in Egypt inspired her. What I do know is that jealousy is not part of my language. When the women and friends in my life achieve, when they take risks, their experiences are an invitation, not a statement of my lack of ability.
When Ewa achieves, so do I. When I achieve, so does Ewa.
This isn't a competition. Ewa has a good laugh every time I tell her about the latest injury. And I watch where she rides, wondering if that's going to be my next destination.
This is how we move each other forward. There is no place for petty jealousy or envy. I cannot be Ewa, she cannot be me. However in that magnificent way that we can inspire one another, when she steps outside her comfort zone, she reminds me to do the same.
If you feel the inklings of jealousy around others, the way I see it, that's the first indication that there is a path for you to follow. Rather than feel threatened, what is it that you are being invited to do? Be like that person? Or perhaps become a better version of the person you already are?
For my part, those who achieve, those who take risks, are part and parcel of what makes my world interesting. They often show me, as did my friend Rosenna Bakari, PhD, that taking a huge risk to build one's own website (I did it) and building my own community so that I could largely depart from an unhealthy relationship (Medium.com) is worth the heart-stopping discomfort.
Grieve what you cannot be, or achieve in your own way. I can't speak for anyone else. But rather than feel jealousy or envy or be threatened, let others' excellence move you to find your own, which is your unique expression in this life.
If I had not met Ewa, I might not have ever done this. This is the debt we owe to those who are willing to risk.
With warm thanks to Ewa for sharing this and letting me inspire others with this story.