Monday, April 5, 2010

“Leap of Faith” by Tammi; 05 April 2010

09 May Photo Updates Below

Why would a middle-aged woman drop everything and leave behind her friends and family, the comforts of her home, and a great job? Mid-life crisis? I don’t really think so since the idea of joining Peace Corps had been brewing since my childhood school days. I think committing to the 2+ years of volunteer service is better described as a leap of faith, a calling to which I finally decided to respond. So it shouldn’t come as too much surprise that in celebration of the Easter holiday I found it most suitable to jump off a cliff – literally! The dream of soaring like a bird has also been in my mind since childhood, so why not try that as well?! Chris (who shares my same ‘sensibilities’) agreed that was a great idea. So off we went to the top of Kwahu Ridge to go paragliding.

After some typical developing country travel trials and tribulations, Chris and I still managed to be among the first few dozen people to arrive at the jump site. We paid the fee, put some basic information on a single sheet of paper (no release form required) and then we waited to be called. This year the event was sponsored by the Ghana Tourism Board, which added a lot of pomp and circumstance but left much to be desired in the realm of logistics and organization. So we had to keep waiting and checking and waiting some more. Each time Chris or I checked our status, we were told “you will go today”. And then “today” ended. But the next morning, our time finally came. 

Today I am still basking in the glory of the most righteous 15 minutes I could possibly spend strapped to a man who is not my husband. It was my very first experience paragliding and I don’t think it possible to find a better pilot for the experience than Frode, an expert Acro-paragliding pilot from Norway. (Chris flew tandem with Nick, who is a journalist/extreme sports enthusiast from the U.S., and claims his experience was the most magnificent). Anyway, let there be no doubt that it was absolutely wonderful for each of us. Mine went something like this.

After about a 2-minute orientation Frode strapped me up and hooked us together and when he gave me the word, we pulled forward, took a few running steps toward the precipice of the cliff, and were airborne! Then instead up gliding down, Frode harnessed the wind and we went up and up some more. We sailed back and forth for a while just enjoying the view…soaring with some friendly vultures…leaving the noise and chaos below…and trading the equatorial heat for cool exhilarating breezes…Ahhh! It was a beautiful escape; just the wind and the sky and the glider – and for the duration of our flight all was well in the world, there was no need for me to save it. Then judging that I was comfortable in my new environment, Frode asked if I’d like to do some wing dips. I didn’t exactly know what that meant but I was so elated with the whole thing I answered “Sure, sounds great to me”! 

As a child my favorite playground equipment was the merry-go-round and the swings. I loved to get the merry-go-round spinning so fast that I knew I would fly right off into oblivion if I didn’t hold tight enough. And on the swings I liked to reach the height where I could feel as if I were high diving as I swooped down the pendulum of the swing. I quickly learned that wing dips are something like both of these things combined, thrown into the air, and multiplied tenfold. As we say here in Ghana they are “Sweet Paa”, maybe even sweeter than a double dip of frozen custard. I whooped and laughed even when my eye caught a glimpse of the sail nearly lateral to us. 

After that we took a relaxing cruise around the sky combing the ridge, taking in the sights of the rock outcroppings and the trees that appeared broccoli-like from this perspective. I would have been happy to play in the sky all day and I’m sure Frode had the skill to keep us there. But all good things must come to an end (and many others were waiting their turn to enjoy such an experience). So we started our descent toward the soccer field below and Frode threw in some really awesome mind numbing spiral spins before bringing us in very lightly for our landing. My instructions for landing were that we would run together for a few feet to absorb the momentum as we touched down. But I barely had 3 steps in before I found myself seated comfortably on the ground. (I guess I hadn’t quite recovered my land legs after pulling 3 ½ G’s in the sky). But I didn’t care. My head was still high in the clouds.

Chris and I can easily see how a person could become ‘addicted’ to paragliding. How lovely it would be to spend our days hiking up mountains and flying back down. But since we’ll soon again be living in Iowa, a land of few mountains, we may be able to keep the appetite at bay. But let me give you a warning: If ever you’re tempted to tell either of us to go take a flying leap, think twice. We’d most likely respond “Sounds great to me, let’s go leap together”!

Chris prepares for take-off

Chris in mid-flight
 Tammi Prepares for take-off  
A running start...

And they're soaring!