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letters from africa, nine months with shannon switzer Letters from Africa - Nine Months with Shannon Switzer

jettygirl photographer shannon switzer October 23, 2007

Dispatch No. 3: She Sells Sea Shells


After such a warm welcoming in Nairobi, I had a rude awakening upon arriving at the Mahe International Airport in the Seychelles. I exited the claustrophobic baggage claim area and stepped into the humidity to find Elsey (or so I will call her).

"Thanks for picking me up!" I offered enthusiastically.

"Yeah, well at least you decided to show up this time," Elsey responded, not in a particularly mean way, just in a manner suggesting she was convinced I had bribed the airline to overbook my original flight just to put her out.

On our ride to my new home, the more questions and comments I uttered the more irritated Elsey seemed to get. I eventually just shut my trap and soaked in all the shades of green flying by. I thought about the Swahili name Furaha, meaning joy or happiness, that Philip's family had given me before leaving Kenya and imagined what names Elsey might be silently calling me at that very moment, something along the lines of Pain-In-My-A$$ or Stupid American.

Call me presumptuous or maybe just naive, but I thought that perhaps after traveling half-way around the world to work for free that a "Glad you're here" or "Thanks for coming" was in order. Elsey offered no such thing; however, she did offer a few handy pieces of advice:

"There are two doctors in the Seychelles, one prescribes Paracetemol for everything, and the other chops off limbs. In other words- don't get sick."


"Avoid puddles and other stagnant pools of water unless you fancy getting Leptospirosis."

(Ok. Done and done!)

Later that evening I met my flat mates. Let me introduce you to them- they are European. There's Adelle, she's an extremely thoughtful and sincere little munchkin from the country hamlet of Norfolk, England. Then there's Hope, a cheerful event coordinator from London, who quit her job to do her part to help save the whale shark. And finally there's Suzanna from Germany, a strong-willed and witty girl working exclusively with the turtle monitoring project and with Elsey, walking miles of beach each day with just one another for company (yes- we have all commiserated with her about this unfortunate circumstance).

This little family of ours is wonderful. We make fun of each other's accents, share stories from home, cook yummy meals together, and divulge secret dreams and goals. We have a pet cat named Denise and the newest addition is Pete the praying mantis, which is technically Hope's new roommate- they have a love-hate relationship, he loves her and she hates him ...isn't that always the way? Our flat is perched on a hill overlooking the Indian Ocean. I half walk, half slide down a goat trail between a tangle of palms and ferns, cross a little creek, and walk through town to get to work each day.

Work consists either of going out on one of the whale sharking boats or doing data entry at the "office" (more of an ocean front shack with some computers inside). It has taken me a while to fully understand the nuances of whale sharking. I'll save the details of our highly sophisticated research procedures for a later update.

For now I have to recount my first experience with one of these giant spotty creatures. After getting the signal from Katie, the head honcho volunteer, I enthusiastically flung myself off the boat, splashed into the topaz water, and reeled about. After doing a complete 180 on the lookout for something big, I saw it- a four ton mass wearing a wide toothless grin headed straight for me. Yes the whale shark was smiling, they are similar to dolphins in that they always appear to be happy.

As I was instructed to stay 3 meters (or 9 feet in American) away from the shark, I began doing backward arm circles and pedaling in reverse as quickly as one can underwater. I never thought to turn around and swim away- all I could do was stare at the behemoth with my mouth hanging open. However, it became clear very quickly that I was going to lose our game of Chicken, so I finally broke my gaze and turned, nearly missing a head on collision. In fact I started swimming away in a series of circles, but I couldn't seem to shake my new friend or enemy (at this point, I still didn't know which it was).

Katie had told me that some of the more curious sharks will play these sorts of games, and that they are merely interested in the bubbles created by a snorkeler's fins, but I preferred to imagine that this shark just fancied me- that we had an instant bond. I named him Albert and saw a beautiful future ahead of us, swimming side by side through the oceans of the world. Abruptly Katie's muffled British accent brought me back to reality as she called me out of the water. I reluctantly left Bert after soaking in one last view of the unique ridges texturing his prehistoric back and that massive dorsal fin slowly swaying side to side. However, before we parted company I swear I heard a "Same time next week?" and even got a little wink. I swear. I have been in with several sharks since Bert, but he will always be my favorite.

Between swimming with sharks and typing up data, I'm still puzzling together the ways of the Seychelloise (Say-shell-wah) and their Creole culture. I know one thing for sure- they are NOT African or in any way affiliated with Africa. I was surprised to discover this at first, as I had somehow attached the two in my head. But suddenly all the confused looks I had received from Kenyans to whom I told my next destination made sense. "The Sea-shellies?" they would say, accompanied by an expression of mild bewilderment. I began to wonder if this place existed. But now I'm finally here with one foot on cream-colored sand and the other in crystal waters.

I have been trying to get photos up on my website, but alas the slow internet connections have not been cooperating. I haven't given up yet and will let you know when new pics are posted!

It has been so great to hear from everyone, please keep the e-mails coming, and I hope all is well wherever this finds you!




Shannon's Previous Letters: Unexpected Flight Delays Lead to Unexpectedly Good Times - 2007.10.05
  Whale Sharks, Sea Turtles, and Chimps- OH MY! - 2007.10.01



About "Letters From Africa - Nine Months with Shannon Switzer": JettyGirl photographer Shannon Switzer left a few weeks ago on the trip of a lifetime. Although not necessarily a surf trip per se, we think her adventure is a story well-worth sharing with others. Before she departed, a few surf companies jumped on board with sticker donations for Shannon's trip. Her plan is to pass stickers out to the kids she meets as she travels throughout Africa. Special thanks to all who answered our call for stickers: Transworld SURF, Walking on Water, Mutiny Media, Leucadia Surf Shop, and Dal Sarcos. The kids are going to be stoked! If you or your company is interested in donating stickers to Shannon, please contact me at --Chris Grant

local feet
Local Feet

palm tree silhouette

island beauty
Island Beauty

beach soccer


looming granite
Looming Granite

whale shark
Whale Shark

whale shark tail
Whale Shark Tail

All Photos ©


Photo: Gabe Rogel


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