The gorilla known as vulnerability

african sun


My invitation to openness arrived on a sunny afternoon in June 2004, in a rocky and incredibly hot parking lot in Uganda, Africa.  I had meticulously planned out a 2 month African adventure with my then boyfriend, David, and my gal pal, Kari.  The first leg of our African adventure entailed a trek through the “Bwindi Rainforest National Park” to experience our own version of ‘Gorillas In The Mist‘.

When our driver pulled up at the hotel in the weeee hours of the morning, he explained that he tried to pick up our permits but didn’t have any luck so we’d have to grab them before we could get started.  “Of course!” I thought, “that’s easy enough, I have the email printed out right here in my pocket that shows our confirmation number.  We’ll just pick up our pre-arranged-and-fully-paid-for-months-in-advance permits and be granted admission into the highly regulated, limited access, natural forest of these amazing creatures.  When we get to the office the friendly person behind the desk will rifle through their files and find my 3 sparkling permits that say something along the lines of ‘HURRAH!  You made it to this crazily remote jungle location and are now ready to experience a once-in-a-lifetime journey with your Darwinian ancestors!!  It’s such a pleasure to have you here.’

As you can guess, what happened in my mind didn’t translate to reality.  This was our reality instead:

Our driver suggested we call the permit office first to ensure all was well before we drove all the way over there.  Cool, ya, that’s a good idea.  So he dialed the number and handed me the phone.  I took a deep breath, grabbed the phone and my confirmation email, and walked slowly around to the back of the 4×4.  I was ‘greeted’ by a stern woman who told me that I was sorely mistaken but the permits that I had purchased were for the gorilla trek in Rwanda.  Knowing that I followed the steps correctly, and had the confirmation in writing to prove it, I explained to her that this simply wasn’t possible.  A verbal tennis match ensued with her explaining that according to her records, our permits were for Rwanda, then me calmly repeating our confirmation number, then her stating that the permits didn’t exist.  After about 5 solid minutes of me repeating myself over and over I slowly felt my frustration level escalate as I knew this woman was not inclined to help this Canadian out.

Just as I was reaching my exasperation point, she sensed her moment and changed her tune.  She told me that she could magically make this problem disappear if I agreed to pay X amount of dollars to her in cash money and then she could get the correct permits to us in time for our trek in a few hours.

Instantaneously my blood boiled to a level I had never experienced before as I KNEW this woman had our correct permits in her possession but she saw an opportunity to make some quick cash and chose to take advantage of this situation instead.  Think about it, what person would travel allllll this way to the remote Ugandan jungle, to just turn around and go home because of an ‘administrative error’ that could be remedied with a few hundred dollars??  Ohhhhh no, she knew we were going to see those dang gorillas if it killed us and/or our bank accounts.  And so, right there, in the blazing African sun, in front of Kari and David and the driver, I LOST IT.  Like, loooooost it.  I screamed so loud and for so long, I’m sure the gorillas in both Uganda AND Rwanda heard my cries loud and clear.

Immediately after my tantrum, I opened my clenched eyes to see Kari staring at me with her mouth agape, her eyes wide, and the look of sheer shock on her face.  I narrowed my eyes and harshly exclaimed ‘WHHHAT?!?’  To which she slowly, lovingly, and tenderly said “wow, this is amazing.  You’re not an emotional robot.”  Which of course made NO sense to me as evidenced by the look of sheer exasperation on my already frustrated face.  She then further explained “…all this time, I thought you were this strong, positive, always-had-it-together woman who never lost it and here you are, freaking out…and it’s beautiful.”

Which took me a) by surprise and b) a moment or two to fully absorb.  What the hell was she talking about?!  This was the first time in my life I’d not maintained my cool, calm demeanour in front of another person and was screaming like a bratty child!  How is THAT a good thing?

So, how did losing it in a parking lot make me beautiful?

One word.  Vulnerability.

My freaking out allowed her to see me, the real me.  The me that gets frustrated, exasperated, and cries.  Who tried her hardest and came up short.  In that African parking lot, I laid down my perfectionistic armour and was transformed.

Didn’t see that one coming…but we DID end up seeing the gorilla’s, and wow, were they beautiful too.  I wish I had photos to share but those got lost in transit.  Yep, this trip was chock-full of life lessons.  Sometimes you have to travel to find yourself.

Try this:  Think of the times you’ve exposed your true self.  Did you have a positive and affirming reaction?  How do you feel when someone is vulnerable with you?  When do you feel your most vulnerable?  Write down your experiences and see if you can find the gift in those challenging moments.




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