The first time I heard the term ‘BC’ and realised that it no longer stood for ‘Before Christ’, but ‘Before Children’, I laughed – and then cried. I was at some awful NCT mothers coffee morning, blocking the aisle in Starbucks with my gaily coloured all-terrain 3 wheeler buggy, that only got used on tarmac, wishing that I didn’t have to talk about sleepless nights and colic, or that I actually had something in common with any of these women who were all lawyers and bankers and were going to go back to work in 6 weeks, whereas I, being an expedition leader, had no idea if I would ever go on an expedition again, feeling as confused and ill-equipped to be a mother as any new mother could, when someone piped up, “Yes, Tarquin and I used to go to Soho all the time BC”. BC, BC How lucky I had been to have all that freedom, all those opportunities, to change my mind on a whim and to travel off to another corner of the globe, for no better reason than I wanted to see what happened next. I had loved working in the jungles of Costa Rica, the deserts of Namibia, leading expeditions, training people in jungle survival techniques, visiting remote locations way way off the beaten track. I cried not because I hadn’t used my BC years well, but because they were over.
For my 38th birthday, (now with two young children), I received a card from my brother with the words, “I wanted to go out and change the world but I couldn’t find a babysitter” written in those plastic alphabet fridge magnets that you buy as an educational tool, but end up hoovering away as no one ever spells anything except mummy, daddy and poo. He meant it to be funny but, actually, it was so painfully true that it actually hurt. Again, I laughed – and then cried. This was my life. I had two clingy children, no childcare, I was a frustrated housewife who had big dreams but no way of making them a reality. I put the card in a drawer. 4 years later as I was clearing out that drawer I found that old birthday card and was instantly hit by that same wave of pain and disappointment – my situation was pretty much the same. Still two rather clingy children and no babysitter. But something stirred in me that day, and I stuck the card to the breadmaker (that I never used), and looked at it long and hard. “Stop making excuses!” I thought to myself.
With Kids In Tow
OK, so I can’t find a babysitter, but what if I bring the kids with me!? It seemed a reasonable suggestion. By now the kids were 4 and 6, quite capable of telling me ‘where it hurt’, if they needed something, if they were scared etc. So driven by a looming Easter holiday, where my husband was working, and we had a month to kill, I looked into the idea of going on safari. I’d never been on safari, and thought it would be great to show the kids all of the animals that they only saw weird storybook versions of in their nightly tales, ‘in real life’. Safari companies, (quite wisely), don’t take children until they are at least 10, so I had to think of another idea. I was quite aware that they were still very young, so wanted to provide them with an animal encounter experience that they’d never forget… it had to be elephants! I looked up a few sanctuaries and found a great looking one in Thailand where we could volunteer for a few weeks, and really have hands-on experience with these massive beasts.
The trip was a great success, still hard work with two kids, but they loved it, and I loved it – the elephants were amazing to watch, and I was happy just to be in the heat, away from the normal humdrum of everyday life. I returned home rejuvenated and ready for the next adventure. I went for an interview with an expedition company. Sadly, they could only really offer me long trips away spanning 5 weeks or more, which just seemed logistically impossible in my current situation, however, what happened in that interview was to completely change the course of my life. I had always scuba dived, and I had my rescue diver qualification. Looking at my CV, the director of this particular company asked me why I didn’t have my Divemaster qualification. I explained that I had no intention of becoming an instructor so didn’t really see the purpose. He then pointed out that if I became a Divemaster, I could then lead diving expeditions, (which were generally shorter than terrestrial ones). A light-bulb went on in my head, and the first thing I did when I got home was to enrol on a Divemaster training course.
A few months later, as a recently qualified Divemaster, I applied for a summer dive job with a biodiversity conservation expedition company in Indonesia, with one condition, that they let me bring the kids. That was the start of a new chapter of my life, and of our life as a family. I could dive and teach, the kids could play on a beautiful coral atoll in the middle of the Banda Sea, what could be better? I punctuated the year leading other expeditions, (without the kids), both diving and terrestrial, and became quite an expert in marine conservation, but most importantly I WAS BACK– I was an expedition leader again, I didn’t have to talk about myself I the past tense, and even without a babysitter I had managed to change MY world. (I’d just like to say at this point that my husband was amazingly supportive of all of this, often at the expense of his own goals and desires, so thank you Mark, I couldn’t have done it without you).
Just for women
So, feeling good about myself once again, I noticed that some of the other mums in the school playground were not feeling so good. Let’s face it, day in day out doing the same thing, (whatever it is), get’s tedious, and juggling, life, work, kids, is tiring. Friends could see that I was definitely getting a lot out of my experiences, and I sometimes sensed a tinge of envy at the kind of life I was living. One day, I had an idea. Why didn’t I create an expedition just for women, not too long, say, 10 days, just enough time to really get away, but short enough that the logistics of handing over childcare and the running of the house to someone else would be possible. I chatted to a friend about it, a friend who had recently qualified as a Clarity coach (like a life coach but simpler), and in one morning we had come up with a grand plan. We would go to Africa, track desert elephants, give group coaching sessions and practice yoga, camp out, meet with local women, and basically have a fantastic time! It was that easy – it was as if the plan was just waiting for us to have it, as though it had existed all the time. I made a few enquiries to an elephant conservation NGO I had worked with ‘BC’ in Namibia, and they were well up for it. All stations go!
The first port of call was to find the women… so of course I first emailed all the mums at school, and all of my other close friends and cousins and sisters in law.
This is the email I wrote:
Hello dear wonderful women,
Please forgive the group email, but I just wanted to reach out and ask a favour. Myself and Viva are launching “The Matriarch Adventure” and need your help…
Some history: As you know, I am an expedition leader and have led expeditions all over the world – I love it – I love the adventure, the challenge, the fact that in my small way I am hands-on contributing to wildlife conservation and biodiversity research, I love the freedom of it, the immersion in nature, the relationship with something bigger than myself, and the contrast to my daily life in the UK. When I started, it was almost completely male dominated, now, not so much, but it is still a very male domain, but why?
As a woman, and a mother, I notice the limitations we create around what we allow ourselves to do. We are always compromising, multi-tasking, taking the slack, holding the fort, and this is all great, except when we do this ALL the time, and don’t give ourselves even a few days to go off on our own, to re-connect with ourselves, to challenge ourselves physically, to marvel at the wonders of nature, to learn, to grow, and also to strip away, to get back to basics, to clear our thinking, and to change, where necessary, our mindset. When we even think about doing this we meet amazing resistance – particularly from ourselves, even if it’s what we actually really need.
So, one day, in conversation with Viva, (a qualified Clarity coach), the sparks started flying, and the idea of “The Matriarch Adventure” began to take shape…
10 days, 10 women in the Namibian wilderness, tracking elusive desert elephants (the most iconic matriarchs there are), having an adventure, dawn yoga under huge flame-red skies, group coaching round a camp fire, sleeping out under a myriad of stars, meeting with Namibian women and hearing their story…. and all else that expedition life has to offer.
This is already a reality, we have almost everything in place, except the 10 women. This is where we need your help. If you know of anyone who you think might be interested, who you think might benefit from an adventure, or who is stuck in a rut, who has been looking for this kind of thing for a while, please mention this to them and ask them to contact me either by email, or go to my website http://www.cathadventure.com/ For this first expedition we will really be relying on word of mouth, as we are new at this, and will need you to vouch for us, for our credibility.
Also, I’d really appreciate your feedback on any aspect of the idea – you are the women I most value in my life, and I highly regard your opinion.
We are still sorting out the dates, but due to various other commitments it looks like it might be as early as March 5th – 20th 2017, either that or not until the end of next year (which seems too far away). The cost will be approx: £1,350 (excluding flights).
So, if you just tell one woman that would be amazing!
Love Catherine x x x
The response to this heartfelt email was amazing. Two of my friends and my sister in law immediately said they wanted to come and others were really keen but couldn’t quite commit, but wanted to help spread the word. Through Facebook, the information was shared and shared again and before long I had women from all over the world asking for information, asking how they could join this adventure.
The rest, as they say, is history.
We leave in less than a week, and every night when I lay down to sleep I am overcome with the knowledge, so strong that it is almost a sensation, that very soon I’ll be laying down, not in this bed, but on the floor of the desert, in the sand, away from all this rain. I’ll be with an eclectic and international group of women, celebrating International Women’s Day far from the communities we know, in our own new matriarchal community, we’ll be tracking desert elephants and learning about their matriarchal systems, experiencing whatever life throws at us, and having an adventure of a lifetime!
Find out more about Catherine and here amazing adventure here. Love Her Wild are looking forward to following her journey!
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Catherine Edsell FRGS is an adventurer, a global expedition leader, PADI divemaster, Reef Check Trainer, yoga teacher and mother of two. As an avid naturalist she has demonstrated her passion for adventure and effective conservation through independent and collaborative expedition work around the world. She often brings her children on expedition and is now embarking on a series of transformative adventures solely for women.