by Catherine Edsell, Expedition Leader
"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…..”
I was writing a heartfelt letter to my friends, conveying my wish to open up my world of expeditions to women, like them, who had never done anything like this before (or at least not for a very long time), either because they had been rearing children, or were bogged down with work, or just hadn’t taken the plunge…yet.
I could relate to how they felt, because I had recognised the need in me, and explained how, as a woman and a mother I had noticed the limitations around what we allow ourselves to do. “We are always compromising”, I explained,” 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 its what we actually really need.”
I was offering them an adventure to explore not only the wonders of the world, but their innermost selves. I took a deep breath, and pressed ‘SEND’. It was out there, and now I had a responsibility to myself and to those who read my words to make ‘The Matriarch Adventure’ a reality. That was my YES moment!
Eight years ago, my life couldn’t have been more different; I had received a birthday 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 kids plastic alphabet letters. He meant it to be funny but, actually, it was so painfully true that it physically hurt. I laughed – and then cried. I felt stuck: I had two clingy children, no childcare, and I realised that instead of being ‘an expedition leader’ (my profession before having children), I was a frustrated housewife who had big dreams but no way of making them a reality. The card got lost, packed away, forgotten.
Two years later I discovered that very same card in a drawer and was instantly hit by that familiar 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.
That was the start of a new chapter of my life, and of our life as a family. First I took the kids on an adventure to Thailand, working in an elephant sanctuary; they loved the hands-on contact with these massive beasts, and I loved being out there, in the heat away from the humdrum of everyday life. Shortly after my return, driven by a desire to incorporate my family and my skills even further, I trained as a Divemaster and applied for a dive job with a biodiversity conservation expedition company in Indonesia, on the condition that they let me bring the kids. I could dive and teach, and the kids could play on a beautiful coral atoll in the middle of the Banda Sea. What could be better?!
The next few years were punctuated leading other expeditions, (with and 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.
Back to present day….
So, on 1st March 2017 the ‘Matriarchs’ met for the first time. It was a very surreal experience, all sitting round the table for dinner – it felt uncannily dreamlike, mainly because up until that point that was exactly what it had been, a dream, a design in my imagination, words on a piece of paper. But here they were, real life, eager, visceral, exuberant women ready to embark on a transformational adventure, and they were all looking to me to guide them safely through it.
The days were filled with the practicalities of tracking and monitoring herds of elephants who deviously camouflaged themselves as rocks by spraying the red earth over their backs, mixed with the physical demands of trekking in 40 degree heat to witness amazing geological formations and ancient petrified forests, and with the bonding and openness facilitated by group coaching, quiet reflection and good old belly laughter!
It was an intense ten days, but in the words of one of the participants, “I felt like I got back to ‘myself’ on this trip. It would have been so much easier to cancel, and say that I had too much on my plate, kids didn’t want me to go, blah blah blah. Thank god I didn’t. The kids were fine and the world went on turning without me. It was a wonderful and amazing experience, and I’m SO glad I did it!”
So I guess it worked!
Now, back at home in rainy London, I’m still pinching myself. Did this actually really happen? Did I actually manage to conceive the idea, put all the logistics in place, find women who actually wanted to come, make it a reality, track the elephants, feel the heat and breathe in the expanse of the desert, facilitate a transformative experience for the women who joined, and come home and write about it all in just three months?! YES.
Quite amazing actually seeing as I, by my own volition, ‘am not a business woman’, ‘cannot do social media’, and am a complete ‘technophobe’ - it just shows where there is a will there’s a way! I cannot lie, there were days when I woke up and had to override my inner critic who was telling me that there was no way I could pull this off, that I just didn’t know enough, or have enough time, but the commitment I had made in the moment of writing my intention to my friends was enough to hold me accountable.
I have grown in ways I could not have imagined by embarking on this adventure, as it was an adventure for me too, (in a different way). Now the fire has been lit- The Matriarch Adventure is to set off into the Namibian wilderness once more in November this year….
Let me know if you want to come too!
Facebook: The Matriarch Adventure
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.