When I was a little girl, I told my mother I was going to Africa someday. You see, I had dreamt that I lived there in a past life (yep, that was me as a kid) and was determined to go back. When I was a senior in college, I did just that. I packed my bags and met up with 19 other American students I had never met and flew (and flew and flew) to Namibia where I lived, travelled, studied and volunteered for the next four months. It just might have been the hardest thing I've ever done, but it just might have been the best decision I'll ever make.
This trip changed my life.
(Snuggling the friendliest cow, Henrietta. I even milked her later.)
For much of this trip, I lived in the capitol city of Namibia, Windhoek. It was (literally) a world away from anything I had ever known, but it wasn't exactly roughing it. (Unless of course you consider sharing a room with six other girls roughing it, then - yes - it actually was.) We lived in a city. We went to school. We volunteered. I worked at an orphanage. We went out. We made friends with locals. We danced all night. We missed the comforts of home, but we were alive in ways we had never known before.
For the other parts of this trip, we stayed with families during homestays both in the city and in rural locations. Now, I thought I was from a rural town, but this word takes on a new meaning when the most exciting event of the day is a donkey walking by. The remainder of my time in Africa was spent travelling throughout Namibia and South Africa, as well as taking a brief but incredibly memorable trip to Botswana.
(Sossusvlei - home of the gorgeous red sand dunes in Namibia.)
(The most beautiful place I've ever been... The Okavango Delta in Botswana.)
It's hard to imagine ever having another experience that will compare to this. I went on that trip a young, homesick girl who was in culture shock and I came home, well, me.
During my time in Namibia, the country celebrated 10 years of independence and 10 years of being free from the institution of apartheid. 10 years. That was it. Imagine what our country must have been like only ten years after the abolition of slavery... When you walk around in a country that has been so hurt by prejudice and hate, and by people that look very much like yourself, you come to understand the unearned privilege of your appearance and the luxury it affords. I had never been aware before this trip of all that was possible for me solely because of the color of my skin. It made me incredibly sad and it made me incredibly and acutely aware of the responsibility I felt I had.
I expected mixed reactions from the Namibian and South African people I met on this trip because of my skin color and what it represented. I expected anger, but what I got... what I got was love. I spent hours and hours and days and days talking to people about their experiences during apartheid and what it had done to their families, to their children, to their sense of dignity. It was heartbreaking, but the resilience of these people to persevere after such unimaginable hardships was breathtaking. The heart of these people, their ability to rise up and love the very people who hurt them, is - in my eyes - the heart of Africa and why this experience and this place has left such an imprint on my heart.
This time in my life changed the way I look at the world, altered the lens I look through. I no longer see our country and other countries. Us and them. The children I hope to have someday aren't the only children I want to protect. Sometimes when I find myself getting frustrated about something so small, like having my favorite jeans fit too tightly, I think about the children I held who had been orphaned by AIDS and I realize what a luxury these little concerns are.
This trip broke my heart wide open and made me a citizen of the world.
The villages. The landscape. The animals. The smell. The sky. The colors. The food. The music. The dancing. The culture. The tradition. The stories. The people. The heartache. The pain. The resilience. The courage. The love. The unstoppable joy. The heart. The soul. Africa. I carry it with me.