The rains down in Africa.

Monday, October 12, 2009

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.)

(South Africa)

(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.


  1. You are a seriously amazing woman. I always leave your blog feeling totally inspired and uplifted. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and pictures with us!

  2. WOW!!! How absolutely amazing!! You are a rockstar.

  3. omg, you are incredible. this trip looks SO amazing!! life-changing and beautiful. i want to do a trip like this someday!!


  4. I think that you are one strong lucky person.
    I wish I could do the same one day!
    have a great week xx

  5. this was great. really beautiful.
    my SO has been to africa quite a bit and we plan to possibly end up there to live after his school loans are paid off. it's encouraging to see what you learned there. any plans about going back?

  6. What a great story and experience! Traveling to anywhere (in the USA or not) is a learning experience all in its self. I went to New Zealand on a study abroad trip and although it wasn't a third world country like Africa it still changed my life.
    Africa is on my list.

  7. When I saw the title of this post, I screamed, as I am obsessed with Toto. I am truly inspired by your experiences. I contemplated volunteering a few years ago and chickened out - thanks for igniting the idea once again!

  8. It was the most amazing experience and you worded SO beautifully. Thanks for trip down memory lane. Tear.

  9. Well wasn't this just an absolutely beautifully written post?

    Another reason you're a favorite of mine.

    And psst, I'm totally making my sister read this. She is dying to visit Africa.

  10. this has got to be one of the most beautiful stories in the world. I can't believe you lived out your childhood dreams, and the world you saw will un-doubtably be something you keep in you're heart forever!

  11. I feel the same way about my study abroad experience in Costa Rica and my volunteer work in Costa Rica...those experieces changed me forever.

  12. such a wonderful post! very few people get to follow their dream and make a difference!

  13. You and Liz AMAZE me. To have done something so selfless is such an incredible thing. That pic of that sweet little baby is killing me.

  14. oh wow i am a tad homesick. im a south african living in japan, so your post makes me miss home even more

    love namibia... or south west africa as my gran still calls it ... have so many memories- go there about once a year or so

  15. This trip looks absolutely amazing. I'd really love to go someday. Some parts of Africa are like a whole different world than the one I've grown up in, and I'd love to see it for myself.

  16. This trip looked incredible and definitely life changing. You have so many wonderful memories, and you are super cute in your pictures. Great blog post, I LOVED IT!!

  17. Woah...what a trip, Kathleen! I'm privileged to have met your friend at (a nightclub! :/ ) the other guys did an amazing thing. I love when you said, "we were alive in ways we had never known before." I've had that feeling with me when I went alone to Spain, the long train trips by myself with no one else around me that I had knew, it makes us really appreciate everything we have...we have it real easy here.
    Lovely story, beautiful pictures.

  18. i went to Africa with my family when i was young, and have always wanted to go back.

    amazing that you accomplished this.

    ps i remember going to a masi mara tribe village and climbing down into one of their dung homes and being completely changed from it.

    ps funny story, my dad bought a necklace from a local who told him it was a lions tooth... we walked around proudly with it for weeks only to find out later that it was a worthog bone LOL.. we still tease him about this today.

  19. Wow...thank you so much for sharing! Such a beautiful and inspiring story!

  20. This makes me want to travel to africa even more. I am so so so aching to visit.

  21. Awww... I haven't read too much of your blog, but the title of this post caught my eye. So few people I know "get" Africa because they haven't experienced it and it can't be explained with words. Having visited the CGE house (and sat in on a class) with Lis while we were in Windhoek, this post brought back a flood of painfully good memories. I heard so much about it from Lis for 8 years, but it wasn't until doing it myself that I finally understood what she'd been saying... Hope you're doing well, you should get in touch with us when you're next in town! Did you ever check our travel blog? There's a link from my FB page... Love ya, A

  22. This is so beautiful Kathleen - I would love to go to Africa and this story just reconfirms that.

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