If You Ask Me About My Trip to Africa…

11 Aug

If you ask me about my trip to Africa don’t be surprised if I tell you about the elephants, the hippos, the giraffes, the crocodiles, the zebras, the great kudus, the lioness I saw in the distance and so many cool birds and the spectacular trees.

zebras looking

I will mostly likely tell you about the baboon who got in our jeep and stole our brownies and dropped crumbs all over the seats and how we laughed so hard.

Maybe I will tell you about the day I spent in the kitchen of a daycare center / orphanage with two women who have never been outside Tanzania and spoke marginal English. We cooked porridge, ugali, beans, and greens, shared stories about our lives, our families, and our dreams… and fed babies.

I guess it’s possible that I will tell you about the young medical student on my team who – wearing rain boots, a plastic apron, and gloves that she was not entirely certain were sterile –delivered her first baby. I may not tell you this story not because it wasn’t oh so special, but because, really, there are not words to express the look of sheer joy and radiance on her face when she walked in the door and told me about it. That is a moment that I don’t ever want to diminish.

DSCN4013 (2)

Odds are that I will tell you how grateful I am for a stable power grid, reliable internet, western toilets, toilet paper that does not disintegrate on contact (actually toilet paper period), and clean drinking water but I don’t expect that to be meaningful to most. We sooooo take all of that for granted.

It’s quite possible that I might not tell you the story about giving a young woman and her less than 24-hour old baby (and their entourage) a ride home. She had just given birth in the so much less than fully equipped clinic in the village we were visiting. The mom and baby were going to have to either walk to the next village or ride on the back of a motor cycle. We found out the baby did not yet have a name so they asked my colleague (and now friend) and me to give her a name. I may not tell you that story because even I have hard time believing that that actually happened, and now, more than a week later, can’t express just how powerful it was to watch that new mom take out the baby’s record, ask to borrow a pen, and carefully write “Maya” on the top of the page.

DSCN4167 (2)

I doubt I will tell you about sitting down with a man who, when I looked in his eyes, I saw the entire universe. You wouldn’t believe that I wasn’t making it all up. I was there; I saw it; and you know what? I really don’t believe I am not making it all up.

I probably won’t tell you about the tiny children who really weren’t that young…just tiny. Not sure you really want to know about that.

DSCN4169 (2)


Chances are you won’t hear about the cane or police pay-offs at check points on the highway or the lack of basic sanitation or the cultural norms about distribution of food that leave children malnourished (and tiny) or the textbooks that actually say women are inferior or the students who thought HIV was created by man in the laboratory…. You really don’t want to know about any of that. I am not sure I wanted to know but now I do and, trust me, it all changes you. I honor your ability to not know.

I will tell you about the inspiring people – the best and the brightest – who I am so honored to have worked with and now call colleagues and in many cases, friends. These people allowed me to think in ways that I did not even know I could. I came out not just changed by the experience this time but a better thinker – a multidimensional thinker – because of these three and a half weeks. I bet, however, that you will not see that because fundamental change in people you know is not easy to recognize– even when it is a shift to something so much more. So I may keep all that to myself.DSCN4027 (2)

I don’t believe I even know how to tell you about how a magnificent 13-year-old young woman who, without even realizing, gracefully shined a light in the darkness and changed the tone – created a moment of safety and sanity in a world that held neither – for another young girl whose life, experience, and existence held so little hope. I could never do that justice and would never, in my wildest dreams, capture the overwhelming pride and gratitude that I felt for knowing her and witnessing that moment.

I am happy to tell you about the promise I saw – the abundance of food and natural resources, the staggering beauty of the landscape, the people I worked with’s drive and desire to do more and better, the thirst for knowledge, the desire to spread the word about a program that could change so many lives, and the unwavering position of those I worked with (those with real power to do something) to help bring about a shift in cultural norms that would create a sense of equity and fairness. I bet, however, that you will write that all that off as idealism or the romance of the moment in hindsight or the view from the other side of my rose colored glasses or the perspective from my glass overflowing take on life. I know that. I appreciate that. I respect that position.

DSCN3912 (2)

I may not share many of those stories not because I feel you are incapable of understanding or that you lack something that allows you to feel them. I may not tell you about these significant events because I never want to diminish them with inadequate words or language that lacks the power to express true transformation.


Come into my kitchen and pull up a chair and let’s talk about the animals and the trees and the landscape. They were all breathtakingly spectacular.


All thanks to Global Volunteers….

17 Responses to “If You Ask Me About My Trip to Africa…”

  1. Estelle August 11, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    Wow. Your post leaves me breathless. I’ve been to South Africa, and on safari there, but your trip stirs the imagination with all the possibilities in humankind. Way to retrain your brain and learn new info:)

    • Ruth Curran August 11, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

      Thanks Estelle! It certainly was an expanding trip and one I won’t soon forget!

  2. Dan August 11, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    that sounds amazing!I can almost fill in the blanks that you left for me to imagine

  3. Carol Cassara August 11, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

    Ruth, this post is just staggering in its beauty. You’ve captured the most wonderful experience for posterity.

    • Ruth Curran August 11, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

      Your comment means more than you know Carol! Thank you!

  4. sue August 11, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

    What an amazing life experience and I enjoyed hearing it all. Not only the wildlife but the people and their stories. Thanks so much for sharing, you have inspired me to do something!

    • Ruth Curran August 11, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

      So glad you enjoyed hearing the stories Sue! They all touched me in ways I would never have imagined. Thank you for your sweet words!

  5. Lois Alter Mark August 11, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    What a gorgeous post, Ruth. It literally took my breath away. I can’t wait to sit down with you to hear everything.

    • Ruth Curran August 11, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

      Your cup of iced tea and seat at the table awaits my friend!

  6. LISA CARPENTER August 11, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    This brought tears to my eyes, Ruth. Such a fabulous experience for you. I can only imagine the exhilaration and joy you clearly still have in your heart and soul even after returning home. Wow, wow, wow is about all I can say after each mention of things you won’t tell us. I’m happy to hear about the amazing animals, though. I’m happy to hear any story you’re willing to share and look forward to more. You amaze me, inspire me, make my heart sing as I experience so many adventures vicariously through you. I can’t imagine a better conduit for such!

    • Ruth Curran August 11, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

      Oh Lisa… what beautiful comments. I love that we inspire each other and that we can share!

  7. Terri August 11, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    Oh, Ruth, your words are magical. What beautiful descriptions of what must have been such an overwhelmingly fabulous experience. I really can’t wait to hear all about it. I already know first hand the beauty of the animals and plants and those primate thieves. I want to hear about the babies and the cooking and the sharing of ideas.

    I’m so happy you got to go and that it was such a life changing experience. And I’m glad for all those whose lives you touched. They will always remember the happy woman from California USA.

    • Ruth Curran August 11, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

      Oh the monkeys too Terri! Such an amazingly touching set of comments. Thank you and I can’t wait for you to pull up a chair and chat!!!

  8. Rosemond August 11, 2016 at 6:42 pm #

    Beautiful beyond words, as I’m sure your trip was. I’m sure your life was changed and I’m certain you changed the lives of the people you touched there. Inspiring.

  9. Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski August 11, 2016 at 6:52 pm #

    I can imagine it would be hard to describe in words everything that you saw and experienced because I’m sure it would take hours and hours. What an amazing and revealing trip.

  10. Cathy Sikorski August 12, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    I shared this already, but I just need to say that I am gobsmacked by the beauty, the intensity and the lessons in this moving post. It makes me want to be better. Thanks, Ruth. You are a peach and a gift to the world.

%d bloggers like this: