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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….