I long for Africa

Sometimes I just need to cry. Let tears flow from my eyes. Feel the coolness on my face. Tears of joy, sadness. Tears of wonder and hardship.

I’ve been reading a lot about Africa- mostly memoirs of peoples travels and lives in Africa. It transports me there, memories flood in and I enjoy the simplest descriptions that remind me of the smells, dusty roads, minibuses, perseverance in people. I can go on.

The latest book I read, The Unheard: A memoir of deafness and Africa, tells the story of a Peace Corp volunteer placed in the northern region of Zambia. It was the first year Zambia had Peace Corp volunteers so everything was new and expectations were minimal on things getting done. Deafness is something I’ve never given much thought to, since I’ve never known anyone who is deaf. He gives great insight on how the world sounds when he wears his hearing aids and the quietness when he doesn’t, relying on lip reading. Zambia became a place of escape and wonder, where his lack of hearing wasn’t important nor an issue.

I can’t imagine giving two years of my life for Peace Corp to decide where I’ll live and do. HIs experience was fascinating and I imagine like many volunteers became what he didn’t expect. He went with the intention of building wells but in the end, it never happened. He assisted at the local clinic and helped out with little projects around the village but spent a lot of time hanging around, keeping to himself and playing chess.

I don’t see anything wrong with simply living and learning even if the intended projects aren’t being completed. I do question if the projects are even beneficial to the people are what people need or want but with such a big organization, I’m sure the answer differs with each volunteer and project. In the end, does the project make a difference? He hints of his opinions but it’s obvious he never regretted his decision to live in Zambia.  When he returns home, he reflects on how in America we tend to forget to live in the moment. He dreams of a boy whom he witnessed die and “he continues to travel with me. He sees me doing all the thinking things through and figuring things out-and he says slow down.” He tells me, “feel the rain on your face.

It’s the end of the book and tears form in my eyes. My nose curls up and I think of how amazing my journey was. I was living in the moment truly. Yet constantly thinking about friends and family back home. I wondered what I would do when I got back to the USA and how long my African adventure would take. Now I’m back. Still unsure, exactly how life will unfold.  My philosophy these last few weeks is: life is a process. Every phase has it’s worries and excitement. I’m home and now in the process of looking for work. I can’t see six  months from now, though I imagine where I’d like to be and what I’ll be doing or at least a small glimpse of what I’d like. Do we ever really know?

I’ve been wanting to watch the film, Babel, again so I did this evening with my family. Intertwining three different stories taking place in Morocco, Japan, Mexico and California, it shows how one’s actions ultimately affects several people’s lives. A reminder how we all our connected and our actions are powerful. The film is beautifully done and makes me think about others’  lives and everything I have. Interestingly, the Japan story depicts deaf women teens struggling as they come of age without sounds. A new perspective.I feel so lucky to be at home sitting next to my mom, brother and his girlfriend all enjoying a film. Together. I count my blessings. I wonder how long will have movie nights or live together or near each other.  But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I should acknowledge what I have and be grateful. Honor it. And let the tears stream down my face with joy.

I’ve met plenty of volunteers who were enjoying there experience but I wondered if they were secretly withholding the truth. Would you really want to live in a very rural  place alone for two years? Transport may be minimal. Would I enjoy my project or feel like it’s a waste of time? Or based on Western ways that can be implemented in a non-Western country?

While I was traveling, I always appreciated having freedom to stay in a place as long as I liked and leave when my heart wasn’t feeling the beauty of a place. My only commitment I had to follow was to respect myself and make the decision to go home when challenges of the road remained challenges rather than curious and peculiar adventures. Occassionally, I wondered if I’d enjoy volunteering for a year or working for a non-profit in the field but after some conversations, I realized if I were to partake in international developmental work I would want to commit myself for an extended length of time. In order to make change, you must understand the culture, history, politics and be willing to put all that you know aside and learn. Learn the ways of the country I’d choose to live and help in.


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