Well, we are home from Africa.
We are safe.
My kids were super surprised to see me come home early, and my family and friends were happy all was well. There were some who were able to finally exhale once we got back….and some that didn’t even realize they were holding their breath.
I know that when I go away, especially to a non-traditional place-as I am prone to do it seems, there are those who are terrified beyond belief at my travels. They are certain that when I go, I will end up dying at the hands of a madman, or end up in some terrible wreck, alone and suffering. They try and convince me I shouldn’t go, and life is better when it is safer.
Obviously I disagree. I keep going to these far away places, and talk about the wonders of what the world has to offer to everyone who wants to listen. I am glad that I do, for unless someone can guarantee me something else, we only get one time around in this life. There are so many things to see, do, smell, eat, experience, try, and take pictures of in this world, that I don’t want to limit myself to my own backyard. I want to inspire others to go places and do things that they never felt quite brave enough to do, until they see that someone they know and love has done it….and survived! I hope that I keep doing that for the next 43 years.
I have done a lot of reflecting on this journey, both in it’s planning, during the trip itself, and now upon my return. I was unable to articulate to my husband why I wanted to go, and am forever grateful for his unwavering support even though he wasn’t sure it was a good idea. He also didn’t understand why ten years ago I went to India before our son was born. Going places where women aren’t highly regarded wasn’t a sane choice in his mind, and he still supported me in my journey then also. He is a good man to do this, as I know many would not.
People are asking me how the trip was. Was it everything I thought it would be? Would I go again? What was the best part? What was the worst?
I think back to why I was going to start with.
I was compelled. I cannot say why. I am not a religious person, but I am spiritual. There have been times in my life where I have been completely unable to anything other that what I have done. I cannot explain it, I cannot articulate it other than a feeling of something greater than me compelling me to. Not even after I have done these things have the reasons become clear always. Sometimes yes. Sometimes immediately. Sometimes not for years, if ever to date.
I am not totally clear on the why yet either for this. I have had some reflections though, and those I will share.
Immediately I am clear that I am more grateful for my life now. For not only the things I have, but the people I share them with. I am clear on the details that I seemed to have either taken for granted, or not really noticed. Simple things like the number of freckles on my youngest son’s nose that add to his cuteness. Larger things like a hot, hot shower and a wonderful home with my family.
I was struck by the contrast going from Canada to Ethiopia where they country is filled with people that are lean, and strong and absent of overweight people. When we went to Malawi, the differences in people again was striking. My preconceptions of what people “should” look like in Africa was shattered, and that I found surprising. Coming back to Canada I was again shocked at how Canadians look in comparison to how they looked in my mind before it was opened just a little bit wider by the world.
Again, I was struck by the fact we are sooo lucky when it comes to our healthcare and our health in general. How easy it is for us to take advantage of all we have in front of us, and how often we don’t. When I say we, I don’t have a mouse in my pocket. I mean we, as Canadians. So often people will die for the lack of what we waste, and knowing this and acting on this are two different things.
I have also been wrestling with the thought that somehow I should feel guilty for what I have. That I should pity those with less. Why should I? I have been angry at this thought, and had conversations in my mind with imaginary people as I play the devil’s advocate for all positions in this discussion. The truth is there will always be people who have more than me in life. There will always be those who have less. Should I help those with less when I can? Of course. Should I feel guilty when I have more? Absolutely not. Unless it has come to me in less than an upstanding way, of course (which it hasn’t for the record). I work hard. My family works hard. My friends work hard. I know no one who has inherited or won by way of lottery massive riches that has brought their lives to a standard that is above most. People who have what they have in their life have worked hard to get there. That does not mean they should be ashamed of what they have earned or accomplished. This also doesn’t make me any less happy that they have something I do not.
I think about the people in Africa and the abject poverty that they live in. Some are very happy with how things are in their lives. Some are not. Some are working hard to change their situation, and others are content to stand on the corner, chewing hallucinogenic grasses, whiling away their days with less than others. The saying that ignorance is bliss can also sometimes be applied. I am not saying that in a rude way. Ignorance is also bliss in the lives of those with much more than those at the poverty line. I do not know what it is like to have a jet plane at my disposal, nor to have live in house-staff, or to have a different car for every day of the week in every city I own a home. There are many people who have these lives, and I wish for them that they don’t look at people like me with pity that I only have a minivan to drive most days. I wish for both them, and me, and those with less than me, that we are all able to find happiness in wherever we are in our lives. It is often perspective only after all. Many people who are rich are unhappy or wealthy but dying. Many of those with less wouldn’t trade what they have because they are loving everything that is in their lives on a daily basis.
But, I digress again. Back to Africa. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Were there parts I didn’t enjoy? Also, yes. Was I surprised at certain things? Absolutely.
I loved how proud the people there were, and how often they would give everything they had, even though it was not much. I loved how appreciative they were of our time spent coming to see THEM. I loved learning new ways to dance, and understanding better how they communicate, and being able to explain to others here that what they thought was being communicated, actually may have been something different. I didn’t love the squat potties. Let’s be honest. It was nasty at times. I was grateful for hand sanitizer. I was grateful I don’t have to raise kids as a single parent living with HIV in a home smaller than my bathroom.
When asked if I would go back, I say that I would. That being said though, there are many places I have not yet gone on an adventure to, and perhaps I would like to go places for a first time first, than go back somewhere for a second time. I would like to go to Finland and see the Northern Lights with my Dad. I would like to go to Churchill, Manitoba and see the polar bears walking down the street with my own eyes. I would like to take our kids to Alaska and eat picnics along the way, and that is just the start of the list….
Everywhere I go in life I have the opportunity to learn about myself and to have the world opened up just a little bit more. For this I am grateful, and for Africa I am also grateful.