I didn’t have any expectations for my trip to Africa. I was caught up in a whirlwind of never-ending teacher responsibilities. I definitely looked forward to my trip and I couldn’t wait. In retrospect, I am happy that I made the decision to go. After visiting Uganda and Rwanda, my life will never be the same. I have a deeper understanding of 3 concepts that I knew about in theory, but now I understand and it all makes sense. Accepting people as they are, sustainable development, and gratitude.
1. Sustainable Development
Use what you got until you get what you need
When I was 21 I took a trip to Guatemala right before I graduated undergrad. It was a two-week trip that got cut short because of snow and the purpose was to teach us young adults about sustainable development. The main thing I learned was that sustainable development is about using the resources you have to complete necessary life tasks. What I saw in Uganda were people using what they had to get what they need whether it be food, water, or education. I visited the 2nd-grade classroom in Chihe Primary School and the teacher was teaching the kids vocabulary in their language. She used a chalkboard and a mini chalkboard to teach her lesson. She also had posters around her classroom with vocabulary in English and their native language. After she taught her lesson and sung a song using hand motions to help the students remember the words. Then, the students wrote the words in their journals and drew an example of the words. There were 55 students in that one class. She told me they can have up to 65 students in one class. The 2nd-grade class was broken up into 2 sections so altogether there were 120 students enrolled.
There are many examples of people using what they have in this school. From the teacher using her limited resources to teach, the principal using the teachers and space available, to the students with their journals and pencils. They might not have whiteboards and projectors, the ability to hire more teachers, or the space for more classrooms, but what they do have is a willingness to get it done. I’ll be honest I was surprised that the students got off task sometimes and played a little. I was expecting quiet students giving their full attention to the teacher. However, when the teacher corrected them they listened and on top of that she didn’t get angry at them. She looked over at me and said they are funny meaning they are playful and this is what I noticed at the school.
Riding down the street I saw women walking with babies tied to their back and baskets on their heads. I witnessed men with humungous bunches of bananas on the back of their motorcycles. I saw people coming from the field with huge bags of corn on their heads. I saw children carrying bundles of sugar cane. From the looks of it everyone played a part in community. Even the older adults worked. I didn’t look at these people with pity because of their lack of resources. I looked at them with admiration because they did what they had to do. They inspired me to take what I have and use it before I try to buy something new. Instead of being a consumer I can choose to live a semi-minimalistic lifestyle.
In 1994, I was 5 years old. I lived in Virginia with my mom and my sister who was 3 years old. We lived in an apartment with electricity and running water. Internet wasn’t a thing at that time and Google was not on our minds. I didn’t even know that you had to pay to eat at that time. All I knew was that I had what I needed and I felt safe. The concept of death was so far beyond me. In the same year, a genocide took place in Rwanda. Tutsi families fled to the churches because they thought they would be safe. They were not even safe in the church. 90 percent of the Tutsi population were slaughtered by the Hutu’s. Some were even killed by their own family members. This is not because the Hutu’s were marginalized and they wanted power. It was their hatred for their fellow brethren that caused them to attack. I grew up in the baptist church and hate was strongly advised against. You can dislike something, but hate was too strong and I finally understand why.
Learning about the genocide was shocking because it happened in my lifetime. It is not ancient history, it barely happened 50 years ago. It has been 26 years since the genocide. Since then, Rwanda has changed for the better. There are several memorials and it is important to tell their stories. These people were slaughtered because they were hated. They were not soldiers fighting a civil war, they were children, mothers, fathers, and grandparents that got killed for the simple fact that came from a certain family. Hate for a group of people is a problem because when you hate you no longer see the person as equal. You no longer see people as people.
Growing up I was told that first, you lie, then you steal, then you kill. This is how I was raised to tell the truth. Now I know it might be some truth to this process, so I won’t debate that, but I think it goes a little more like this – first you are divided by difference, then you hate, then you kill. The Hutu’s that killed were fathers and sons who fed into the hate speech and propaganda against the Tutsi’s. My conclusion is to accept people as they are. I know acceptance will not bring world peace nor stop people from hating. We do not have control over the world or other people. Acceptance is about controlling my area of influence. Acceptance doesn’t mean that I agree with everything everyone says. It means that I see people as human. One of the main reasons why I don’t like the 45th president is because of his divisive antics. I don’t have solutions for all of the complex issues of America, but I know that accepting and treating people like humans could prevent me from hating.
Going to the Chihe school in Uganda and learning about the genocide in Rwanda helped me to come to the conclusion that I don’t have any real problems. While I get upset when the internet is moving at turtle speed – teachers don’t even have computers. While I get bother from the lack of books in my school – there are teachers with no books at all. While I may get disappointed because I’m not where I want to be – some people do not have the opportunity to leave their community. I might not be a millionaire but I am rich. Now I understand what my pastor was preaching a long time ago after he took a group of people to South Africa. I am rich because I have air, running water, a tv, internet, a laptop. I can get my nails done and my hair has done. I have the luxury of even taking vacations.
There is a lot of information on the internet about how to live your best life. A lot of things revolve around money- marrying into it, ways to make it, or how to spend it. I don’t have a problem with financial stability, but one thing I try to remember is be happy with what I have. A little bit of gratitude can change my whole mood. Being grateful for what I have is what allows me to not fall into a depression about what I don’t have or who I am not. I am able to see someone else’s luxurious lifestyle and not get envious because I am in a pretty good space. Seeing the village people in Kisoro, Uganda helps me to understand that I have a lot. I may not own a huge house or a dozen shoes, but I have plenty of material goods. I am grateful for the things that I have and I understand that spending money is not the key to happiness.
Living your best life doesn’t have to be going on trips and seeing famous buildings. Living your best life is being happy with what you have and overcoming obstacles. When I post pictures of the places I traveled, some of my friends what to how did I get the opportunity to travel. The truth is I lost my desire to go places just for the sake of going. I want to go places and learn something new and have a new experience. Going to the Burj Khalifa is nice, but what can I take away from that? The best way to live your best life is to put yourself in an environment where you have to step out of your comfort zone. Traveling is great because you get to do that. However, you don’t have to travel the globe to get out of your comfort zone. It is as simple as dancing like no one’s watching or taking on a new hobby. Living your best life doesn’t have to cost money because it is not about the money, it is about growth and happiness.
I appreciate the opportunity I had to go to Africa. Take any opportunity to travel to West, East or South Africa, it is well worth it. The continent of Africa is vast and the land is absolutely beautiful. Rwanda is known as land of a thousand hills and there are no words to describe how wonderful it is. Comment below if you have been to or plan to go to a country in Africa. Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience. If you enjoyed this post please share on Facebook. Stay golden and keep shining!