It’s an odd existence to live out of backpacks and suitcases, something that I’ve been doing for eight months now. It teaches you, or reminds you, depending on your current perspective, just how little we really need to get by. That all of the truly important aspects of our lives are not things that we physically pack around, but rather that we possess internally, sharing connections with the people, places, and natural world around us. When I think back, I guess I started the metamorphosis some years back, first in small ways, such as foregoing material gift giving at Christmas in favor of charitable giving and sharing experiences with loved ones, to more recently shedding half of my possessions, selling my home, and hitting the road with no more than what fits in two bags. All of our things… it’s just stuff. When all is said and done and we leave this plane of existence for another we don’t take any of it with us. But we sure do obsess about it while we’re here. I like my creature comforts as much as the next person — I just don’t let my things own me.
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When you’re in a very impoverished place, materialism is an uninvited guest that talks too loud, overeats, and falls asleep sweating and snoring on your couch — very uncomfortable and unwelcome. To truly appreciate what it means to live here, you have to open the doors of your mind to a whole other existence. Zimbabwe is said to be the second poorest country in the world, and if you look past the tourism and associated economy, it’s in plain sight in every aspect of life. If I didn’t have perspective on the fallacy of a materialistic focus, I certainly do now. What I don’t think I’ll every lose is a keen awareness of the value of a dollar and what it takes to manage a budget and keep a safety net. This is engrained in my DNA, and in many ways is a gift, but can sometimes be a roadblock.
This really showed up in my recent research for options for some additional travel in Africa before I leave the continent in August. As long as I can remember, my interest in visiting Africa was specifically to see the Serengeti, Masai Mara, and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as to find opportunities to volunteer in a meaningful way, not just be a tourist. I’ve accomplished the latter, and will have spent eight months in Africa by the end of my volunteer time (two months) and internship (six months), all but a month of which has been in two parts of Zimbabwe. And I’m grateful for the experience and the immeasurable gift that it has been. I haven’t really experienced much of Africa, despite this long stay. So I began to search for options to see those places that have been calling to me since I was a kid. And I found various options, from overland camping to luxury accommodations.
Do you see where this is going?
I have a complex combination of refined taste that occasionally goes slumming. Given the opportunity, I will take high thread count sheets and nice towels, yet I have been able to deal with eating three meals a day out of kitchen that is a hotel for all sorts of insects, and I have learned to not over think it, otherwise I’d starve. I prefer nice, but I can cope with much less. So naturally, when looking at the various safari options, the one that I really wanted to do is a nicer trip, and I entered the blender that is my analytical mind, mulling over whether I should do it or not. I have a certain figure in my mind for my ending bank account balance at the end of all of this travel, and this additional travel plays a bit close to that line. I tend not to be financially impulsive, and in considering this trip for the last few weeks, I kept hearing the background soundtrack from my youth — would this be the sage thing to do? Not “Do I deserve it?” or “Am I worthy?” or that nonsense, as that’s not my issue. But rather, “Is it financially responsible?” — the ever-present thorny rose bush of fiscal responsibility that I inherited, with all of its prickly and beautiful parts.
And then I woke up and remembered my dream.
So at the end of my internship in August, I’m going to Kenya and Tanzania as I’ve always imagined, with a bonus stay in Zanzibar at the end. And I’m going to enjoy every glorious moment. Carpe diem, people. Use the nice towels. Have dessert. Take that trip. The days are long and the years are short. Invest in you. It’s always worth it.