From the moment the wheels of the plane separated from the runway and I was airborne above the red soils of Africa, I already missed it. It is a place like no other, seeping into every corner of your mind, every pore of your skin, every beat of your heart. It can both frustrate and comfort you in ways you didn’t know were possible, bringing you to the edge of your patience, and then wrapping you in a blanket of its charm. There is a disappearing wildness in Africa, like much of the planet, it seems, as people continue to take over every last bit of this earth, and glimpses of a desperation to save what little is left. I think anyone and everyone who has even the slightest interest or curiosity about Africa should go, and really open your mind and heart to take it all in.
It was very odd to people there that I would travel alone, this seemed to confuse them. I don’t feel alone; it’s more like I’m with myself. I’m quite happy with my own company, just enjoying a place without the need for constant stimulus and entertainment. In general, I confused people all over the continent — being an unmarried woman in her forties who not only doesn’t currently have children, but doesn’t want any — well, they think this is so strange. If you are born female in Africa, as with many places around the world, your life is not your own — you are pre-determined to be a wife and mother. I’m so thankful to have been born in a place that would lead to choice. And that I have that freedom to choose. As much as I adore kids, I make a better aunt than I would mother, and that I had enough sense to know this and act accordingly makes me happy.
I also found it to be the case that in general Africans love Americans. One person I met, when I said I was from the U.S., excitedly chimed in with “Oh, USA! United Support of Africa!” I loved that. I think many of them assume that we’re all wealthy, which is definitely not the case, but perhaps by the standards of most of the population on the continent, we are, at least in a material sense. There were times that I felt like a walking bank, being either directly or indirectly hit up for money, and while it was not comfortable, I understood it. Zimbabwe is one of the poorest countries in the world, and averages about 95% unemployment. Just think about that for a moment. Ninety-five percent. That type of poverty creates a profound desperation, and everything that comes with it, including deceit, theft, and corruption. So I understood tourists being targeted, and as a guest in a foreign land, I gave what I could, whether it was my time, my knowledge, my compassion, and in some cases my financial support. Even if you could wave a magic wand and turn that country into a free democracy overnight, it would take several generations to change the mindset of the people, many of whom have learned to survive by whatever means possible.
Most of the people I met, in each place I visited, have a non-materialistic wealth in their life that is so much more than most Americans — it’s an internal peace and joy that radiates through them, and it’s a beautiful thing. After living out of suitcases for the better part of a year, I can confirm that we actually need very little in life. And being there either teaches or reminds you of that in a very real way every day. It’s impossible, if you’re really paying attention and drop your own self-focus, not to be humbled by it.
Part of my struggle now that I’m back in the U.S., is the overwhelming amount of excess that is all around us. We are addicted to acquiring things, and become beholden to them, caught in the machine that is our uber-consumerism culture. When you’re in it, and have lived this way your whole life, it may not be very obvious, but I can assure you after spending nearly a year in other countries and coming back to it, it’s overwhelming obvious. I don’t really get anxious, but just going to downtown Seattle the other day to meet a friend for lunch made my pulse race from the moment I walked out on the crowded streets, surrounded by people, some local, some tourists, with just block after block of shops full of stuff to spend money on, most of it things we don’t need. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m still a girl who appreciates the finer things in life, I just don’t have the means or desire to fill my life with them at the expense of my own freedom and perspective.
Which leads me to the burning question that so many seem to want to know: What’s next? You know what? I don’t know yet. Stop asking me. I appreciate the curiosity, especially to those who have been following my story, and are genuinely interested in the next chapter of the tale, I’m humbled by your interest in my life. But people, I just got off a plane a week ago, after spending a year traveling, most of which was spent helping raise some pretty amazing little lion cubs, and frankly, I’m still celebrating that. Because that was hands-down one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Let me have it for a few moments. And trust that I’ll figure out what’s next. I always do.
In the meantime, offer up your couch. Tell me about your life. What has changed in the last year. Are you growing? Are you excited about the future? What’s next for you?
P.s., When you have these types of life changes, you really find out who your friends are, and the depths of their generosity. What you may not know about me is that it is really hard for me to ask for help. I’m very independent and am used to always taking care of myself, earning my keep, and paying my own way. I’m typically more comfortable giving than receiving. Not because I have any issues of my own self-worth, but rather the opposite — I know where I’m blessed and I am happy to share what I can with others.
So for everyone who has been a true friend, from the time I starting planning this journey, helping with my moving sale, selling my house, helping me with my blog, airport drop-offs and pick-ups, taking care of my car, letting me store some of my things with you, opening your homes to let me stay with you, picking up the tab, listening to my stories, cheering me on, and just generally being part of my amazing support system, both near and far: THANK YOU. Those two words are inadequate to express my gratitude. I’m so blessed to have such an amazing group of people in my life. It’s my most precious gift in this life, and I treasure each and every one of you.