Remembering Africa

Maasai Girl
Maasai Girl

I’ve been following Global Grazers, and each time I read a new post, I want to return to Africa!  Harold Green‘s  striking photography of  Masaai people always tugs at my heartstrings too. Digging through my archives, I found an essay I wrote 3 years ago about my experience in Tanzania (when I wanted to be a nurse) and decided to share this with you today.

Remembering Africa

The gravel spit out beneath the bus wheels as we began the tired journey to Mount Kilimanjaro Airport.  Wedged between Jackie and Dora, overwhelmed by my three-week Tanzanian odyssey, I fought back tears and then finally succumbed.  Hands waved frantic good-byes from the bus windows as we crept towards the gate of the YWAM base.  Children clamored through the dusty road around us, chasing kittens and screaming wildly, blissfully unaware that their new American friends were flying home and would not be there for breakfast in the morning.  

My eyes wandered across the sea of smiling faces, indigenous people who spent hours cooking for us, translating for us, and graciously tolerating our horrible foreign habits.  I was suddenly struck by the unfortunate fact I hadn’t really formed strong bonds with any of them.  

Grueling hours had been spent in clinics, my heart breaking over a plethora of ailments.  My first patient had been an old Maasai man suffering from cataracts, among other things.  Listening to the soft crackle in his lungs, I observed the lice infesting his worn red warrior blanket and struggled to stand against the wave of sadness.  Later I would be affected by an HIV positive baby with twisted limbs and a cadaverous 8 month old Maasai child dying of malnutrition.  Mothers scrambled for a place in line as infants hid beneath blankets on their backs, waiting for hours to receive care.  

Perhaps I was too emotionally exhausted after all I’d seen to connect.  Most evenings passed in a blur of cold showers, food I couldn’t identify, and Malorone induced nightmares.  I lamented the fact that the long hours of service amounted to so little in the grand scheme of things. My evanescent presence would quickly fade under the harsh African sun while I returned to a country with air-conditioned waiting rooms, privacy curtains and cable television.     

Of course that wasn’t all there was.  There were crowded trips on the “dahla dahla” into Arusha for chocolate, heated discussions over the price of drums in the Maasai market, thieving monkeys, and zebras scratching their bellies on rocks in Ngorogoro Crater.  I would be processing this trip for months to come. 

I wrestled with my mixed emotions as a sturdy dark hand reached past the other passengers and into the small opening of the bus window.  I felt a calloused, dark hand against my cool, pale skin.  “God, see this woman’s tears and return her to Africa.”  The man’s voice was deep and prophetic, and it immediately dried my eyes.  There was a finality in those words that deeply resonated within me.  Despite the heartache and the nescience of events I considered failures, I knew I would indeed return.  It was as though his spoken words had already been written.  He dropped my hand and stepped back from the bus.  

I would reflect on his words often over the next couple of years, pouring through book after book about Africa, searching for ways to connect. Africa is a beautiful thief who can steal your heart while you watch, unapologetic for the sin.  She buries it deep within her troubled soil where it grows roots.  You can fly ten thousand miles across the world to a place you consider home, but she calls you back, either with mournful cries or seductive beauty.  Either way, your soul is no longer your own.

4 thoughts on “Remembering Africa

  1. Oh Jolene, what memories! I also worked here before living here, So, I absolutely identify with your experience. I’m certain your impact on the community you visited was much greater than you realize and hope you get to visit again soon!

  2. Very well written! Thanks for sharing! Africa indeed has a musical, cultural and geographical charm about it. The unending smiles add to the already bright sun!

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