07.20.11 by jules
I may delete this post tomorrow (which is now today). Heck, I may wake up in a couple of hours and delete it tonight. It’s certainly not the fascinating first post I’ve been desperately trying to carve out for the last week that will draw thousands of readers to come and bask in the glory of my brilliance. But it actually exists so I guess that’s a plus. Anyhow, I just wanted to let you know that I love Africa. No, I haven’t been there (yet). I know it sounds weird for the white, suburban girl from Texas who’s never been out of the country to declare an undying love for another continent, but I have good reasons, well, I think they’re good reasons. I’ll try to list them in approximately the order that their influence came to bear on my life.
1. I grew up with a mother who went to Bible college to be a missionary. Then she met my dad, got married, had some kids and ended up about an hour away from her birthplace. God bless her. She still insists that her number one life goal above pursuing the mission field was to be a mother. God bless her twice. (Thanks God, you’re super duper!) Of course, this meant that my sisters and I grew up with a healthy appetite for the international community, but not the lush, touristy, floating down a Venetian waterway sipping wine kind of international adventure. Instead we were raised to crave the mud huts, the tiny hospitals, and the company of people who speak different languages and don’t see the world the way white, middle-class, suburban Americans do.
I will never recover from those first moments of Meryl Streep’s beautiful accent saying, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills.” It tears my soul to pieces and puts it back to together in an Africa-shaped patchwork.
It made me think for a long time about how I could be of use to people who don’t think like I think, don’t believe what I believe, don’t worship like I worship, whose lives orbit a totally different cultural norm. It taught me not to run people over, even if they’re poor and uneducated. It’s not my place to save them from themselves. This book taught me to walk into another country with my eyes wide open, not just to see what new things were around me, but to see what my presence there was affecting. To enter a culture so unlike one’s own is a little like traveling back in time; you’ve got to try to avoid stepping on butterflies, so you don’t screw things up for everyone.
An accidental Christmas present, it fired up the old flame. And did so with a beautiful, tragic, poetic voice.
When I had begun to forget Africa, to seek other frontiers, it brought me back. And it’s still tearing up my soul.
Recently I saw a news piece about the Somalian refugees fleeing the current drought. For an instant, I sat at the table and pondered. I thought about leaving my last three semesters of college, my home, my family, my job and getting on a plane and flying to Kenya and finding a way to the refugee camp and asking the tall, African doctor I had just seen interviewed how I could help him help these people. Maybe it’s silly, maybe it’s insane, maybe I’m grossly romanticizing what will be a disheartening and difficult task. I can’t help it. Baroness Blixen said:
If a person with an inborn sympathy for animals had grown up in a milieu where there were no animals, and had come into contact with animals late in life; or if a person with an instinctive taste for woods and forest had entered a forest for the first time at the age of twenty; or if someone with an ear for music had happened to hear music for the first time when he was already grown up; their cases might have been similar to mine.
Maybe it’s inborn or instinctive or maybe I grew into it, but something about Africa makes my heart beat differently and I just can’t explain it.