As I watched a power-point presentation displaying scenery that mirrored that of the Lion King there developed within me a thirst to know where this place was. My teacher proceeded to tell me that these were photos he had taken from his trip to Tanzania. I had to go. It was expensive, it was a lot of homework, but I had to go. Immediately I told my parents about the trip. My excitement confused them. They couldn’t understand why someone would want to go to Africa for fun. I wanted to see the beauty, I wanted to meet the people and hopefully better understand a culture of people before American slavery.
My journey to Africa began on a Thursday morning at 10:00am. I waited for the Andrews coach bus outside Harrigan Hall with my classmates with great anticipation. As we loaded the bus and began our quick ride to O’Hare airport in Chicago, I quickly realized that this bus ride would not compare to the long airplane ride to Amsterdam and then Kilimanjaro.
When we reached the airport, our group made one huge line resembling that of Christmas shopping lines. The airport assistants had to tell us to move because we were blocking the entrance. This excited me. To see people that I went to elementary and high school with and also people that I don’t know waiting to get on the plane. The anticipation of going to another country and being able to interact with people from all walks of life and from all kinds of cultures.
We finally got on the plane and it was almost immediately that I was filled with elation. I had been to London, England but I had never been to Amsterdam, and I definitely haven’t been to Africa. It was then that the realist within me began to squash all my joy and began to bring every negative thought to my mind. I suddenly began to worry about sickness and creepy crawlies, nasty food and itchy bites. Spiders slowly crawling inside my ears and laying multiple little white eggs. I occupied my time by watching my childhood favorite cartoons.
Upon our landing in Amsterdam we waited to board for Africa. Instantly my feelings of thrill and exhilaration returned. The thought of returning to the continent where my roots began truly fueled my alacrity. I couldn’t wait to see what Africa was really like. Beyond the National Geographic, beyond the poverty; Africa in all it’s glory. I longed for the luscious greenery, the vibrant colored flowers, the accents of the Natives, the majesty of the animals, the scrumptious taste of the food, but more importantly I could not wait to find the similarities and connections. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Human beings are more alike than unalike, and what is true anywhere is true everywhere, yet I encourage travel to as many destinations as possible for the sake of education as well as pleasure.” I longed for this education she speaks of, I desired the pleasure she admits to, and I couldn’t wait for the correlations between my culture and theirs.
Everyday in Tanzania I was smiling. I loved meeting and talking to the drivers about their personal lives and their history. Seeing how they eat and carry themselves really connected with me because I saw a bits and pieces of my own African American culture. The rice and chicken at every meal, the hospitable service reminded me of my grandmother, and the way they dressed very professionally but with a bit of flare reminded me of my father and brother. The shiny shoes, the vests, the suits, I looked around and felt like I saw my family. The atmosphere itself was mind-boggling. I couldn’t understand why I felt so at home. I felt like I was returning to a place that I had never been. Experiencing something that I felt I had already experienced, déjà vu without having the previous encounter.
Africa is known as the “mother land”, and the home of “roots”; roots to heritage, history, and place of understanding. Roots are realizations of origin through serendipity, and this realization was baffling, life changing, and unforgettable. A few of my roots were found in Tanzania through the church service, the food, and the dress. It’s amazing what you can experience when you step outside of your own backyard. But what’s even more amazing is when you find something familiar in someone else’s back yard.