Personal Post: How Africa Changed Me

Last night, I was having a conversation with my father and he asked how I was adjusting at home after my 2-month long trip to Tanzania.  I’ve been back for about 3 weeks and while 2 months may or may not seem like a long period of time to you, it certainly was not long enough for me when I was having the best experience of my life to date.  I said to him, “Nothing’s changed here. Everything’s still the same." He said, “Everything isn’t the same. You’ve changed”.

When I first heard I’d be going to Tanzania for work, I was so excited for so many reasons. I was excited to add yet another stamp to my passport. I was excited to finally travel for work, as this would be my first trip with my employer and our primary mission involves aiding foreign countries. I was excited to go somewhere not everyone had the opportunity to go…for free, no less.  But I never expected this trip to have such a profound impact on me.  So, here’s how Africa changed me:

1) It fed my adventurous spirit.  Each day presented a new opportunity for adventure.  Whether it would be during weekend trips exploring the country, or finding a place to get my nails and hair done, I was determined to see as much as I could and make each day different than the last.

2) I have a better appreciation for Mother Nature.  People who know me know that I’m not the biggest fan of wildlife or nature.  But during my trip, I saw things that not everyone gets a chance to see in their lifetime.  I swam with wild dolphins, was an arm’s length away from lions, grounded coffee beans, ate fruit straight from tree and was almost charged by elephants, among many other amazing things.  And besides all that, the mosquitoes and flies won’t let you forget they exist, but my safari tour guide helped me to understand that everything in nature has a purpose.  I saw the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen and now understand the natural lure of Africa.  Tanzania is the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to.  But the jury is still out about the mosquitoes and flies.

3) I enjoy traveling alone.  As I said, this wasn’t my first trip out of the country, but it was the first time I traveled alone internationally.  Usually, I’m with a group of friends so there are more opinions than my own to consider.  But I was free to do what I want, when and how I wanted, and didn’t have to consult anyone but myself.  Pure awesomeness.  Every now and then I wished I had a friend there to share an experience, but then I’d remember this was a part of my unique journey and learned to revel in it.

4) My colleagues showed me how to be a really great hostess.  The warmth and generosity I felt from my Tanzanian colleagues was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  They took me under their wings and honestly, I’ve never felt more welcome in a new environment…4,000 miles away from home.  I was away from my family and friends, which forced me to leap out of my comfort zone and form relationships with complete strangers.  I actually feel like I share a bond with the people I met in Tanzania that no one else will understand.  They wanted me to see Tanzania from their perspectives and show me how proud they were of their country. And for that, I am forever grateful for them.

5) The people knew what life is truly about.  I had the opportunity to tour the city of Dar es Salaam and some more rural parts of Tanzania.  While some areas were severely poor, the people were some of the most content people I’ve ever seen.  “Love is love” is what our tour guide said to us while we took the Afriroots biking tour.  He said this is how the people of Tanzania view life.  They may not have a lot of money or own a ton of possessions, but they have each other.  How awesome is that?

6) I have a different perspective on Africa.  Let’s be honest.  The media doesn’t portray the African continent in the brightest light.  But truth be told, Dar es Salaam had a vibrant city center, booming with new construction and will probably be a hub for big business in Africa within the next 10 years.  It’s not as developed as some major U.S. cities, but there are some rural cities in America that could have taken a page out of Dar es Salaam’s book.  Just saying.

7) I learned so much about myself.  That sounds so cliché, but it’s the absolute truth. I’ve never lived overseas for an extended period of time.  I found myself immersed in an unfamiliar culture and instead of sinking, I chose to swim.  I tried new foods, drank new drinks, talked to people I wouldn’t normally and learned to sit back and observe my surroundings.  I learned that I’m strong and have a healthy curiosity for life.

8) I appreciate home.  While I loved mostly every aspect of my trip, I developed a new appreciation for home.  I’ve been extremely blessed with great parents who’ve provided an amazing life and have given me the tools I need to succeed in life.  I couldn’t ask for more.

It almost feels weird titling this post “How Africa Changed Me” because Africa is a continent, and I’ve only been to one African country so far. But I imagine I will have similar feelings about any other African country I visit in the future. I felt connected to Tanzania in a way that I have never felt to a foreign country before, and feel really fortunate that it had such a positive, lasting impression.  I’m sure the others will not disappoint.