It is that time of year again at GTL, when we begin our plans for the trip to East Africa. Our Board Members are, almost by definition, people who have fallen in love with East Africa. For some it has meant home and family; for others East Africa was where they discovered something new–something about themselves and about their world. So when I sent out the first feelers this year, I saw the wistful looks of those who simply could not join us and the spark of excitement from those who might.
Though each board member and guest pays his or her own way, the trip is in all honesty, not much of a vacation. We will probably split into two teams to cover three countries and twenty schools. At each school, we will sit down with our scholarship students one-on-one. Each interview is both incredibly fulfilling and pretty darn tiring. Some students are shy; some have all sorts of questions about our lives back in the U.S. Either way, there is an art to giving someone your full attention for that all too brief period of time. Some of excel at that–I have watched our President, Richard, get completely lost in a conversation with one of our students and forget the rest of us are a table away in the classroom while he starts explaining how he cares for his bee colony or listens to a young woman’s observations on her favorite class.
The travel between school visits is always an adventure, too. As the official planner of the trip last year, I pretended not to notice how anxious my troupe was as we approached the site of our next hotel. We have three criteria for choosing a hotel–price, safety and hot water. Let’s just say that these criteria don’t quite add up to a luxurious stay. And then there are the long distance van rides–pavement optional.
But there is something special about this trip. As we travel we meet teachers, taxi drivers, servers, farmers, mothers, cousins, preachers, bankers and herders. We sit together with whoever has joined our company that day to sip cold ginger drinks. and we talk about things that matter to all of us. We discuss iPads and politics–East African and U.S. since East Africans know all about both. We talk about weather and work and about schools. And when we climb back into the van for the next leg of our trip, we leave a little of ourselves and bring along a little bit of the men, women and children with whom we have spent time.
According to Merriam Webster, the word vacation comes from a 14th century term for freedom or exemption. The Africa trip is definitely not a vacation. It is, in fact, the reverse. When we return from Africa, we will be less free and less able to exempt ourselves from the world around us. We will be bound in beautiful, delicate threads to whole villages full of people and to the young women whose determination and talent brought us across oceans. It’s time for Africa! Adventurers welcome.