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Planning for Africa

I have been on a short hiatus from the blog while we all turned our attention to our first ever photography exhibit. Fifteen years of visiting East Africa with some great photographers plus our first batch of photos from the students at St. Kizito in Uganda made for a very difficult process of selecting the winners for our exhibit. We at Growth Through Learning owe a special thanks to the folks at Reasons to Be Cheerful in West Concord, MA who hosted the exhibit for a month and took wonderful care of everyone. If you are ever in the neighborhood, don’t forget to stop by for their ice cream.

Now, though, it is time to get ready for the annual trip. Traveling around the world to meet new people is fantastic…but traveling back to see them again is so much more wonderful. This year, we have old friends–Omondi John of Kenya, Abey from Allen Safaris, the amazing family from AMEG Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania and many others–at the ready for our arrival. I’ve been thinking that our greatest challenge will be finding room for all of the gifts in our bags (the cocoa mix and books will travel easily enough, but I imagine I will have to deflate the basketball somehow).

Just when we thought we had everything in hand, however, came news that Nairobi’s major airport, Jomo Kenyatta had caught fire. Here’s a photo from aftermath from the Washington Post:


Our Kenya friends were immediately reminded that this was the anniversary of the 1998 American Embassy bombing. Here in the U.S. echoes of other, more recent terrorist attacks reverberated as our State Department continued to issue vague, panicked warnings of international terrorist plots. How sad is it when electrical fires sound like a good thing?

The fact is that terrorism has become a thing that binds together people  all over the world. I don’t mean the bonds, real or imaginary, between those who identify themselves with this form of violence; I mean that a new brand of world wide sympathy has developed around our experiences of “terrorism”. People from almost any place now recognize that nauseating sensation when you learn that someone who is part of your nation, your religious community, your ethnic community or your gender has been assaulted for nothing more substantial than an abstract idea–as if any living person could be less important than idea.

Sometimes meeting people from other places and other cultures for the first time feels very much like encountering an idea of a person–we can get tangled in that other-ness despite our best intentions. But this is why the return is so very important. On the return, we see all the quirks and contradictions, the pet peeves, the funny habits and the foolish loves that reveal our ideas of people to be the simple, flimsy things that they are.

The good news out of Nairobi this morning is that the airport authority has everything well in hand. We leave on September 10 and expect a safe and easy landing in Nairobi.

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