By Erin Kesler, Boston College
I have said it at least 20 times today but I am in Africa. It still hasn’t soaked in yet. I’ve only been here a little over 24 hours and I have already decided I was born to be an international traveler. There is no place I would rather be right now than exactly where I am.
To be honest, I barely made it here. When I arrived to my gate, freaking out with excitement, I discovered that my connecting flight to Detroit was delayed almost an hour. Considering I only had an hour layover in Detroit to begin with, I was panic stricken. I was certain I was going to miss the plane to Amsterdam and subsequent flight to Kilimanjaro. I thought the entire trip would be ruined.
Luckily, on the plane I befriended Gary, my guardian angel seatmate who knew the airport in Detroit like the back of his hand. With less then ten minutes before my first international flight, I rode the new speed tram and sprinted to gate A50 from A10. They were seconds away from closing the gate but I made it just in time. As I ran, dripping sweat, I asked the lady at the gate if there was any chance my luggage would make it on the plane. She said if I made it on, my luggage would. Liar.
My flight to Amsterdam was a natural high unlike anything I have ever experienced. I couldn’t grasp that I was actually flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Insanely excited, I stayed wide awake the entire seven hour flight. I watched The Dilemma and Life as We Know It, played trivia, and observed the tracking feature map the A330 aircraft’s journey from Detroit to the Netherlands. As I watched the dotted line representing the distance between the site of my departure grow longer, I was filled with overwhelming anticipation. I was actually going to Africa.
The airport in Amsterdam almost scared the crap out of me. I couldn’t find a screen with all the departure gates for a good ten minutes and I found myself completely out of my element for the first time in my life. I had never been in a situation where being an American wasn’t the norm and I felt out of place. After a little persistence, I located my gate and began a mini-security check process to be cleared to fly to Kilimanjaro.
I instantly began looking around the terminal for any sign of other Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) volunteers. It wasn’t long before two girls in my program sat down next to me. Our nervous glances eventually conveyed to each other that we were in the same boat. It was an instant relief that I would know at least two people who seemed nice and as unprepared as me.
By the time we boarded the plane to Kilimanjaro, I was completely exhausted. I slept for a good six hours, waking up only to eat a delicious meal of pasta, bread, salad, and creme puff dessert. Looking out my window and watching the sun set over Africa was a surreal experience. I felt an overwhelming realization of what a minutely small part of the world I am accustomed to, and how vast and beautiful the planet really is.
Arriving in Kilimanjaro offered an entirely new experience for me: customs. We had to wait in a long line, in an un-air-conditioned building with lots of bugs. When we reached the counter, our passport and visa were checked and we were fingerprinted. I wasn’t sure why we were being fingerprinted but with the language barrier it was a little difficult to ask, let alone understand.
What I did understand was the absence of my luggage. As all the other volunteers gathered their luggage, I remained empty handed. That flight attendant was full of crap. An employee assured that my luggage would be delivered to the CCS house or that CCS would make arrangements to come pick the luggage up. I wanted to tell him that wouldn’t help the current situation, but I didn’t think that would help my chances of him being helpful.
As I stepped outside the doors of the airport, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated and disappointed. Yet, I looked up at the sky and saw more stars than I had ever seen. The lush greenery towered around me and swayed with the humid, gentle breeze. The CCS vans were being filled by happy, chattering volunteers who would all grow to be my friends in less than 24 hours. I was in Africa – what could I possibly be upset about?
I am a “Mzungo” – it means foreigner in Swahili. However, when I say that, I don’t only mean a foreigner from America visiting Tanzania. I feel as a young woman about to set out on the greatest adventure of her life. I am still a foreigner to myself. There are so many things that I have yet to learn and experience, and I don’t think there could be a better blank tapestry to paint the beginning of this portrait of my life than the country of Tanzania.
I’ve already learned that there are more important things than your luggage making it to the airport. Life’s about the journey. It’s about doing things you never thought you could do and pushing yourself to be better everyday. It’s about rediscovering what you believe in and making that life a reality. As I think about the events of my day, struggling through jet lag, I couldn’t be more thrilled that my journey has led me to Tanzania