My thoughts on Africa

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more.
Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Oskar Schindler: If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just...
Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Oskar Schindler: I didn't do enough!
Itzhak Stern: You did so much.
[Schindler looks at his car]
Oskar Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.
[removing Nazi pin from lapel]
Oskar Schindler: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this.
Oskar Schindler: I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't!

Processing through this trip IS a process. I realize it has taken me three weeks to get it all down in words. I plan on finishing documenting the trip and giving a recount of each day, each location, each story saw and heard. But before I do I need a moment to analyze.

This trip was so different from my last trip to Africa. When I went to South Africa it was the culmination of a very selfish dream. I wanted to see the country, meet the people, SAY i had been there. Even though my heart was in a place of compassion, my goal was not to serve the people of South Africa. This time everything was different. I am older, and while I wouldn't necessarily say wiser - I have had some life experiences that give me a different perspective. In 1998 when I arrived in Cape Town I was a single law student who had never really lived on my own. Sure I went off to college but there is such a security net. A 3 hour drive from home and a campus full of people just like me. I was fearless and ready to change the world and to absorb the entire experience. To this day I can't imagine how my parents just happily put their daughter on a plane alone, to live in a place she had never seen half way around the world. They knew it would make me a better person. So off I went, with no cares in the world my perspective then was different, my purpose was different.

In 2010 my life has a few more complications. Maybe complications is not the right word, more like responsibilities. I don't have the luxury of sitting down for 2 or 3 hours and just journaling my thoughts about my trip. For one, I have a full time job that I had to consider being absent from to go on this trip. I've mentioned before that my boss is one of my biggest advocates and not only was he supportive, but everyone I work with was excited for me. Another "small" change was that I have 2 children. Children who are at a very precious age. Children who love to be tucked into bed each night and get upset if their ritual prayers and good night wishes are interrupted. Children who I hate to leave each morning and long to be with each afternoon. Children that I wouldn't hear tell me they loved me for 10 days. And above all those changes I have a husband. A husband who shares my desire to use our resources to make the world a better place. A husband who works hard to provide for his family and to be the kind of father he was blessed to have. A husband who was willing to sacrifice to make this trip a reality for me.

And life has shown me things. Since I last went to Africa my father and father-in-law have both died. One unexpectedly and one as we anticipated, both leaving a gaping whole in our lives. My job has shown me things. Things that I couldn't imagine human beings would do to one another. The world has shown me things. As a country we have experienced tragedy and loss. And to top it all off we now have the Internet at our fingertips and with more information we have less communication.

As I process I realize that my heart is hardened in many ways. I am sceptical of people and their motives. I am not as quick to give the benefit of the doubt and even quicker to throw out a judgment.

But there is something about Africa that changes you to the soul. In many ways it is like holding a mirror up and seeing what your character is truly made of. As much as I think I am a grateful person, how would my attitude be if I lived in the shanties I saw. Or if I had to walk 4 miles to get water. How shallow am I for getting upset when they don't get my order right at a fast food place or if I have to wait 10 extra minutes for a prescription. I realize how entitled I have become. To look around and see these precious people with joyful smiles, it's humbling to think about what gets me in a bad mood.

(One of Bobbie Jo's beautiful images)

I also realize it is easy for me to have faith given the life I have. Africa brings about a lot of questions. How can this happen in a world that has so much? Why do the people allow their leaders to take advantage of them and why do the leaders think it is OK? Why did I get the opportunity to be raised by a stable and loving family when my birth mother could have so easily chosen abortion or tried to raise me herself or abandoned me like the children we saw. Why do I get to live in America, the land of plenty, and raise my children in a comfortable home? I have learned that I have to focus. There are not answers to these questions. I do not believe God wants me to be burdened by the guilt. I believe he wants me to be grateful for the blessings I have. More importantly it is what I do with those blessings that matter. As you stand in a sea of orphaned children and realize a few hundred dollars a year could provide clean water and clothes and education for them shouldn't that make you reassess where you spend your money? Do you really need that expensive purse or those fancy shoes (two things that ALWAYS seem important to me). As I chastise my children for wanting more, more, more am I any different?

An amazing photographer named Bobbie Jo Majors joined us on our trip.
Here she is during our first day of dental:

You can see her work HERE. She sent us a video she created. Please take a few minutes to watch THIS. She has been writing on her blog about what to do with everything she saw and felt. Thoughts of selling her home and giving up her business. It's a common internal struggle. Should I feel OK living my comfortable life? Do I really need all of the things I have grown accustomed to? It did make me think of the scene in Schindler's List where Schindler realizes all of the money he has squandered and how that money could have been used to save so many others. That was the angst we experienced, for the 450 we were able to see, there are still hundreds more that need our help. Did we do enough? It's a feeling I hope I never lose, that there is always more to be done. Part of what I should do is help and physically be the person that tends to the poor. The other part of my job is to let others know that they can make a difference. To put aside apathy or cynicism and just extend kindness. What do we do with our experience? We don't let it stay in the pictures....we take what we have and help those we can.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Rainey, So, So beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to write those thoughts out, and for letting us read them. I told you I can't visit your blog without crying! (though that is a great thing)