Wednesday, January 20, 2010

[Africa] The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

It’s been a while now since I’ve been back from Africa (about 5 months) so I have had some time to reflect and process my experiences - and the love that came about :)

Before I get started, I am reminded of the discontinuity between experience and expression. It's nearly impossible for me to put into words how amazing the people and children that we worked with are, and what a true blessing it was to be given this opportunity to serve in the community. I may be limited by the use of my words, but I'm going to do my best to bridge the gap between what I actually experienced, and whatever comes out in this post!

SLOW DOWN --> For the first few weeks I was in Tanzania one of the greatest challenges was adjusting to the pace of life. It is much slower than the fast-paced American society where my day is jam packed without room for error (which I had grown to like) But this new pace was almost like living life in slow motion. Now this may sound silly, how could a slow paced day be challenging? It seems almost like a vacation, but my engine had been running on full speed for the past 4 years of college that I had forgotten what it was like to slow down and enjoy the ride. Instead of endless to do lists and time-oriented tasks, my days were filled with empty to do lists and love-oriented tasks.

Throughout the days I often lost track of time, but I feel that it went beyond that - as if I were lost in time itself. Slowing life down seemed to eliminate any superficiality that often drowns a face-paced society. Challenges were no longer skimmed at the surface and barriers were no longer conquered via short cuts, there are no short cuts.

As I emerged from this drowning state, I felt as if I could breathe deeper than I ever had before, it was life at its purest - completely exposed. This slow-paced environment leaves you with nothing but the core of life to embrace. The purity of this core is what I have been craving. Life was standing in front of my face the whole time, saying HOLD ON, let me show you something. Sometimes we feel we are too busy to stop, sometimes we just don’t want to stop because it may disrupt the momentum we have in our lives, but the amount of life that lies beyond my green planner is simply unbelievable. There is beauty that remains hidden in the minutes of our lives, it is up to us to choose to be aware of it or to let it pass with time. I encourage you to slow down, embrace that beauty, lose yourself in time, and maybe you will find yourself.

One of the most prominent characteristics among the locals was the emphasis on human relationships. Happiness was not based on money, or careers, or materialistic success, rather it came in the form of relationships and interactions. I realized that this truly is a fundamental aspect of life, mere human appreciation, yet it often falls short on the list of priorities here at home. The locals often engaged in conversations without hesitation, even though I enjoyed the chat I was unsure of what the other person’s motives were when the topics began to get more personal. Why did they want to know so many details? Why do they care if I just met them?

During a conversation I had with my group there was this idea that in short-term circumstances, people are only interested in bringing you into their lives when they get something out of it. I like to believe in the good of people so I didn’t feel aligned with this idea, but I soon realized that it is actually true! However, my initial idea of what people get out of it was completely wrong. The value lies in the interaction itself and in the relationship of that moment. Simply participating in a conversation and sharing parts of my life with others was a gift in itself. I know my friends and family care about these types of things, but I surely didn’t realize that other people (strangers) would find value in this - to my surprise, they did. It was genuine, it was real, and the barrier between my heart and this authenticity was myself. Being immersed in a community where all that some people had were each other reminded me that we ARE in this world together.

As I thought about the value of relationships in our lives, I couldn't help but ask myself, when was the last time I listened to a friend with my heart and not my ears? When was the last time I spontaneously stopped to talk to someone for 5 or 10 minutes? Passing hellos and rushed goodbyes were too often a part of my daily life...This plays into taking things in life for granted, including people and time. I am reminded to appreciate those in my life, and to shift my energy from school/work to the incredible people that fill my days - in this lies a true realignment saturated with REAL value. It intrigues me that these people in East Africa, who are considered to have next to nothing, really have more of what matters in life than many of us will experience. From a materialistic point of view, people may consider them to be poor and unhappy, but happiness goes beyond what our eyes can see and into a world where value lies in us - the truth is, many of these people are rich, with love - a true fortune of value.

It took me 39 hours and 17 minutes to get back to Phoenix, it was nothing short of a dizzy, mind-numbing return. The world was spinning as I attempted to process what the heck just happened in my life. My experience in Africa felt surreal, as if I was lifted out of my daily life and gracefully placed in a daydream. A dream that has enlightened my spirit and branded those Tanzanian smiles into my heart.
When I finally got home I felt as if I had awakened from that dream. As I opened my groggy eyes, the view was suddenly much larger than before. Was this real? What just happened? I went to Africa as an educator, with hours upon hours of pre field training, but no amount of training could have prepared my heart for what it was in store. I entered a whole new world, foreign to many aspects of my life both physically and mentally. Hope was taken to new heights and healing was completely re-defined. As memories emerge every now and then, I am often overcome with a sense of humbleness.

But this is no longer a dream, this is my reality, and this is our worldY


  1. Yackie, this was BEAUTIFUL! I had no idea you were such an eloquent writer. Also it made me emotional (not hard to do) and made me want to go to Africa. It also made me want to play with you ASAP... I think you should write a book. I would buy it. But only if you let me color some pictures for it.

  2. Ha I totally agree with Katie! I was blown away with your writing! You seriously should write books. Wish I were in Arizona to play with you too!

  3. awww thank you Katie(s)! I'm not sure if I'm qualified to write a book, but if I ever did I would totally let you color some pictures for it!! I love and miss you both! Let's plan some face time asap :)