At first glace, the title of this post may make some believe that I’m a heartless human.
I met unique people on my long flights from Chicago to Canada, Canada to Ethiopia, Ethiopia to Congo, and Congo to Zambia. I ventured in deep conversation; aside from their constant broken English (or in some cases, my broken Spanish). Despite feeling dirty from almost 24 hours of plane riding in an economy seat surrounded by sweaty, exhausted people, my self-confidence was growing each step I got closer to Africa all by myself. Upon arriving, Africa wasn’t all that I had imagined it would be. I envisioned deserted, dry land full of wild animals and really dark-colored, skinny people. I never imagined there would be roads, cards, or buildings like I’m used to seeing in the U.S.A. For those of you who are as naive as myself, yes, there are parts of Africa that are urbanized!
I spent my short time in Africa in the country of Zambia. I did not stay in well-developed areas. Slums and poverty-stricken areas do exist like I had imagined. However, the imagination does not do this reality justice. Upon seeing children barefoot, covered in dirt, with big, swollen tummy’s and tiny bodies, I tried to swallow that lump in my throat and stood feeling helpless. The sting of salty tears filled my eyes. This I had prepared for, so I thought. I had prayed about it, told myself to expect it. No form of preparation: mentally, books, commercials on TV, etc. can help you when you see these sights for the first time. It’s devastating.
Everyday I worked for Haven of Hope, volunteer teaching at their school for orphan children. I grew close to a few of them and enjoyed getting to observe all of them. Each day that passed, I felt less sorry for them. It wasn’t that I didn’t have compassion for them. The feeling of wanting to take all of these kids home never went away, but I stopped feeling sorry for them. I wasn’t there long enough for anyone to say “you just grew numb to it.” No. No, I did not grow numb or get used to seeing these people in their condition. I still had to fight tears when walking some of the kids to their “homes” and saying goodbye nearly ripped my heart out. I felt less sorry for them as I got to experience what life was like for them and what it meant to them.
They appreciated food. They were patient. They played games using sticks and dirt; anything found in nature. They used their imagination. They took their education seriously. They relied on God. They were tough and didn’t cry over a scraped knee. There was no competition of brands or beauty. They weren’t obsessed with how they looked. They worked hard and didn’t complain about it.
I felt sorry at first. I felt sorry that they’ll never get to experience what a long, hot shower feels like or the convenience of driving rather than walking everywhere. I felt guilty that they didn’t have enough food or a wide variety of options. I felt bad that these kids didn’t have toys and couldn’t experience the joy a child feels when they go up a level on a video game. I was saddened by the rags they called their bed. Bubble baths, rubber ducky’s, and movies with a bowl of popcorn would never be a part of their lives. How sad, I thought.
Then something happened over my short time spent with them. I realized that they didn’t know life any other way; that they were content with their bed on the floor and their games made up of dirt and sticks. They were squealing with excitement over something as simple as receiving a sticker! I began to envy them as the days went on. I longed to be more like them. To appreciate the little things. To be stronger. To care about things that really matter. I no longer feel sorry for them. I adore them. I feel sorry for you and I who have not and probably will never experience life the way they do. We live in a place where many are consumed by looks, labels, and luxurious lifestyles. Where the kids in our lives wouldn’t know what to do without their iPad. I mean, heaven forbid I don’t have my cellphone or Mac laptop for a day. There’s a plethora of examples I could write regarding both sides, but the fact is we live in two very different cultures, two very different economic standards, yet share the same earth. We can learn from each other and that’s what I love about this place & my short time here.
I pray that no one takes this post out of context. By no means am I saying I do not want to help people who are living in poverty anywhere in the world. I wanted to share my personal thoughts and feelings on this subject as they have been weighing heavily on my heart lately. I hope you can take something positive from this and keep loving those around you.