It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky. And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.
If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.
If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike.
Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.
These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.
Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.
I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.
Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.
What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.
Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being.
Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.
On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.
The close to 26 hour travel from Florida Gulf Coast to my R & R destination in Finland was remarkably comfortable. Much thanks to my habit of paying practically everything on one airline card. Quite enjoyable indeed from the colorful, Africa-inspired sendoff in Philly to the delicious Money Monster accompanied dining onboard. Points still work.
After actually sleeping quite a bit over the Atlantic, and everything running on time in London, I arrived in Finland surprisingly intact. For someone who gets to see family ‘back home’ only about once a year these trips are always nostalgic. Many kinds of pictures from the past suddenly surface. Me as a toddler moving into our new home with mom, dad and baby sister. A home built by our dad. A home that still stands tall, here pictured on a moonlit night the week before last.
Me in elementary school. And the memory of laying down on this very school yard bleeding profusely after being hit right on the nose with a baseball bat by a fellow student in the PE class. A ring of worried people bending over me when I wake up. This eight year old’s Miss Universe dreams brutally smashed. But at least she got a few days off school while her eyes couldn’t see anything but the humongous nose.
Me in high school, and then as an undergraduate and graduate student in the big city of Tampere about 45 miles away from home. That was a wild time. Initially. But then we all mature and somehow life finds its intended path. I pass familiar places, but they are not the same. Like this old Orthodox Church next to my university. It used to reach for the blue skies all alone, but now has a backdrop of a brand new hotel tower. Progress.
When I pass my high school, I notice the Lutheran Church completed while I was a junior. Very modern architecture at the time, and in my eyes it still holds lots of appeal. I find comfort in the fact that at least a few places look like I remember them.
On the 3.5-hour journey from the capital to my childhood home, more familiar places fly by the window. Now illuminated by the late afternoon sun. And my early years come back to me with a profound sense of gratitude.
And soon I was there. At the lake that belongs to my childhood more than anything. And one that still symbolizes peace and tranquility in my life.
That first night I couldn’t resist going out to the backyard after the late dinner. I was marveling at the fact that dusk arrived only around 10 p.m. And the fact that my dear dad still kept a thriving garden.
That moonlit night I felt the peace of this wonderful spot on earth. And I knew those precious, long-awaited moments with family had arrived.
The toddler, teenager and adult merged into a surprisingly balanced whole and let out a long exhale into the cool night air.