There is so much that I will remember about Africa. As I sit here on the plane, an hour from Amsterdam, I have countless images and snippets of memories flashing through my head. I cannot possibly relate all of my wonderful experiences in East Africa over the past 3 weeks, but I can describe my most vivid memories, the ones that I think will remain with me for a long time. This is one in particular that stands out as the most vivid.
This memory is of a girl who looks about 13 years old, but is probably more like 19. She is wearing a torn cream-colored shirt made of course fabric and a skirt that is almost transparent it is so thin and ripped and uneven on the bottom. Her skin is dry and dusty and the lost expression in her eyes makes me think that she lives her life in a cloud of red dust. Her stare is vacant and weary. She has a baby strapped to her back with the same course fabric that her shirt is made of, and it looks uncomfortable, but the baby doesn’t seem bothered; she has the same stare. I wonder if the mother’s stare is caused by hopelessness after walking from car to car that is stuck in Kampala traffic, hand stretched out, being ignored by impatient drivers sitting in air-conditioned Prados and listening to the radio behind closed windows. Or maybe the vacancy in her eyes signifies a kind of hunger that I have never experienced before, a hunger that shuts down her ability to interact with the external world, to even to pay attention to it, to comprehend it. As I’m sitting in the air conditioning watching her, I am thinking about a number of things. One of them is that I am lucky to possess enough energy to take in all that is surrounding me in this beautiful country. I wonder if she sees it too. I also wonder what it would be like to cling to your last drop of energy, of survival, with a baby on your back, knowing that you can’t give up. If I were her, I would want to dissociate from my surroundings too, especially if my surroundings were hundreds of people, wealthy enough to own cars and pay for petrol, glancing nervously at me through the window, but refusing to acknowledge my existence. When you are the one sitting in the air conditioning, it is easy to turn your head the other way in the face of poverty, and as horrible as it sounds, sometimes you have to. If you were to acknowledge her, there would be twenty more girls and boys and babies smearing their fingers across your car windows. And you want to help, but the problem is too big.
So many thoughts and questions filled my head as I watched her standing outside the passenger’s side only two inches from my window, trying not to make eye contact. I wondered if she ever talked to her baby or played with her, or if the baby would grow up to be 19 years old and wander around, weaving through stopped cars stuck in Kampala traffic, begging.
All in all, Africa taught me more than I ever thought it could, and it also left me with a million questions. I’ll never, EVER forget this experience!