Continuing with the age of innocence theme...I started thinking about a time in my life when I had no cares, no worries, no stress. Did I ever just take off, not worry about plans, tasks undone and responsibilities?
My memories of such a time in my life have been jolted in the last day or so. My dearest friend Niels has shown up on facebook and along with him are the memories of the best trip I have ever taken. Without him, my first trip to Africa would not have happened. I had no business, no rational reasoning to go there. I was 22, had no job, very little money, no concrete plans for the future, and now that I think about it...no home to even call my own. Yet, I took what little money I had, wrapped up my year of living in the Netherlands, packed a suitcase and headed out to Zimbabwe with him and another friend for a month of ridiculous abandonment, choices that would shock even the wild at heart, and enjoyed life in all its hilarity, love, and adventure.
At the beginning of the trip we stayed with Niels' parents who were living in Harare, Zimbabwe. Then we took off, backpacking our way through South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, returning to Zimbabwe. We began the journey on a train still emblazoned with its Rhodesian logos from the colonial days. There were no concrete plans, no reservations made, no tickets purchased. Therefore, the trip included walking, hitchhiking (yes, hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere), school bus-type transportation, a plane (Air Botswana) and the back of a pick-up truck for 7 hours. We mostly tent camped with a brief reprieve at some friends of Niels' parents. We ran out of local currency, yes, money. We opted to eat only a pack of mints in order to drink a Zambezi, saw elephants from 100 feet, got chased by monkeys, saw the "last Eden on earth," ate impala schnitzel, had some digestive issues, took outdoor showers, went to a few discos, held snakes, drove on the "wrong" side of the road, met a real mercenary, made a missing persons report to the police, saw one of the 7 wonders of the world, visited a country in the midst of enormous change and hope, got lost, laughed, cried (maybe that was just me) and LIVED.
It was during this part of the trip when my eyes were opened to how most of the world lives. It was during this part of the trip that I felt I was truly living, sucking every ounce of emotions and experiences from every day. It was during this trip that I felt the most confidence in my abilities to handle anything that came my way. I am forever indebted to Niels for inviting me to tag along on such a life-altering trip.
My heart sinks when I read about the calamity that has befallen Zimbabwe. A country of such promise in the early 90s, now racked with scandals, political destruction and the AIDS epidemic. I wonder what the slums of South Africa have become since the fall of apartheid, as we saw the hope in the eyes of the people of that country only 6 months after it was abolished. I don't know anyone who has ever been to Africa who wasn't deeply moved by the tension between beauty and despair. It is a continent that quickly creates passion and carves a lasting mark in the hearts of every visitor. A place that exists, defying the odds on so many levels. I know there is a little hole in my heart created by the piece I left in Africa over 14 years ago and made larger by a second trip 6 years ago.
My second trip was much different - a missions trip to Ghana. I loved every minute I was there and I long for more of it. I dream of once again holding the little orphan girl in Ghana in my arms while the harmonic sounds of the orphan choir sing praises. I never think about those places without believing one day I might return on a more lengthy basis. How, where and why, I do not know.
Until then, I will think about how life has propelled me to lose some of that spontaneity and become the uber responsible, somewhat fearful, worried, self-doubting mom and wife. I think it is time to reclaim that independent and adventurous girl from 1994. Today, it is never too late to be...Forever Young.