About a year ago, I went on a trip to Tanzania with a group of students from my university. Our group was a cohort of global scholars, and this was our first trip abroad. We were learning about the healthcare system in Tanzania. I learned so much not only about the healthcare system but about the culture. The biggest lesson I learned was that Africans aren’t poor.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. How could I possibly be saying this when there are constantly commercials littering our television screens giving us proof of their poverty by asking us for our money to feed the starving children or provide them with a mosquito net? From a financial standpoint, you could consider many African countries to be behind or lacking resources in many ways.
What I’m talking about is that they are rich in love, rich in culture and rich in values. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a more welcoming culture in my life, and that made my transition into a completely unexplored environment so much easier. Every time I passed someone at a hospital we visited, or a village we went by, I heard the words “Karibu sana” (which means “You are very welcome” in Swahili).
To me, those words meant so much. To know that I was welcomed into another country (even another continent for that matter) with such love and open arms made me feel at peace. I felt so grateful to be surrounded by a culture that was so loving. We would be on the bus riding to our next destination, and I would look out the window and all it took was to simply make eye contact with somebody and the biggest smile would appear on their face and they would excitedly wave and yell out “Jambo!” (Which means “Hello!” in Swahili.)
These are things we definitely don’t see in America.
Many of you might also think what I saw were streets filled with debris, starving children and poor families begging with looks of despair on their faces. It was quite the contrary. Their culture is remarkable.
Tanzania was full of beautiful landscapes, vibrant colors and lively people to match it. I could see Mount Kilimanjaro from the front porch of the place I slept at every night. I went on an actual safari, and we drove through Tarangire National Park watching giraffes, elephants, zebras, and so many other animals roam free in their natural habitat (it wasn’t a zoo — how cool is that?).
I visited the native Masai Tribe and dressed in their clothes, held their hands and danced with them. I was not only able to observe the culture of Tanzania, but I was able to participate in it. I could completely submerge myself in the experiences I was having so I could really know the true happiness these people feel.
These people may not have everything they want in the world, and they definitely don’t always have everything they need. But they always have enough to live life simply and survive. They are working to live their lives just as we are. They have families to support. We could definitely learn a few things from these people.
This is why they are rich. These people have enough, and they are happy.
So the next time you see a sad commercial about Africa on TV, remember that there are so many people out there waiting to welcome you into the richness of their culture.
If you ever have the opportunity, go for it.