I have a fear of flying. I have been flying since I was about two years old and at least once, if not multiple times a year. Growing up I loved airports, the early morning wake ups by mom and dad to grab our stuff and head to our 7am flight, the excitement of the sun rising while your luggage was packed away in the backseat and your headphones were in. Flying was a breeze to me. When I hit middle school, my grandmother revealed her fear of flying to me and her horrifying experience with it. Ever since flying has taken a lot out of me. My nerves spike up but I do it anyways. I love to travel. I want to travel the entire world and visiting every state is on my list. Last March I was sitting in a community service club meeting at my school at the time, UMASS Amherst. They mentioned a service trip to South Africa and as cool as I thought it sounded, brushed over it. When I got back to my dorm that night I thought about the trip and my friends began to joke about going.
South African Airlines is great. A fifteen + hour plane ride with a fear of flying? Not so much. Did I find myself along with my four friends boarding a flight to Johannesburg on March 5th at 6pm from JFK? I sure did. Half way across the world with people I've known for a semester of college I was in store for the journey of a lifetime. The flight was not as bad as I anticipated. I was originally terrified of being on an airplane for the same amount of time as 8am to 10pm at night. Once we got up in the air though it all went away. I kept myself distracted but honestly looking back I am not sure how I did that so far from home, from family, from friends. Across the world.
Driving through South Africa was just as I imagined. Vast, dry land, minimal highways, cows and other animals grazing just off of the roads, settlements, intense amounts of litter and an incredibly random assortment of Porsches, Ferraris, Mercedes and BMW's (farmers sold their land to buy nice cars). After stopping at a few restaurants, I began to get a feel for their culture, food wise. Lots of greens and veggies, beef, special dishes of their traditional foods, puddings and anything else that could have possibly been grown from the earth. This pattern of learning the culture carried on through each meal, each long drive, each new native we met and each reserve we stayed at.
A few days after we explored Kruger Park (which was incredible) we double knotted our old sneakers, threw on comfortable pants, our program's matching t-shirts and bussed down to three local high schools. At each one, we met high school students who had never left South Africa, attended school for absurd amounts of hours each day and loved it, had only heard limited music from outside of their tribal songs, had no internet, and had never seen laptops. The children were lovely. They were beyond willing to learn and appreciative of us spending our time with them. Most were very quiet in our presence. I got to work with six different students and taught them the basics of a laptop. It brushed passed me at first that this meant showing them how to open it and turn it on, never mind how the oh so confusing mouse pad works. Once they got the hand of using their fingers to move the mouse around, we dove into Microsoft: PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. They were very attentive and seemed to learn a lot. I got the chance to ask them about what they want to be when they grow up and this was the part that changed my life. Many of the students had huge dreams. In America at the age of a high schooler, it is expected that one grasps the reality of what we will do for work when we graduate. This includes considering what we want to go to college for etc. The students in Africa dreamt of becoming DJ's, Actors, Rappers, Doctors, Scientists. It was amazing.
Each session finished with at least one student asking me how to download things from the internet onto the computer. They were talking about videos, songs, pictures so they could learn more about the world outside of their settlements in poverty. I would have to face the truth and tell them that they couldn't possibly download anything because they do not have access to internet. This broke my heart. I began to ask the aspiring DJ's who their favorite artists were and their favorite songs; they replied with the most brutally outdated music and artists that were never truly THAT big. I wondered where they got their sense of music from so I snuck out and asked the directors. They told me that these kids were allowed only three or so songs by their parents Samsung cell phone providers IF their parents even had a cell phone. It was sad yet interesting news.
This news has inspired me to bring music to these communities. I so badly wanted the students to be able to dream even bigger and grasp the outside world as much as they wanted to. I now collect iPods that are old and unused from people in the states and upload music of all sorts to them. They are being sent along with chargers and head phones to the children in Africa at the high schools.
This trip was something that I will never forget. It will stay with me forever and I am so very glad that I got on that plane in spite of my fear. I encourage everyone to fight their fears because it will come a long way.