Africa is where I found my peace

In my life, people have called me a lot of things, a young Montgomery Burns, the personification of J.R. Ewing (Minus the Texas drawl) and a man whose mind clicks away at 100 miles an hour. For a very long time, I found that I was an unsettled fellow, sad and without a sense of purpose.

Though I eventually did get over my struggles with depression a few years ago, I was admittedly still very unsure what direction I wanted to take my life in until very recently. During the first trip I took outside the content of North America. I discovered what I wanted out of life; this article chronicles the experience and what I learned from it, about myself and other people.

We begin in February of 2013. Not being able to secure an internship and not having money to take a cross country road trip with my friend again, I was scrambling to find some way to occupy my time when my second year of college ended that May. As luck would have it, my answer came in the form of an email sent out by the College of Communications. I don’t normally answer them, but to me at least, this one seemed like a rather intriguing opportunity.

“Make Movies, Change the World”, said the email. “Apply to Actuality Media and engage in the trip of a lifetime.” I must admit, I was intrigued as I munched on some Cheese It’s in my cold dorm room. I began to ask myself a myriad of questions about what I should do. “Where would I go? Would I like the people I ended up with? Would Mom and Dad even allow me to do it?” All these thoughts raced through my mind on that cold winters evening. In spite of my own doubt, I ended up applying after being encouraged by a dear friend from the great state of California.

Several weeks went by, and then, an email showed up in my inbox. One of the people behind the company wanted to do an interview to see if I was right for a trip (My choices being Kenya, Turkey and Guatemala). With trepidation and an intense degree of nervousness coursing through me, I sat down for a talk with a rather scraggly bearded fellow and breathed a sigh of relief when it was over. “Well, that was different. Now I can get back to watching cartoons.” If you can’t tell by now, I didn’t expect to be chosen to go on this rather interesting excursion overseas.

But then I was. Two weeks later, I got an email informing me I’d been selected to travel to Nairobi, Kenya from June 29th to July 28th of 2013. As stunned as I was at the time, I was even more perplexed by how my parents would react. Honestly, I thought they’d shut me down.

Oddly enough, they didn’t. So for about a couple of months that summer, we prepared. A goofy Safari hat (which got stolen by a monkey), several immunizations and lots of bug spray were all the order of the day as I made preparations to go over to a foreign and unknown land. As one of my friends humorously said to me on Facebook, I was going into “The Heart of Darkness”…….

Finally, the day came. After 3 flights across several time zones, I landed in Nairobi at about 2:30 in the morning. Having an immense gut-ache from the shock and stress of such a new experience, I immediately went to sleep, shutting myself out of my strange new world.

The next day, I was thrust right into it. First off was a safari with my new friends and from there we went straight into film production. Over the next 30 days, I had a great deal of insane and simultaneously amazing experiences that made me the better man that I know I am today.

Whilst out and about with my friends during one weekend, we met a little boy who was selling handmade jewelry outside of an area for hikers. In actuality, his jewelry was some cheap beads strung over a wire. I asked him how much he made from his job and promptly gave him double from my wallet. Telling him to take a month or two off as his smiling face lit up in front of me.

At another point on the trip, my peers and I went to some nightclubs downtown. Now I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. Me in a nightclub is the most awkward and silly thing you’ve ever imagined. I was the whitest of the white people that were in the building. But as we left, I experienced something very profound. Walking out to our hired cab, a beggar from the street came up to me and asked me for money. As her gnarled and frail hand gripped my arm, I shook her off in disgust and continued walking, not even acknowledging her grave misfortune.

Before I got into the car, I stopped myself and thought about what I had just done. Sadly, I became the very thing I despise. A rich, entitled white person who looks down his nose at people of color who are less well off than he is. Feeling guilty, I took some shillings out of my pocket and gave them to some of the children that played near our compound when we got back. At the time, I felt I had appropriately atoned for my actions. Now, I’m not really sure to be honest.

Finally, the end of the month came about and the premiere of our short film took place. Though at times I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, I’m proud to say that I and my peers made an award winning piece that won the hearts and minds of the people we depicted and those who viewed it. At the premiere, one of the people in our film said “There are no words to describe that,” upon seeing the final cut that my lovely editor Miranda had crafted from our footage.

As the end of the month came about and I got back on the plane to go home, with sunburn on my body and a great group of new people to call friends, I realized something. In life, particularly in the United States, we tend to focus on things that don’t matter so much at the end of the day. Truly, it’s the people in the world who have very little that are doing things right. From then on I’ve been able to be a far less stressed out and hectic individual. All thanks to my time abroad.

If you’d like to check out Actuality Media, click here.

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One Comment on “Africa is where I found my peace

  1. Pingback: A look back | Evan J Pretzer

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