This was another tough day to pick. I’ve had some pretty amazing memories these first 25 years. From Beyonce concerts, to BCDE trips. Truth or Dare with the Fab five, to my first encounter with a stripper. Road trips with the ladies to witnessing the first African American President being sworn in. High school and college memories and graduations. I mean the list goes on. But there’s one memory, that I’m sure I will cherish a lifetime…Traveling to South Africa, spring break 2006.
Although it was your organization that sponsored the trip, it was actually you that did all of the planning, and for that reason I had to write this letter to you. It was the beginning of fall semester 2005, I was walking with one of my friends on the yard and we saw this flyer with something about an Africa trip interest meeting on it. Initially we agreed to go just to see who was going and what it was about. Never in a million years did I ever expect to actually go. I mean don’t get me wrong, I always wanted to visit Africa, I just didn’t think I wanted to go then. After the meeting was over you came up to me and was like “Townsend, I know you’re going right!” I laughed, because as I stated earlier, I really had NO intentions on going. You stood there looking at me, waiting for an answer. I slowly answered, “I think I’m going to try.” I wrote my name and email address on the sign in sheet and left for dance practice.
Fast forward to spring semester. By then, of course, I had made up my mind to go and had basically paid for the trip. We would have periodic meetings just letting us know what the trip would entail, what to expect, etcetera. The closer the date got, the more afraid I became. I mean I was barely 20, going to another continent with some people I hardly knew. Sure, we’d seen each other at some programs, and sure everyone was nice, but a part of me was like…I don’t know these women. (Well, with the exception of Alicia…She was one of my friend’s roommates so she and I would see each other often and talk about the trip)
Anyhoo, back to the letter…
The big day had finally arrived. We stood in the parking lot, hugging our friends and family as they sent us on our way. I was still a little nervous at this point, but mostly excited. This may seem weird, but I had no expectations when boarding that plane. I mean yes, I knew we were going over there to do more than have a good time. Yes, I knew we would get to meet some kids at an orphanage and visit some museums…But NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS did I expect that trip to affect me the way it has. I often think about Maria. I’m sure you remember her…she was the little girl at the Genesis Orphanage that had lost both of her parents yet she was one of the happiest kids I’d ever met. We did some pretty incredible things on that trip. Met some amazing people. Had some crazy moments. But I think…No, I know that visiting the Genesis house those 2 days were the best parts for me. Which is weird considering the fact that we actually did some WORK there. Matter fact, I think my back is still sore from digging that road. *ouch*
Man there’s so much to talk about. The Hector Peterson and Apartheid Museums. Visiting Nelson Mandela’s house. You jumping off the bus and bursting through the crowd to get a picture of Kofi Annan. Waking up crazy early to go on a safari. $2 shots. Running from the crazy man that didn’t want his picture taken. Having to order drinks with no ice. Frogs in the hotel room. Late night pow wows. You talking everyone down when it came to their prices. Visiting the people in the village.OMG do you remember that day we actually walked around that village. I think I cried the entire time… We saw some atrocious living conditions that make projects in American look like million dollar homes. I mean there were 3 and 4 people living in a home the size of a bathroom stall. I could cry just thinking about it.
The trip was much bigger than what can fit in this letter. My life has been forever changed. I don’t think there are any words in the human language that can fully express just how much those 8 days changed my life. Had you not come up to me after that interest meeting I honestly don’t think I would have put in the effort to go. So THANK YOU! That trip was by far one of the best memories of my life!