Lessons I Brought Home From Africa

Lessons I Brought Home From Africa

“Travel makes you modest; it makes you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Gustave Flaubert

Did you know that twerking has its origins in Zambian dance? I didn’t, until a couple of nine-year-old girls in a remote Makumba village tried teaching me some traditional Zambian dance moves. I was shocked when their performance ended up putting Miley and Beyonce’s twerking abilities to shame. And this was far from the only lesson I learned over my eight weeks exploring and volunteering in several African countries.

While living in a village with no electricity or running water – no iPhones, TVs or Instagram – I was continually surprised by the genuine happiness and serenity of the Makumba tribe. The kids played clapping games, hide-and-seek and soccer with a ball made from plastic bags, while the women cooked over an open fire, chatting, laughing and braiding each other’s hair. There was a sense of contentment I have never experienced before, in a setting so simple and detached from the rest of the world.

My friends and family will vouch for the fact that I was previously awful at replying to messages and I’m not at all sorry to say that that isn’t going to change. I’ve learned the value of being disconnected, of putting my phone down, switching off the TV (as well as my Macbook, iPad and every other ridiculous device I own) and simply being present in the moment. It’s amazing how quickly and deeply you can get to know someone when you turn off your phone and stop caring about what your other 1,320 Facebook friends are doing. Being away from social media reminded me that disconnection from devices actually promotes genuine connection with real people.

Immersion in different cultures also reminded me that focusing on acquisition and consumption is not the best path to happiness. The
kids I taught off remote islands in Madagascar owned two or three sets of clothes and ran around barefoot all day long. Myself and the other volunteers taught them English on picturesque and secluded beaches, with dozens of lemurs playing around us. The students listened attentively, more eager to learn than I’ve ever seen any group of young kids. They weren’t preoccupied with acquiring the latest and greatest of everything; they valued relationships and the community around them over materialistic things. They were content.

It’s common to hear people who have come back from volunteer trips talk about how ‘it really put things into perspective’ or ‘it made me realise how fortunate we are where we live’. There’s a reason for this. It’s not that the people in these countries lead perfect lives – of course they have their own difficulties and challenges, many of which are impossible to even comprehend having grown up in Australia. But they are content and appreciative with what they have. And in addition to the 4,684 photos I brought home with me, my travels in Africa gave me more perspective than I ever expected and taught me more about myself than I can possibly fit into these 500 words.

Over eight weeks I managed to fall in love a million times over – with my students, with the Makumba village, with the African cultures and with the sense of contentment I learned from my exposure to different lifestyles and people. Africa now holds a very special place in my heart and I can guarantee that it won’t be long before I’m back experiencing and sharing more of what it has to offer.

– Fallon xx

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