I don't really have a good answer for them, besides "animals!" and "because it's Africa".
One of my young piano student's eyes widened visibly with wonder when I started describing the trip. "You mean you get to see animals NOT IN A CAGE?!" she exclaimed. I smiled at that. Yeah. Exactly.
Someone else asked me why I was going on another trip so soon, thinking the wanderlust might perhaps be satisfied for a while after my last big trip to New Zealand & Fiji last year.
Those places and experiences are still with me. The essence of the desire to travel is not necessarily the constant desire for something new. My experiences of travel - the exhilerating 11 hour hike up the Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay, the soul-wrenching dedication and focus of performing in the Bachfest in Leipzig, and the wonder of watching the rarest penguin in the world come out of the ocean after hours of waiting, are ever-present in my day-to-day life. These experiences have made me bigger on the inside. I hold worlds of stories, feelings, experiences. I weave them into everything I do.
My home is adorned with small memories of my travels - smooth coloured pebbles from the riverside in Linz that remind me of my first experience singing on tour in Europe; a purple starfish that I occasionally hold with eyes closed and remember the Fijian sun; a tiny wooden treble clef that brings back the taste of apfelstrudel eaten outside the Tomaskirche; a large photo of Lake Pukaki's bluest-blue waters that reminds me of one of the incredible solitude of our long 5000km journey campervan-ing around New Zealand.
When days are dark and sad, I pull out these memories and go over them, and remember that I am part of a larger humanity than I will ever possibly grasp. I don't seek travel to fill empty spaces. I seek it to grow bigger.
So, why Africa? I don't have an answer for what compels me. Only that I've learned to follow those things that pull me.
I know very little of the cultural/political/social climate in the countries I am heading to. I will watch and listen while I am there, and I will read. For I am deeply aware that Africa is an enormously complex continent full of wildly different cultures. Something as yet unknown to me. And I will barely even get a taste of it.
I breezed through my first book on this long flight - "The Last Maasai Warriors: an autobiography" (by Wilson Meikuaya and Jackson Ntirkana, with Susan McClelland). It describes the life stories of two young Maasai boys who are some of the few in their community to end up going to school (a Western school), and learn how to navigate the complicated nuances of being both Maasai warriors and Western-educated.
|Our first glimpses of Africa|
Excerpt: "And you," [the prophet] said a fourth time, as I held my shaking knees. You will one day work with the others of this world. You will bring the Maasai story to the non-Maasai. You will be our bridge - the bridge of your generation to the world."
It is a fascinating account of a rapidly vanishing culture, and how the current young generation is embracing some Western elements (like education) in order to maintain their ways of life. Highly recommended for anyone traveling to the Maasai region, as we will be in just a few days time.
Many people who I told about my trip expressed their long-standing desire to travel there one day. They spoke of it as a fabled place - too remote, too expensive, too difficult. That's what I thought once, too. And yet here I am.
Dawn is breaking over the Sahara. I look out the airplane window. There are too many clouds beneath us to see it properly, but the amazing brown-orange glow is enough. We are close.
I'm sitting in bed in our hotel room in Nairobi, Kenya. After almost 18 hours of non-stop traveling, we finally stepped out of the airport onto African soil. We had a ride waiting for us, and off we went into the infamous Nairobi traffic. My first impressions of Africa were taken in by a sleep-deprived brain, but I really did feel as if I had stepped into another world. As the car slowly inched through traffic and made jerky stops and starts as it tried to get around other vehicles, I closed my eyes and half-dozed as the hot sun filled the car.
People came up to vehicles on the highway selling water (that's how slow-going the traffic was). Dry grasses lined the roadsides. Dust seemed to collect off in the distance, softening the shadows of hills int he distance. Large trees in full bloom of startling lilac-coloured blossoms suddenly appeared around corners. A mysterious iridescent green-blue-purple "heron-like" bird gracefully took flight amidst the trees and city buildings. "Nairobi is vibrant," said at least two native-Kenyan strangers to us, who we encountered in airports and on the plane. It really seemed so. Not quite like anywhere I've ever seen.
I can't properly describe it; I'm worried it will come out framed through my Western eyes. All I can do is try.
To all those that have ever dreamed of setting foot on African soil, seeing and experiencing the cities and savannahs, the vibrancy of the people and culture, coming face to face with the wild and the unknown of this incredible continent, these posts are for you. I hope I do it even a little bit of justice.