At the Delta outpost, the first fireflies are out. The first one always surprises me. This one I thought was a car on a distant road. Then it started driving crazy fast and into hover mode over a wet field and I changed my hypothesis. So great to see them, along with everything else I missed in Africa. Yesterday I finished a 31 hour journey home, including a 16 hour flight from Africa.
Believe it or not, I wanted to go on the 16 hour flight because it took me through South Africa. It’s one of the most fascinating countries on Earth. Other Dutch settled there about the same time my Dutch ancestors settled New York. I’m sure there’s an Afrikaner somewhere who looks a lot like me. That’s what they call themselves–Afrikaners. They consider themselves a white tribe living in Africa. The Dutch their ancestors spoke turned into a new language, Afrikaans. Movies and newspapers and some University classes are still Afrikaans. They are stubborn Dutchmen, refusing to abandon their language and beliefs, even though they have turned over control of their country to other tribes.
I don’t stay in South Africa for long because my work takes me to poorer countries to the North, but the 16 hour flight means I get to stay in the land of the Zulu and the Afrikaans for a while at least. Sixteen hours on a plane fills many with dread. But I’ve spent many stretches of 16 hours mainly in an office working on some project. Sometimes by choice, sometimes not. So I try to view the time as an opportunity. I take books I want to read and ideas I want to explore.
Coming back is always easier. I’m usually so inspired by my time in Africa that I have plenty to write about. This time I got interested in the relationship between resilient families and communities and nations. And selfishness, crime and development. I’ll put all that together sometime soon.
The reason I get inspired in Africa is that I am totally immersed in a different culture, solving qualitatively different problems than I face in the US. Those squabbles and constraints and goals are just totally forgotten. Then, when I get done with my African assignment, I begin to remember what so consumed me when I’d left the US. But I see them in a new light. The new light reveals facets of the problem I hadn’t seen before. And it reveals that barriers I’d thought solid and intractable can easily be stepped around.
Some people go on vacations to accomplish the same thing. My trips to Africa are a bit of vacation, but so much more interesting than just going from one tourist site to another. I always get immersed in a community which has a particular need that I’m there to fill: a marketing plan, agricultural training, cooperative development. They need me there to help them grow food, earn a living and survive.
Some of the problems consuming my time before I left are so trivial in comparison. Being away from them for a while reveals that. I can just let some of them go. They don’t matter at all.
It’s the same reason some folks want to come to Meadowcreek. They want to escape their bad habits, their cell phones, their urban busy-ness. Meadowcreek is a great place to do that. We can put you to work building beds, making biochar, planting trees, harvesting mushrooms and veggies for your meals, and swimming in spring fed pools after you are done.
The problems which so consumed you before you came to Meadowcreek melt away as you work in the fields and woods. The problems of poor communities in Africa won’t melt away after a few days at Meadowcreek. They will always be there, calling me to come back.
In the mean time, I don’t want to become immersed in the petty, trivial problems many Americans have. So, I’ll do my best to not get sucked into interaction with petty, trivial people. I hope you do the same. And when I fail and their petty, trivial concerns and desires start to weigh me down again, I’ll just accept another assignment in Africa or the Caucasus.