Sunday, March 16, 2008

Under African Skies

My freshman year of college, I read In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo by Michela Wrong and Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden for my Introduction to International Relations class. Those two books served as my first in-depth exposure to African political and economic problems. It was inexplicable to me that an entire continent, especially with such a wealth of natural resources as Africa, could be so mired in conflict and poverty. The problem of development captured me and while I did not begin taking courses specifically concerning Africa until my junior year, I found myself continually circling back. All the other lessons I learned about economics, international politics, US foreign policy, even ethics, all were applied to expand my comprehension of African development.

My junior year of college, I applied, and was accepted, to American University’s Washington Semester Program on International Environmental Development. In addition to giving me a chance to leave the classroom and meet policymakers on their own turf, the spring semester curriculum included a trip to South Africa for three weeks. I finally had a chance to see the problems I had been studying for myself, instead of relying on the reports of others. However, I misjudged the effects of leaving behind the academic world, and experiencing it for myself. In South Africa, I found both a place that I love and a purpose in life.

Even four years later, every so often, especially in the spring, when the moon is bright, and the fresh breeze blows over the budding earth, I lay in bed and dream that when I wake, I will see Table Mountain outside my window and I will be able to press my face to the glass and revel in the sights of Cape Town.

When I open my eyes to suburban Maryland instead, it is not simply that I am upset or saddened; I feel crushed, almost as if a piece of my soul has been taken from me. Somehow, someway, I had my heart stolen in the Cape Town International Airport, and far from wanting it back, I only want to go back.

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