(Andy on right, photo credit: Andy Hill)

This post is a descriptive essay about the Tanzania trip written by Andy Hill, a senior at Glendale High School.  

Hot air rushes into my lungs. Not the wet, heavy heat of the marsh; nor the dry, scorching heat of the desert. This is a pleasant heat that fills every inch of my body. I am immersed in a nature I have never encountered; yet deep inside, I feel at home. The land itself feels alive; from the trees standing tall and regal, to the palms that lean and sway. Mountains stretch high above the trees; their peaks impaling the clouds, ever struggling to climb higher. Even the dirt I stand on feels raw, like the hands of a prisoner relentlessly fighting his chains.

I see an entirely new world. A forest of strange tropical trees, vibrant and bursting with life, stretches before me. The forest empties into a field, vast and flat but for two soccer goals made of little more than branches. In the distance lies a school, its weather-beaten exterior stands strong despite its years. Often it is full of children—students, learning and preparing for their lives. Today, however, is a day for play.

The field is alive. Students sprint across it, some bouncing happily and others with looks of fierce determination. School uniforms flap in the wind as the players chase after the ball. The air is filled with shouts and laughter; giddiness and urgency. Some voices call out happily, while others demand, “Mimi” (Me) or “Hapa” (Here).

Their shouts pulse into the air. The steady pound of their footfalls resurrects an ancient beat. The ground rises and falls in rhythm. On the sideline I hear an exchange of jokes and laughter; the mix of two languages barely limiting conversation. A low, guttural sound startles me. It comes from a strange herd of cattle that lumber next to the field. Their owner shouts commands and guides the herd with a sharp staff. He screams when a young boy gets too close, but the boy slips by, unharmed, with practiced ease.

Two people stand off to the side, so immersed in conversation that they are oblivious to the game around them. They stand almost eye to eye, though one slouches slightly. At first glance it seems they belong to different worlds. One wears a white blouse tucked into a navy skirt which is frayed at its edges. Her hair is held close in dark, tightly knitted curls. She wears tall blue socks and shoes that must have been bought used— long ago. The other wears a white t-shirt with tan pants. Her blond hair is pulled back in a tight braid, and the dust on her Nike shoes seem fresh. Looking closer, I see that they share a light in their eyes of excitement and wonder. They interlock fingers in a sign of sure friendship; and mirrored in their faces I see the first irrefutable smile.

My eyes, now entranced, shift from person to person. I see kids and adults, I see boys and girls, I see farmers, teachers, and businessmen; and everyone belongs. Perhaps the land is the only stranger; the land of a time long, long ago.  I feel a time when all of nature belonged; a time before corruption and greed. In every person I see an echo of this time: an expression of the face, or a look in the eyes. My very being seems drawn here, to this land of ancient power. I feel that through this land, I can finally discover myself.

One child stands slightly smaller than the rest. He sprints, head down; running faster and faster with a radiant expression on his face. His clothes are tattered, his hands are no stranger to hardship; yet he struggles and fights to accomplish his goal. His calloused feet take no notice of the roughness they touch. Beads of sweat slide off his forehead as his head bobs in motion. A fierce determination takes over his body. His mouth parts slightly, his normally relaxed brow creases, and his eyes fill with the fire of the African sun. Somehow I know that he has a heart that fights for what it believes in, and nothing else. I have never seen a person with so much emotion.

When I think back, I realize I have seen this boy before. Every man I met had this determination in his eyes; every woman I saw had his genuine smile; every child had his love. Even the mountains struggled and fought to rise higher, and the trees stood proud, and uncompromising. Each morning, the villagers rise with that African Sun and shake off their hardships. That sun fills them with hope and they know anything is possible.

What the people of Tanzania possess is a love for all people, and the strength to fight for what is right. They show a charismatic friendship that inspires all those who have the opportunity to experience it. Above all what I see in each Tanzanian is the ability for hope. Despite all struggle, despite all hardship, despite the numerous disadvantages they wake up to each morning; that glimmer of hope is always visible.

I adjust my eyes to take in all of my surroundings once again. I now see everything in a new light. No longer do I see mountains and trees, but I see tall symbols of hope and prosperity. No longer do I feel the vibrations of a game, I feel the beat of a war drum, pounding a message of victory. No longer do I hear shouts and laughter, I hear love in all of its forms. Yes, at this moment I know I have discovered myself, and I know what I must do. I know from this moment forward, I will work to show the world what I saw here, and spread this message of hope to all I encounter. I feel calmness set over me, a kind I have never experienced. I let all my troubles slide away as I slowly exhale.