“Look! It’s Africa!”
I am finally about to drift into a wine induced slumber (wine is free on Ethiopian Airlines!) on the second leg of my 18 hour flight to Addis Ababa, when my traveling companion – a 20 year-old Ethiopian now living in Detroit and studying engineering – pokes me and points towards the small plane window.
“Look! It’s Africa!”
His eyes light up as he tells me we are flying over Libya. He is returning to Ethiopia for the summer to visit family that he hasn’t seen in five years (when he came for his first, and permanent, stay in the US). We talk about his grandmother who lives a three day drive from Addis; he tells me about how he will turn 21 when he returns to the states and plans to “party hard core;” and when I ask him why he chose engineering he tells me about his dreams to earn enough money to bring his brothers and sisters to Michigan one day.
About an hour later, I notice on the TV monitor that we are crossing over Khartoum. Sunset over Sudan. Funny, I always pictured my first trip to Africa in Darfur, or Congo, or a country experiencing egregious human rights abuses. But instead, I am heading towards Kigali… Africa’s Asian Tiger. But perhaps Rwanda is an appropriate place to start. While the country has its problems and still has a long way to go, it is a ray of hope for places like Sudan and the Central African Republic.
During the flight, I have quite a bit of time to contemplate what I’ll be doing when I get to Kigali and why I’ll be doing it. Waiting to board at the Dulles airport, I overheard several conversations of Americans going to Africa “to help” the people that are suffering. And while well intentioned, I’m not sure that is what I will be doing, what I want to be doing, or what I should be doing. Does Rwanda, or Africa for that matter, need to be saved? And if so, what do I have to offer in that regard?
I hope and believe that the work I do will be meaningful, but perhaps, Rwanda will be helping me. The people of Rwanda have incredible stories to share and their courage and perseverance will inspire me. And maybe my most important contribution to the country is an investment to share its stories with the world.
Posted By Lisa Rogoff
Posted Jun 2nd, 2009