Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's Not About the Safari

From Elisheva Goldberg

It is not often that I wake up at 5 in the morning. (Or that I awake again at 5:05 and then for a third and final time at 5:10.) But today was a day that does not often occur. It was one of those days that you remember because it's blazed into your mind. And it'll stay there -- because you want it to.

Our entire group was outside, watching one of the most beautiful sunrises on this great earth, by 5:30. Shades of orange melding with the pink and yellow of a new day ushered us to the jeeps we would be riding in for the majority of the coming 10 hours. Watching Rwanda wake up was inspiring. Humna, sitting next to me, said that sights like the one unfolding outside our window reaffirmed her belief in God. As the sun rose, clouds bathed the valleys and gently caressed the hills. All seemed shrouded in a magical mist, prophesying adventure.

We spent the day on Safari. I'd read stories, seen National Geographic episodes, and even heard from people who had been, what an "African Safari" was like. But to see such powerful, majestic creatures before your own eyes takes the power of those stories, episodes and hearsay evidence and leaves them in the dust. Everyone's favorite animal might have been the baboons -- they were curious, entertaining creatures that walked with their tails in the air and reminded us uncannily of ourselves. But all of the other animals, from the imposing buffalo that we thought was on its way to charging our car to the stoic, oddly shaped giraffes standing in their field eating acacia (we learned they had been imported in a group of four and now number more than sixty), to the zebra and the hippos and the impala (beautiful African antelope with little white feet), made the ride through the Akagera National Park a peek into the rich natural life and beauty of both Rwanda and the broader African continent.

As phenomenal as the Safari itself was, the highlight of my day was really the remaining seven hours spent in the car with members of our group. Despite the deep red dust and the sticky heat, we joked and talked and sang about religion and life, love and college, reality and law. The sense camaraderie (the Kavana, or intention, for the day) ran deep. We've had eleven full days together -- and we've meshed. Become one. Joined together. Become cohesive. Molded ourselves into new selves that include one another. The community that we've built - through our service, our discussions, our common love for the students here - has all brought this group of very different people together in ways that none of us foresaw. Our "Thorns and Roses" session tonight was filled with laughter. But our last day is tomorrow. We will do our service project in the morning, go to lunch as usual, have one final discussion, attend dinner -- and then pack. It is hard to leave a place where so much has happened in so little time. But it is also wonderful to leave such a place. We are now more than we were when we came. They say that people are more than the sum of their parts, more than the totality of their experience. I think that this place has been one of experience, but also one which will take us beyond experience and animate us with a sense of self and of purpose that goes beyond the mere "story" of our time in Rwanda. There are elements of this story that cannot be told. There are aspects of it that are emotional, irrational, spiritual. None of these things lend themselves easily to words. But if I can tell you that I can't tell you, perhaps that is enough for you to trust me when I respond with the simple word "amazing" when you are looking for when you ask me how my trip was.

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