I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately. They come in via email and Facebook messages and frantic late night phone calls and text messages with the emoji with the really wide eyes and the line for a mouth. It’s mostly people encouraging me on the journey ahead, and wanting to understand further details. A dear friend of mine wrote to me and said, “Your stars shine in Africa,” and that seemed like an incredible way to explain to others, why, exactly I was making this move. But for those questions and sentiments that cannot be answered by the simple fact that that Tanzania is where I can shine brightest these days, here are a few answers to my most frequently asked questions:
- November 12, 2015. That’s the day that my plane ticket is booked. I really wasn’t expecting a direct flight from Denver to Tanzania, but I will admit I was expecting something a little less than the “thirty-three hour so long as everything goes as planned” journey that my boarding pass is promising. It’s a quick little trip from Denver to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Paris, Paris to Nairobi (that’s in Kenya), and finally Kenya to Kilimanjaro International Airport, located on Kilimanjaro Airport Road, aka as “the gateway to the African wildlife heritage,” aka “the place Ella get’s off the plane and begins to figure out what, exactly, she got into.” From there, apparently, it is a quick twenty-minute drive to the school.
- No, Tanzania is not in Asia. It’s actually in Southeast Africa, squished in between Kenya and Mozambique and blessed with the beautiful, Kilimanjaro the highest peak in Africa. From what I hear, just the sight of that mountain can make the most devout atheist cry out to God. I just hope it makes the Rocky Mountains feel a little closer. Tanzania is also home to the Serengeti National Park where people travel from all over the world with prayers to catch the sight of a lion at night, or watch the elephant slowly make way across the Serengeti. Tanzania is home to Zanzibar, the white sand island with baby blue waters that I generally google image search in order persuade friends to visit me. But perhaps, most importantly of all, Tanzania is home to the O’Brien School for the Maasai.
- The O’Brien School for the Maasai is an American school. This means that the classes are taught in English, although Swahili is the primary language spoken in Tanzania. A wonderful American lady named Kellie O’Brien founded the school in 2006, and now, nine years later, you still feel the excitement in her voice when she talks about this place she has created. And it’s not little excitement. It’s big excitement. Her excitement tells the story of a small 150-student primary school has grown to nearly 400 students, spanning from kindergarten through grade seven. Excitement that covers the new entrepreneurship classes for women in the area: teaching small business skills and decisions to help the ladies build better lives for their families . And I don’t blame Kellie at all for all of the excitement in those talks and phone calls. There is a lot to be excited about.
- My favorite Swahili word thus far has been “Karibu” which sounds like “caribou” and means “welcome.” That is followed by the crowd favorite “hakuna matata,” and if you don’t know what this means I suggest you revisit your childhood Disney dreams; more specifically, the Lion King.
- In business school, they teach you that the answer to most business questions can honestly be answered with “it depends.” It depends on the clients, it depends on the political climate, it depends on the stock. And that is also the answer that I will give you for another frequently asked questions: “Are you ready to go?” Because it does depend. It depends on whether I am studying Swahili through the black market University website my sister set me up with, or running my hands through my brand new ankle length skirts thinking, “I am so ready to start this new life adventure.” It depends on how tired I am, because that tends to be when I most creative, finding the most unreasonable fears to occupy my brain: like whether or not lionesses would one day surround the school, hungry only for American prey, or that the state of Colorado will close it’s borders while I’m away and refuse to let me come home. It depends on the yoga students that come up to me after class telling me they hope I teach some yoga out in Africa because the students may really like that. That’s the stuff that reminds me I am ready. Maybe not packed and organized, but aware that while my emotions may be dependent on the current circumstances, my passions and my goals are not.
- Two blocks. That is the answer to my final frequently asked questions, the question that has laid on my mind so heavily lately, “How far am I from where I want to be?” I have felt challenged now more than ever before to stay focused on the present moment in this quiet part of life. I have to remind myself several times a day, occasionally several times per hour that this is not simply a time to dream about the incredible adventure ahead, but this time right now is an adventure in and of itself. My guess is this piece of life between corporate America and corporate Serengeti is one of the slowest and simplest times of life that I will ever experience. But I am a firm believer that it is just as important as any challenge or momentous accomplishment I will come by in the more traditional definition of “explorer or adventurer.” My sister goes to the University close by my apartment. We are meeting up for lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant two blocks away. And there is nowhere that I want to be or need to be more than with her at that restaurant for the day. So how far I am from where I want to be? Just about two blocks.