Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why Tanzania?

As more people are learning about my trip this summer, I keep hearing the same question, "Why Africa? Why Tanzania?" What seems like such a simple question is really quite loaded. I don't have a simple response and really, don't want one. I'm going on this trip for various reasons and I think that if I broke down my reasons for choosing Tanzania or Africa to one basic response, I would be stifling myself.

The initial seed was planted in the living room of the house I lived in during my Junior year at Butler, better known as 4705. My roommates and I, Megan included, spent many evenings splayed across the living room furniture, laptops at hand, dreaming and conversing. Of course most of our conversations centered around the drama that had befallen us that year, this time was different. A few comments regarding my impending honeymoon (sigh... Fiji... how wonderful you were) led to a collective desire to do more traveling abroad. From there, Megan and I toyed with the idea of backpacking through Europe once we graduated and thus the dream was planted.

After spending the summer in Charlottesville as a newlywed, I returned to Butler to live with my second family, the gracious and loving P Family. All of my former roommates continued to live at 4705 and I would thus make frequent trips over, sometimes with M&B in tow. During this time, Megan and I (both planning on graduating in December) discussed the possibility of a European trip. Unfortunately the timing wasn't right for me and the dream was put on hold.

Although we had put our backpacking plans aside, neither Megan or I could truly put down the dream of going abroad for an extended period of time. My itch became even stronger when I spent time with another of the former roommates. Quilter, a strong, feisty, and incredibly smart girl, had spent the previous summer living in Amsterdam taking an international HIV/AIDS course. I loved meeting Quilter at Hinkle Fieldhouse (where she sat and checked ID's of all the intramural basketball players) and listening to her talk about her time in Amsterdam. I was in awe of her passion for HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness, including her desire to have 4705 go in for a group HIV test. Her enthusiasm for and understanding of the difficulties of the third world's HIV/AIDS challenges oozed from her. It was a pivotal moment for me, one that has truly changed the focus of my life's work.

In December of 2005, I picked up and left Butler and Indianapolis. It was with great sadness and trepidation, but also with a strong sense of inspiration. During the Spring of 2006, as I worked as a nanny, I felt a strong urge to do my part to assist the pediatric HIV/AIDS community in America. I wasn't sure how I was going to go about doing this, but I knew exactly who to blame for instilling in me this desire.... Quilter. After doing some research online, I came across a pediatric HIV/AIDS camp in the San Francisco area. Not being typical of my style, I took the plunge and applied for a volunteer camp counselor position. I was accepted in May and in August I hopped a plane from DC-San Francisco, unsure of what I had gotten myself into.

Camp Sunburst turned out to be another pivotal moment for me-- a stepping stone along this great journey. I fell in love with the campers, some infected, some affected, and the incredible sense of community at Sunburst. I met kids from all walks of life. A girl who had seen her brother shot in gang warfare. A set of twins, one infected, one not. A beautiful culturally and ethnically diverse family of 10+ children with two moms. A young girl whose father was incarcerated and whose mother was infected due to intravenous drug use. And yet all of these children had such resilient, warm spirits. They were vivacious and excited about life. They had hopes and dreams. They lived life to the brim. HIV/AIDS played a major role in all of these kids lives, yet it didn't define them. I found great hope in these children. I learned that HIV/AIDS didn't have to be a life sentence, but that I needed to do whatever I could to support these children and others like them.

For the past two years, Camp Sunburst has been the event in my life. It was what got me through exams and money woes. Flat tire.... oh Camp Sunburst will be here in 3 months.... yay! Standing in the bitter cold waiting for the bus to come... hum the Penguin Dance from Camp Sunburst.... yay! Going to camp was the moment I looked forward to throughout the year. When I visited Indianapolis in the Fall of 2006, I remember meeting up with Megan and talking to her for hours about Camp Sunburst. The conversation returned once again to our deep shared desire to travel abroad. What about volunteering abroad? It was just the spark we needed to rekindle the flames.

From that moment on, our planning is a blur. Megan and I would exchange e-mails and phone calls after spending hours surfing the net for volunteer opportunities. After finding a few reputable companies, I decided it was time to broach the subject with Evan. I am the world's luckiest girl because I didn't have to do any begging or pleading to convince him this trip would be worthwhile. Evan is a man of little words, but he made it known that he was here to support me and my dreams, no matter how crazy they might be. It also doesn't hurt for your husband to have a cushion of money set aside from a not-so pleasant car accident when he was in 4th grade. Dude, I am so blessed.

............. Part 2 of Why Tanzania continues tomorrow .................


Maddie said...

Michelle! It's Maddie! I wonder where you've been and you're going to Africa! I miss you so much! I hope you have a great time!