How Africa Opened My Heart

In the Spring of 1994, I took part in a program called Semester at Sea. We sailed around the world in 100 days. This experience changed my life forever.

I had a challenging start to college. In looking back, the universe was plainly telling me that I needed to spread my wings and in one way or another she was going to push me out of the nest and demand that I take flight.

Here's what my flight looked like. The Semester at Sea program set sail in the Bahamas and ended up in Hong Kong. We sailed from the Bahamas -> Brazil -> Venezuela -> South Africa -> Kenya -> India -> Singapore -> Japan -> China -> Hong Kong.

The person I was in the Bahamas was not the same person I was in Hong Kong. The first place that broke my wide heart open was Africa.

When I bid farewell to South America, little did I know that the course of my life was about to be changed. Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa in May of 1994. I feel blessed to have witnessed history in the making.

Apartheid legislation demands physical separation of people based on their color. It is a system of racial segregation, and until Mandela was elected president Apartheid was legislated by the National Party. South Africa was a vibrant, thriving, party centered metropolis. Money, drinks, and food flowed from the restaurants and bars into the hands of those who were white. Not very far off, only a short ride on a bus, were the townships. Areas where black South Africans lived. No money, no restaurants, no metropolis. Barbed wire surrounding. Barbed fucking wire.

Being who I am, I jumped at the opportunity to visit a township. People in townships, at that time, were being shown how to vote for the very first time in their lives. Government volunteers were teaching people with mock ballots and booths, and they were literally dancing with joy for the promise of a new tomorrow. They were finally being given the privilege - the one we often take for granted - to vote, and I was watching it happen. I still get chills. I was 19 at the time and my heart was opening more fully than I can ever remember it opening prior.

I cried for weeks after we left South Africa. I had never been exposed to that much visible oppression and that much hope all at once. It spoke to me. The movement that was unfolding in South Africa truly moved an unfolding in me.

As we set sail from South Africa to Kenya, little did I know my heart was about to be cranked open yet again. While in Kenya, I visited the Masai Mara. I saw lions, giraffes, elephants, gazelles, people roaming free on their land. The Masai is wild, untamed, unleashed, and primal. Yes, I could relate. The people who live there are private in their reverence to the land. Yes, I could relate. Of course, I had never seen this much land stretch on forever with wild animals running, playing, killing, breeding, living in their element. It was breathtaking. I was moved by the beauty and the freedom, and the connection I felt to my soul and my essence there was palpable. 

The rest of the journey continued to crack me open. I will write about India next so please stay tuned.

When I returned home from Semester at Sea, I changed my major from Communications to Sociology and Education. I went on to get a Masters degree in Education and one in Counseling Psychology. These decisions were deeply informed by my desire to work with people in breaking through old stories and beliefs and connecting more fully to their essence. 

I went on to teach and practice counseling in the inner cities of San Francisco and NYC throughout my twenties and early thirties. My heart never ceased to open to the deep work, the oppression and the hope that exists there as well. Africa deeply informed the choices I made about where and why I choose the work I do now and why I chose to spend the remainder of my thirties bringing and implementing social justice trainings to the service office I lead. 

When I envision who takes part in the new online course I am offering, Be The Change!, I continue to envision community leaders, movement professionals, people who care about the world, and people longing for a better world for their children. The course I designed is in service to a more accepting world, and I will bring the brimming hopes of South African's and the vast, reverent, primal landscape of Kenya along with me every step of the way.

If there is one thing I know to be the truth, we are all in this together.

Register for Be The Change! Early-bird until May 8th.