On one of the first days here our policy professor, Mwamhanga, gave us the first of his “wisdom lectures.” In the middle of class he was overwhelmed with the desire to make sure we understood something. During those first few days adjusting to accents was a bit difficult, but we tried to follow along. He paused, mid syllabus explanation, and looked around the room. “You need to open your eyes,” he said, “life is beautiful.” We all suppressed uncomfortable giggles, unsure where he was headed. He went on to explain how past SFS students have returned to Africa after graduation, impressing on us that “that’s life, you have the chance to do that.”
At first I thought he was just trying to show us where this program could lead us, but over the past few weeks I have realized that what he was trying to say encompassed so much more than that. I have spent some time talking to the staff, especially the drivers, learning about their dreams and how hard they have worked to get where they are. I have spent a little time in the surrounding communities, local businesses and churches. I have only just begun to learn what challenges the local people face in their daily lives, what makes them happy, what their dreams are and how far they’re willing to go for them.
But it already has become incredibly clear to me that Mwamhanga is right – we students have the chance to do “that,” whatever “that” is for us, whatever we dream for. Just the sheer fact that we are here means we have the resources, no matter what backgrounds we come from, to do whatever we want in life, as long as we want it badly enough. But as western students who have been pushed in a myriad of directions all our lives it is hard to recognize exactly what it is we want, let alone that achieving it is possible. As a result we are in constant danger of settling. I hope for all of us that we open our eyes during this trip, realize the African way of dreaming, recognize the immense luck we have been blessed with and then utilize it relentlessly to its greatest potential.