Sometimes people and places imprint themselves on our souls. Even when we are far, we feel connected. We identify. The smells of the place, the faces of people looking at ours, the feelings…they become part of us.
That’s how it has been for me working and traveling in Southern and East Africa. The smell of the dirt, the tempo and energy of the streets, and the deep gaze of people all stay with me. The joking. The work side by side. The worry. The humanity. The majesty of the animals and beauty of the earth.
People periodically ask me why Africa is so important to me. I grew up in Nebraska and Colorado and lived on the East Coast most of my adult life. I’ve worked and traveled in other places…South Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Western Europe. And I’m a white woman. Why do I orient my work and care to Zambia, to Zimbabwe, to Madagascar? Why start a business tying my success to the success of rural harvesters along the Zambezi River?
All I can say is that it’s not enough to bring back amazing art and photos from my travels. People have imprinted themselves on my soul as we have worked together and laughed together. And while there is a lot separating us, I have seen and felt how we are connected. We impact one another in our use of resources and our sharing of ideas.
You might have heard of the idea of ubuntu, the concept that we are all connected in our humanity and success. This powerful, distinctly African philosophy shapes ethics: if you can help, do.
When I lived in Democratic Republic of Congo with the International Rescue Committee, I was initially uncomfortable that my team had cooks and cleaners. Slowly I learned that our cooks and cleaners also had cooks and cleaners. And sometimes those cooks and cleaners had their own cooks and cleaners. Paying for help was not only a privilege; it was an obligation. If you could afford to spread the wealth, you should. So if I can help enterprising harvesters and processors make a living by bridging the distance between Africa and America, I should. After all, we are in this life together.