Standing under a street lamp in the parking lot of Lowes, I experienced my first twinge of regret about my trip.  In preparation for the purchase of a reliable vehicle (the ’94 Camaro that I’d purchased four years ago on EBay unfortunately didn’t qualify), my fiance and I decided to part with our scooter.  Who purchased it is a young man from Dar es Salaam who, after a few unwitting questions from me, collapsed into a series of admissions.   He was homesick, disappointed, and overwhelmed by life in our country.  The dim light nearly hid an escaped tear on his cheek as he described to us the disappointment of being unable to go to college, the stress of being unable to pay for transportation, housing, food to spite having gainful employment, the pressure of the reliance of his family in Tanzania for funds from him.  His story was one that I could connect to from a time not so distant and I found myself wondering if I’d already forgotten how hard life in our country can be, how frustrating it was to have so much to offer and so much in your way, how impossible your childhood dreams could feel.  And yet, during the last few months while he missed his family, lamented missed opportunity, and struggled to make ends meet, I had spent nearly three thousand dollars on plane tickets.  For over a year through courses, through discussions with friends over coffee in multi-million dollar buildings, I had repeatedly faced the fact that my $2500 in plane tickets could pay for the entire secondary education of two girls over four years in Zanzibar, could probably even feed a full family in the United States for a year.   It wasn’t the first time that I had come across this question but this was my first time coming face to face with someone that that money could have helped in a meaningful way.  In the months prior I had reached the conclusion that spending the money was “okay” as long as I was doing my best to try to be useful and because I felt as if travel to the region was necessary if I wanted to process the opinions of others in a meaningful way.  At that moment however, I wished that I could take back the promises to work in the labs of UNC Project and the funds spent on plane tickets to help relieve his stress, if only for a moment.

Advertisements