Stereotypes...as much as we try to deny it we all have them. Whether it is about race, religion or even an entire country. When you think of Africa what comes to mind? Elephants? "Blood Diamond"? Desert grasslands? All of these and a thousand other stereotypes ran though my mind when I found out Depapa and I had been chosen for the Take Home A Friend Program.
We arrived in Manzini, Swaziland on June 12 after a twenty-six hour flight. We were greeted by a large group of people which included all the Mulimbi family. They were exalted to see us. I have never felt more welcomed or loved by any one, especially total strangers, in all of my life.
Over the next two and a half weeks I fell in love with those strangers. We traveled to several cities, villages, and schools. I ate with my hands, learned at least ten different ways to greet people and attended a very westernized wedding. We went to two game reserves and saw all of the deadly and beautiful animals Africa has to offer. I was lucky enough to be fed by the King of Swaziland, met four out of his fourteen wives, and a prince.
It was the most amazing trip of my life. The down side to all of the fun, besides the twenty six hour flight, was the vast amount of poverty and illness. The founder and director of the school where Depapa's father teaches told us a shocking statistic, by the year 2017 half the population of Swaziland (an estimated 400,000) will be composed of orphans, mostly due to AIDS. While in Manzini I visited a hospital, this was the only time I was ever alone, I was horrified to see rows and rows of tightly placed beds with TB patients scattered in a large concrete room. Papa Stani (Depapa's father) greeted a woman who was waiting outside the hospital for care, she had been there since 2 am; it was almost noon.
Despite the poor health care and economically depressed people, their lives were not depressed. Every one was happy, smiling, and the pastor at the Mulimbi famlies' church would put any pastor in America to shame. The country side was beautiful, mountains surrounded our home, and most of Swaziland. And even though an elephant trumpeted at us, stomped his foot, and almost charged us in our tiny Toyota and a cobra spat at me through his glass display, I loved the wild life. I even gave a name to my African family's dog, Poucha.
Yes, they are my family, and for the sake of my mother, they are my "African" family. I miss them, but hope to return soon. They changed my stereotypes on so many things, even about American culture, and made me a better person.
I encourage any and every one to apply. It will change your life.