Agricultūra. ~ Carrie Stiles

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Transformative Odyssey

I was provoked by my conscience to embark on an odyssey through Africa and India.

My world vision remarkably manifested, despite my lack of funds, through either the divine will of the universe or predatory lending schemes. Either way, I fled the confines of the USA on a journey through Egypt, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, South Africa and India over the course of three years. I continue to reconnect to the compelling lessons I absorbed en route through my work in Conflict Resolution.

Africa empowered me. India educated me. 

It was the hottest day of the year when Tracy Francis, of Hybrid Theater Works, and I arrived in Cairo. A gust of heat hit me as I looked out over the desert city. “It is hot huh?” Tracy’s boisterous uncle asked me. “Not too hot,” I giggled nervously while finding it difficult even to breath.

We pilled into the car and headed off on our journey. “See those lines on the road?” My best friend warned me as we hit the highway, “they are merely a suggestion.” Indeed, Cairo taught me to be resourceful and think outside the box!

Tracy’s flamboyant, Egyptian family welcomed us to the big, filthy city. I would soon come to love Cairo for few, but passionate reasons. I left a bit heartbroken after a too short, summer semester at the American University in Cairo.

When I arrived in Ghana I felt a thousand times more comfortable despite the open sewers. Women are more an outspoken part of society in Southern Ghana and people are intensely friendly. Volunteering in the jungle (literally) on Lake Volta to create a learning garden, and traveling through the (frighteningly) expanding Sahara was intensely liberating.

I was challenged and inspired throughout the experience of adapting to the absolutely opposite world of West Africa. I acquired a new set of values while absorbing Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina and Mali’s rich and varied cultures. Africa’s women transformed me with their generosity, kindness and resilience. West Africa is a world where relationships, family, ancient traditions and art forms are the measure of success. I learned to appreciate West African rich culture, vibrant traditions and resilience. 

 Time dissolved.  I was blessed with new eyes. 

After six months I was again wrenched away and deposited in Cape Town.“Your pizza will be ready in three and a half minutes.” What! Ironically, I was bombarded with my first dose of culture shock in Africa’s most westernized city. Shifting into Cape Town’s post-apartheid state was painful. Yet, I found my love of journalism while teaching for the Media School in a local township during my spring semester at the University of Cape Town.

Africa inspired me to work for Jubilee Oregon in fighting for International Debt Relief for the world’s poorest countries to free them from the burden of economic slavery. Through my graduate program in Conflict Resolution I studied participatory approaches to development while interning with Navdanya, which is the largest fair-trade, organic network in India and founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva. My journey has motivated me to create space for marginalized people to participate in global dialogues and meaningful relationship building.