One of my earliest memories of Africa is of when I read Joseph Conrad’s mesmerizing, steeped in heavy symbolism novel Heart of Darkness. I read it once; then I read it a second and a third time. I came out of the experience having dedicated about 3 months writing an honors thesis on it. On how Marlow’s Caucasian friends are jet black, dark on their insides than the ones who are just superficially of that darker tone. That therein in Marlow’s society lays the true heart of darkness than on the skins of the Congolese slaves.
“And this also… has been one of the dark places of the earth.”
– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Part 1
That the book left an impact on me is an understatement. It started my (till now) unrequited love affair with the African continent. Africa became that land of mystique – that place far, far away that only a few could ever enter. It never seemed a possibility. I chased after it in college, I ran after it in Boston, and I am finally achieving it – reaching touchdown in a few hours – in graduate school.
Now to think that such a distant land is only a few flights away seems so impossible to me. And that so many friends of mine have been there multiple times and/or are working there for the last few months – that parts of the continent have become so accessible in the last few decades – just shows how fast the world has progressed. And how, there are very few places truly left in our tiny globe that are unreachable. In fact, I have a friend from business school who took a cruise up to Antarctica! Antarctica – just think about that!
I set off – travel to Kenya for a week first to take in some game, some beautiful views, and catching up on summer stories with friends. Then, the real fun starts. My friend and I will be taking a 14 hour long bus ride through the sinewy roads of East Africa to get from Nairobi to Kampala. There, in Uganda, my dream is realized. The rest of my team joins me and we’ll be spending 2 weeks conducting a market assessment for a point of care drug delivery tool. Having spent the last 4 months working on this project – with a wonderful group of people – seeing it come alive will be tremendous.
And personally, achieving that sought after dream of Global Health in Africa finally comes to life. Many, hoards of people have done such work before me – but to me – it’s my personal feat. It is what I had my eyes on when I started researching business degrees, global health, and social entrepreneurship. And my hunger will finally be satiated.
I’m nervous, apprehensive and certainly getting some pre-travel jitters. It’s funny – I’ve racked up many an international mile but before every trip that I take to a place unknown, my stomach ties up in a tight knot and my heart pleads to stay back in the comfort of the known. And yet, I plunge – and the swimming, the beautiful strokes – just start up naturally. The knot loosens, and the heart and the mind both become free – to roam, to breathe, to absorb the unknown like a second skin.