Before embarking on my first adventure of 2018, I didn’t know what to expect. I honestly had no idea what I was getting into and the not knowing made it that much more exciting. I knew I was going to Botswana and Zambia, I knew I was going with no expectations, an open mind and a warm heart. I knew I was going with privilege so I carried with me humility, an overpacked suitcase, and ever-expanding ambitions.
We woke up early January 2nd and herded into the vans at Wagner by 6:30 AM as we embarked to JFK. From NYC to Johannesburg, South Africa to Maun, then Botswana we became closer by the second as we time-traveled to the other side of the world and landed on January 3rd in our home for the next week. As we began our service work at a profound organization called Love Botswana, we hit bumps in the road along the way (literally and figuratively). Whether they were the bugs inside our uber-cozy living space (not what we were used to, but we were grateful to be staying in a house) or the cultural shock of what the word "modest" truly meant, we were able to overcome them as a team.
We were stationed at different centers, each focused on different forms of service. I, along with others, had the honor of spending my days at the orphanage, which was jarringly beautiful and horrific in all the same ways. While I wasn’t able to give the special, smiling young faces a forever home, I was able to help them feel loved, make them laugh, sing, and dance, and be a friend to them even if it was for such a short time. Being there was absolutely heart wrenching but a complete blessing as so many strong and loving souls touched my life.
Some of us were placed at the school, chartered on the same land as the orphanage, which provides a boarding school for children all across Botswana to gain an education they might not have otherwise received. Here the individuals had the privilege of teaching, trained or not, as the school was understaffed and lacked many supplies. One of the most touching moments was watching a local school girl seek out our classmate Brandon (a HawkTalk alum) while we were at the community church and hug him for being a wonderful teacher in her class. The third group was an outreach group that worked with the social workers of Love Botswana and went to different community groups in Maun. One of them was an all-women group that tragically lost one of their members due to murder. Our Wagnerians might not have been able to take away their pain, but they were able to provide comfort and company in a time of need.
As a collective group, we were privileged with attending a prison church service with our lovely Pastor Nfila. We entered the grounds unprotected but with minimal to no fear as we were met with this deep and earthly hymn that grew as we got closer. (Side note: this was not a religious alternative winter break.) There was nothing but gratitude and hope in each man’s eyes as they catered to us.
Love Botswana is a developing organization that has found strength and prosperity as it continues to dedicate so much to the Maun community. It also provided us with excursions like no other. We were brought to a beautiful tree lodge with five-star rooms that were made of the coolest tents I have ever seen, with a safari through land I have only imagined through children's books, with food so delicious I can still taste it now, and with an atmosphere where I have never felt more relaxed. The co-founder then safely took us to Zambia and Zimbabwe, where nature engulfed us in bliss as we walked through one of the seven wonders of the world, Victoria Falls, where we tested our fears and flew high above the gorges on a liberating zipline, where we saw animals so real, felt water so fresh, ate food so adventurous, and experienced cultures so rich and pure.
Each place we went to was filled with life, aspiration, love, and so much more. It brought 20 Wagner strangers together to form an unforgettable family. We cried, we laughed, we danced, we sang, we smiled, we grew, we lived, we loved. This experience far surpassed the imaginable. It feels like a dream but a dream that has awaken every cell in my body, sparked every fire in my mind, and nourished my soul so richly I could grow flowers from the tips of my fingers.
It’s rather difficult to accurately depict the complexity of the emotions and experiences we all endured on this trip and will continue to feel the effects of as we trek back into the Wagner routine. You can't capture the beauty in pictures, you can't capture the infinite stars or the paralyzing sunset, you can't capture the people behind the smiles.
In fact, I don’t know exactly where it all starts and ends. I guess one could say it started and ended on the planes, but I feel like those 15 hour plane rides were just the facilitation of an internal journey I have been on my whole life and will continue to be on. I will carry with me the faces and names of those 16 children, the smiles of the staff we were able to assist, the hands of the elderly we were able to hold, the songs of the prisoners we were able to hear, the rhythm of the community we were able to feel in our feet, the magic of the nature we were able to breathe, and the unity of all 20 of us Wagnerians. I will walk the new-found ground that continues to grow beneath me and I will water the seeds planted by this breathtaking adventure to continue discovering myself as I define my ambitions in this beautifully limitless thing we called life.