You don’t hear much about the plane ride.
Students travel halfway across the world and sit in turbulence-ridden aircrafts for 15 plus hours, dealing with crying babies and rock-hard, boxed food. Sometimes claustrophobia sneaks in, other times a bad case of nausea. But as soon the wheels touch the ground, they seem to magically forget the whole ordeal.
At first, my trip to Tanzania was no different.
We landed in Arusha after the sun had set and the land was cast in shadows. We drove to our lodge blind, forced to use all other senses to take the country in. It smelled of eucalyptuses and bananas, it felt warm, fresh, and inviting. The sounds were different too – all bird calls foreign, insects I couldn’t identify buzzing around our vehicle, and the quiet nature of it all. The bouts of silence were newest to me – there were no cars honking, no trains whistling.
I felt a sense of relief and closed my eyes. It didn’t feel like I’d been traveling for almost two days. I was there and that’s all that mattered.
I didn’t think of the plane ride again until we stopped outside Lake Manyara almost a week later. The water level was low, despite the recent rainy season, and our tour guide explained why.
“Global warming,” he said.
I thought back to the 15 hours I spent stuffed in a small chair on that plane. I was so far from my American life – over a day’s journey – but in that instant I realized the distance didn’t matter. What I did back home, from buying products that supported drying up African wells, to driving my car, impacted the lives of the people of Tanzania. The people that live 9,000 miles away from my home.
For the rest of the trip, I’d notice the little things that connected my American world with my Tanzanian one; the shrinking Lake Eyasi, the baby elephants orphaned by Ivory poaching, even the little boys and girls running around in American shirts.
On the plane ride home, I was able to sit up against the small window. I watched as we flew over oceans, brightly-lit cities and sheets of melting ice. Our world is magically diverse, but I knew as I watched, we were all connected.
I’d heard it before, but it was then that it dawned on me: we are a global society.