I didn’t understand why my uncle wasn’t shutting the car window as the man walked towards the car with a large stick in his hand. I looked down at the electronics on the middle console in the car, then back at the two young children in the back of the car, and couldn’t help but feel a wave of panic run through my body. “Aren’t you going to close your window?” I asked my uncle as an African man wearing a faded blue-plaid button up shirt and dirty khaki pants was feet away from our window. The African man quickly put his hand on the window frame and smiled. “Hello. How are you?” he said, extending his hand into the vehicle. “I’m fine. How are you?” my uncle smiled, taking the man’s hand and shaking it confidently. “I’m fine,” said the man, looking into the back of the car and acknowledging my aunt and cousins with a wave. He looked back at me and my uncle, who were sitting in the front seats of the silver 4-wheeler, and asked, “Where are you headed?” “Tanzania,” my aunt replied, returning the friendliness. After a few more moments of asking each other where we were from, and trying to understand the man’s choppy English, we said goodbye and the man replied with, “See you soon.” The man continued waving as my uncle rolled up his window and looked for oncoming traffic to merge back onto the dirt roads. “Did you know him?” I asked nervously to my uncle. “No.” he replied as he pulled off the side of the road, still smiling.
Traveling to Africa exposed me to a different culture that I would not have seen if I had stayed in California. In April of 2009, I independently flew to Kenya to join my aunt and her family on a twelve-day camping safari to Tanzania, in which we traveled areas in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater with a friend of their family, who was a native from the local tribes in Kenya and Tanzania. Being genuinely friendly and curious was the culture in Africa. People I had never met before would constantly walk around smiling asking if I was fine. This was inspirational to me because I grew up in a society that has grown accustomed to becoming defensive the instant a stranger even looks at them for a second too long. But now, I view human nature differently because I have seen that there is a place in the world where open-friendliness is possible and a part of a culture and it has inspired me to want to pursue my dreams as a singer to encourage friendliness in countries like America.
In Africa, people walked in small trenches that were on the side of the dirt roads as bikers and over-filled van-taxis used the road. Young boys holding machetes also shared the trenches, leading herds of calves in the hot sun. These people did not need money or items to make them happy. From this, I realized that as long as we are surrounded by people and traditions, we can be happy.
I can still see women walking on the side of the road with a basket balanced on their head as they carried two other baskets under their arms, continuing on in the scorching sun. Those women showed me that the hardest working people are still the nicest and happiest people I have ever met. Their happiness lives in me and taught me that even in the worst situations, there is always something to be proud and happy about. I now take what I learned from them and try to spread it around in America, genuinely acknowledging strangers with a borrowed smile and a warm welcome.
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