During spring vacation of my junior year of high school, I was fortunate enough to go to Mali to build a school in a village called Biko. I did this through a program I had been a part of at school called buildOn, which is a non-profit organization that does community service, global education, and fundraising to build schools in developing countries. Every year, they send two students on Trek from each of the schools that have buildOn programs. This was something I had dreamed about doing since I joined the club a year and a half earlier, so by the time we were about to leave, I had many expectations of what would happen while I was there. I could not wait to meet my host family, do cultural workshops like making shea butter, and of course, work on the school. I was certain it was going to be the best two weeks of my life.
As we got closer to leaving, I started getting nervous and even a little scared. However, once we got there, all of my fear dissipated as we drove through the streets of Bamako. I knew that this was where I was supposed to be. The next day, we drove to Biko and met our host families. I was a little shy, but before we knew it, we were being taught how to say all sorts of words in Bambara by our host brother while all of the smaller children gathered around to laugh at how silly our pronunciation was. We started cultural workshops, the first of which were about the language, and we broke the ground on the school. Just as I had expected, I was having the time of my life.
A couple of days later however, I got really sick from heat stroke which was something I had not been expecting. I stuck it out and still did everything I had been doing before, but I was not enjoying myself nearly as much. I felt miserable and physically weak. All of the others were constantly telling me how brave I was for staying with them, but I did not feel brave at all. I could not help being sick, and there was nothing I could really do but keep going. I simply worked as hard as I could because I knew I had to make the most of this unique experience.
When it was time to go home, I was relieved but also disappointed that things were not how I expected them to be. Soon enough, we were on the plane headed back home, and I instantly and completely forgot how miserable I had been. My head was full of thoughts about my trip, and they were all wonderful thoughts about the kindness of my host family, the progress we had mead on the work site, and times of simply walking through the village. I realized that the trip had absolutely been worth every minute just so that I could have such precious memories. It may not have been what I was expecting, but that was what made it unique. If everything had turned out how I imagined, there would have hardly been any point in going. My trip to Mali showed me that life is an adventure full of ups and downs, but the good will always weigh out the bad if I let it. No experience can be perfect, but that does not make it any less valuable.
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