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For me Africa is a smile
Monday, 09 June 2014 Written by Ana Martinović

For me Africa is a smileEver since you were a child, you wanted to go to Africa and volunteer there; help someone somehow, but all sorts of life situations always prevented you and the moment was never right... Sounds familiar? Well, that’s how my story begins as well..

School, university, job, love, marriage and family had always been priorities and main reasons for postponing what I had truly wanted for a very long time, suppressing the need to try to distract the thoughts of a child in Africa from hunger so that, at least for a few moments, your voice, laughter or singing became stronger than the growling of an empty little stomach.

My trip to Africa hadn’t didn’t happen until a change in life circumstances literally forced it upon me. I’ll be frank with you - even the priorities surrounding my trip had somewhat changed. Or, better said... they were overshadowed. Now I was important... and my feelings, my life... and the people and children in Africa were secondary. I know this might sound selfish, but if it weren’t so I would probably never have come to Rwanda in the first place.

I arrived very late into the night, and only after I spent the night and most of the morning catching up on my much needed sleep, did impressions of Rwanda slowly began to take shape... like a puzzle almost. My first stroll through the parish of Kivumu instantly dispelled even the slightest vestiges of my original feeling of selfishness. Because, you see, the beautiful village and its wonderful people simply make it impossible not to smile; they literally drive away sadness from your heart. It is impossible to describe what one experiences here in a few words. Believe me, Rwanda, “the beautiful land of a thousand hills” as it is called, wouldn’t be so beautiful if it didn’t have what makes it so wonderful – and those are, of course, its children. Maybe this will sound like an exaggeration to some, because children are wonderful wherever you go, but believe me... here they truly are special.

What makes them special is most certainly not their outward appearance - their clothes, shoes, tidiness etc. Rather, it is their pure souls and smiles – and given the conditions under which they live, which are no reason to bring a smile to a child’s face anywhere – are exactly what makes them irresistible. Their smiles disarm you completely, preventing you from thinking about yourself. They don’t have a ball, they don’t have candy, or chocolate, or appropriate clothes, or shoes, or electricity, or water, or TV, or computers. In fact, they don’t even have enough of the basic necessity of life – food - but they are happy... happy because they are able to give you the one thing they have in abundance... their smile. And no one can take that away from them, not even hunger and disease. The greatest experience for them is to take a walk through the village holding your hand. Imagine! Such a small gesture makes them infinitely happy! And that’s what makes them special; they don’t ask for much. In fact, they don’t ask for anything, and they give an enormous amount of love and happiness in return.

One of the first things I have learned here is that Rwanda speaks in the language of love! You get to experience all sorts of preconceptions here – like, some of the children being afraid of you just because they haven’t had the opportunity to see that many white women; or both children and grownups rubbing your skin hoping to see their own familiar colour appear underneath the whiteness.

My experiences and feelings for Africa are growing with each passing day and at such speed that I am unable to process it all, and I know they will stay with me long after I go back.

Following the advice of my new friend Nikolina, I didn’t allow myself to harbour any special or high expectations. And, despite the nature of my arrival, I didn’t expect a miracle that would deepen my faith, chase away my pain and my problems, and cast a ray of joy into my life. Nonetheless, that is exactly what happened! A smile returned to my face, if just for the short period that I am going to spend here. That is something that I will never be able to repay to these African children.

And when they ask me about Africa I will say: “For me Africa is a smile, for me Africa is happiness, for me Africa is love.”

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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