Africa. A vast and diverse continent. Did you know that you can fit the whole of the United States, China and Europe into Africa and still have space to spare?
When I was in college in New Hampshire, my dear friend Ema and I decided one summer that since we were both planning trips home, Ema to Tanzania and I to Ghana, it would be wonderful to visit each other's country. We decided to travel together from the U.S. first to Tanzania, from Tanzania to Ghana, and then from Ghana back to the U.S in time for the next academic year. Our excitement lasted until we spoke to a travel agent and found out how much it would cost to make the trip - much more than we could afford as college students. And sadly, the most expensive part of the trip would be the journey between Tanzania and Ghana. In fact, it would have been more affordable to make two separate trips: from the U.S. to Tanzania and back, and then from the U.S. to Ghana and back. It was sad and ironic that it was easier to travel to another continent than to travel within Africa. With disappointment, we put our idea on hold and instead individually visited our respective home countries. However, we have both held on to the dream of being able one day to travel the length and breadth of the continent, experiencing and learning first hand the similarities and differences between east and west, north and south.
Fast forward seven or eight years to today. Around midday on Sunday, I looked out of the window on my Ethiopian Airlines flight from Accra through Addis-Ababa to Kilimanjaro, and saw lush green plains dotted with trees. Mount Kilimanjaro was not visible through the cloud cover, but the view was still breathtakingly beautiful. We landed in quiet Kilimanjaro airport and moved quickly through immigration. For the first time, I was in East Africa, in Tanzania, and the purpose was to attend the TEDGlobal conference as a TED Fellow. On my travel, I had already met several other people attending the conference, speakers and fellows from Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia.
The van that met us at the airport drove for forty or so minutes through the Tanzanian countryside. It is the rainy season, the weather is cool and damp, and everything is green. The conference site, the Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge, is set in a quiet spot, surrounded by nature. There are attendees from forty countries at TED’s first conference in Africa.
On Monday morning, I went on one of the NGO tours that had been organized. My group accompanied representatives of the Kilimanjaro Center for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO) to a district hospital to observe and learn about their community eye-care projects serving the Kilimanjaro region. The project involves diagnostic services and cataract surgery.
More to come