How I re-learned to say “Hakuna Matata” (Jess Neilson)

Like many of us, I have spent the majority of my life living in a material world. The past few years of my young adult life have been spent in the Queen of plastic cities, Los Angeles. As my residency in ol’ LA lengthened, I noticed my happiness dwindling. I used to fancy myself a little ray of sunshine, but for some reason, living in this sunny state only seemed to cloud my daily demeanor. This was due to a number of factors – living far from my family, working an amazing yet wholly unfulfilling job, and on a grander scale, just not having any real goals to speak of. This was all the case until I decided to spend a few weeks in Tanzania this summer.

This trip has been a long time coming. I’ve always been intrigued with the continent of Africa and more specifically Tanzania, once I realized Mt. Kilimanjaro was a feasible prospect. Regardless of the fact that I would tell anyone who would listen that all I wanted was to travel to Tanzania, I never did it. “I don’t have enough money,” “I can’t get the time off of work,” “How in the heck am I supposed to plan something like that??” You name it, I used it. “Just go,” people would say. It never seemed that easy to me. Then earlier this year, something snapped. Or clicked. My new years resolution was that 2012 was going to be the year of Yes. I decided to quit my job and go back to school, I decided to get a dog, and I decided to “just go” to Tanzania.

Flash forward 6 months and I’m standing at JRO, handing my bags over to the only white kid waiting at the airport, Kyle. My first impressions of this country were nothing short of amazed. What a beautiful place I share the sun and the stars with, and to think of all the people who will never get to experience such a peaceful and beautiful land is unfortunate! Walking through town reminded me I was far from home, and being so far outside of my comfort zone was truly humbling.

Visiting the orphanage for the first time, I had no idea what to expect and I was nervous as to how I would be accepted by the children. Having volunteers jumping in and out of their lives must bring a bit of confusion or perhaps feelings of unsettledness. Whatever my worries were, however, they quickly melted away as soon as I walked in. These children are incredible!! There are no words to describe the utter awe I had in these kids. I knew I would return to the states with a bit of fresh perspective, but I never imagined just how much. To think of how much time I have spent sweating the small stuff is almost embarrassing. What these kids have taught me is that everything is going to be fine. I look at Peter, who used to live in a banana tree, and I turn a slight shade of red when I think about the stress I have been putting on myself worrying about what I am going to do next with my life. Go to school? Don’t go to school? Find a new job? Slow down, Jess! If little Peter can turn out to be one of the most outgoing and loving children I have ever met, I am certainly going to be JUST fine.

As if traveling to a third-world country by myself was not challenge enough, I decided to throw in a trek of Mt. Kilimanjaro to top things off. I truly had the most amazing, albeit difficult, week of my life up on that mountain. I was joined by the most spectacular climbing crew, a group of people who complemented one another so well it was eerily perfect. Alex, my tent mate and now dada for life was crucial to my making it through each day, mostly because of the fact that we realized we are practically one in the same person. Kyle kept everyone on their toes and single-handedly made the topic of bathroom talk acceptable all day, every day, mostly at the dinner table. Kurt was always just around the corner ready to help a fellow climber up a rock or down a ledge, usually with a piece of gum in hand for you afterwards. Mama Val, the most knowledgeable of us all regarding the mountain, kept us aware of exactly how difficult the coming days were going to be, whether we liked it or not! Love you, V!! And sweet little Adam, bless his heart, he just impressed the heck out of me every single day and made me feel like a wuss anytime I complained of how tired I was. I think he blew us all away with his strength and maturity. Aside from summitting, my other objective on the mountain was to make a group of life-long friends. I am pleased to report that I without a doubt conquered both of these goals ๐Ÿ™‚

In only 3 short weeks, Tanzania has allowed me to embrace my old self again. I was the happiest I have been in years and to feel that way again is so refreshing. I know it sounds cheesy, but this trip has opened my eyes to what is important in life. Everything is so simple and slow and done with a purpose. We shower military-style to conserve water, we hand wash our laundry and use the leftover water to water the plants, we take turns washing dishes immediately after dinner so that pots and pans can be reused, we don’t cook new food until all of the leftovers are gone from the fridge – and I never once heard someone complain about these “hardships.” In fact, my first night home I showered military-style out of habit. And I’m sure my parents are wondering why the dinner dishes are always clean before they get up from the table.

I have been home in New York with my family for 3 days now. I am pretty sure I have some sort of parasite living inside of me, all of my luggage is still floating in some ether or another, and I still have no idea what I am going to do with myself when I get back to Los Angeles. But you know what? That’s ok! All is great and I feel happy and blessed to have the life that I do. Thank you a million times to MAD, those unbelievable children, and the amazing country of Tanzania. Hakuna matata! Everything is going to be just fine ๐Ÿ™‚


About gomadnowvolunteer

Make a Difference (MAD). An organization which provides quality educational opportunities to vulnerable children. #volunteer #scholarships #orphans #Africa
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3 Responses to How I re-learned to say “Hakuna Matata” (Jess Neilson)

  1. alex says:

    Jess you are just fantastic! Dadas for life!! xx

  2. mi ann says:

    Loved reading this! Inspiring, sweet, & made me smile! Hoping to be able to participate in a similar tip soon myself. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Thank you so much for taking the time to write down your reflections Jess. We hope to see you again in Tanzania one day!

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