For five months, Grady Goodwin visited the “dark continent” of Africa. A continent many of us know very little about (hence why it is called the “dark continent”), save for National Geographic images in our minds and the turmoil which makes it into our news streams of child soldiers, blood diamonds and more recently, mall bombings.
But Goodwin had a chance to see some of the reality of Africa, from the slums to the savannah.
Goodwin went as a volunteer and traveler with two different organizations. He started out helping to build a school in Uganda with the organization International volunteers HQ.
“I loved construction but it was hard work in the heat,” said Goodwin.
He worked with a Ugandan foreman, local tradesmen and some local youngsters also helped do the construction work. The youngsters were boys who would one day study in the school when it was completed.
While in Uganda, Goodwin also had the opportunity to see gorillas up close and personal.
He described the primates as being quite calm even though they are such large and powerful animals.
Next Goodwin went to volunteer in an orphanage in Tanzania, where he was given paper, pens and then asked to teach the students.
There wasn’t a lot of training, but he said he picked it up as he went and relied on some of what he had learned from some coaching he had done (and perhaps his mom may have been an influence on him, whether he knew it or not, as she has been a kindergarten teach for many years).
Goodwin said he really enjoyed the kids, who were recruited to come to the orphanage for school and a place to live out of the slums.
He had a chance to visit the slums while he was there, and saw the desperate porverty and young kids getting high on substances like jet fuel.
“That was truly eye-opening seeing that,” he said.
Next was South Africa, where Goodwin volunteered with Aviva doing conservation work.
The work he was doing was walking through the bush with another volunteer killing prickly pear cacti, an invasive species detrimental to the local ecosystem.
Walking through the bush by themselves in Africa, given the wildlife consists of lions and elephants, was an experience all in itself.
“You definitely have your heart racing once in awhile,” he said.
He had a chance to see rhinos tranquilized and then the workers did a “horn infusion” where the rhinoceros horn was injected with a powerful die in order to try and prevent it from being marketable for Asian medicines for which so many rhinoceros are killed by poachers each year.
“Some of the stuff they did was incredible,” said Goodwin of the conservation workers.
But not only did he have a chance to see massive white and black rhinos in the wild, he also saw elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards, cheetahs and honey badgers, an animal which gave one camp he stayed at a lot of trouble because of their fearless nature.
“They’re amazing animals,” he said.
The five-month trip “flew by” he said and he enjoyed the experience of getting to know some of the culture and meet some of the Maasai people of Tanzania, one of the aboriginal groups there.
He was also surprised by the cities and infrastructure he saw on the continent.
“When I pictured Africa, it was just a whole bunch of shacks, it’s not really like that. It’s way more developed than I thought.”
He learned a lot about the recent history of some of the places he visited and was impressed by the people’s attitudes.
The people he met were “surprisingly happy for how little they have.”
The other aspect of the continent which made an impact was the lack of racism. “They just don’t view racism the way we do,” he said. “It’s impressive how much they can accept.”
The trip was also not all work and no play, he did have some just-for-fun experiences such as white-water rafting down the Nile River and bungee-jumping.
He had a chance to attend two soccer matches, one with around 45,000 people in the stands.
The only negative story Goodwin recounted was one in which he was pick pocketed while at a local rap concert.
While it meant he had to walk back to where he was staying instead of taking a taxi, he seemed philosophical about it all and said the person probably got a lot more benefit out of the small amount of cash he had been carrying than he would have.
“It’s kind of funny what you can laugh at there,” he said, and the “amount we value things we don’t really need.”