Visiting the Copperbelt University in Zambia opened up an amazing opportunity to interact with people living on the other side of the hemisphere. The location where they study may be different from my own, but our similarities were only more accentuated through our shared goal of an educational pursuit. Our meeting took place at the American Corner located in the Dag Hammarskjold Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. This site was perfect as the space was created/sponsored by the US State Department to promote American culture and values. For a little while, I felt that my friends and I not only represented Texas A&M, but were ambassadors for the United States as a whole by partaking in a conversational exchange (soft public diplomacy). An American Corner is created with a Memorandum of Understanding, so a fair back-and-forth between Aggies and the students of Copperbelt University was an ideal fit for the venue and actually something I expected going in. Real growth between individuals and groups is nourished through the free flow of ideas, and this meeting between cultures is something that I’m certain will stick with everyone involved.

Categories: 2017 Trip

Being given the amazing opportunity of traveling to the African continent was an awesome and enriching experience. I was able to expose myself to different cultures and to contrast the landscapes and way of living of two different African countries. The first African country I visited was South Africa, where I stayed in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  While being in Cape Town, I visited Robben Island, the Parliament, Table Mountain; one of the New 7th Wonders of Nature, Heart of CPT museum, and Stellenbosch, a gorgeous town were the most delicious wines and fancy restaurants can be found. I had a bit of everything. It was exciting to learn about the prison where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years of his life out of the twenty-seven that he was a prisoner, have a tour at the Parliament to see how it has had a big impact on the lives of many since it gives the ability to solve important issues among citizens, and be aroused by learning that the very first successful heart transplant was accomplished in South Africa, not in the United States, but South Africa; a fact that South Africans are very proud about. What I really liked about this trip and this experience is that it was not only learning about the culture in museums but also by exposing myself to its beautiful natural landscapes and people. Like I mentioned before, I had the incredible opportunity of mixing and testing delicious wines with chocolates, ate in such a fancy restaurant I could have never imagined of eating in and admiring the beautiful city of Cape Town from the top of natural wonder called Table Mountain. I got to live through all of this and even though it is not my country I couldn’t be prouder of all the marvelous, historic, and natural places that Cape Town has to offer. However, this was just the beginning. My next stop was Johannesburg. During my stay, I visited the Constitution Hill prison, the Apartheid Museum, and the township of Soweto. It was shocking and hard breaking to learn about the conditions that black prisoners had to go through and how there was a huge distinction between blacks, whites and those who were Africanos, which were the mixes of black with whites or Indians. Black people were always segregated, mistreated and unjustly judged or condemned. At Soweto, I got to eat in a typical restaurant of the region, listen to live music and observe representative dancers of their culture, as well as admire the craftsmanship and buy some for my family members. They had beautiful masks, wire beaded animals, small bowls, paintings, figurines, magnets, earrings, and many other crafts. Although I didn’t visit as many places in Johannesburg as I did in Cape Town I still got an irreplaceable and great experience.

The next country that I visited was Zambia. I spent a total of a week in this country and stayed in the cities of Luanshya, Lusaka, and Livingstone. In Luanshya I and my peers stayed at our professor’s parents hostel, visited the Mopani Copper Mine, a boarding school my professor attended when he was a teen, the Copperbelt Energy Company, and the Mpelembe Secondary School. At the Mopani Copper Mine, we were given a tour of the factory.  I was lucky to have such a dedicated guide who was explaining every single detail of how the factory transformed big pieces of copper obtained from the mines into the long and tiny wire. He showed us into detail every single step out of the seven taken to produce the wire. If it hadn’t been because he actually drew some pictures into paper, and wrote down the steps in addition to showing how the wire was being transformed into the different machines I wouldn’t have learned so much. At the boarding school, I and the rest of the group were invited to look around the dorms and have lunch. Although the food wasn’t as fancy as some of the other places where we had eaten before, it was really good. However, I was astonished when I saw that all the kids were eating with their bare hands without utensils. As a result of this, we all did the same. We ate meat, cabbage, and nshima which is a stiff porridge made from ground maze; it looks like mashed potatoes but tastes like maze. The last two places we visited were the Copperbelt Energy Company and the Mpelembe Secondary School. At the Copperbelt Energy Company, I learned that the job of the engineers who worked at the headquarters was extremely important since they were in charge of tracking and fixing the electric problems of the machines used to operate at the mines. Without having an eye on them they could completely shut down the economy of Zambia since it relays on mining. In other words, without electricity to make the machines work, there would be no useful machines and mines will be flooded as well as unworked, which will stop the extraction of copper as well as other minerals and will affect the entire economy of the country. Lastly, the Mpelembe Secondary School was the place I liked the most. Together with my peers we introduced ourselves and took pictures with the students. It was such an emotive moment when all the students wanted to hug us, take pictures, and hold our hands.  After all these amazing places it was time to travel to Lusaka. In this city, we visited the first president’s house, a museum and the U.S Embassy. Since we were a little short on time all of our visits didn’t last as long as the others. But, I learned a lot at the Embassy and I’m happy that we got to visit it. Finally, in Livingstone, we went to another wonder of nature of the world, Victoria Falls and engaged in a Zafari trip. Words aren’t enough to describe how gorgeous the falls were and the innumerable memories I made there with my peers. At the safari it was the same, we got to walk near a white Rhino, saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, baboons, and impalas.

All these experiences allowed me to expand my knowledge and got me interested in keeping learning about the culture, politics, and economics of other countries besides the United States. This trip taught me so much and at the same time allowed me to engage and enjoy it to the maximum. It is a once in a life time experience and I couldn’t be more grateful for having been granted the opportunity of being part of it.

Categories: 2017 Trip

It was really difficult taking things in at first landing in Cape Town, South Africa because I was so eager to see what there was out there for us to explore and compare. Now that I reflect back on my trip I remember feeling a strong contrast in their social development. By talking to one of the locals, I learned about the difference in our countries’ histories. By listening to the news broadcasted I realized that crime was similar to our own in America. By observing underdeveloped communities it dawned on me how much alike African society reflected what development should look like. America had it’s own class of development however it was not as various as what I witnessed in Cape Town. To me this signified how societies shift in the same direction, especially when reform is present. The only difference is that I saw this shift occur at a rate far greater than our own past developments.

So for once I did not see the bird flying over the building that took its home. I saw the bird taking back the home that building imposed itself upon. Western domination is becoming a thing of the past.

Categories: 2016 Trip

There’s a reason Victoria Falls is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Words can’t express how amazing and beautiful the falls were and pictures definitely don’t do it justice. We were able to get up early in the morning and to watch the sun rise over the falls. This is a sight I will not soon forget. It was so peaceful and I was able to feel as one with nature. We went back later in the day and took the tourist route of the falls where it was hard to find a spot where you didn’t feel a mist on your face. You just wanted to stay and stare in awe at the beauty of the cascading water over the side of the rocky cliff. This is a place I definitely want to go back to and visit in my life time.

Categories: 2016 Trip

When we were first assigned to blog our experience throughout this trip I wanted to document everything as accurately as possible. I did so, leaving little room for identifying the few key elements that would set apart and characterize the trip. It has been over a month now since we embarked on our journey and, while there is much rambling I could present, a condensed version of my long-winded yet short-lived observations is what should best be shared as it is of greater meaning. This is my summarization of our journey.

While we spent most of our trip in Zambia, South Africa did leave an impression on me. The most apparent thing upon arriving there was the beautiful scenery. Almost everything about the city is picturesque. There was certainly heavy European influence in what we saw during our approximately 3 days there. This goes to show the complexity of the African continent and how it cannot be classified with the limited information we are given about it. Asian and Indian influences are also not foreign to Africa, we learned. The cultural mix of man-made features in Cape Town, along with the natural mountainous features, made it gorgeous and a place many of us would like to return to.

While the views were excellent, we gained the most by the information that was presented to us. Our first presentation there was by Dr. Michael Power, a strategist for Investec of whom we were fortunate to meet with. He shifted our perspectives of Africa as a whole our second day there. He made it clear that there is much mutually beneficial opportunity available in the developing nations of Africa for students from highly developed nations. Things such as mediation between the nations or simply working abroad could go long ways into developing success for both parties. He also gave us insight about the development of the continent of Africa, “The Hopeless Continent”, as it was once provokingly named. The truth of the matter is that many African countries have an impressive amount of economic development already in practice with prospects depicting much more to come. In fact, there is nothing but hope in store for Africa and its continuously expanding nations.

The rest of the memorable parts of Cape Town consisted of more breathtaking views and incidents of reality. One in particular was our drive through a dense area of slums. The reality of it, present before me, was a bit dispiriting. It felt a bit invasive, to say the least. Here we were driving around these people’s quaint neighborhood with cameras in hand. It wasn’t until a man gave us the most genuine smile and cheerful wave that I felt welcome there. It made my day. It goes to show what I learned in a previous trip to Arkansas: happiness and fulfillment is present in any lifestyle, regardless how far it strays from our conventional beliefs.

In Zambia, we were privileged enough to visit quite a few great locations. This included the US Embassy, The Bank of Zambia, Zambian Parliament, Zambian Railways, Copperbelt University, Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, and Victoria Falls, to name a few.

The US Embassy allowed us to get a have a clear picture of what it is like for Americans to pursue international opportunities on behalf of the United States. Most of my international ambitions before this visitation were solely for career and business-related purposes. Now I think it would be wonderful to be able to have a career in which you are able to aid the development of countries filled with potential.

The Bank of Zambia had an excellent presentation for us. It was filled with lengthy discussions of Zambian macroeconomics, which may not appeal to those who aren’t a fan of the topic (luckily I am), but what I took from it was something more special. I realized, that day, how ambitious of a country Zambia is. Their economical pursuits were apparent and all was expressed with a hint of complete determination. Needless to say, I now have high expectations and am excited for the future of Zambia. Furthermore, the way they received us was with utmost hospitality. They offered us lunch and we gratefully accepted it.

The National Assembly of Zambia, or the Zambian Parliament, was interesting to witness. Unfortunately, it was difficult to fully understand but we were still able to learn about the way they meet to discuss important decisions to be made for their country. It was much more informal than I expected as there was a lot of joking throughout the meeting. Most of what I remember hearing was “thank you mister speaker”, which is what members would say before stating their case. Though I wasn’t able to obtain the full scoop on what important issues they were discussing, it is certainly something I will never forget witnessing. The setting was enough to allow comprehension of the culture and its unique form of dealing with significant matters.

Copperbelt University was one of my favorite places we visited. We met students in what they call the “American Corner”. It is room filled with American books, magazines, etc. that is used by students who are wanting to study abroad in the United States. Essentially, we were able to meet with other college students that we were able to make friends with. They asked us many questions about the US and the way universities work here. We happily answered and were able to establish many similarities and differences between our two nations. It was really just a laidback and casual experience that contrasted most of the locations we visited. We had a great time. It goes to show that we enjoy the simpler events of interacting with other students and helping guide them along the most. Another example of this was visiting with Dr. Musoma’s family and friends. They held a welcome dinner for us and their hospitality was unmatched. We were able to listen to and converse with such genuinely great people. That made for a pleasant evening for us.

Overall I enjoyed sharing this experience with such awesome people. I was able to get to know all of the Regents that I hadn’t known before. The trip wouldn’t have been half as fun without them. So thanks guys for making the trip much more enjoyable!

Furthermore, I would like to thank Phillips 66 for graciously sponsoring the trip. I am certain we are all highly appreciative and I hope we were able to capture what you envisioned. Thank you to Dean Strawser for allowing this incredible trip to take place and for being cooperative with Dr. Musoma’s wishes. It is very kind of you to do so. Thank you to Dr. Musoma for creating all of this for us. We can’t thank you enough! And thank you to Mrs. Musoma for joining us and keeping us in great company.

The short yet composite journey left a deep impression in all of us. It was something that is difficult to explain in a small number of words but we have each gained something special from it. I am certain that we will always remember the time we were able to form our own story of Africa.

Categories: 2016 Trip

Three days to explore a city as wonderful as Cape Town are not enough, but our beautiful hostess made the three days perfect. Semwano Chonya welcomed us into the city, and planned three days packed full of amazing adventures.

From the first time I met her, I could tell she was a busy and important woman, and the more I got to know her, the more and more I admired her. She was full of such grace and elegance as well as sweetness and love. We could not have had someone better to look after us during our stay in the city. It was saddening to say goodbye to her on our last night, but hopefully it wasn’t a goodbye forever. I hope I get to meet with her again. She left a mark in my life, and I’m so grateful for her.

Thank you, Semwano. Thank you for being you. I wish the best for you, and I wish our paths can cross again.

Categories: 2016 Trip

Africa. The place where friendships are made and strengthen. It is where the people are nice and enviable sunsets are an everyday blessing. The location of mouth-watering dishes and seeing a gorgeous scenery everywhere you go. Experiencing this and realizing the stereotypical, single stories are wrong and that you have the opportunity to change that; you have the chance to tell everyone back home about the beauty behind the dry grass and red-ish dirt. As most individuals, I’ve always had the dream to change the world, or at least one person’s life. To know that I can teach someone about Africa and encourage them to go so that they too can discover the exquisiteness in a continent that most don’t get the opportunity to experience in their lifetime is something that makes me get chills along my arms. If you’re reading this blog, like my friend always says, I challenge you to discover the magic in place where you’d least expected. I challenge you to do everything you can to adventure out into the world and reveal the secrets of the land. I may be biased, but I loved the discoveries and adventures that I had in South Africa and Zambia. If I could do it all over again, I would not even think twice and embark on this trip once more. I hope to go maybe to another region on the African continent and unearth the magic of that land.

 

Zikomo and until next time, Africa!

Categories: 2016 Trip

It’s been a little over a month since we were in Africa. I must admit I still miss the sights and smells from driving and walking around the cities of Cape Town and Lusaka, for example. I can’t help but think how much the trip actually opened my eyes. Two weeks ago, I was in Panama helping an indigenous community learn basic saving concepts. I couldn’t help but think about the similarities and differences between the African and Central American countries. For instance, even though Panama and Southern Africa are not anywhere near each other, I noticed that the people from both regions are similar in that they had what it is referred to as Southern Hospitality. The people (and the scenery) are definitely a fact in making me want to return back, whether it is South Africa, Zambia, or even Panama. I had a trip of a lifetime, that changed my perspective on the world. I am trying to eliminate the single stories from my mind, which makes me even more excited to travel to other countries and discover their hidden beauty. I know that this Africa trip was just the beginning of many more traveling stories around the world that I hope to have, but it was my most memorable one. I will forever be grateful for this blessing of a trip that Phillips 66 gave my friends and I.

Categories: 2016 Trip

One of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting the Chimfunshi Sanctuary, although we only stayed there for a day and night I feel like it was one of the more influential part of the trip, well at least for me. It made me realize that it’s nice to just sit down and be completely there every once in a while and how different foreigners viewpoint of us Americans and our country is from our own viewpoint of ourselves.

Literally the only thing we did during the night that we were at the sanctuary was eat dinner and sit around the warm campfire and chat. It was all very peaceful though and since we had all gotten to know one another in the days before it was fun to just sit around with friends and talk about nothing in particular. We also didn’t have any phones so we were kind of forced to interact, not that any of us minded at this point in the trip I don’t think.

This fireside chat was very enlightening for me because one of the men that was staying at the sanctuary opened up to us a bit and we got to see a much different view over Americans than the one we had been hearing up until this point. His opinion over the United States wasn’t a very good one, he believed the US to be very imperialistic and materialistic. It was all very interesting to hear, in my opinion.

All in all I really enjoyed our stay at the Sanctuary. It reminded me of the importance of staying grounded and of taking some time to live in the moment, it seems like here at home I’m always so busy thinking about what I’m going to be doing and should be doing that I forget to think about the present.

Categories: 2016 Trip

One thing we did while in Zambia, Africa was go on a safari. You can see many of these animals at a local zoo, but  it is truly different seeing them in the wild and not confined. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. One of the main reasons I liked this safari so much is that we were able to get out of the truck that we were riding in and walk up to a mother white rhino with her child. We were within 50 yards of the two. You might be able to get close to animals in the zoo, but it is different when there’s not a fence or glass separating you. That is what made it feel different.

Categories: 2016 Trip