Becoming Stranger or Friend
Becoming Stranger or Friend
  • Lee Jung seungji
  • 승인 2009.05.09 11:04
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a Marvellous Experience in East Africa

As one aspect of last winter vacation’s ‘2009 Sookmyung Global Project’, participating students could get a chance to experience East Africa: Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.  The team included Dr. Mark Delancey who is a professor in the division of Political Science, Dr. Rebecca M. Delancey who was a former professor of Business Administration, Dr. Oh Jae Rim who is a professor in the division of Education, 13 schoolmates gathered from various majors, and Margaret Delancey, the daughter of the Delancey couple.

On January 9th, we boarded an airplane to Nairobi in Kenya, our first destination, into the blue.  Our one month journey into East Africa had just started, at last.



As soon as I arrived in Nairobi, my first impression was “different”: exotic trees, sky, huge lands without mountains and African people who had black skin.  “Papa, Africa is warm!” said Margaret.  That’s right.  Africa was warm because we had come from winter just 17 hours ago.  First of all, however, I was surprised that there were so many black people.  Even though I knew I was in Kenya, Africa, it was really amazing that most of people around me were not Korean or Asian, but African.  Perhaps, I was not the only one who was surprised, but so were the Kenyans.  Many people on the road turn around and looked at us, in spite of being in a big city where foreigners can be seen easily.  They were probably not used to seeing Asians.  Those scenes in which we felt curious about one another continued wherever we went in Africa, right until the end of our journey.


-      First story : Interview Center for International Voluntary Service - CIVS (1/11)

-  Non-profit agency without political or religious affiliation


 When I think back on the funniest moments of our trip, I definitely recall the “Kenyan Matatu”; that is, a bus.  It seemed to be a kind of dance club: loud music with fast beats and a speeding driver ignoring the traffic signals.  No one could help dancing because of the wild speed in the Matatu.  It was a really fun experience, something we could never imagine in Korea.  Our destination, the CIVS office, was a little far from downtown Nairobi.  A few years ago, one Sookmyungian participated in the voluntary program at CIVS, so the staff knew our university and bid us welcome thankfully.  The CIVS volunteers gave us a short presentation about themselves.  Interestingly, they have made their own “Safari” program to attract funds to run the organization.  They treated us to lunch with other volunteers gathering from around the world.  I met a Japanese student majoring in Education, Nobu, and German David.  These two guys not only ate the typical Kenyan food, goat meat and some vegetables, with their bare hands, but also seemed to adapt easily to the local culture.  Through the interviews and the gathering, I realized that somebody somewhere is continuing to try to make the world right and their dreams and efforts are sincere.


-      Second story : Safari

Waking up to the sound of the reading of the Koran from a mosque, morning in Nairobi was new and peaceful.  At 12, we were going to experience a safari to see Kenyan wildlife.  Along the highway to Lake Naivasha, we stopped to enjoy a view of the Great Rift Valley on a hill for a while.  In fact, the Great Rift Valley is a word given to all the basins in east Africa.  Where we stopped, there were some parts of basin area that we could overlook as well as Mount Longonot which is a dormant volcano.  The scene looked like a picture scroll spread out.  We could see many donkeys resting under the Eucalyptus trees between carrying things over the window.  Donkeys seem to be as good friends to Kenyans as cattle are to Koreans.  When we arrived at Lake Elmenteita, we pitched our tents by ourselves around the campsite for the first night.  The Lake was so beautiful that we could not say anything, just looking at the landscape.  Because there is no outlet to the lake, white shiny salt flats are landlocked as if for decoration.  Flamingoes and pelicans frolicked along the lake and in the close blue sky.  How can I describe those scenes?  No words or pictures could explain the beauty of nature there.  It was true whenever we experienced the nature of Kenya.  We were lucky to observe wild lions, gazelles, zebras, eagles, buffalo, rhinos and so on in a couple of national parks which seemed to be the setting of Disney’s The Lion King.  I especially fell in love with giraffes and wild boars which are comparatively small.  Giraffes are so gorgeous and harmonious while families of wild boars moving together look so cute.  There were ferocious animals including lions and hyenas together with herbivores in one huge park, but they have lived under nature’s rule that the powerful are no greedier than they need to be.  A glowing sunset, different species of wild animals gathering together and tremendous plains in the shank of the evening: that was a picturesque heaven that even brought tears to my eyes.


-      Third story : the National University of Kenya


 At 8: 30 in the morning, students from the National University of Kenya came to fetch us in front of our hotel.  We visited their campus, one of the best universities in Africa, with them.  Most students were taking political science degrees and there were also students from clubs such as WOSWA (Women Student Welfare Association).  A student from WOSWA I met has tried to improve the standards of living for African women.  She is especially interested in female circumcision, so I could listen to the stories and learn more than I already knew about the problem.  Then, we enjoyed exchanging some performances all together.  We sang the Arirang song accompanied by a short bamboo flute and the Jambo song, a Kenyan traditional song taught by Sam who was our guide during the safari.  They showed us a short play and taught us to Salsa dance.  An interesting guy I met was Jonathan,the student president, who was really funny because he was so proud of Barack Obama, the U.S. president, that he recited Obama’ inauguration speech.  His dream is to be the Obama of Kenya.  I hope his dream comes true someday!  In the middle of the meeting, Dr. Delancey said, “People don’t know Africa thoroughly.  The media including books are too limited to explain all of Africa.  Hence it will be a golden way to know Africa much more, by communicating directly with Africans through this opportunity.”  Thanks to two students I met at that time, I could make a relationship with the local people and feel closer to them as friends.


-  Fourth story: Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre and memorial sites

Genocide is usually the act of a government and its collaborators to destroy a part of the population under its control.  It is never spontaneous.  It is an intentional act of multiple murders, aimed at destroying the presence of the victims’ group.

This is a definition of Genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.  Visiting the organization and two memorial sites related to Genocide made me depressed beyond all words.  That’s why I could realize vividly how weak one person is in the face of history.  In a huge history, the life of one person is too trivial to make me depressed.  I could not believe that, merely 20 years ago, where I was standing was is a place where people were killed and raped.  Although over 800,000 civilians were killed in the horrible war, Rwandan history has passed away as time goes by.  Now, it’s up to their government and the public how their next history will be made.  The terrible history of killing one race or another will hopefully not repeat its cycle.


-      Fifth story : NGOs and Government Agencies


In Rwanda, numerous international non-governmental and non-profit organizations went in to help society recover after the Genocide.  We visited a total of 14 organizations including non-profit organizations and government agencies.  Among them, let me introduce our meeting with the Rwandan Parliament.  Women occupy 46 percent of the Parliament.  However, it seemed ironic when compared with the lack of women’s rights, such as the right to education.  For example, it was hard to find female students and we were told it is really difficult for women to enter university, at the National University of Rwanda which we had visited already.  A female member answered our question, “Having gone through Genocide, the entry of women into public affairs was increased to replace human resources because so many men had been killed.  The government has tried to improve the quality of women’s lives, as well.  Therefore, the security of female members in the congress is important.”  Then, she made known to us known some conditions necessary to display proper “leadership”:


1. Attraction

2. Good ability to understand and conclude situations

3. Good speaking skills

4. Positive mind

5. Cold head, warm heart

6. Ability to persuade

7. Creative way of thinking

8. Show vision to share all together

9. Keen insight to find each individual’s talents and give them roles in the community




 Remembering my journey in Africa, it was not always pleasant.  In particular, it was not enjoyable for me as a person spending money to stand next to somebody who is seldom clean or as wealthy as I normally encounter.  Observing people who live in poverty for around one month, I suffered continually from inner conflicts.  I could not think they were happy.  Frankly put, I couldn’t accept the words, “They can feel happy even with a small candy.”  That’s because they are hungry, in rags, and hardly educated in my eyes.  I thought that the idea of happiness with mere candy is not real.  They looked like they are without hope or a future.  However, I didn’t realize my profaneness until the end of the journey.  Natural and important standards for me are, so to speak, having clean clothes, a house, education and a job, which look good to “other people.”  In modern life, I have been unknowingly used to taking more care about that which my society requests than what I really want.  Therefore, in my secular eyes, the Africans’ normal way of life which seemed lacking in intensity, was strange.  What was really strange, however, was me.  The features of life people live are diverse, and that is as beautiful as the existence of human life.  Although someone has no clean clothes or does not go to school, it may not be true that they have no future.  My thought was just arrogant.  I felt so ashamed of myself.  Now, I wish sincerely that they are replete tomorrow with more nutrition than today.  I just hope that they are free from preventable diseases and they can be educated for as long as they want.

This journey was a shameful trip, revealing my immaturity and defects.  Yet, it will be one course in my life as well.  Through those processes of knowing shamefulness, I could get to be a much more mature adult.  At any cost, I will not be insensible to those emotions.

Now I can pray for them as a friend.

Children and people saying hello wherever on the road

Staff in our guest house who were indeed happy with my small thanks

Motorcycle drivers who knew the location of our guest house without any notice

Lovely babies in Mother Teresa church, especially Sienna, my baby

Their lands, sky, even cool winds


I miss them deep down in my heart.

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