Pulled Out of the Bubble
By Justine Seligson
During February break of seventh grade, I went with my mom to the country of Zambia. One day, our guide mentioned that we would be visiting a local village that was quite poor and crowded.
I didn’t know what to expect, and was worried. The worst poverty I had seen before was in New York City--the homeless people on the streets. My mom, on the other hand, was pleased. “It’ll be an adventure, Justine. Get out of your comfort zone, see real life,” she suggested to me. I’ve lived in Westport, Connecticut my whole life, and it is quite the elite, privileged town, the set of Gossip Girl with McMansions instead of penthouses, so I knew what my mom meant by “real life”.
As we approached the village, which was outside of Livingstone, a blinding, peach-colored dust from the road blew in the half-open windows nearly suffocating us. Then we arrived. Beads of sweat cascaded down my tense forehead as the guide snapped out the car keys and we walked from the minivan.
Within moments, my worries disappeared. What I saw were cheerful young kids running up to us with huge smiles. They were extremely friendly and led us around their neighborhood. Their community was nothing like the Westport suburbs I’m from. The kids were obviously poor. Their clothes were old, ripped, and smeared with dirt. They were either barefoot or wearing torn sandals. Families as large as six or seven people lived in tiny mud houses the size of my bedroom at home. The individual houses didn’t have stoves, so the families cooked their meals over an open fire pit shared by the whole village.
Despite all these struggles for basic necessities, they were some of the happiest children I’ve ever been around. Why? They were right next door to their friends 24/7. They didn’t have to beg their parents or older siblings to drive them across town to visit someone. They could just step out their doors. These kids had a lot of fun together. They played soccer and tag in the field, while many American kids would be preoccupied with Angry Birds or the Wii. The families were quite friendly and pleased to know we were interested in learning about their ways of life. They welcomed us into their homes like old friends. They wanted us to enjoy our short visit.
When we returned to the US a few days later, I thought of how those African children don’t have a fraction of what I have. But what they do have, they really treasure. There was one case I'll never forget. A shoeless girl of about five wearing a plum-colored Gap T-shirt and frayed jeans with her hair in a zillion braids across the top of her head came up to me. She took my hand and brought me over to see the clubhouse that she and her friends made themselves and played in behind her home. It was small, made of dead branches and could barely fit two people, yet they were proud of it and so was I. I would have never built a clubhouse by myself when I was that young.
Before this journey I had known that money can’t buy you happiness, but never that literally! These kids only had each other as supportive friends and they were fine with that. I now know you really can be content with your life without many possessions. This trip pulled me out of my privileged bubble and I plan to stay out of it.
Just-Teens Travel is written by Justine Seligson, a teen columnist and photographer.