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National Geographic unravelled

I was 11 years old when I took an interest in my school teacher’s trip to Africa. I asked her what it was like and she told me that when I turned 16 she would take me with her.

It’s now 2017, six years later, and I took her up on her promise and had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania and Kenya. I took a part-time job for two years with this goal in mind.

I believe it is a true testament to what can happen when you turn your dreams into goals and strive as much as possible to help them come true.

It took me six years to achieve this goal, so it did not pay off straight away. I had to work hard and plan and save. It’s truly amazing how much I have learned about myself — not just in my travels but actually working to get there and the amazing journey I have been on from that time when I was 11, to now.

I am so proud that no matter how much I’ve changed since that time, that I still had the ability to keep that goal near to me and strive for it. There seems to be a certain magic to it, having spent more than a third of my short lifetime achieving and constantly pushing myself closer to that goal. I would just like to say that it doesn’t matter what your goals are, whether it be a career, education or a trip-of-a-lifetime goal, it’s only when you push and challenge yourself that you feel a sense of accomplishment when those goals are finally achieved.

The trip itself cannot be described with words, it was that indescribable.

The things I learned about the people, the country, the culture! It was like watching National Geographic unravel its pages and appear right before me. We spent time with the Masai tribe and the colours in their clothing were so bright and vibrant in comparison to the landscape around them. The sense of community that the Masai people had and a system of authority that had clearly worked for centuries, were so clear in the brief time that I spent with them.

Their world was completely different to the one I had been exposed to. The children were a gift. Their smiles were the first thing to be seen. Their excitement towards us and the effect a football had on them was amazing.

It was a comforting thought that however inexperienced I was in their culture, they were inexperienced in ours.

To meet people who live off the land, who have never heard of a microwave, to know that there are people who have been left untouched by all the bad things about our society.

The country was beautiful. I would consider New Zealand beautiful; a forest that is wild and mysterious, hiding so many taonga — the land wrapped in long white clouds.

Tanzania was equally beautiful, despite the contrasts with New Zealand; plains that stretched for miles, not a single green patch to be seen, mountains that tower over villages protecting them with all their glory.

Even the sunrise every morning and every evening is different from the one before. Different colours spilled across the skies and there was not a cloud in sight.

The animals were perfected with years of evolution behind them — within an hour of being born a baby giraffe is able to stand and walk; the oldest female elephant leads the herd because at any given point of the year it knows where all the water is. I marvelled at the fact that every animal is so different, yet has survived thousands of years due to different qualities. That in a place known for its predators, the Savanna can be so peaceful, that all the animals live in harmony because from personal experience the circle of life exists.

It has been a rather difficult adjustment coming back home from the wilderness of Africa; where finding water for their livestock took a whole day, where people were living in extreme poverty, where the children walked an hour, sometimes two, to get to school every day, where education is the most important thing a child can receive.

I truly realise how lucky I am to live in a country such as New Zealand and to go to a school such as Girls’ High. I love New Zealand, but sometimes we lose focus of what is really important and our minds are clouded in first-world problems.

At the end of the day it will not matter that water wasn’t chilled, that the WiFi didn’t work, that I was unable to get the new iPhone — because I am lucky enough to live in a place like New Zealand.

A place where I can worship and believe in anything I want, a place where I am able to have any opinion I want and a place where I can get 13 years of education provided for me. I’m not trying to say that the problems here are any less than the problems there, or that we don’t face any hardships, but personally I really needed a wake-up call because the problems that I face aren’t about survival, compared to some of the people I met, I live in absolute luxury.

In the end, the most important thing in life is the love we possess and the happiness we are able to gain that really gives our lives meaning. You shouldn’t have to fly halfway around the world to realise those things but I did. I really needed it too.

I would 1000 percent recommend travelling to Africa and going to the Peace Matunda School and Orphanage, as well as going on a safari with the Peace Matunda tours. The work that they do is amazing and makes a safari seem like a cultural trip. I loved Tanzania, it was totally worth it. Even though I was by far the youngest, I have made friends and memories I will treasure for life.

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