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Celebrating a Memorable Trip

In October, I wrote about my then-upcoming trip to Malawi and South Africa in Quest. After returning from my travels, I have realized the truth in the saying that once you go to Africa, you are never quite the same. So I wanted to share some memorable moments and photos that bring this statement to life for me.

I think about this trip every day: the remarkable people I met, the beauty of different parts of the countries I visited and above all the daily contrasts that I encountered between the charmed life that I live and what I observed.


MalawiI have been reflecting on the people I met in Malawi: farmers, village people, HIV-effected individuals and, yes, Heifer employees and volunteers. They went about their daily life much as we do. And the children, while curious as to who these two white women visiting their village were, became smiling and thoughtful in the many ways they sought attention and marveled at the photos that my dear and talented friend Betty Londergan and I took. Several little children would hide behind their mother’s skirts until they felt safe around us, much like my youngest granddaughter, Lucia, who after ten minutes is fully engaged.

The photos that I want to share with you focus on the first week of my trip with Betty, who has spent the last year writing a blog for Heifer International. Betty’s year-long project was to visit twelve countries in twelve months, documenting different Heifer sites on her blog -though she actually visited more than twelve countries. Her photos and commentary are a true joy.

MalawiBetty and I agreed that the best day we had in Malawi was when Betty prepared a meal under the close supervision of our village friends, while I took photos of the experience.

The memories of this experience are an example of the contrasts we witnessed on our journey. While six of us ate around a simple table (do note the familiar bottle in the photos of our meal) and rejoiced in the opportunity to ” break bread” together, the outcomes were familiar: camaraderie, conversation and memories. For the people with whom we visited, the cycle of each day is routine and incredibly difficult. Our visit was a highlight to everyone we came in contact with, a break from that routine.

When I tell you that this meal is still a sweet memory in my mouth and my mind, I am telling you the truth. The longer I am away from Malawi the more just the sweetness of the trip comes to the surface and not the difficulty.

I hope you had a chance to look at the faces of the children in my photos, because while they are precious beyond words, there are diamonds in the rough everywhere and I know that I met some of them. As just a passing visitor, I can only hope that if it is to be, there is a catalyst that presents itself, or that these children come to recognize how much they could someday bring to the people of their village. They often have very good role models around them with the adults who have benefitted from Heifer.


South AfricaAfter a week in Malawi, I met my friend, Sue, for a trip to South Africa with a different purpose. This time, I was not expecting to mingle but to observe an oasis (Cape Town), history (Robbens Island), adventure (on safari in Kruger) on a continent of more than a billion people. Two of those people were Dan Weeks (2001 Scholar) and his gorgeous, amazing wife, Sandiso, seen here in this photo. Dan and I have kept in touch sporadically ever since his Scholars Weekend, so seeing him was an absolute thrill.

I felt quiet those first few days in Cape Town because the transition from Malawi was so powerful. That, in turn, got me thinking about transitions in general. For our youngest Scholars, that means high school to college, then college to work or graduate school and then … well, when you reach my age, the opportunity to reflect on a full life and career. If this trip taught me anything, it was to embrace each of these milestones.

South AfricaThe safari in Kruger National Park was a perfect example of living in the moment, because in the course of four days, I made new friends, realized one of my long hoped-for experiences, saw the cycle of birth and death within hours of each other, and considered how I would share this very personal experience with my loved ones. I was especially struck by coming upon an impala that our guide said was probably born within the past 15 minutes. Within 6 minutes or so, he was up walking. You will see several photos of this in quick time, while I took about 30 photos.

By the time you read this, I expect that I will still be processing the contrasts that I experienced.  Here is one more thing that I learned: No one is quite as interested in your photos as you are, for there are often cherished moments, beyond the photo, that defy explanation. Still, I hope you enjoy my special journey.

Patti Ross is the Vice President of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. Patti joined the Scholars Foundation in 1994, after fifteen years in education. Ms. Ross graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a B.A. in Art History and completed a Masters in Education at Georgia State University. In the past few years, Patti has spent considerable time learning how emotional intelligence impacts one’s success in college and the world of work. Patti and her husband, Don, spend as much time as possible with their three combined children, two of their spouses and five grandchildren.