Vanderbilt Athletics

Commodores in Tanzania: Day 9

July 24, 2013

Megan Yohe, a rising senior on the Vanderbilt cross country and track team, is one of more than 20 Commodore student-athletes and staff on a 10-day journey with Soles4Souls to deliver shoes to those in need in Tanzania, Africa. The international service trip is the first for Vanderbilt athletics in which the student-athletes are solely providing service and not participating in any scheduled athletic competition during the trip. Yohe gives her perspective on day 9 of this unique experience.

Tanzania Journal: Trip Archive | Day 8 | Day 7 | Day 6 | Day 5 | Day 4 | Days 1-3

How do you capture a moment? How do you ensure you'll remember it for a lifetime? Is it possible to hold an instant in your pocket and let it impact your everyday? There are moments you know you never want to forget. There are times you want to look back on so it can shape and mold how you live out your life for the better. Whether it's an event that makes you roll off the floor laughing or a moment that challenges every interaction from there on out, I'm beyond thankful for these kind of moments. And Africa was full of these kind of moments: moments that made me thankful, countless instants that humbled me, and endless distributions and days that overflowed me with joy.

Where else can you and sing and dance, spinning in circles with your tongue half way out your mouth, and not pay attention to anything but the smiles on the faces surrounding you? Where else can you wash a child or man's foot that has walked miles and miles without the comfort of a sole of a shoe? And where else can you take a selfie with a chimp as it walks right in front of your path?

Africa is truly a beautiful place. The people welcome you with not only open hands, but open hearts. They welcome you into their homes and into their lives. They offer all they have for your own comfort and communicate through smiles when our language is not shared. (I only hope I can reciprocate what I have received, don't you?)

Take this one instance, for example, and know it is one I'm holding in my pocket and close to my heart. I sat on a bench among five other students and leaders from Vanderbilt with a bucket of water and washcloth as my tools. My only hope was that I would be a light (Matthew 5:14-16) in this new place. A young boy sits down, unsure of what he is about to receive. I slowly and gently place one foot in the bucket to ease him into the process. His body begins to relax and so I continue to wash his feet, but why not have some fun? In that instant it all changes. I tickle his foot and glance up, his face is full of a smile that spreads from one ear to the next. He can't contain his laughter and in that moment, he is one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. What's more amazing is that there is someone who thinks that way about each one of us? Me, you, and even the man sitting next to you. Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." Just as the Lord rejoices over you and me, I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to be but a magnifying glass rejoicing over these children.

Though that moment may not have been captured in a photo, the moment is captured in my heart. And for those of you that have not quite made memories like these I invite you to take a step outside of your box, outside of your comfort zone, and open your eyes to the beauty of the world. (Thanks to Brandon, who has done a phenomenal job, you can get a glimpse of what we have all experienced through his photos. There are hundreds and hundreds of photos, yet these do some justice.)

Among moments like these, I will also hold onto memories of our last day in Africa prior to flights upon flights upon flights to arrive back at home. It began as we stepped onto a boat most might not consider safe or trustworthy of travel. The boat was simple and made solely of wood, but took us north two hours to the Jane Goodall Reserve and Gombe National Forest. For the next few hours we hiked, explored and ventured through land surrounded by chimpanzees, monkeys and baboons. For a Vandy student it is like walking through campus and walking past squirrel after squirrel after squirrel. I was amazed at the chimpanzees in their natural habitat and in awe as they walked less than three feet from my path. Once we left the reserve the day was not even close to over. It was followed by a nice lunch, snorkeling by the beach, and dinner festivities back at the Hilltop Hotel to close out our last night in Kigoma.

Our dinner more than verified the phrase, "You learn something new every day." A group of Maasai warriors, who are one of the only currently practicing tribes in East Africa, began the evening with tribal dances and songs. Although I could not tell you what a word of their songs meant, it sounded absolutely beautiful. Following the songs we had the opportunity to ask questions and learn about a lifestyle I would never have imagined in the United States. For instance, when the men reach about 18 years of age, in order to become respected by their people they must kill a lion. On their own. They head out to the bush and for about two weeks search until they find a lion to kill (WOW!!). I enjoyed learning about their lives, families and experiences.

Tonight, our final night, brought something I hadn't expected, just as this week has been much more than I expected. It has opened my eyes to the beauty of the world, ignited a spark for the change we can make, and established a community I never knew existed back at home.

-Megan Yohe


Day 9 Photos

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