“Hope” might seem like a strange word to describe the things that I have seen. Ten years ago I would have most likely agreed that the horrific images of AIDS victims and swollen bellied children portrayed in commercials do not exactly scream optimism. When I decided to visit Africa, I imagined myself playing with the children, teaching English, perhaps even making some great contribution that would somehow alleviate their devastation and lift them out of poverty. I was sixteen years old, naïve, uncertain, and curious about the mysterious “Tarzan” replica that schoolbooks embedded in my head. Torn between images derived from nature scenes of The Lion King and the tribal wars of Hotel Rwanda, my obscure patchwork idea of Africa intensified my need to understand and witness the reality for myself.
Littered streets and abandoned businesses were more or less what I had expected to see when our group touched ground at the airport in Harare, Zimbabwe. Wide-eyed and eager to lend our helping hands we gathered our belongings and boarded our comfortable air-conditioned van. As we drove further away from the paved city streets and deeper into the ravaged country side, my imagined Lion King scenario quickly disintegrated as thousands of high-density homes engulfed every inch of the landscape. The shocking reality of economic collapse and agricultural diminishment quickly materialized as we continued to drive past the scantily planted fields and empty markets.