The desert sun scorches me through the window; its strength fades the rich colors of the Africa I dreamt. Jostling down the road in the company Range Rover, sweat and dust cover me but I fail to notice. The toddler with a baby on his hip on the side of the road steals my attention. The jetlag makes me feel uncertain, confused that this was some National Geographic film or was I really here. That was when I locked eyes with the small toddler- that was when I got clarity. Those deep mahogany eyes told me more then I ever could have expressed in words. The two dust stained children stood still like gazelles watching the truck crush on to the next luxury resort while they were left behind.
It is those eyes that I still see when I think back to that moment. The hunger and thirst for explanation that are reflected in those of my own students, but there was something more. The chasms between the first and third world are deep and wide. Regardless, there is something that we all have in common- our humanity. Our humanity is bigger then our different shades of skin, religions, our bank accounts, or beliefs. It is our core.
At that moment, with the business trip just beginning, the decision was made. There would be no boardrooms, nor offices- this would be the end of my corporate endeavors. I did not belong in the travel industry my place was the classroom. Those hungry eyes that I saw in Botswana were the same that I see everyday in my own students back home in Texas. I recognized myself in those eyes. I do not feel smarter- or superior in any way- I felt as though I had come home.
My childhood was spent much like my peers- in front of a tiny chalkboard teaching my stuffed bears and dolls. My family had a history of graduating and going into business. I felt pressured to be ‘a success’ and do the same. When I announced I was going to be a teacher they let me know that they were disappointed and they expected better of me.
It was in my high school United States history class that I first experienced the magic of learning. I sat entranced as the teacher made history come alive- speaking of the founding fathers as if they were his old pals. He opened up for me a new dimension full of people with tragic lives and loves who fought to make a difference in the world. I was sold- that was what I needed to become a teacher.
Throughout the years, I have faced disappointments- students not getting it, not succeeding, not caring enough to try their best. I went back to school to learn to become a better teacher. I tried it all- cooperative learning, writing workshops, brain games. They all helped but the longer I taught the more I felt as though something was missing.
The voices of doubt got louder and I went to work on my MBA. Finally, my family was sure I was getting it right, friends told me I could make more money- I wanted to believe that was where I would belong.
I accepted an internship for a travel company that is how I found myself in Botswana. That is when I came home. I was profoundly affected by what I saw there- and am still discovering it today. The living conditions, the lack of basic necessities, the poverty was difficult to understand with my frame of reference. But when I saw those children and looked into their eyes. I saw everything that I believed in, people are the most important thing in the world. I came home to teach.