Time stands still in distant lands for me, and I am forever changed.
After the chaos of the journey, the bags hit the floor and one collapses on a mattress. The breathing deepens, the heartbeat slows, the mind clears and we prepare to be changed. Later, walking in the sand with fellow travelers, we enjoy each other’s company, and then late into the night tell stories and share thoughts, triumphs and defeats. We deepen the levels of communication between us that will allow us to take steps together in the following days, and be bound together for a lifetime.
The next morning, I was surprised by how quickly the intensity and solemn mood of the prison cells where slaves were tortured and died overtook me as we walked, arm in arm, stopping to dry tears and just hold each other gently in the caves. How trapped memories cleared my mind and intensified my senses, allowing for the events of the days that followed to not be lost in activity, but to be assimilated.
I can’t say which part meant the most, what memory I will hold most dear. How can one choose between the tiny arms of an innocent around my neck, the widening of the darkest eyes imaginable seeing a picture book for the first time, the toothless smile of a woman so generous in her appreciation for such small acts of caring. I can’t say when it hits me most, but it seemed to be upon my return. How petty the things we worry about are; how much we miss out on in our hectic pace; how we overcomplicate, and make the insignificant matter.
But time stands still in distant lands for me, and I am forever changed. I am reminded again of the value of family, the importance of relationships, the power of community. Watching people living a simple life, moving through their day with peaceful fluidity, I was moved as they welcomed us into their community.
Curiosity abounded, and suspicion was absent, as they communicated in quiet ways their pride and contentment in what they had: their mud huts, their Sunday best, a chicken, a beaded bracelet. I found myself often short of words (yes, really), only communicating with a smile, not wanting to lead but serve, to attempt to show these beautiful people we were there not to inflict change, but to empower and enhance the lives of fellow human beings.
What greater demonstration of love, the most sustainable thing of all, than to give without asking, to serve without taking. We wanted nothing in return, and thinking that they had nothing to give, certainly didn’t expect that they could. Yet they gave us a celebration of life, bringing in their most influential tribal leaders, dressed in their brightly colored garments, and their most talented performers to put on a show in the streaming sunshine that would amaze critics even in Hollywood. As we sat under canopies and they sang and danced I was humbled, a small child in my lap resting back on me in the midst of my Viridian family, wondering what book would be read, what imagination would be sparked by lantern light, what refrigerated medicine would make a difference in the lives of these people. I wondered if this child would remember my smile and one day look to a world beyond. I wonder still.
As we waved goodbye I looked at the faces of Generation V, the raw emotion of leaving too soon with so much undone, and we were one.
Exhilarating days followed: small planes above stampeding herds, open jeeps bounding across the open terrain, breathtaking sunrises. But they couldn’t capture my mind completely as it wandered back to the village, back to the faces, back to the sights and sounds of the recent days.
Memories made on safari were equally precious, as no substitute exists for trips such as theseóbonding in service, in love and laughter, in celebration, in discovery. For this I thank Viridian, for it has a vision that it is not enough to reward achievement and excellence with celebration, but also with significance.
In the airport we leaned on each other’s shoulders and said goodbye for now, understanding that time stands still in distant lands for us, and we are forever changed. We are Generation V.
My name is Meredith Berkich, and I am Generation V.