Traveling to Africa showed me my passion for journalism, storytelling

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN

Madeleine Sydkvist, Staff Writer

Since I was young, whenever someone asked me what I like to do, what my passions are, my answer has fluctuated between many different things but traveling has always been part of the list.

Cliché, I know. 

But traveling is very close to my heart and a privilege that I am forever grateful to have. 

But it wasn’t until a trip to across the world that I came to understand the importance of traveling beyond the novelty of it.

Before moving to Santa Barbara, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. 

I was confused and depressed. I felt that whatever it was that I was looking for, I wouldn’t find it in my hometown on the East Coast of Sweden. 

When casually Googling places to travel in hopes to find some sort of direction, I found a scuba center looking for volunteers in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Although I had no prior knowledge about anything remotely related to diving, I thought it was a great idea. 

So I left Sweden with no return ticket and a backpack the same size as my 5’2” self. 

Anxious and lonely, I was determined to find the answer to that question inside me that I couldn’t understand.

I arrived late at night and was greeted by a man dressed in military uniform, smiling cheek-to-cheek who asked to see my passport.

As most would probably do when given orders from an official carrying an automatic machine gun, I followed his directions. 

Moments later, he forced me to pay him $50 to get my passport back. 

It took me traveling across the planet to realize this might be one of the most naive, stupid plans I had ever made. Fun times. 

I felt foolish, I had no real plan.

But at the same time, I couldn’t contain my excitement, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. 

The power went off continuously in the small house I was staying in with the other divers, sometimes for three days straight, and there was no warm water. I can’t even count how many times I woke up with cockroaches running over me, or to roll over and see a frog proudly sitting next to me on my pillow. 

Nonetheless, I loved all of it. I felt that I was finally where I needed to be.

Outside my lodge, children would play and laugh while their mothers watched them from their houses with broken roofs and walls made out of clay.  

With not much to offer, these women still gave us everything, hosting us for dinners in their homes and sharing their stories. 

That question I couldn’t figure out just a few weeks prior now felt irrelevant. Why stress about the future when everything I would ever need is right in front of me? 

One of the mothers’ stories touched my heart and changed me for the better, as well as my perception of what it means to be a young woman in this world.

Her name is Rosie. 

Rosie is a mother of three and a hard worker and one of the kindest souls I have encountered. 

She is also 22-years-old, just a few months older than me. 

She is silly and jokes about everything. Sometimes, her laugh is funnier than the joke itself. 

She is also afraid to go back home after work most days because her husband might beat her. 

Our lives are pure opposites, and even though we live in the same world, our perspectives of it are as different as night and day.

She shared her life with me and for that, I’m forever grateful. 

Even though her husband left bruises on her skin, she explained it as part of her culture. 

She had seen her mother being treated the same by her father and grew up being told her sole purpose was to provide children for her future husband. 

Still, she is the most positive person I have ever met. Even though her possessions were few, she joked about being “a millionaire in love.” 

Meeting Rosie made me understand the impact of one single story and the value of sharing stories of those whose voices might never be heard. 

Her story led me to the answer I had searched for, what I wanted to do that made me happy, sharing stories through journalism. 

Sharing stories such as Rosie’s for the world to take part in, to get a better understanding of people who we would otherwise never meet. 

It doesn’t have to be in the bush of Africa, there are people everywhere with stories you’ll never know until you ask — and listen. 

It might leave you with more understanding of the people around you, near or far.

It might just change your life.