For three and a half hours our plane passed over the Sahara desert. I was thrilled: though I’d camped on the edge of the Sahara in Senegal ten years earlier, I’d never seen the desert’s depths. Now, I didn’t see merely its depths. I saw its entirety. Shining, dark expanses that looked like lakes spread for miles across ridges of sand. I suspected it wasn’t a lake, but some kind of primitive, igneous rock. Farther along, roads sliced the landscape into neat rectangles. People must live out here! Clouds–or was it sand?–intermittently interrupted my view. The Sahara was like a beach without the water.
I imagined an entrepreneur digging a lake at the edge of the desert and creating a tourist destination.
Farther in, where nobody would want to venture, another enterprising soul could lay miles of solar panels and power the continent.
Once we crossed the Sahara, wet-looking clouds hung below the plane. I could barely see the green land. With surprising suddenness, the sun set. The plane roared through darkness.
Landing at night in Africa depresses me. First, our plane stopped in Kigali. There, a few lights brightened the square buildings like candle flames in a lantern. After several passengers deplaned, we took flight for another forty minutes. Then, we began the descent to Entebbe.
“Please review your safety card,” the flight attendant announced, “in case we need to make an emergency landing.”
Our plane bounced on air bumps and the familiar sick feeling rose in my throat. I leaned my head against the seat and looked out the window. Where were we? I couldn’t see a single light. The thought of crash landing briefly flashed through my mind. Perhaps we were just passing through a cloud–that’s why I couldn’t see any lights, or sign of the ground. I stared out the window without interruption.
Then, in the pitch of night, without a single light, I felt our wheels hit the runway.
The following morning, our team headed to the all-girls Winston Standard Secondary School in Kampala. They were halfway through a break between terms. But, in a second-story classroom, well-dressed middle- and high-school-aged girls clustered together at rows of weathered wooden desks. When we walked in to the annual She Learns conference, the girls glanced at us with a kind of fidgety excitement. Founded by Pastor Fred in 2017, She Learns promotes education and economic empowerment for girls. At Fred’s invitation, we traveled almost 24 hours to reach Kampala for just this event. A representative from the local chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality International, which promotes gender equality, arrived soon after us.
We walked in as a preacher wrapped up a discourse on the importance of letting our souls find rest in Christ. Fred introduced us and invited the girls to ask us questions about the American education system. Peals of thunder erupted outside. I looked through the doors that opened to the balcony. Banana trees tossed in the wind.
Not long after, a group of men hustled one-by-one up the stairs with aluminum pots. Steaming brothy meat soup; Irish potatoes, boiled and deep fried; salad; fried chicken; vermicelli; and chicken soup were spread out in massive quantities. Every girl took a helping large enough to feed a grown man–and they ate it all. I ate almost two platefuls.
After lunch, our leader, Joanie, introduced Revelation Wellness. “It’s about being whole,” she explained. “As long as you’re moving, you’re doing it right.”
Rainless clouds hovered over the school. We gamboled down the stairs.
“Don’t stand too close together!” Joanie warned as she set up the music. “You’ll run into each other!”
She led us through a warm-up and a few upbeat songs. Then, she told us each to grab two drumsticks.
A new song began. The girls began to cheer, shout, and sing. I’d never heard it before. We were still on the intro. A voice that may have been Shakira wavered over the jumping, stick-beating crowd. Then, the chorus:
“It’s time for Africa!”
A smile split across my face. I understood. And suddenly, I saw Africa fifty or sixty years from now. Men and women hustled along streets as modern as those in New York City. Within my lifetime, I would see a developed Africa.
Happiness burgeoned in my heart. I lifted my spirit and my drumsticks. Vigor and joy burst out of my limbs as I bounced to the music. I smacked my two drumsticks together. As the song drew to a close, we shouted in unison: “Hey!”