Alex is an alum of our high school Service program in Tanzania. He wrote about his experience—about finding connection across language barriers through sport, and expanding one’s perspectives through different encounters with the night sky—for his college essay. 

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The Tanzanian night sky contained a depth unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Inside each of the countless, tiny specks, sardined into this black dome, was an air of mystery I would never truly understand. Yet somehow I could stare at them and remain blanketed with the reassurance of the cool breeze; gently caressing the shrubs of the rural flatlands, and subtly rearranging the thin layer of dust uniform to their soil. They welcomed me into its vastness, without alienating or pushing me back down to Earth, as my home sky often did. It was a gratifying conclusion to each day.   

On one of those days, my friend Will and I hosted a soccer match for students from the local primary school. I find it interesting how, as we laced up our work boots, all I wanted to do was get it over with; reminiscent of an anxiety of the ever-attentive eyes of my games at home. Those were very different night settings; a subconscious desire for social acceptance always on the line. “They’ll reject you, laugh at your mistakes; do not mess this up, whatever you do!” the little me on my shoulder babbled away into my ear, disregarding the different circumstances. But onto the field I went.

The raw passion these kids carried into that game filled me with an unparalleled, unbridled joy, dissolving all prior stress. Their Swahili and my English, which until then had collided clumsily, was replaced by a connective language through which we could sense each other’s emotions and adapt to each other’s minds. Thinking of games at home, I had worried about lacking better shoes, and didn’t notice at first that some of them remained barefoot or wore single shoes for their stronger foot. There was no need to prove ourselves to one another, as there had been under the pressure of the Friday Night Lights. The sweltering heat of the day was replaced with a serenity, almost identical to that of the same night breeze as it enveloped us in its peace. In both time and space, in that light, we were one.

The stars that night gleamed brighter than ever before. Even at that point, my mind was still racing from the energy of the day. I closed my eyes and recalled my own sky; the one I had grown up with, and had come to associate with everything connected to home. That in which I could count on two hands the number of stars which are bright enough to see, the rest from which we are blinded because of this other light we’ve created in the name of progress. As it lives and breathes through the hours of the night, many find Times Square worth it, but I realized its light doesn’t unite the city as much as people perceive it to, certainly not compared to that of the stars it takes away. I love how close my home is to such a bustling metropolis, but sometimes I find it strange to walk among its towering buildings and see people willfully ignorant of each other’s lives, as if any eye contact or change in facial expression towards another Homo sapiens would always be destructive.  

Both these night skies are the same. Yet they are so different, it seems impossible that they can be seen from the same planet. We could all exist as our own stars in each other’s eyes, with our own vigor and brilliance, but we often choose to surround ourselves only with the sky we perceive as our own, outside of the one we share. I began to look beyond, into that Tanzanian night sky; towards all those stars I hadn’t yet seen in those endless cosmos, and into its embracing nature which I knew I could bring home. It was a good place to start.  

Home seemed a thousand light years away.

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