I believe in store brand candy. It can be found anywhere, and shared with anyone. It can be the catalyst to a conversation with someone you would have never anticipated.
I remember hearing the crunch of the dry mud crackle underneath my boots as I sauntered through the tall grasses in Botswana. My all khaki ensemble blended in with my surroundings, but disagreed with every fashion instinct I had in my body, as I chewed on the same piece of candy for ten minutes. Our tour guide explained how my family and I would be meeting the indigenous people that called the safari their home; the blood in my veins turned red hot with fear. How would I interact with them? We do not speak the same language and knowing myself I would do something on accident that would offend them.
As soon as we went through the wooden fence, the people stared at us. The elders had seen Caucasian people before, but for most of the children, this was the first time. Filled with trepidation, I approached a young girl and kneeled down so I was eye level with her dark, round eyes. As she stared into my eyes, I could tell she was confused and even a little appalled. She had never seen a seventeen year old white girl with embarrassingly pale skin and blue eyes. I smiled at her and reached into my pocket and pulled out a small piece of cherry flavored candy. I stuck out my hand with my peace offering but her eyes stayed locked on mine. Panicked, I grabbed a second piece, unwrapped the delicate red plastic and ate it. Her eyes widened with excitement. I sat down on the dry dirt and opened my backpack revealing a ziplock bag filled with candy, and before I could catch my breath, ten more children found their way to my lap, wondering when it would be their turn to have a piece.
As the day progressed, the amount of candy I had dwindled. Every piece of candy I passed out was a ticket into the life of someone else. The children would tell me their names, and use hand gestures to try and act out important scenes from their lives. Even the Elders would tap on my shoulder, reach their hands out, and ask for a piece. Laughing to myself, I would agree, and without asking, they would invite me into their homes made of mud and straw and share their wisdom with me. Others would grab my hand and begin to dance, and some would roll what was supposed to be a soccer ball at my feet and start hollering to initiate a game.
I believe in genuine laughter, memories, and unexpected friends. The bitter flavors and unpleasant chewiness were microscopic compared to the laughter of the children, the stories from the Elders, and raw happiness that will never leave my heart.
Michaela is a student at Texas Christian University