What Africa taught me about Minimalism

So in my second year of college I did something extremely unconventional. I left school for a year to travel with a group of fellow students around America and Africa. Needless to say, the year was filled with amazing experiences! Perhaps one of the most fulfilling aspects of the year was the freedom that we had. Equipped with a fifteen passenger van, and a backpack filled with what we needed, we lived happily and quite fulfilled for one whole year. Now at the time, I was by no means a minimalist. I remember attempting to stuff all of my so called “essentials” into my hiking bag. Some of which, I barely touched throughout the course of the year. However, it wasn’t until we were heading to Africa for six weeks, that I truly practiced minimalism. Because we would likely have to carry our backpacks for long periods of time, we were all forced to pack only what we needed. Ample toiletries, clean t-shirts, pants, hiking boots, and socks. There was an added challenge for this trip as we would spend the majority of our time in a very rural part of Africa without electricity, running water, or toilets. I remember feeling slightly weary about this aspect of the trip. For someone who can barely use public restrooms, I knew that it would be a struggle to use a squatty. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these I will spare you the gory details, and stick to the basics. There’s a hole, you squat, you release. Amen. Needless to say it takes some getting used to.  Initially living such a simplistic life was a bit of a struggle. I had to learn to do things differently. The comforts that I was used to were not readily available to me. However, although my life was drastically different, I never lacked for anything. I had everything I needed, and yes, I was fulfilled and happy. This experience taught me many important lessons about life. Here are my top four lessons I learned that year.

1.)    Living out of a backpack taught me about true happiness.

One of the most important lessons that I learned was that my possessions were not my source of happiness. Although I was dependent upon the objects in my backpack to live comfortably, they didn’t actually bring me happiness. Instead I discovered that my spiritual life and my experiences in life, brought me the fulfilment and peace that I desired.

2.)    There is freedom in being disconnected

For six weeks we lived without phone service, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook, Google… You get the idea. We were totally disconnected. The only exception was the occasional use of a prepaid phone we used to talk to our families. Being disconnected was such an enriching experience.  We were able to see life so clearly. We weren’t constantly updating our status, taking pictures for the world to approve of, or snap chatting our lives away. We just lived each moment and focused on our task for each day. Our life had purpose and meaning. That was good enough for us.

3.)    It is important to learn to live well with others.

This was one of the more challenging aspects for me. We all had different personalities, different opinions about life and the way it should be lived. Some of us were even culturally different. We were one big melting pot of vastly different people. I discovered that this in itself, was beautiful.  Each of us learned to love and accept each other. Although we didn’t always agree, we learned to be humble and respectful when it came to our differences. It was through this experience that I learned the necessity of placing others above myself, of apologizing when I am wrong, and of being loving even when others are not. By practicing this I learned to improve my quality of life. Instead of pursuing bitterness and anger, I pursued peace and unity for myself and with others.

4.)    Individuality is a good thing. Be who you are!

I remember having a bit of a breakdown at the beginning of our year off. I was surrounded by really great people who I may have believed were perfect. Everyone seemed so spiritual and so kind. I just knew I was going to mess that up. For some reason, I allowed myself to believe that I would take away from that by being myself. Naturally, I am a joyful person. I love having fun and making others laugh. I somehow allowed this idea to form in my mind that I was distracting from the purpose of our experience. Perhaps you have felt this way and can relate. If you have ever felt like an oddball, congratulations! You are an individual and guess what? That is okay! You should be. Over time I learned that it was my individuality and positive spirit that drew people to me. This has proven to be true countless times. People generally enjoy being around me for three reasons. One, they know they can be themselves without being judged. Two, they know that I love to be happy, so they feel happy. Three, they know they can trust me. Additionally, this increased my quality of life as I realized that I could make a difference by simply being who I was. I loved that people felt safe with me and I loved that they too were empowered to be themselves.  I soon discovered that no one was perfect. We were all flawed and in search of a better life. Over the course of the year we all grew together and guess what? Being true to myself allowed me to grow more. I didn’t give up who I was. Instead I continued being who I was while growing into a better version of me.  


Header image by Mohammad Yearuzzaman

6 Comments Add yours

    1. Wow! Thank you Dr. Hyman!


  1. Derek Bowe says:

    Most moving! Thanks for sharing. Would like to have you visit two of my classes before the semester ends. Could embody your experience in Africa and thoughts about minimalism in a ten-minute slot…. Interested?


  2. Clifton J McMillan Sr says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for the heartfelt analysis of the minimalist concept, “less can truly be more”. Blessings Doc!


  3. Benson says:

    I am pleased not only with the writing but also with the inspiration. And inspiration that can lead to practical living is even better.


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