I met the smartest person I know when I met Johnson Kibera last year on a trip to Kenya. Because of him, I can say that I matured and have built confidence in myself to do well in the future. Johnson gave me a different perspective and helped make the trip a great experience. There is not a day that goes by when I do not think of Johnson and miss all of the conversations we had.
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On our drives to Mwingi village, we would talk about politics and the different tribes of Kenya, including his tribe, Kamba. He also taught me some Swahili, and I loved answering all of his questions about the United States.
We exchanged cultures.
He knew more about Uganda, where my parents are from, than I did. Johnson explained how he enjoyed taking the 12-hour drive there often. Every beautiful place I saw in Kenya, Johnson took me. He showed me how modern Kenya was, with the different malls and movie theaters, and he took me to feed giraffes.
I had never had so much fun.
Back at home, I would have been sitting in the house, possibly going to the beach or pool, but in Kenya, I was going to museums, visiting beautiful villages, and learning so much about a different country — all because of Johnson.
I asked myself how someone with so much knowledge could end up working as a driver. There was no tragic story but just the simple fact that those were his circumstances. He had children to put through school, which is why he was working so hard. Johnson’s dream was to one day own his own travel agency.
I told Johnson about what I wanted to do in the future. I expressed how scared I was and the intense pressure I have. He didn’t understand how I could be away from home for so long, being that the kids in Kenya were still in school and never got a three-month break.
Johnson was in school and at the top of his class, and afterward, he worked for a travel agency that would take tourists around to view the country. One day someone stole his van and he lost his job, and he became a taxi driver. Often while my family was having dinner, I would leave the table to go sit in the car and converse with Johnson.
Johnson was fearless.
I am afraid of anything bigger than a fly, but Johnson helped me to overcome many of my fears. I held a snake in my hands and rode a camel for the first time. I would not have been able to do that if Johnson had not been there. The most-important lesson I learned from meeting Johnson was that I need to stop overthinking every decision I make.
It is okay to make mistakes as long as I learn from them. He also taught me that no matter how much I may prepare for the future, there’s still a chance of the unexpected happening. He also told me to be very grateful for the life that I have, because now I really see how hard a parent can work so their children can live a good life.
This trip and Johnson were the inspiration I needed to go to college, overcome challenges, and obtain the best education possible in order to succeed. I am very grateful to my parents and Johnson for this life-changing experience. I would be honored to have the opportunity to grow in college in an effort to realize the dreams of Johnson, many others like him, and my own.
Bangi Zabassaja (pictured) is a 17-year-old Ugandan American who likes to learn from her and other’s experiences. She has been blessed enough to travel to Uganda, Kenya, Dubai, London, Belize, and Brazil. and bring those different cultures back home.
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