Photo by Susan Portnoy via TheInsatiableTraveler.com
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My buddy Tony and I couldn’t have been more different: I was a long-haired, arty music business major with tattoos and earrings, he was a soft-spoken, short-haired, seemingly conservative science major. We connected at the pizza place where we worked, bonding over our mutual love of music– jazz, funk, reggae and hip-hop in particular– often trading CDs that inspired us.
With him on bass and me on vocals, we eventually formed a band together and began working our way up in the Atlanta music scene. I was a marketing intern for a major record label at the time, and used my connections to garner some interest from industry A&R reps for our edgy, alternative rock-rap sound. (This was 1992, when such things were not yet considered passé.)
But fate threw a curveball right in the face of my rock star aspirations: Upon graduating from Georgia State University, Tony signed with the Peace Corps and shipped off to teach fish farming in the central African nation of Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world. I quit playing music, embarking on a career as a music journalist instead.
Cheetahs in South Africa
Tony and I kept in touch regularly over the next five years, as his Peace Corps projects moved him from Burundi to Gabon, and later Zambia, with only brief journeys to visit home in between. Every month I’d send him a package filled with new music, magazines and letters from home, and he’d send back music, photos and letters about his life in Africa. Our friendship gradually grew deeper, and I fell in love with the continent through his stories.
Tony was the first person I ever knew who went on an African safari. The stories he brought home from his trip to Kenya & Tanzania (which included incredible photos and National Geographic-worthy video of a lion on top of a floating hippo carcass defending his prize from hostile crocodiles) left me delighted for him and determined to see Africa for myself. And his Peace Corps experience ultimately inspired me to pursue my own crazy dreams…