Matthew Glenn grew up in East Dallas and went abroad as soon as he could.
The 2003 Woodrow Wilson High School grad went to Shanghai after college and explored as much of the continent as possible in the two years he was there, including Thailand, Tibet and Korea. But last summer, he got the chance of a globetrotter’s lifetime. Having just been accepted to the South Texas College of Law, he heard about a film project in Africa.
The crew, sponsored by a nonprofit organization called What Took You So Long?, would travel for several months throughout Africa, documenting grassroots organizations fighting against poverty and for change in health and education. They would use public transportation, working and eating with the locals and living as much like them as possible.
“I was about to start law school, and I realized that my life was going to be boring and repetitive for many years to come,” he says.
So he decided to go for it.
The director asked Glenn to come on board, and he recruited a photographer friend, Jessica Sherrell, who lives in East Dallas.
There was a general plan to move north to south, but day-to-day, it was spontaneous, Glenn says.
“We were constantly moving because the goal was to go from Morocco to South Africa in a few months,” he says. “So every day was a new place, a new food, a new language spoken.”
The diversity of cultures was one surprising aspect of the trip. Every town had its own culture. And the food varied wildly from place to place. In one town, the crew ate sandwiches filled with a concoction made from beetles.
“One guy on our team loved it,” Glenn says. “He kept craving these bug sandwiches.”
The trip was hard, and the travelers often would be tired, dry, hungry and unwashed. Their vehicles often broke down, and they hopped trains, hitchhiked and camped in the desert. But everywhere they went, people were eager to show hospitality and exchange ideas.
“The people we stayed with all gave us free housing, free food,” Glenn says. “The hospitality in Africa is on another level. So we wanted to give back by telling their story. We’re producing and editing film from the Africa expedition, and we hope to make a feature-length movie.”
The goal is to create awareness about what Africans are doing to improve their neighborhoods, cities and nations in hopes that they will gain access to money and other resources they wouldn’t otherwise get. The film also could be a chance for grassroots organizations in Africa to see how others are dealing with similar situations.
“We would ask everyone pretty much the same questions,” he says. “And it was really interesting, when you were traveling constantly, to see how those answers changed and see the similarities and differences. And hopefully there will be some answer to these pressing problems in these communities.”
Even though the Africa trip was life-changing for Glenn, he says he rarely talks about it because most Americans have no interest in Africa, and even if they do, they have no idea what the continent is really like. And it’s hard to change people’s preconditioned ideas about Africa, he says.
“It was really hard. A lot of people wouldn’t want to do it. But that’s how people there live every day,” Glenn says.
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