Lessons Learned from Disney

As an American youngster in the late 1980s, early 1990s, my childhood was well-fed by Walt Disney’s animated films. Lately I’m beginning to realize that the Disney movies of my youth served as more than simple entertainment. They provided essential lessons whose value I failed to recognize until I stepped foot in Africa.  Humor me as I reflect on the top 10 lessons I learned from that Magical World of Walt Disney:

10. French Language Skills

From Beauty and the Beast, a classic tale set in rural France, I gained a basic French vocabulary. Music from this film taught me a handful of words such as: Mademoiselle (Miss), ma cherie (dear one), lumiere (light), jour (day).

9. Hospitality

Beauty and the Beast also taught about hospitality in “Be Our Guest”… Why would this be significant in Africa? Well, Congolese practice the “drop-in”. If you haven’t seen a friend for several days, if you want to meet the new neighbors, or even if you just want to hear some gossip, drop-in and pay someone a visit, no advance notice is even necessary. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers are warmly welcomed into the house as guests of honor. Sit down to have tea together, or even a meal, and enjoy one another’s company.

8. Living with roommates

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs prepared me for what I would experience living in a house with seven others. Although they certainly don’t resemble her dwarfs, my roommates each have very unique and distinctive personalities. I’ll refrain from any identification or correlation to Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey.

7. A cheerful presence uplifts the home

Snow White did more than teach me tolerance. From this fairytale, I also learned a trick to maintaining a joyful spirit amidst the mundane. Snow White was responsible for cooking and keeping house for the seven dwarfs. This work proved less laborious when she whistled or sang…”when hearts are high the time will fly so whistle while you work.” Here in Congo, every Mama embraces this philosophy. In a place without modern conveniences, Mama spends all day cooking the meal, tidying the house, and hand-washing clothes. Whether to pass the time, set the pace, or stave off boredom, the Mama is always singing or humming some merry tune.

6. There’s no place like home

The Little Mermaid warned against developing a yen for a far away place. Ariel learned that its better to embrace life where you are than wish for someplace you are not. While living in America, I used to fantasize about a simpler, slower pace of life. Now living in Congo, I fantasize about life in America, wishing for its ease and convenience. This is when I must remind myself that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.  So I guess I’m still learning the lesson: there’s no place like where you are now. Embrace it and be fully present.

5. Everything tastes better with a little sugar

Mary Poppins is a film which emphasizes good manners. The part from the film that I recall most vividly? A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in the most delightful way. Fortunately nowadays, most meds are in capsule or pill form. Thus, this lesson is best applied to foreign foods. Some of the Congolese food — goat meat, grasshoppers, fish brain, monkey, or even just the insects crawling on my food — has a strong potential to cause nausea. On such occasions, I am relived to have a soda (made from pure sugarcane) to wash down my food.

4. It’s a small world after all

Stemming not from a film, but rather an exhibit at Disneyland, this lesson sings of unity throughout the earth. Visitors to the “Small World” exposition ride in small boats along a lazy river in the spirit of Gulliver sailing round the world. Here in Africa, I’m realizing the truth of that exhibit. For example, I recognize the music of my favorite English hymns sung at church, and although the lyrics are in Swahili, the melody is the same. Also, I have a friend who frequently wears a Green Bay Packers sweater (from the 1960s), reminding me of the frozen tundra where I grew up. And in the marketplace, I’ve seen Milwaukee Brewers baseball caps (secondhand). But my favorite reminder of home lately has been the children and adults who love to sing Michael Jackson songs, although they haven’t a clue as to the meaning of the lyrics.

3. The bare necessities are all one truly needs to survive

The Jungle Book, set in a remote village in India, gives useful advice regarding life away from the big city. “Don’t spend your time lookin’ around for something you want that can’t be found. When you find out you can live without it and go along not thinkin’ about it, I’ll tell you something true: The bare necessities of life will come to you.” As you know by now, here in the isolated town of Beni, I’m learning to live without many luxuries that I previously viewed as necessities. I quickly learned to halt my futile search for things such as: a newspaper, high-speed internet, snack food, quality coffee, chocolate. And as it turns out, Baloo and Mowgli were right, I’m learning to survive on the bare necessities…which are not so bad, after all.

2. Swahili vocabulary

watercolor sketch of an african simba

What Beauty and the Beast did for my French language acquisition, The Lion King did for my Swahili. Vocab essentials found in the cast of characters: Simba (lion), Rafiki (friend), Pumbaa (careless one), Sarabi (mirage), Shenzi (savage). Furthermore, my respect for Disney greatly increased upon learning the accuracy of the animation which depicted Kenya’s landscape (Pride Rock and the Savannah). My Swahili instructor still cannot comprehend why I am able to remember the word for lion, but cannot seem to memorize the vocabulary for other animals.
1. No Worries

By far the most important lesson for my time in Africa comes from The Lion King, specifically the absentminded warthog, Pumbaa. His motto for life is “Hakuna Matata”. Sung throughout the film and accurately translated from Swahili, it means “no worries” or “no problems”. Since I first stepped foot on African soil, “hakuna matata” has been a resounding theme. Slowly but surely, I’m learning how to stop worrying and release my need for control. Type A personalities are countercultural. Plans frequently change by the hour and without flexibility, one could never survive.

So, I’d like to offer my sincere appreciation to the Magical World of Walt Disney which has prepared me far beyond what I could have ever imagined.


9 responses to “Lessons Learned from Disney

  1. Steve Tomczyk


    Thanks for your wonderful insights. Reading your post was the best part of my day.

    I am more of a WB cartoon/animation fan myself, but you are right. There are lessons to be learned from most good animation/cartoons/films.

    The last Present Music show at Turner Hall featured some pre-show cartoons, and student animation and a wonderful film by PM’s marketing intern-Elisabeth Albeck, during intermission. Great stuff!

    I had the opportunity to be projectionist for the show. In prepping the video for proper format, I revisited many great cartoons that I have not seen since I was young (60’s here!). Ferdinand the Bull…, old Bugs Bunny, Popeye… All were still resident in some unvisited corner of memory. Great writers and artists at work. All of the pieces had obviously left a greater impression on me than I ever thought possible because I did remember them. Little, perfect stories with color.

    Best wishes, keep up the good work.

    Steve Tomczyk

    • Steve, I always appreciate your encouragement! Glad to hear things are going well with PM. The show at Turner Hall sounds like it was great…sad to have missed it. Please give my regards to the entire PM team.

  2. Megan,
    I also have to thank Disney for the little bit of Swahili that I know now as well, mostly Hakuna Matata. I didn’t realize the meaning behind the names of the characters, so thanks for sharing that. You have great insight into the wisdom of the Disney films.
    Keep the updates coming when you have a chance, they are always great to hear another’s experiences there.
    God Bless,

  3. I love that you correctly used the word “yen” in your post. I must admit your writing and vocabulary have been quite delightful and surprising. We miss you and love you and need you as a babysitter! 🙂
    I just wondered about Jungle Book? Anything there?

    • Um, didn’t I write about Jungle Book? The Bare Necessities… Glad you appreciate my vocabulary. You know, since I’ve become a voracious reader, my vernacular has dramatically increased. Who knew this would be one of the effects of moving to Congo?

  4. Matt Buchanan

    I’m glad to hear that you are adjusting to your surroundings. If Disney read this, they might hire you as their spokeswoman….lol

    I had a chance to visit with the rest of your family last month and enjoyed that time, but look forward to catching up with you when you make it back to the states.

    Your favorite cousin….Matt

    • Matt, We’ll definitely have to plan on a visit when I return. Then maybe we can watch a whole bunch of those Disney classics and recount all our crazy adventures growing up!

  5. Megan, I adore this post! As a family full of admitted Disney dorks I completely agree with you! I just found your blog via Alicia’s… It seems like you are having an amazing and life altering experience in the Congo!

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