Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Heart of Africa

I’ve been having dreams lately that involve travel. In each of these dreams, something invariably goes awry and I am experiencing the very real, rather expected feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Here is my theory: dreams are often your subconscious dealing with things as you sleep that you, either consciously or not, have refused to process while you’re awake. Do I have a right to be terrified about leaving everything I know and moving to Africa for nearly a year? I think so. Would I think anyone else weak or cowardly for doing so? Absolutely not. Yet I, being the stubborn, head-strong woman that I am, have not been allowing myself to feel much more then excitement and faith. Brave and iron willed? I’d like to think so. Silly and idealistic? More likely… I suppose, to be completely honest, as August has hit, there have been a few moments of mild panic, but they have passed quickly leaving me just as forcefully undaunted as I was before.

Now, a little background: On September 6th, I leave for Uganda. I will be staying at an orphanage, called Ekisa, until the end of June and then likely travelling a bit before coming home. The orphanage is located on the outskirts of a town called Jinja, nestled against lake Victoria right at the base of the Nile (river rafting, anyone?). The orphanage was established earlier this year by two young women (one from the UK, one from the states) who moved to Uganda themselves only last September and after getting their non-profit organization status and finding a house to lease, began accepting children in March/April. They’re pretty much at capacity now with 15 children, ranging in ages from 4-10, so this will be a very different experience from the orphanage in Haiti which had two large buildings, office staff, kitchen staff, house staff and about 160 kids. My hope is that given the young and rather intimate nature of Ekisa, I will be able to jump in and help with everything from the kids (of course), to administration, to curriculum-type planning…in short, a general team member.

There are negative aspects to this trip, to be sure - saying goodbye, prolonged time away from family and friends, the general risks of international/3rd world travel, the complete lack of income - but there are certainly many things that I am more than excited to experience. To name a few: sleeping with a mosquito net (the reason for it, quite frightening, but the reality of it, absolutely charming), the fact that my main mode of transportation will be hopping on the back of a boda-boda (a sturdy motorbike) with a random stranger, becoming a regular attendee at a local church and potentially finding a way to be involved with the worship there, but most of all, I am excited about the fact that Africa will be my home. As a visitor, relationships are limited, unfamiliar experience rarely become accustomed and second-nature and the heart of the place isn’t realized and absorbed past the first few layers. As a resident, relationships are formed and nurtured on a deeper, more lifelong level, things that are at first both terrifying and wonderful become a regular part of life and, lastly, the heart - that is the people, the culture and the life - has a chance to be more fully absorbed and understood. This is what I most love about travel.

I know this is pointless, but I am already scared to come home. I look forward to the joy that will come from reunions with family and friends and I’m sure there will be more than one food item and/or general luxury that I will revel in, but I can only imagine to what degree this experience will change me, will shape me; and my fear lies in the concern that somehow I will no longer fit. Fear is a funny thing; a deterrent at best, debilitating at worst. I recently read something that brought up the question, what is true freedom? I have to say that what popped into my head immediately, before I’d even made a conscious choice to answer was that freedom, by nature, is the absence of fear. Not the absence of that which causes the fear, just the fear itself. I think you can be in a negative situation or in captivity of some kind and still experience freedom. Of course this does tie into my belief in God, as the foremost defence against fear is faith leading me to the long understood notion that where there is faith, there is freedom; but I think it still applies no matter what you believe. I was once asked to put together a write-up that would be placed alongside my photo to give people an idea of who I am. I ended it with this: I am fiercely determined, innately rebellious and I aspire to fear nothing but my God. To elaborate, I aspire to know such freedom that I will not fear the consequences of whatever God calls me to do and that I would not fear life in general and all the struggles that it brings. Maybe this trip, whether trial by fire or simply the wisdom and maturity that comes from a life changing experience, will be the thing that gets me there - no fear.

So, clearly, if the length of this “introduction” is any indication, I am itching to get writing again; a few thoughts, a few facts and a lingering challenge. With that, the only thing left to say is, thank you for joining me on this journey; I will leave you with a quote that I recently discovered in the incredible book “Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure” by Julian Smith:

“We all have our allotted portions of black and white paint; how we lay it on is a question of temperament. One mixes the pigments carefully and paints his life an even grey. Another dashes in the light and shade with a palette-knife. Such a one is the wanderer in strange [lands].” Ewart Grogan