A year ago today I left all of the familiar faces, the familiar places, the familiar feelings behind and began an unimaginable journey. It seems like ages ago but at the same time it feels just like yesterday:
Having breakfast at my old home of a restaurant with my closest friends and family, waving goodbye to loved ones in the parking lot, sitting in a park with a pit in my stomach as we waited for the appropriate time to leave for the airport. Reality sinking in as I checked my bags, and then really sinking in as I hugged and kissed the remaining loved ones goodbye and watched them watch me as I disappeared down an escalator leading to my flight’s gate.
People looking at me like I was crazy as I sat waiting to board the plane; I knew what they were thinking, “Frank, that girl’s been sobbing for half an hour and we’re only going to Philadelphia… Keep your eye on the kids.” Lugging my possessions for the next two years to a taxi, to a hotel and then into the hotel room. Having another melt down, being surprised by an unexpected roommate, pulling it together and acting super friendly, then dodging out of the room to a solitary corner where only the best kind of person talked me down (for the first time out of many to come) from going right back to Colorado.
The next day I met what I had heard were to be my best friends over the course of the next couple of years, if not for the rest of my life. I was skeptical, “There’s no way I’m going to feel that close of a bond with anyone in this room,” but still tried to read everyone’s souls and predict who my new BFFs would be.
I can’t help but smile thinking about how little we knew about each other, about Peace Corps, about Kenya, about everything that we were getting ourselves into and yet instead of being concerned about that, we were all occupied with making good impressions on one another. I should have never been so skeptical. Those people were and are just the best and I have come to love each and every one of them. Being thrown into such a foreign situation will have this instant bonding affect on you that you won’t believe until you go through it. Although we’ve decreased in number by a few, I still look at it as having gained a family of thirty.
So, I took some time today to think about how I’ve changed, how I’ve grown, all of the things that I know now that I never could have imagined then, all of which has happened in the past year. The person I was a year ago, I would classify as crazy but crazy in a good way. Who leaves on a twenty-seven month trip knowing so little? I did and it was probably one of the best things I have ever decided to do.
I’ve mentioned it in previous posts but more than anything I think this has been one of the most self-empowering experiences that I could have forced myself into. I can do awesome things and I can do them alone. I’m not trying to discount the power of working together in groups in any way (in many cases it’s so much better to have more bodies and brains) but knowing that I can travel across a country, through cities I have never been to, by myself, in AFRICA, is pretty cool. Just a couple years ago I wasn’t comfortable enough in my own skin to go to a coffee shop by myself, in Boulder, let alone travel through a country halfway across the world unaccompanied.
So… What have I learned?
I’ve learned when left to my own devices, with only the company of a sugar-loaded care package from the States, that I am an emotional eater. A few added pounds later, I learned self-discipline. I have learned to take care of myself for me and not just to do things to look or feel good for someone else. I’ve learned (twice) that Giardia is real and crippling in more ways than one. I have learned to kill big bugs with only a flip-flop. I have learned that it’s okay to fail; you just have to pick yourself back up, learn from that failure and move on. I have learned to be much more assertive, to watch out for myself and not allow others to take advantage of me. I have learned the true value in family and friends and just how much it means to have their support and unwavering love. I’ve learned what a blessed life I have had simply by being lucky enough to have been born in the United States to a middle class family. I have learned that time and scheduling doesn’t really mean too much; you just have to go with the flow. I have learned just how much I adore indoor plumbing and heated water. I have learned and grown to appreciate SO. MUCH. that this list could go on and on and on…
This past year I have found life-long friends, found love for a new country, for a new people, for a new kind of work. This past year I have found me.