It has always been a dream of mine to be published and to have people read my words as a professional. If I could do it all over again I might have gone to school for photo journalism. If you follow my blog at all, you know I enjoy writing alot! I recently entered a Memoir writing contest for an internet publication entitled Womens Memoirs and by golly they picked me! ;) While they did not give me the first place prize, I can tell you with a great amount of pride that I will be published in the fall. Just click here to see My Name on the Contest Winner's List. The title was chosen by them, and not something I would have chosen (lesson learned), but it still gives me goosebumps to be chosen out of hundreds of qualified applicants.
Since you will not be able to read my story directly from Women's Memoir's right away, I've decided to post it here. The pictures following will be published with the memoir itself! Remember, this is just one person's vision and view of the story and the way I experienced it all. I hope you will find joy in it, but also understand the lessons I learned and the trial I was put through. It was a tough spot in my life and something that taught me a ton about myself, about relief work, and about living with a chip on your shoulder.
So... without making you wait any longer, here is my memoir...
The idea of traveling to Africa seemed like a dream come true to a girl who grew up with a Pollyanna attitude and a smile on her face. Packing my bags made my heart flutter. Water seemed more refreshing. Flowers were more fragrant. Life felt purposeful. I could not sleep the entire 30 hour trip because I could barely contain my excitement. I naively thought I was finally going to have a chance to “change the world” and be a part of something bigger than myself. Shortly after I walked out of the plane and across the jet way, it became apparent that not only was it not that easy, but that I was in way over my head. I had never felt so overwhelmed and alone. My passion and purpose were viewed as an annoyance by my fellow travelers, and I felt a lack of ability to express myself when I generally have words flow off my tongue gracefully. I thought we were all on the same page when we left sunny Southern California, but tension rose as each day passed by. Sensitivity and patience were lacking on all accounts. It was not the trip I had pictured nor the experience I would have chosen.
When it came to the local people, matters only worsened. The way I ate, the way I slept, the way I sat; they were all pointed out and laughed at. I felt like an alien. I could not even wash dishes without a hundred children peeking their heads in the hut and mocking me. I was literally in a village of strangers. No one understood me and I was an anomaly. Simultaneous to my alien status, they seemed as though they came from another planet as well. They ate with their hands and cooked over a fire. They chanted and danced and jumped up and down all the time for no reason. The stench of the camp was a mixture of body odor and rotting garbage. Why had I volunteered for this? How did I end up here? Frustration began to creep into my heart. I hated not being able to communicate, and on this particular day, I had been waiting to go to bed to escape the scorn of everyone surrounding me. Now that I was finally here, I realized all I wanted was familiarity. I selfishly wanted to sleep in my own bed and forget this whole adventure had happened. I was reaching the end of my rapidly fraying rope.
As my mental temper tantrum took over, I looked around the roof of the straw and clay hut with mice crawling around the upper rim and focused on the thin white net that separated me from these creatures. The heat overwhelmed me and, at times, I felt dehydrated and close to passing out from the intensity of it. My many attempts to fall asleep failed as I constantly felt like something was crawling on me. The radio seemed to be screaming once popular American music, and the speaker lay just beside my head giving me the closest proximity to the heat and the music. They both pumped their poison to my body continuously. The course material of the bed scratched against my bare legs and I winced whenever I touched the thin shear netting.
I lay with sweat dripping down my face and I began to grasp the difference between what I needed and what I wanted. I was not hungry, thirsty or in danger – I was just uncomfortable. My basic human needs were met. So why did I feel such a lack of freedom? Does freedom equal control? Somewhere in my mind I was equating the two. I decided in a split second that being outside of your comfort zone should not make you feel impaired. This entire concept was brought to a head, as this was how I was spending the 4th of July in 2009. The 4th of July is generally one of my favorite holidays, but this time around I was not watching fireworks and eating hot dogs. I was spending time in Sub-Saharan Africa learning to appreciate my freedom, independence, and blessings as an American. While that is not why I went, it is one of many things I was learning to take from it. I guess it is one thing to say you appreciate what you have, but it is an entirely different thing to experience the life that has been handed to others and see the beauty in their simplicity.
As these concepts and thoughts rushed through my brain, I felt a calm wash over me. I had the freedom to decide how I was going to react to a situation that was not only out of my control, but also one that was not ideal for my personality and range of comfort. I had the freedom to decide how I was going to deal with unfamiliarity. I could decide my own destiny by using the independence I possessed to tackle any situation I was placed in. It did not matter how I got in this hut with the mice and the roaches and the strangers. What did matter was what I took from it and the attitude I approached life with from that moment forward. No matter what situation we are faced with in life, we have the freedom to choose how it affects us. I fell asleep with ease shortly following this list of realizations, with a full heart and head. It’s amazing what heat and mice can stir up in your soul…