My relentless, restless desire to immerse myself in African culture began during my short but memorable stint on the Africa Mercy Ship while in Port Noire, Republic of Congo. Something inside opened and a seemingly bottomless chasm of curiosity and intrigue lured me to the continent over and over.
In the last 3 years I have made the 8000+ mile journey 8 times! That is a staggering number of miles and hours spent in pursuit of a passion to experience the culture and traditions of people from which all earthly existence stems. An astonishing number of hours seated in immovable seats, crunched into submission, yearning for sleep and comfort on the 15+ hour transatlantic flight.
I am not sure what has propelled me into this whirlwind of desire and curiosity. Could it be my deepest connection to ancient roots? A desire to serve? Or worst, simply boredom and a need to “find myself”. I am reminded, “Wherever I go, there I am.”
Until now, I could not explain it nor deny the pull, the intrigue, the curiosity. My assignment in Swaziland ended after 2 months, my choice. Working under a micromanager did not align with my style. My most recent assignment in Kenya I terminated due to family crises after 1 month. During my stay in rural Kenya, I noticed a change in my resolve, my curiosity, my passion for the work and the culture. Other issues and people were calling to me, my family, my partner, my passions for running, animals and relaxing in nature surfaced in a most compelling way.
Restless, irritable and discontent, I ended my assignment after 1 month, both embarrassing and disturbing. I don’t feel good about breaking agreements and bailing after such a short time. But I felt compelled to take care of myself and my family, choosing from a place of joy and vitality vs burden and responsibility. Having invested money, time and emotional energy in my journey to Kenya, it was both with sadness and relief that I let it go, driven by the desire to live a joyful life. I sought counsel and guidance from a new “bestie” in Kenya, Sister Jennifer, a lovely and soulful retired teacher and Sister of Mercy.
It was easy to chose as a result of her guidance: “God is life and all life is God. God is in everything and a reflection of all we are and do. Chose from what gives you life and vitality. When you waken in the morning, what gives you life?” I already knew what my choice needed to be in order to support my joy and vitality but I believe I needed permission or a nudge in that direction. She complied through her simple guidance and loving presence.
Rural Mutomo was a grim experience for me; 70 km from tarmac roads, stricken with severe poverty and a high burden of disease, often leading to orphaning entire families of children. HIV, TB, diabetes, accidents, and drought left families without safety, security, and food. I was unprepared for the limited sources and variety of food for myself, though fruits and many vegetables were available. In order to procur even the most basic supplies, it was a 2+ hour ride on rutted and often impassible roads. The monotony of the food was challenging. Daily power outages were predictable. Heavy rains made the roads impassible many days. The quiet and pastoral nature of the land and people were soothing and I enjoyed the cows, goats and chickens that roamed freely through the town’s streets and around my house.
My role as nurse educator in a newly established nursing school was easy to walk into, working with 2 established faculty members on site. Teaching to a group of 5 incoming students was not what I expected. The dynamics were challenging as I encouraged them to communicate with openness and honesty. Rural African people tend to be shy and culturally it is most appropriate for them to maintain a reserve that is often uncomfortable for me, the ebullient, curious, questioning one.
Upon leaving I am struck dumb by the sudden disappearance of that open and seductive chasm of longing for Africa. I feel a sense of completion, at peace with my decision to return home. Though this sudden absence of longing is disturbing and a surprise, it is a bit of relief as I am sure it is for my family. I have no idea what is next, both an exciting and daunting challenge.
I am ready to sit and eat a cheeseburger, fresh salad and perhaps a piece of carrot cake or gelato….. and stare into the eyes of my loved ones. I am humbled by my guilt, self absorption and focus on my own needs. I wanted to be stronger, to serve the disadvantaged, to explore. Turning 65 tomorrow, perhaps I am entering a new era of brand new exploration and discovery. I am ready to support and care for those I come home to, and await the unfolding of what is next….