It was a cold winter night when I decided to pay a visit to my parent’s house. After a couple weeks of contemplating my future, I decided it was time to share my plans. I sat at the kitchen counter sipping hot coffee and I looked at my family laughing and relating the news of their day. I took a deep breath before telling them I had something we needed to talk about. I’m almost positive they prepared for the worst, as is natural with parents, when your 23-year-old says “I need to tell you something” your mind most likely does not go to bright and shiny places. Their expressions grew somber as they asked me what I had to tell them. I then proceeded to ask them if they remembered the book I had loved as a kid, Angel of Hope. I shared the premise of the book with them and I could see it all come flooding back as they realized what I was planning to do. I calmly told them that instead of looking for a job, I would spend the next eight months saving and preparing to go to Africa and do volunteer work.
I was surprised at the responses I got from my parents. I expected, being daddy’s little girl, that my father would be nervous and tell me absolutely not. But my dad was incredibly supportive, he told me if that’s what makes me happy then I should do it. My mom on the other hand, instantly tried to talk me out of it, she worried about the dangers, so much could happen there. It is a dangerous place. The government is corrupt, kidnappings happen all the time. She was right, of course, but I needed to see for myself. I still felt the desire to be inspired, and in my heart I knew that going to Africa was the right thing to do. Have you ever just had a moment, you were coming to a decision but didn’t know what to do? Finally, you just went with your gut and once you chose you knew deep down that was the right decision? That’s how I felt once I made the decision to volunteer.
The next day I started saving money. I took a Folgers can and determined that would be my private stash, I had received my tax return consisting of a few thousand dollars and knew that would be a good starting point, so I set it aside. Every time I picked up a shift, it went in the jar, every time I made more than 100 dollars the extra went in the jar. You’d be surprised how quickly money accumulates when you remove the ability to spend it. First I applied through the Institute for Field Research and Expeditions (IFRE), then I paid for the insurance and the housing fees. I did my research and after a few weeks comparing poverty level, climate and price, I decided that Kenya had the best program for me. After paying the initial fees I bought my plane ticket and my visa. Once the big fees were covered, I began saving for the shots I needed to stay healthy in a third-world country.
While all of this sounds very tedious, it is meant as encouragement, that if I can do it, anyone can. It’s amazing how hard you work when you really are invested in something. Two months before I left I got hit with a massive bill, my car needed a lot of work done and it required most of my savings to fix it. Two thousand dollars went to fix my car that month and suddenly I had no idea how I was going to go to Africa. I had spent the rest of my money preparing for this trip, and now I had nothing for while I was there. I considered selling the car until I found out that what it was worth, was less than it cost to fix it. Like I said though, anything worth having is worth the obstacles you have to overcome to get there.
Before I knew it, it was October 1 and I was moving out of my apartment; then I blinked and it is November 1 and I am leaving for Nairobi.
I wake up that morning with butterflies in my stomach and for the first time second guess myself. Should I be doing this? Am I crazy to be doing this?
I push those thoughts away as I pack up my room. The usually cluttered area has now been stuffed into various boxes. I take one final look around, close the door and mentally prepare myself to leave for a trip I am certain will change my life. After a brief nap on the clean, soft, leather couch in my parent’s living room I wake up to realize it is 4 p.m., time to go.
My dad helps carry my over-sized suitcase holding three months’ worth of clothes, toiletries and medicines to my mom’s red Mercedes Benz. Once in the car it is unusually silent, the 45-minute drive to Baltimore-Washington International Airport suddenly feels endless. As we coast along I-695 taking the ramp toward Baltimore my mom turns around in her seat to tell me, “You don’t have to go you know. You can back out.” It takes a moment or two for her words to sink in. I sit in stunned silence before exclaiming “You say that now, on our way to the airport? Of course I’m going.” She slowly turns around and I hear her softly sigh and say, “I just want you to know you don’t have to do this.” I quietly sit in the backseat and glance out the window.
I know she has been through a lot, it was only two weeks ago that my mom lost her mother and it was only a week after that when my brother left for the Marine Corps. Now, only a week after my brother, my mom is driving me to the airport where I will get on a plane and journey 7,400 miles to a country known for it’s poverty, disease and crime.
As we pull up to the curb and I unload my bags there doesn’t seem to be a grandiose farewell; I hug my parents and my mom tells to be safe. Mom pulled out her camera and tearfully took a few photos, excluding herself from the camera’s lens. But mom has always been like that, always behind the camera, never in front of it. I say goodbye and give one final hug before walking through the doors to the airport. I glance back quickly to say goodbye one more time, but they are already in the car and pulling away from the drop off zone.
“Great,” I think to myself as I proceed through the entrance and follow signs to check my suitcase. I am completely alone, this is the first thing I have ever done truly on my own and if we’re being honest, I am incredibly scared. With all the research I’ve done I know nothing is going to prepare me for the things I’m going to see, and I begin to worry. What if my suitcase gets lost? What if I get on the wrong flight? What if the family that is supposed to be picking me up in Nairobi isn’t who I think they are and I end up on the news “Girl Goes Missing in Africa.” I am a worst case scenario thinker; I start to wonder if I am prepared.
I walk my suitcase to the counter and the woman tells me to lift my bag onto the scale. After some struggling with the 60 pound bag that is nearly the size of me I finally get it on the belt when she tells me it will be one hundred dollars. My heart stops in my chest. A hundred dollars to put a suitcase on an airplane! This is ridiculous, I think, as I hand over the money. I already have limited funds and now I have to waste it on a bag.
Next, I make my way over to customs, security isn’t as bad as I thought it would be with all of the violence going on in the world, but then again, I’m leaving the country, not trying to get back into it. Now it’s time to wait, I sit in the terminal and text my mom for what I think will be the final time before arriving in Africa. We download Whatsapp to stay in contact, just in case I will have service. Finally, I hear the boarding call and slowly make my way over to the line. “This is it,” I think, as I walk through the gate.
The first flight to Heathrow International Airport is eight hours, I have brought five books in my carry on, I have my journal, headphones, an Ipod and there is a personal television on the flight. “I can do this,” I think as I begin to look up the films listed.
Once in Heathrow I am thankful for the one hour layover, because it takes me that long to get from one terminal to another which actually requires transportation via bus. Feeling overly thrilled that I am able to find my way from one terminal to another without getting lost I pull out my phone to make a very important call home. At this point it is one in the morning back home but my mom answers anyway. I get a very sleepy “hello” before letting her know that I am in London, safe and sound, waiting for my next flight. We talk for a few minutes when I hear the boarding call. I tell her I love her and if I can, I’ll call when I arrive in Nairobi. The phone goes dead as she hangs up and I realize this is the furthest away from my family that I’ve ever been. I take a deep breath and join the line for the flight to Jomo-Kenyatta Airport.
2 November 2015
I can’t believe it. I am 40 minutes away from Nairobi. I am so excited for this experience; I can’t help but wonder if I am crazy for doing this. Everyone says I’m brave but I’m not so sure. I’ve been told I inspire people and they are so proud of me. The thing is, it was only a dream that I knew I had to see through. How could I pass this up? I have no idea what to expect, I have absolutely no money, but somehow that doesn’t matter. This will be extraordinary and I can’t wait. I’m fairly certain though that I am definitely crazy for doing this.