Finding Myself in Africa

Dear Readers,

Less than a year ago, I embarked on a 4-week trip that would change my life. As many of you know I posted a daily blog indicating my experiences, and as life changing as they were, I want to share those experiences with more people than just those following my blog. I am writing a book and will be posting daily on here. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Chapter 1

I am sitting on the floor of an already empty apartment. Once the space of so many fond memories, of parties with friends, family dinners, late night talks and secrets shared under the cover of moonlight; now just another space for another family to create new opportunities. I should thank this place, I think to myself as I look at the boxes stacked one on top of the other filled to the brim with books I have collected over the past two years. I glance in the corner of the room where I remember sitting in a desk chair at four in the morning wondering if I was crazy to move in with someone I had only dated for a few months. It isn’t hard for girls my age to empathize with the coming-of-age right of passage every mother and daughter goes through that signifies the end of their ability to live in such close confines with one another.

That first week after we moved in was difficult for me, I was on my own, figuring out how I would graduate from college and pay my bills. I knew I would never be able to go to my father and tell him I had failed, that was simply not an option. For two years I worked forty hours a week as a waitress in a local Applebees in a small town in Carroll County, Maryland. It is the kind of place where you see the same faces every day. Glancing around the small, mundane bar and grill, I watch Carroll County residents squeeze into their chairs to enjoy a talk with the bartender they are accustomed to seeing every day. These customers, or guests as the establishment wants us to call them, are the symbol of what our restaurant is to this town. It represents a place where the guests form bonds with the servers, bartenders and managers.

On the eve of moving out I have been working at this restaurant for 3 long years. In those years I fell for a coworker, moved in with him, and lived in the same apartment as him for a year after we broke up. So many people ask me how I did it, how did I live with someone I used to be in a relationship with? The answer isn’t simple, and it definitely wasn’t easy. But that’s a story for another time.

It’s always been incredible to me how people live the same mundane life day after day, but that’s what I was doing. I woke up, went to work, came home, went to bed and did it all over again the next day. I was like those people meandering through life never realized you need and want something more until finally the light turns on, you find your way out and are miraculously free.

It was December 2014 when I came up with the idea. I looked at my formal acceptance into the Mass Communications program at Towson University and the email informing me that I would be graduating in the spring of 2015 and I began wondering what I would do after graduation. I didn’t have a job lined up, I hadn’t even begun looking; what would I do? I have always been an enthusiast of travel, never having done any myself I only knew what I had learned in books. It was at this point that I remembered a dream I had always wanted to accomplish, but had never had the opportunity.

As a child growing up, I was an avid reader. Every night for as long as I can remember I sat up late reading any book I could get my hands on. With only a sliver of light shining through a crack in the closet I read about places I could only dream of. I traveled to Hogwarts and had my first Potions Class, fought a Basilisk, discovered Horcruxes and defeated Voldemort. From the comforts of my bed I learned about love, life and friendship. I got to see different points of view, learn what it might be like to fall in love, or more often fall out of love. I learned about sacrifice and loyalty. And one day, I learned about the rewards of volunteer work.

I was 12-years-old, reading a book my mom had just bought me titled Angel of Hope by Lurlene McDaniel. I was inspired by the story of a girl who was only a few years older than me, who went to Africa in the place of her sick sister. She went to Uganda with her mom and I watched her transform from a stubborn, selfish 17-year-old to the kind of girl who sacrificed her life to save someone else. I saw through her eyes the difference one person could make and the struggles and poverty that are faced in other countries, countries we seldom think about. The last page of the book had a very important message, if you want to volunteer contact Youths with a Mission. My mind expanded, opportunities like that were real? I could actually go to a third world country and make a difference

I immediately ran to my dad and told him I wanted to go on a mission trip to Africa. He laughed and told me I was too young and to ask him again when I was 16. Sure enough, my sixteenth birthday finally approached and I asked my dad again, could I go volunteer in Africa? Once again he placated me with the short response that I was still too young and to ask again when I was 18. Anyone who asks my father about these responses will get the same answer, “I didn’t think she would be so persistent.” As an 18-year-old about to graduate from high school, still a child but very much wanting to be a woman I approached my dad once again, asking him if I could go to Africa. His answer this time was a little different, his shock that after 6 years I still showed a desire for volunteer work was apparent on his face as he said, “You’re 18 now, you can go if you can figure out how to pay for it.”

That was the last time I mentioned Africa for 6 years, until my graduation date from Towson University approached.

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