Speaking of which, while I was writing this, a TV commercial came on for an initiative in East Africa being carried out by Johnson & Johnson, and those images reminded me of exactly why I can't wait to get back to Africa and get down to work. Meaningful work, and in turn, a meaningful life, hardly comes without personal sacrifice.
When I first started to think about Peace Corps almost 2 years ago, I e-mailed one of my professors, who is from Kenya, for his opinion on whether I should do Peace Corps, work for an NGO, or try some other volunteer experience. Reading his reply again gives me pride in what I am about to do (and hopefully he doesn't mind being quoted here): "Do the Peace Corps. Nothing would be as valuable. Nothing else would allow you to realize what you are capable of and what role you want to play. You should never perceive of yourself as helping 'others' by treating them as something different. 'Those' other people have something to say as well and you should align yourself to understand what they want to say and the rich histories and contexts that 'they' have. Development institutions, by their nature, always treat local peoples as 'others' not individuals. That is why we give them labels such as the 'poor'. I think that you would start to see things very differently if you were able to dwell in place for 2 years... I strongly believe that you have a unique ability to make a significant difference. That is why I am being very frank with you."
Thank you so much to everyone for all the well-wishing, phone calls, and positive thoughts as I depart! Without your support, I couldn't do what I'm about to do, or be who I am today (cheesy but completely true). May we all stay safe until we are together again. Or, in Luganda, beera bulungi, tunaalabagana! (Stay well, we will see each other!).
The logistics of the next few days: I leave my house around 5:15am tomorrow to catch a 7:40am plane to Philadelphia. I have "staging" (orientation) meetings all afternoon and get to know my fellow volunteers. Then we depart the hotel by 3:00am (yes, you read that right) on Tuesday to drive to JFK airport. There, we catch our flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, and then connect to Entebbe, Uganda. It's really happening! The bags are almost packed (hopefully they will zip!), and I can't wait to be back on African soil in just 3 days from now!