Sunday, August 8, 2010

I'm leaving on a jet plane...

The reality of my departure finally hit last night (aka the crying finally started). As much as serving in the Peace Corps fulfills many of my dreams, it is never easy to leave behind your life as you know it, especially family and friends, for so long. In an attempt to look toward the future rather than dwell on the depressing aspects of leaving, I continued reading The Price of Stones by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, a book detailing how the author started a free school for AIDS orphans in his hometown in western Uganda. On the page where I left off, the author is leaving his family to return to his home in the United States. His words were so comforting because they resonated perfectly. "Morning came too quickly after a final evening with friends and family... We will all be crying shortly. It was probably the same for all families around the world. An awkward silence before leaving when one does not want to say goodbye, when the pain of family being pulled apart is too much to bear." And finally, the quote that restored my hope in seeing my family again soon is what his mother says to him whenever they say goodbye: "May the Lord keep you safe until we meet again." Indeed, I think God does work in mysterious ways - I mean, what are the odds that this would be the particular passage that would greet me as soon as my emotions began to get the best of me? I'm not an especially religious person, but you can't ignore a message like this when it stares you in the face.

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!


Linda Overholt said...

We lifted you in prayer at Lakeview UCC this morning. Reading about your departure brings back such memories of pride and excitement when Jillisa left for her Peace Corp service in Armenia 5 years ago. We look forward to reading your blog postings! God's blessings go with you!

Linda Overholt

Deb Rufner said...

I don't know whether the tears I am shedding while reading this are for sadness because you have finally left or from pride in the person you are. I am sure it is equal parts of each. I told you this morning to go and take on the world - but really, the world must be ready to take you on! You may not have thought the pixie dust worked when you were five, but it just took time for now you have spread your wings and you are indeed flying. I love you so much! Love - Mom