(typed hastily on my iPhone during the never-ending flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa)
It has been quite the journey up until this point, and I expect quite the journey lies ahead. After a rigorous application process, a stream of interviews, telephone calls and e-mails, and a month of uninterrupted 9-5 training from a handful of the development field’s best experts and professionals, I am finally headed to Kampala, Uganda for an eight month Aga Khan Foundation fellowship with the Madrasa Resource Centre.
It felt surreal this morning, and partially still does, as I sit in the same plane, in the same seat for the eleventh consecutive hour. There was a brief tease from the pilot, who announced a stop in Rome for refuelling, however enjoying Italy was quite difficult via a small, oval window from the aisle seat.
In my usual style, today began with chaos: panicked exits, dragging a suitcase large enough to fit a body (and heavy enough to have one in it) down two sets of stairs, lost family members and rushed check-ins. Only to discover, of course, that my bag was not only 10 kilos overweight, it was 10 kilos over the allowed weight for Air Canada luggage. My dad muttered something about the safety of union workers being unable to lift my bag, which was now open on the floor of the priority line check-in counter. Socks, clothes and the miniature pharmacy courtesy of my parents spewed out of the bag as I distressingly attempted to relieve my overstuffed bag of ten kilos worth of things. Everything seemed like a necessity, even my excessive stock of peanut butter and Nutella. Tears of panic and stress streamed down my face as I threw anything and everything out of my bag, at this point willing to toss the entire thing if it meant ending the rather public meltdown and getting through security.
At this moment, the check-in clerk informed me that she needed the address of my final destination in order to process my ticket. Lovely. I whipped out my laptop, cursing the free airport Wifi as my parents continued to unpack my bag.
My dad, a military man, with his quick thinking and problem solving skills had a new suitcase within minutes and was paying for three checked bags, promising all of my things would arrive safely in Entebbe.
I had, and am continuing to have, visions of myself arriving at the airport attempting to balance a school bag, a 60L travel pack, the aforementioned suitcase of a small village and this new bag, all whilst being introduced to an entirely new and unfamiliar setting. Great.
(I did, in fact, survive. I took up the equivalent space of a small train and looked like an idiot, but I managed.)
The initial check-in ordeal had thrown off my composed confidence that I was undoubtedly ready for this experience, assuring everyone who knew me that yes I would be careful, and safe, and home, and that eight months would fly by. And after careful consideration (while also assuring multiple concerned passengers and airport personnel that no, this was not my first time flying and yes, I was alright), I realized that my early morning start and related meltdown weren’t about excessive things because, after all, things are replaceable and honestly, almost irrelevant. The circumstances and my respective reaction are actually representative of the reality of this journey.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
And as I stared, wide-eyed, at the check-in clerk, I realized that all of the training in the world could not prepare me for the unexpected. The truth is, I have no idea what to expect (I still don’t. I imagine this will be #trending for most of the eight months I’m here). I have mastered a particular spin of the terms of reference and information I have received to dictate to curious friends, family members and strangers, but I’m still not all that sure and the doubt I felt in that particular moment coupled with what already felt like a mistake, not even ten feet into the entrance of the Ottawa airport, I was paralyzed with the idea of failure.
It wasn’t until sitting on this plane, in the same seat for what is now approaching twelve hours, where I have exhausted all possible distractions that I have come to terms with the rush of emotions I had felt earlier today.
Today was a day full of goodbyes, ones I had and hadn’t anticipated. There were family goodbyes, see-you-soons to friends and loved ones, but I also said goodbye to my home, my familiarity and any established routine I had made, and in September, I will also grasp the fact that I will not fall into the regular routine that is school and education and will instead, for the first time, be pursuing what I truly want to do without the confines of my usual comforts.
What I need to remember – and what I will push myself to recall during both the best and worst of times over the next eight months – is that this is the opportunity of a lifetime, one I am incredibly lucky to have. And if I am to hold any expectations, it is that while I may succeed, fail, or both (I would bet on the latter), I will put all of my effort, heart and mind to keep trying, and loving, the work I will be doing.