“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it … In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins
“Everyday I wake up feeling a little scared of the big goals I have set out for myself this year… I tell myself I am not afraid, I tell myself I was born to do this. But then, it causes me to wonder why I feel so scared. And then it hits me – its a blessing that I am afraid, its a blessing that I have to stretch myself everyday to transform into the person who isn’t afraid of those goals. Each day, I work to better myself… With each passing moment, I look for what I can learn… With each confusion, I get excited. The aha moment got summed up by me realizing that my goals are not there to scare me but to stretch me – and if its not challenging you, its not changing you…
Find something you’ve always been scared to do – whether that be speaking in public or making that phone call or telling somebody you love them – and just do it. There is NO failure, only learning!”
– the beautiful Shamsha Shamsy, check out her website here
(Scrawled on a notebook in the Istanbul airport during my five country, two day journey home to Uganda)
I’m sitting on the cold stone floor of the Istanbul airport, waiting – much like I’ve been doing for the better part of 36 hours. Airports, security checks, passport control, bewildered looks from customs officers at my Ugandan resident permit, scouring for free wifi, but mostly waiting – all things I have become accustomed to in the last few years, so much so they require little additional thought. Muscle memory moves me from point A to point B, terminal 1 to terminal 2.
The one thing that accompanies airports that I have come to accept I will never be good at, something I’m certain can’t be learned, are goodbyes. Airports, train stations, bus stops and front doorways. I have come to hate goodbyes because of what is inevitably delivered with them, side dishes of distance, silence, gaps in conversation, unfamiliarity.
Over the past two days, I have struggled against the wave of emotions that usually come after seeing a handful of loved ones. The desire to stop time, rewind, cling to each second that passes. More evident though, more overwhelming and dire, is my disdain to return to a country where close friends can be counted on one hand, a country where fresh challenges and cultural differences present themselves frequently, a country where my ease and belonging are routinely confronted.
Accompanying that disdain though, in all its glory, is anger at myself.
Didn’t I want this? Didn’t I yearn to travel, to learn, to immerse myself in the unknown? Didn’t I cry with joy when learning about my placement in Uganda? So why now, sitting in an airport, a place full of goodbyes – and hellos – a place full of adventure, do I yearn to cling to the familiar?
I’ve spent nearly half a year away from home now. I didn’t get a thrifty apartment with my friends when I graduated, I didn’t get a big girl job with office clothes and 9-5 business hours, I got an adventure – albeit one with enough highs and lows to give you motion sickness, but an adventure nonetheless. This was a chance and a challenge to do something out of the ordinary and while that is both enlightening and thrilling, it is also daunting.
There is nothing more conflicting than craving adventure while simultaneously fearing it. One day can comprise of a million and one emotions – from happy to confident to questioning to scared to sad and back around again.
During my two week holiday I met up with two very important people in London and rang in the New Year with them. The incredulousness of being with those where no effort is required, where laughter comes easy and friendships are not born from convenience but grounded in familiarity can push the real world far away. The three of us live on different continents, pursuing various but exciting opportunities and being reunited felt like a brief transportation into the comfort of the past. In an effort to induce humour at the rapidly passing week, one of them (in all his wisdom) said we wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t love a challenge and while his statement was meant to apply to the three of us, the concept is universally applicable.
Where we are, what we are doing is a direct reflection of what we want and how hard we are willing to work for it. It may be a challenge, but it’s also a choice. Rife with emotion, sitting on the cold floor of gate 214 in Istanbul, wanting nothing more then to turn around and board the next plane to familiarity, to comfort, I was challenged, but I also made a choice – a choice to continue being challenged, to continue learning and growing and finding ways to overcome the difficulties that made me want to turn and run, fast.
Saying goodbye to what we know – be that the people, culture or lifestyle – is hard and it will never stop being hard, but it will always be a choice. Other then my complete inability to cope with the concept of failure, I was not forced into this decision. I could be anywhere in the world at this very moment, but I chose to be here and while I may still be struggling to readjust, blindly finding my footing again, making the choice to throw myself head first into challenge is the first step to overcoming it.
“There will be a few times in your life when all your instincts will tell you to do something, something that defies logic, upsets your plans, and may seem crazy to others. When that happens, you do it. Listen to your instincts and ignore everything else. Ignore logic, ignore the odds, ignore the complications, and just go for it.”
For a long time, I’ve been meaning to write about the concept of “sensitivity” – yet I couldn’t quite formulate my words or ground my opinion for some reason. A friend sent me this article, which because of my serious inability (read: complete lack of self-control) to limit myself to reading only one, led me to this article: 8 ways to romance clarity in the midst of a cluttered & confusing world.
I’m a sensitive person and anyone who knows me will attest to this with, at the very least an excessive head nod, at most a laugh. I find myself at the extremes of a variety of emotions: crying with joy, sobbing from sadness, laughing from happiness. For some reason, though, the word sensitive carries with it the connotation of weak, of unable, of lacking control. Growing up, my sisters and I threw this word around like a careless insult, “stop being so sensitive” or “you’re only mad because you’re sensitive” – we made it something to work against, rather than capture as a beautiful and rare trait of observation.
Sensitivity is, in its simplicity, being reactive. It’s reacting to the actions of the world around you, be it with sadness, tears, anger, happiness or hope. And it is beautiful, and rare.
I would argue that in today’s ‘cluttered & confusing world’, our biggest enemy, our worst curse is our ability to desensitize ourself from the tragic, the sad, the emotionally overwhelming. We (and by we, I’m generally referring to the western world) so easily skim past the grim stories in the newspaper, flick the channel when our thoughts or emotional balance are challenged, scurry away from conversations that work against not only our beliefs but how we live our own day-to-day lives.
We grow up believing that our emotional strength and resilience in facing the challenges of everyday life speak to our character, but isn’t the worst possible response to sadness, to adversity, to catastrophe, to not respond at all, be that physically or emotionally?
Me and my emotions have a tumultuous relationship. I have always found myself attempting to empathize with those around me, not out of pity, but out of a desire to understand. I truly believe that the best possible way to understand someone is to put your hand forward and to share what they feel, the good and the bad. This has led to beautiful friendships with incredible people, it has led to creativity through writing about the world around me. It has also led me to react with my heart rather than my head, to express myself wholeheartedly in a way that can often be seen as excessive or overwhelming.
Living in Kampala has been both a learning experience and a challenge for me. In an effort to both hone my emotional response to the world around me and my ability to handle and manage everything I was feeling, I was forced to find a balance.
At the beginning of the week, I met with a lady named Madame Hadima, a school management committee member at one of the preschools we work at, with a passion for education so fierce and persistent, our short conversation moved me. She told me of the difficulties of moving toward quality, the ever present challenge of corruption, but she also asked me to look around at the classroom I sat in, she asked me if I had ever seen anything better than a room full of children happy to learn, encouraged to succeed. The emotion I felt was staggering and instead of working to suppress it, I let it encourage me and motivate me into understanding, into action.
I found a balance – a balance between my emotional reaction and my desire to use this emotion as a starting point.
The truth is, sensitivity coupled with an ability to find clarity in your emotions is a stunning, beautiful aspect of being human and maybe, if all of us as a whole worked a little less on suppressing our reactions to the world around us, we’d start to question. We’d ask why we’re feeling this way – sad, appalled, angry, happy, hopeful, energetic – and we would use it as capital, we’d let it mobilize us to capture the parts of the world that make us happy and challenge those that make us angry.
I met this beautiful little girl while visiting preschools in a rural area in Uganda. The preschool she currently attends is in a makeshift mud room as the actual classroom was condemned due to parts of the ceiling collapsing while the children were inside. Despite an incredulous language barrier, she was perfectly willing to pose for photos as long as I gave her a slide show afterwards.
People move away from home for a lot of reasons: school, job opportunities, the need to escape what can feel like four walls enclosing in on you, a sense of adventure, even all of the above. Everyday, people just pick up what they’ve got and move. Certain things happen when you move alone though, sure, you’re physically displaced, a nomad in a new place, but emotionally, mentally, you change.
Moving to a developing country, alone, after four years of undergrad (which in retrospect, by the way, seems like a hand-held walk through the park), was (and still is) shocking, but it also brought about a lot of change (varying from good to bad to ugly) that I continue experiencing, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
When you move you learn the fundamental difference between a house and a home. When you settle in a new place, you say home easily about where you live, letting it roll off your tongue effortlessly, but it is vastly different than talking about your real home. The home, that when talked about, rings nostalgia and yearning through you so loud, it’s deafening. Home is where we feel we belong, for even when we wander far, a little part of our heart feels like the equivalent of a homing device, precisely aware of where we’re from, where those we love most are.
When you move you’re ability to adapt is uprooted and challenged. Problems you found unbelievably difficult at home are now small relative to the overwhelming challenges you face on a day-to-day basis completing what were once menial tasks. And these challenges, they don’t go away. They persist until you find the courage and ability to maneuver with them rather then against them.
When you move you find another culture. There is such a paramount difference between traveling and moving. When you tour through somewhere with the intent to travel, to visit, you learn enough to get by, you taste and you observe and you leave. When you move, you immerse yourself in a culture, finding your way and your place in foreign etiquette, food and surroundings. You don’t just taste and observe, you create and partake and move past the superficial aspects that can cover a place like a blurry film and find intrinsic beauty in its imperfections.
When you move you redefine your relationships. Leaving means saying goodbye and without maintaining a consistency of communication, people you once considers pillars of your existence, the forever kind of people, slip away. The relationships of convenience are challenged to the point of extinction. And then there are those that pull through, the relationships that know no limits, including distance and you begin to recognize the importance of quality over quantity.
When you move away you move closer to your family, you find solace in people who, despite distance, will answer phone calls ridden with tears or overwhelmed by happiness, who will support your decisions despite not always understanding them. Calling home, which was once lined by purpose can now occur without reason other then an in-depth catch-up.
When you move you meet others who hold your interests, who ignite your intellect and challenge your belief systems. You find yourself making new friends who maybe you never would have met and who offer to you a large expanse of knowledge and experience.
When you move you understand the importance of a daily routine for your overall sanity. You go from a wide-eyed newcomer, lost and disoriented, to someone who confidently manages public transportation (in whatever way it happens to manifest itself), you frequent favourite coffee shops and know which grocery stores carry the best comfort foods from home (you’re only human, after all) and your nervous demeanour transforms into something far more sure, far more comfortable.
When you move you learn. You learn more than you could ever imagine. You learn about where you are but more importantly you learn about who you are. There is no better form of introspection then to find yourself utterly alone in a place you’ve never been. Sure, you can text, call, e-mail, snapchat, instagram, you have every method of communication you could ever desire at your fingertips, but when you fall to the extremes of any emotion, be that sadness, happiness, anger, anything, you alone can pull yourself out, you alone can regain balance. There is no dependence in moving away. You gain strength in knowing that while being alone is difficult and isolating, it is also an incredible growing opportunity that many never afford to themselves.
When you move you accept that in every place there are commonalities between people, between populations that initially seem so inherently incomparable. You find that the kindness of a stranger or the love of a family or the warmth of a home cooked meal are universal and you learn that despite its overwhelming disparities, the world can feel quite interconnected.