Monday, October 6, 2008

WHY Africa?

I’m not sure what made me decide to do it. I give different people different reasons.

“I want to help people.”
“I’ve never been there before, so... why not?”
“It’s just a crazy impulse.”
“I was inspired by watching Oprah giving presents to South African orphans.”
“I’m sick of America. I want to experience a new culture.”
“I want adventure.”

But really, the only reason that really matters is
“I want to go.”

I wasn’t exactly sure why. All I knew was that I wanted to go. Once I set my mind to going, it was no longer optional. I decided that I must live somewhere in Africa after I graduated college.

I’m writing this from the airplane. I just said “goodbye” to my family and all my friends... no, not goodbye. See you later. See you soon. I’m coming home in less than a year!

I’ll touch down in Accra, Ghana, soon (and by soon, I mean about twenty-two hours, after two layovers. Soon is relative). I’ll teach kids how to speak French. Um... that’s about all I know for now. I don’t know what to expect, really. I’m just jumping into this without a clue, hoping for the best, trusting that everything will work out.

I’ve been telling everyone about my plan for years. People have mixed reactions.

“I’m afraid to go to Africa,” a Swiss acquaintance told me. “My ex-girlfriend went there a few years ago, and she got sick. She’ll be sick for the rest of her life. You shouldn’t go.”
Oh, shouldn’t I?

“Kate, why would you want to go to Africa?” my very rational friend asked. “It’s dangerous there. Why don’t you just stay in America and get a normal job?”
“I have the rest of my life to stay in America with a normal job,” I explained. “RIght now, they need me in Africa.”
“Why do you want to go all the way to Africa to help people when there are plenty of people in America who need help?”
“Because I can. I’ll help needy Americans if or when I ever settle down in America. If I don’t go to Africa, who will? You?” I said. That shut him up.

“My god-sister went to Africa,” one friend told me, “and she had to get twenty-seven shots. Are you sure you can handle that?”
Yes, I think I could. I only had to get seven vaccines, however (or maybe six? I don’t remember). Six or seven shots and three hundred malaria pills.

“I know a few people who have died of malaria,” another friend said when I told him about it. Great. “I don’t mean to scare you. I’m sure you’ll be fine,” he added.
I hope he’s right. I think he is.

“You’ll to die if you go!” my baby brother said before I left, with tears streaming down his face. He was convinced he knew something I didn’t know, but wouldn’t tell me what it was. I think he was just trying guilt manipulation to get me to stay in California.
It didn’t work.

Most people I’ve talked to have been more optimistic.

“Pourquoi l’Afrique?” my French friend Nico demanded.
“Je voudrais aider les enfants.” I explained.
“Ah! Tu es humanitarian?” he responded, his eyes widening in admiration. “Comment mignon!”
My humanitarian impulses are cute? (But then again, Nico thought everything I did was cute.)

“They’ll love you,” many people have assured me.

What if they don’t?!

“Of course they will,” my best friend said. “Everyone loves you.”
“They’ll love you because you’re different,” my Nigerian-born friend told me. “When I was in school, I really respected my white teachers, just because they were so different.”
“You’re probably right. They’ll probably hate you,” my younger sister teased.

“I’m very worried about you.”
“I’m so jealous of you!”
“I’m really excited for you!”
“I’m quite proud of you.”
“You are crazy.”
“You’re so brave.”
“You inspire me.”
“Have plenty of adventures, Kate, because I’m living vicariously through you.”

I’ve received such mixed reactions, but overall, people have been SO encouraging and supportive! I’m so grateful for my family and friends. How did I get so lucky to have such amazing people in my life? People have been sending me cards and messages, calling me to wish me luck, and making time to see me before I left. I’m so touched by all the good wishes and support. I couldn’t ask for more!

I’ve been thinking a lot about others’ reactions, but now it’s time to think about my reactions and emotions. It hasn’t quite hit me yet. It probably won’t until about one week before I have to leave. The only emotion I’m feeling right now is EXCITED! I’m just so excited to try something new. :)

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