This morning I found the blog of a just-arrived volunteer. The posts described the excitement and wonder of those first few days in your new country and the building of meaningful relationships with other volunteers and locals. The words were interlaced with hope and pure satisfaction, feelings I can easily recall from my first few weeks in Hamdi and Makola.
These posts stirred something inside me as I walked to church and I tried to find the real reason I was now swimming in murky emotions. I sat outside the church and started to cry.
I am on the other side of that first honeymoon glow. I know that those new friendships eventually test you, the attention of host country nationals becomes invading, and that hope in doing good work is tainted with excuses, countless obstacles and deep frustration.
Yet, during all the hard moments, I always loved being a volunteer. I loved the feeling when just one of my students did better on exam. I loved the early morning conversations about life and love with other volunteers. I loved hitching through rural Africa and meeting interesting people. I was so proud to call myself a volunteer and it’s been hard to accept that I am no longer one.
During church, I started to wonder if my uneasiness and sadness was my lack of title. I am not a volunteer. I don’t feel like a writer. So, what I am? What category do I fall under? What can I claim myself to be? I don’t know.
As I was having this internal conversation, the priest started to talk about each person as a mystery. We are not problems to be solved but things to discover. We don’t easily fit into a box because we were not made that way.
No, I am not a volunteer and because I was one doesn’t define me now. I don’t need to be anything, as my mother told me later, I can just be.
So that part of my life is over and I do miss it, but I shouldn’t be sad. I should be grateful that I got to have that experience of setting foot into a new world and meeting incredible people not just once but twice. I got to do that twice. That’s amazing.
And my life now is headed in a good place. My next adventure has its own unknown but it also offer grounding, which I haven’t had in some time.
I’ve had a good past and I will have a good future, but my present needs me the most. And if I can just be here, I don’t need any labels.