I remember when it happened. The temperature outside was cooling down after one of the hottest summers I had seen in Chicago. Preforming my morning ritual with 100 other people, dressed in black blazers, grey slacks and white, crisply starched button down shirts, standing in line at Starbucks. The corner café was bustling with people, but no one is speaking, except for one or two in their own blue tooth bubble. The sound of spoons clinking ceramic, combined with the hiss of the espresso machine echoes off the tall glass windows, and cool tile floors. I stand in line, practicing my drink order in my head; temperature, size, milk type, extra flavor, core flavor, extra notes — so I don’t waste the time of the line extending behind me. I see it out of the corner of my eye, a bright yellow shining through a sea of grey. I had never given Africa much thought before this moment. It was a place on the globe, where children were so use to fly’s, they didn’t bother swatting them away from their eyes. But this book, with the bright yellow dust jacket, changed everything.
Maybe it was the sea of grey, or the loudness of the quiet chaos all around me, but this book became a beacon, directing me down a path like a drop of water streaking down a pane of glass. It was unstoppable.
By the end of the first book, the craving was insatiable. I read more. Reading turned to movies, which quickly turned to uncontrollable Google searches. It didn’t take long before I was booking my flights for my first trip to Africa.
Some things on your journey in life cannot be explained. Why the obsession? Why at that moment did it consume me? The answer, over 10 years ago when it began, has never been clear. But the result is overwhelming.
During my first trip I volunteered for 5 weeks in Kenya. Those weeks, felt like a year, and I remember returning home confused. I had accomplished so much. I had experienced so much. I made amazing friends. It didn’t seem possible that all of this was accomplished in such a tiny space of time.
Through this experience, my perspective on life has been changed forever. Instead of standing in line waiting for the same cup of overpriced coffee, I am living in Africa. At 32 years old, I have discovered that “what you want to be when you grow up” is a combination of so many things that cannot be answered with one idea, experience, desire etc. It is a combination of all of the experiences in your life, and all you have to do is simply follow where your heart leads you.
Now I have the opportunity to help lead others down this path. A large part of my job now, is talking to other lost souls, stuck in a sea of grey and help them lead a vibrant life for themselves, even if it is for 2 weeks or a month. It is one of the most rewarding careers I have ever had.
Just like when I was a volunteer, exploring Kenya, I had an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Like I was contributing to a bigger, global picture. I still get that feeling now, that I have chosen to live abroad. This month I took charge of 22 interns from all over the world. Together, we were able to create an incident report to monitor malnourished children, begin a tooth brushing campaign at our preschools (with a volunteer initiated donation of over 600 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste). We also develop, tested and began a microfinance project to help women living in poverty create an income for themselves and their families. A group of 15 interns split into groups of 3 to assist 8 Swazi entrepreneurs build up their businesses, and even created “how to manuals” to assist even more entrepreneurs in the future with the marketing and business planning. What’s more than the tangible results, is the feeling each of them left with. I know it well. It can only be described as “inspired”. A feeling that suddenly the world is so much bigger then you thought, but also somehow obtainable. It is an unquenchable thirst for more. A feeling of accomplishment that you are a part of humanity and you are actively contributing. It’s unreal.
When I think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never would have imagined this is where I would be. Sitting on the other side of the world, listening to monkey’s run across my office roof, surrounded by color… vibrant… bright color. Most of all I am grateful that I have the opportunity to feel all these emotions everyday. I am no longer a volunteer, however the connection with other volunteers allows me to contribute to so much, through them. It’s an amazing feeling.