You know when you plan something for the future, part of you kind of thinks it won’t actually happen? I do. Every time. I somehow convince myself that time will sort of bend and keep me perpetually preparing. When I was 12, I heard of the Peace Corps. I told myself I was going to do Peace Corps. I told everyone I knew I was going to do Peace Corps. And then last year…I did Peace Corps. Not only did the time come, but, more surprisingly, it went!
I never really figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I was really little, I was going to be a singer. Like, a really famous singer. I was going to do duets with Eric Clapton–that kind of singer, okay? Well, one problem with that: My biggest fear of all is singing in front of other people. My throat closes up, and the throat plays a pretty big role in singing, for all of you non-singers. So, okay, not so much a professional singer, but a doctor. Yes, a doctor. The problem? I faint. I faint a lot. The sight of something that belongs in the body outside of the body; or the sight of anything that should never be in a body, in a body, well, I collapse on the ground. As far as I know, doctors need to be conscious to be truly effective. So that’s out. Lawyer? There we go! Non-profit lawyer. But, man, the bureaucracy! The burn out. The student debt! Yeah, that’s out.
I always just assumed, took for granted really, that the next step would reveal itself to me “in the Peace Corps.” Like it was some kind of magical realm where I would discover myself, or to be honest, I would be transformed into the person I wish I was. And that didn’t really happen. Not in Cameroon. Don’t get me wrong, I grew so much. I’m so much more the person I want to be because of my life in Cameroon, but I still felt rather directionless, as if so many possibilities felt so tangible, so desirable. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may remember my Tell All post right before my Close of Service, Liz: Full Frontal. It was a very honest self-evaluation of my service. I admitted to not measuring up to my ideal, of making mistakes, of not risking enough, while at the same time being everything I could at that time. Well, on Friday, this Friday, I’m moving to Guinea. I’m doing Peace Corps, again, as a Response Volunteer for 9 months. I know that this experience is completely different from my first two years with Peace Corps; my expectations are realistic, and yet, my hopes, well, they’re limitless.
Perhaps part of me is seeing this as my second chance. My second chance to be and do something amazing, but older, wiser, learned, to hit the ground running and fully allow myself to integrate. I commit, this time, to hand over myself to my new culture completely. I feel so ready this time in a way that I couldn’t have been before to let down the walls that I have cemented around myself for so long.
I’m also sort of freaking out. But that’s okay.
I have a friend who is moving to China today. I’m reading her blog posts and her Facebook statuses and I’m so happy to know I’m not really alone in these feelings. Our experiences are different, but I bet our anxieties are rather similar. It’s nice to have a sense of companionship, even if it’s just in your head, to get you on that plane.
I met a new friend last week. I really opened up to him, and he said, “You know, Liz, seeing you online with your adventures and the things you’ve done gives you an image of fearlessness, but talking with you in person shows a more vulnerable side.” I was really opening myself up and showing my fears, my anxieties, that are constant, believe me. Pretty much anyone who has spent time with me in person knows that I have really bad vertigo, but like to hike–even if it means having three panic attacks on my way down a mountain and yet will jump out of an airplane with hardly a second thought. You can ask my friends, I was cool as a cucumber. It’s very paradoxical, or maybe I’m just crazy.
I get so scared of doing things. It’s not as bad as it was when I was younger and felt nauseated about going to school every morning, afraid of making a fool of myself, afraid of getting in trouble, afraid of…being noticed. But inside there’s this really intense need to see what else is out there. Need to know what I don’t know. Need to feel, touch, smell, taste it, live it. I’m not entirely sure if it’s a healthy need, but it’s my need, and it’s stronger than any amount of fear or any Vagus nerve reaction, so this is my life. Right now.
I listened to a really great story this morning from The Moth called “A Crushing Connection”. In it, the guy, this adventurous guy who hikes and climbs mountains and roughs it in the woods all over the world to fulfill this need to connect with life, gets trapped beneath a gigantic boulder. His legs are crushed and he can’t move. His hiking partner goes for a search party, leaving him alone for over 24 hours to contemplate his lot. He describes feeling angry at himself, asking himself why? Why isn’t life at home enough? Sitting at home and playing Xbox, watching the game with his mates, why isn’t that enough for him? Oh yeah, that connection, the need to connect. And, trapped under a rock in a river bed, he found himself pretty connected. He didn’t lose his conviction and goes on to be very adventurous. I loved listening to this story because I ask myself those questions all the time. When I’m about to leave my home and family and friends to move to a country I’ve never been, with people I’ve never met, over and over again, I ask myself, why? When I’m having a panic attack at the top of a mountain in Cameroon because the fog has set in and we’re not exactly following the path we came up, and my guy friend has to hold my shaking hand the entire way down, I ask myself, why? When I’m face to face with hippos, wondering if this is how it ends, I ask myself, why, Liz, why? Why did you put yourself in this situation, why isn’t the option of not doing these things enough? Can’t you just get a job and sit still for awhile? Well, it’s that need. Seems like after a few months, that little, tiny whisper of a new adventure tickles my mind, then becomes more concrete, more colorful, with time, becomes real, becomes a plan, becomes a plane ticket to leave on Friday.
I’m going back into the Peace Corps on Friday. My 12 year-old self is ecstatic, again. I’m going back to Africa. I’m one step closer to my future, my life. And that woman I always wanted to be? I’m already her.