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What It Is like to Move to Africa on a Volunteer’s Trip

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What It Is like to Move to Africa on a Volunteer’s Trip by : 10:22 pm On August 20, 2018

It was warm, but not warm enough for the sun to conjure up beads of sweat on my forehead outside. Time was of the essence, a panic and an excitement looming: I’m moving to Africa. When the words rolled off of my tongue, it didn’t even seem real. Like I was retelling a fable of an alternate life. The years faded into months, the months dwindled down to weeks, weeks to days.

Twos. My life was measured in twos… Two days before departure. Two days of travel time to get to Africa. Two suitcases. Two brothers. Two sisters. Two parents and two dogs I had to leave behind. Two viruses floating around my house that I was petrified of catching and taking with me on the plane. Two thumbs being picked at, bloody, raw around the cuticle.

I started shoving things into my suitcase, sweating, panicking. My throat was closing up, and I was upset at the fact that I might be getting sick. I tried running my hands through my hair to calm myself, forgetting I chopped it all off the day before. Two ponytails of brown hair chopped off. My hands tensed as I pushed rolls of cotton clothing into two suitcases, until they were bursting at every zipper.

Deux. I find myself in Africa after two months, sweating, exhausted and apathetic. Garbage burning. Palm trees. I’ve peed in places that rats wouldn’t even venture to. I have eaten porcupine and caterpillars. I’ve gone to school six days a week, training, waiting to be ready the job I’ve been chosen for. Two homestay parents that want nothing to do with me. Poly-amory. Fights. Turns out relationship issues are universal. I keep reminding myself that people only know what they are taught. Here I know nothing. Everything is new. I need to re-learn the basics: cooking, cleaning, bathing, staying calm. Most days end and begin with wiping a thick sweat off my brow. Cheap beers. Knuckles white on motor rides. It’s hard to explain in sentences when everything goes by in a blur. Late nights, clear stars, repression at every door.

Two. Two new languages to learn. No amount of studying prepares you for debates, fights and presentations in French. Parlez-vous help me? I need to help you though. You help by just being there. I am trying. I am American. I can do this.

Two diseases I do not want: Malaria or Typhoid Fever. Keep myself covered. I smell like Citronella. The beers are big and cheap and sometimes the only way to alleviate the loneliness. To alleviate the questions of: am I good enough? Should I be here?

The other side of the planet isn’t so far away. As I walk down the dirt road, dodging motos and cars speeding as if hoping to take off, I see the butterflies. Little paper white butterflies dancing around the tropical landscape. I am Alice in a world bred by Lewis Carroll’s and Satan’s lovechild. Big fuzzy caterpillars and dogs run rampant. Every morning I wake up in a bed of black beetles.

We can’t fix everything so we laugh. We laugh at the hardships, we laugh at nothing to help us get by. Tears of joy, or am I missing home? I remember running water and air-conditioning. I can do this.

Two. Two more weeks until I am fully capable of living alone in Africa. Of doing my job.

Two. Two things I want to change: The lives of other people, and, myself.


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