Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Road to Cameroon

I was sitting in my backyard yesterday trying to decide if I wanted to meet my aunt at Cafe Gratitude in Larchmont or the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles after my last travel clinic appointment when it hit me. This is one of the last opportunities I am going to have to just call her and meet for lunch. I won't have my dogs at my side when I'm ordering one of the cafe's awesome vegan salads like "I am Pure" or "I am Awesome". I won't be able to put my dogs in the car and go. I won't have my family close by. It's a scary realization, but at the same time, it's amazing. The realization that my life is changing comes with the realization that one of my dreams is coming true. I remember being five or six, standing in Barnes and Noble with my mom looking for age appropriate books on epidemics. The poor guy helping us looked at my mom like she had three heads because what first grader wants to study diseases for fun? The stranger thing, there ARE a handful of books! The more I studied about diseases, the more I resolved to make a positive impact on the world. My dreams settled on Africa. There is something alluring about the colors, inclusivity and life of Africa that I want above all else to experience firsthand. I have grown used to having people question me, and when people are genuinely excited, it warms my heart and steals my resolve a little more. It makes all of the trepidation worth it because I know I have a wide support system. 

After I graduated from college, I knew I needed to go. I needed to follow my dreams and just do it! My first year out of college found me packing everything I could justify as necessary into the trunk of my Camry and driving from sunny Southern California into the Appalachian mountains to teach English and Human Anatomy at The David School, a tiny high school in an Appalachian hollow. I worked with students that had experienced a society that looked upon them as second-class, high risk, not worthy. What I found in those students was a sense of wonder and community I had never experienced before. They taught me about life and tradition, and I taught them that it was okay to dream and reach for the stars. At the end of the school year, something deep down told me it was time for a change, a new adventure. Christ the King Service Corps in Northwest Detroit embraced me with open arms. The task at hand was daunting. My position in Detroit was vastly different than that of a high school English teacher. I found myself working with Neighborhood Service Organization’s Older Adult Services unit as an intern case manager and in charge of a caseload full of older adults abandoned by society because of mental health diagnoses. I chose early on not to label them by virtue of their diagnosis. No one was ‘the paranoid schizophrenic’, ‘the bipolar one’, or ‘the suicidal lady in 3B’. So many in the field had unconsciously chosen to use these labels, and in doing that, they too were casting these people aside. As I worked with these people they became a part of me. They became names, faces and stories. I chose to love ‘my people’ and treat them with the compassion so many had been robbed of years before. Just as it was with leaving Kentucky, leaving Detroit behind for a new adventure left a part of me behind. I will forever be grateful to my students and my caseload for what they have taught me, which is so much more than I for them. 

Even as I sit here typing (my dogs at my side), I find myself remembering the little things that made each and every one of the people I have helped special to me. Having two years of domestic service behind me helps to prepare me just a little bit more. Theoretically, I am prepared. I have those two years, a wealth of knowledge, and my water filter in my backpack. I have the instructors from my formation program to thank for that. The things I learned span beyond what I thought I needed, but I am so grateful to have had the formation experience. The biggest message to impact me was actually one of the last we learned. We are leaving our "homeland" to journey to a "new land" and when we return, we will be coming to a "newfoundland". The United States I know now will not be the United States I return to. Both of us will have changed. That means, that at the end of these next three years, I will be embarking, once again, on a whole new adventure.