“You’re here,” the Doctor said, as the car slowed. I peered about, but could not make out much through the swirling red dust. As it settled, I realized that it made no matter. Looking out on the vast sea of apparent nothingness, I had decided that the dust had been an enhancement to the aesthetics of my surroundings. Where am I? What am I doing? I thought, paralyzed as I awaited the theme from The Twilight Zone to drift through the sweltering air.
The twelve weeks of language, technical, and cultural training had hardly been a cakewalk. As I stepped out of the crowded, dilapidated vehicle, it occurred to me that things were not about to get any easier. At least, not before they got much more difficult. A billion miles away from home and its comforts (electricity, running water, air-conditioning, Panera Bread…), the only direction which I could walk was forward. Don’t Panic, I whispered to myself, a feeble prayer. As my predecessor had written to me, “Just suck it up and deal with it. If you’ve made it through training, then you’re officially a volunteer. Welcome to the Corps, baby!” With those words of encouragement in my head, I watched as the vehicle pulled away and left me, quite literally, in the dust.
Had anyone told us that we would soon be crying for our training days of yore… rigid schedules, classes, exams, home-stay families, and all… we would have died of laughter. Freshmen are always cute that way. Every few weekends, I would meet up with some of the other volunteers in our provincial capital. I would spend the entire ride daydreaming about the glorious showers, the wonderful e-mails, and the divine English-speaking expatriates which awaited me. For the first couple of months, I practically had a countdown going for the rendezvous; tears of joy streaking the dust on my face as my personal Mecca came into view.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Sometimes we get a little too comfortable, for too long. Life becomes a mechanical shadow of what was once the experience of living. I believe in getting a little uncomfortable. The amount, and the gravity, of the things which you will learn about yourself, about others, and about the world will blow you away. Even more astonishing (and sometimes, just plain frightening) will be the things which others will learn both from and about you.
When I first arrived, everyone in the village referred to me simply as “The Nassara” (translation- the white woman). Now they call me “Madame Docteur.” Although, neither title is accurate (as I’ve explained many times), I suppose it is an improvement. Admittedly, I still look forward to my trips to the capital. However, now, I also smile on my way back home.
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