my trip from africa to africa

work is done for the year, both at school and with kivu writers. one of the perks of being a teacher is having ten weeks off to fetter away your salary on a travel spree, and a perk of being a vso volunteer is that they give us a mid-service grant to fund it. well partially anyway. most of the other teacher volunteers have headed home for the holidays. i’m headed for kenya.

so it’s sunday november 18th and i’m hauling my pack out from its dusty hideaway, loading it with travel necessities- sleeping bag, mosquito net, flashlight, sunscreen, hiking shoes, pocket-knife, bug spray, sewing kit, three different chargers (camera, phone, ipod), money belt, travel-sized toiletries, couple days’ worth of clothes, and a few good books.

(on a side note, outside of the money belt, these are all things i lug around in rwanda on a regular basis- my whole two years here is not that different from a nice long camping trip. pit-latrine toilets, cold showers, cooking on a kerosene stove, or often charcoal, wearing the same dirty clothes because i hand-wash all my laundry, carrying toilet paper in my bag at all times, charging appliances on the go, hiking on dirt roads and footpaths, using my trusty headlamp when the power goes out. minus sleeping in a tent, not all that different really.)

ok, bag packed (i’m really good at packing quickly), lug it down the hill, squish into a bus which lets me off at the airport entrance, walk up another hill to where the rest of my soon-to-be fellow passengers are getting out of airport cabs and personal vehicles- the cream of the crop of rwandan society here, and me the cheapskate carrying my own pack and actually walking to the airport. but i’m not really a cheapskate because i’m at the airport after all. i could be on a bus (and probably should be- much cheaper if you don’t mind 24 hours over pot-holed diesel-truck-laden highway). but i decided to splurge on the flight so here i am.

how many flights have i been on in my life? dozens. so why am i nervous sitting here in the waiting lounge, trying to focus on my sudoku? why do i feel queezy buckled in and staring out the plane window at the kigali runway? why do i have the sudden urge to get off before we take off? ‘wait,’ my mind cries, ‘i’m not ready to leave rwanda yet! i’ve got more work to do!’

it’s silly. i’m not leaving leaving. i’m just going on vacation. i’m coming back. but somehow in my mind getting on an airplane feels too final (and this is another reason i should have taken the bus). as if, as a volunteer i fly in, do my two-year contract, then fly out and leave everyone behind- students, colleagues, friends- rejoin the western world of hot showers and washing machines. a different person for sure, altered by my experiences here, but ultimately returning to the world i’ve always known, the home that will always be home, the country i love and despise, while Africa struggles on without me, while my students continue their studies (hopefully), while my colleagues on the kivu writers project take it on to greatness and official ngo status (with a little luck). but right now i don’t want to think about missing all that. i want to be here for it. i don’t want to fly away home. not yet.

so an hour and a half later when my plane touches down in nairobi, i make a beeline for customs and baggage-check (my bag arrived!) and the door and hard pavement. skip the transfers desk, pass without a glance the waiting lounge full of folks headed on to london or new york. next year that will be me, but today it’s not. today i’m still in Africa. and for all the homesick moments- and there are many- i realize conclusively that i’m not yet ready to go home.

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~ by aliciawolcott on November 18, 2007.

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