How we almost went to Africa

Do you know that feeling? That feeling of extreme exitement. That feeling where your mind goes numb and your chest swallows up to the point where you almost hyperventilate. Where you’re pretty sure your heart might burst out of your ears and all you can think is: “I have got to do this”. That feeling that tells you everything is just right.

It’s that moment right before your ego kicks in. But then, when it does, it hits you hard. For me it usually goes something along the lines of:

“But what if…?” “That sounds dangerous” “You better not” “This is unsafe” “You can’t do that” “You’re not qualified” “you’re not ready” “This is going too fast” “Hold on, wait a minute – STOOOP!”

Sound familiar?

I don’t like not doing something out of fear. And when it comes to egos I have found that besides telling you what you are really afraid of doing they are also a very good indicator of what you should be doing. In my experience it goes like this: The louder my ego the higher the gain. So whenever I feel my ego racing into overdrive I start to wonder what wonderful chance I’m about to miss out on. After all it is just fear and fear should be met head on, am I right?

So, where does Africa fit into all of this?

About a month ago I got an email from Danish ICYE, an organization I have been volunteering at for 4 years since I travelled with them to Costa Rica in 2010.
ICYE (apart from being the least pronounceable name in history) stands for International Cultural Youth Exchange and was originally a Christian organization founded just after WWII with the purpose of regaining trust between Germany and the US. The idea was to let young Germans study abroad for one year in America hereby establishing new friendships and respect between the two cultures. ICYE has since developed to a multinational organization with more than 40 countries involved and hundreds of volunteers going abroad every year.

Anyways back to the email. It read that 9 EVS Overseas projects were available with short notice (ei. The application had to be sent within 2 weeks) EVS is the European Voluntary Service and basically they will pay for EVERYTHING if you get elected for one of their projects. One of said projects were in Ecuador working with disabled children teaching them music and dance. And that’s when I started getting That Feeling. And That Fear. And I reasoned with myself that at least I should try and write an application. There was no guarantee that I would get in (after all, only 3 applicants from 9 countries would be chosen and sent to Berlin to be elected for the 9 projects) but at least I would know that I tried.

“It’s yours if you want it”

The project coordinator from ICYE on the phone. Not the project in Ecuador – someone else had been more qualified for that – but the one in Africa. More specifically the Kenya Deaf Agenda Self-Help Group (KDA), a non-profit learning center for children with special needs located in Nairobi-Kenya. The children at the center have disabilities related to hearing, autism and cerebral palsy and are orphaned or the parents are from very disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It’s yours if you want it”, and I did want it. The only reason not to do this would be fear. Right? Except it wasn’t.

We tried everything to work this into our plans, we even almost found an apartment in Nairobi. But the project was free for one person – not for two and it just didn’t make financial sense to be bound to a project for 7 months where we would have to pay to live together. What I first saw as a way for us to prolong the trip ended up being a way to shorten it (in the sense that we would see less and still spend money on rent)

In the end it wasn’t just right. And, come to think of it, nothing really is, is it? There is always an upside and a downside to everything and I feel really fortunate that I got to choose between two such exciting options to begin with. But I digress and I realize this makes for a very poor blog post, especially since I initially planned the ending to be something like “We’re going to Kenya. How wonderfully random this life can be.” And now that just feels really stupid, since as it turns out, we are not.

But to select one thing is to deselect another. And by deselecting Kenya we selected the freedom and spontaneity that comes with not knowing. My initial hold-back for turning it down was that I didn’t want to say no out of fear. And I haven’t. I said no out of want for something else. And that I’m okay with.

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