I put my oldest daughter on a plane Sunday so she could go teach English in Colombia for six weeks. It’s an odd feeling to send your kid off alone into the wide blue yonder (literally). The only thing about traveling Erin doesn’t like is airports, but other than that one pesky but necessary reality, she’s full of wanderlust. Hers, however, is not the tourist type. When she travels, she wants to see what’s behind the curtain and hidden on the back roads, far away from the tourist trappings. It all started with a trip to Houston in 7th grade where she met and served members of the city’s homeless community. When she got back, she cried for two days because she missed everything about being in another place. And then, she settled back into life in her comfortable world and she was fine. Until the next trip.
There is that moment when you land in a faraway place that you feel suspended, drifting, and in need of getting your feet on solid ground. Erin felt all of those things during her first few days in Medellin. I know that feeling and it’s both terrifying and exhilarating.
It was 28 years ago that I slept on a driveway in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico for a week and fell in love with everything about the sights, smells, and sounds of a faraway place. I listened to a pastor pray in Spanish and realized that God’s first language is not English. I walked into a one-room adobe house with dirt floors and learned that people who live in poverty laugh, love, and give generously. I endured a clogged toilet, no hot water, and a mattress of concrete and learned that I was more resilient than I gave myself credit for. There is something about wrapping around and into the lives of others while suspended in a faraway place that keeps pulling me away from the comforts of home and hearth. But it’s never easy.
We leave for Ghana in five days, and even now I feel myself pulling away from the shore. The packing suitcases and trunks are spread out across the room and I’m marking things off a checklist and chanting: “This time next week we’ll be _____.” Once we’re there, I’m anticipating the few moments of feeling suspended in mid-air until my feet hit the ground. I’m preparing for multiple lessons on flexibility (things rarely go exactly as planned), and the odd sensation of being swept into a world that sometimes makes little sense to my Western way of thinking. But I’ve missed this faraway place. I’m ready to return to the heat, the potholed red dirt roads, the plastic chairs where we congregate to share “news from the road,” and the joyful Twi language of my friends in Ankaase.
Many of us have places where we travel that take it out of us. These places require us to leave behind our desires for ease, comfort, and predictable outcomes. We are stretched, frustrated, confused, and sometimes fearful. But not for long. Because in the midst of what seems so difficult, we realize that these places cause us to go deep into ourselves and find out who we really are. There is nothing quite like walking through a pitch dark African village (no electricity that night) with a flashlight and a companion who is telling you about her life raising six children without a husband. Are you going to worry about the animal noises nearby, or will you tune in and listen to a beautiful story from someone who doesn’t even need the light to know where the ruts are on the path? I realized that I can choose to listen to fearful noises, or tune my ear to stories of courage and hope. I haven’t forgotten that night and a hundred other moments when God allowed me to be far removed from my world and so wonderfully present in another one. And He walks those paths with us every moment while we are in faraway places.
I’ll miss Erin for the six weeks she is wrapped in that other world, but I’m praying that her wanderlust will serve her well. I hope she finds her way to the rugged back paths to meet the people who are invisible to the eyes of the tourists. The ones with the good stories.
For the next two weeks, I’ll use my blog to write stories from Ghana. You can subscribe (look to your right) by hitting the button that says “Sign me up!” As a subscriber, you’ll receive posts immediately by email. We’ll also be posting stories on the ACEF blog. If you sponsor a student, apprentice, or have supported the school or women’s sustainability programs, you’ll be hearing quite a bit about how your generosity has made a difference in Ankaase. But I’m excited to share with everyone – whether you are an ACEF supporter or not – stories of our travel team (Shannon, Melissa, Colin and me) as we walk the winding paths in this faraway place.