When the opportunity arose to spend a year in Swaziland, Africa, I didn’t think twice. After working on a fundraising project for a Swazi charity in 2013 and visiting the country three times, I was already enamoured with the nation and the culture. I knew I would be joining a remarkable team working to raise up a generation of leaders in one of the world’s poorest countries. The water is clean, the environment safe, and generally people speak English. It was a no-brainer. I was going.
Then came the leaving. Sorting through my entire house deciding what to sell, what to give away and what to store; putting useless tchotchkes into storage containers; opening up boxes that had been gathering dust since I moved in seven years ago – it was more an unending parade of decisions. I mean, what do you do with the stuff in your junk drawer?
Do you really want to open up a box in a year and find a collection of stray keys, paperclips and half-used rolls of tape?
The packing was interrupted only by the details: arranging health insurance, advising the bank, the post office and Revenue Canada, advertising my home for rent, getting an international drivers license and selling my car – the first time without a vehicle in over 25 years – and liquidating a few things online to raise extra cash. Every night I fell into bed exhausted only to dream that I’d finished packing that closet in the spare bedroom and waking up to find it still packed with random stuff. All of this took on a frenetic pace with less than four weeks passing between the day I booked my ticket and the day I was on the flight.
To someone who has been accused of ‘fierce independence’, asking for help was like exercising a muscle that has been atrophied with unused. But seeing friends, with busy lives of their own, set aside entire days to haul boxes to donation centres and wipe down cupboards felt like love in action. When I stared into the Tupperware drawer and failed to find a single matching lid and bowl, it seemed more serious than deciding whether or not to give up a kidney. “Take it all,” came my high squeaky voice, and into a box for charity it went; no questions asked. On the occasion that I let myself consider all of the hours that others had spent working to get me ready, I kind of felt like the Grinch when he realizes that the true meaning of Christmas is in the people and not in the gifts. (Narrator: And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!)
The final ten days were a blur. Goodbye lunches, extra-long hugs and, from time to time, silences when my heart said “I love you’s” through misty eyes. No “thank you” seemed enough, and “I’ll miss you” was impossible.
Then there were my pets. A 16-year-old curmudgeon of a cat, and a 2-year-old German Shepherd/Doberman cross. It felt like asking someone to take on my kids, and to love them the way that I did. Would they be okay with Maggie (canine kid) stealing from the laundry basket to bury socks in her crate? And woe to the one who tried to pet The PussyCat without her permission! But once again, friends stepped up to take on the critters and their quirks. I left it as long as I could before they went to their foster homes – maybe sending Maggie out to the ranch with her Halloween costume wasn’t the best idea. I don’t think either of us will live that down.
I was pretty much a wreck by the time I got on the plane; not at all convinced that my 110lbs of luggage was what I would need for a year in a climate that includes intense heat and cool rains, and pretty certain every piece of clothing I brought was unsuitable. As I began 30-hours of travel I was officially of ‘no fixed address’; suspended between ‘where I came from’ and ‘where I was going’. Somewhere over Nairobi, helped along by a cheesy romance movie, my heart broke wide open and I wept silently in row 48 of a dark aircraft at 38,000 ft.
Without a doubt, I know that this year in Africa is God’s will for my life, and of course adventures of this nature redefine ‘comfort zone’ and bring opportunities for personal transformation. The big surprise to me was that those things would begin well before I arrived in Swaziland.