Someone drank my milk from the staff refrigerator, even though the carton had my initials on it.
The internet keeps cutting out and I’m trying to send an urgent email.
I just saw a photo of myself from a party where I thought I looked pretty cute, but in the picture I see that my hair is frizzy from the salty water and is weeks beyond ‘desperate need’ of a cut and colour.
So in my mind I go home. No, not just daydreaming and imagining being at home, I picture every detail of pulling my backpack out from under my bed, packing the few clothes I have that are appropriate outside of the humanitarian field, throwing in some books and my toothbrush, and jumping on a plane. It’s an epic exit, complete with the settling of dust as I spin on my haughty heel.
Then the facts mess up my plan. I remember that I’m not allowed to drive so I’d need a ride to the airport, and I’ve already missed today’s flight to Nairobi. I’d hate to leave without saying goodbye to my roommate who is on leave, and there’s a party next week for some people I really like.
And I know that the problem isn’t the milk, or the internet, or my hair.
“You can’t quit on a bad day.”– Me, to every colleague who has a bad day
The problem is the baby I met on Tuesday; so malnourished his skin hangs from his bones. Measles has caused open sores on and in his mouth so it is painful to suck on his momma’s tired breast.
The problem is knowing that the young boys being examined by the doctor have measles. They live in the market. They’ll receive treatment, but then where will they go?
It’s the mothers and their naked children sitting in the open hospital courtyard because the isolation tent for measles patients is way too crowded and hot. When these women and their children are discharged they’ll walk hours back to their homes.
It’s the family who lost two boys in the same day because of a disease that can be prevented for about USD$1 per child.
It’s the smell of sickness, urine, dust, and hopelessness that I can’t get out of my clothes.
My friends, some days are hard. I don’t call you on those days because you’ll remind me what it’s like to be around people who share my memories and get my jokes. You’ll share your latest news, and tell me that the trees we planted last fall are getting new leaves. I’ll imagine the fresh, clean, spring days and the freedom of driving in the Canadian countryside; windows open and music blasting. I’ll see myself surrounded by people who have access to health care, food, and clean water; people who aren’t suffering.
I’m afraid that if I call you on a bad day you’ll tell me to come home.
You see, I know this will pass. I’ll remember that this is the life I prayed for. That when I started this work I knew God was opening doors I never even knocked on. I’ll remember how often I am in awe of the knowledge and commitment of my colleagues and how privileged I feel to serve beside people so dedicated to common goals.
Eventually I’ll come around to gratitude for this life and the work I get to do; the people I’m fortunate to meet.
And mentally I’ll put away my toothbrush and my books. I’ll hang up my clothes and I’ll shove my backpack under my bed until my next field visit. I’ll probably put on some music, have a nap, watch a movie or ‘debrief’ with a colleague. Maybe I’ll have a cry or write a blog.
But I probably won’t call. Because if the timing isn’t just right and you tell me to come home, I’m afraid I would come. I’d pull off that dramatic departure and arrive on your doorstep demanding a haircut.
I’m afraid I would come, and I’d regret it for the rest of my life.