This particularly helpful piece of advice came from my uncle. I’ve been getting quite a lot of advice lately:
“Don’t pack too much stuff.”
“But don’t forget anything on this 57-item packing list.”
“You really shouldn’t drink and drive.”
“Take a multi-vitamin every day.”
“Have fun in Africa!”
I’m certainly planning to try. But, quite honestly, for all this flurry of advice, I feel about as clueless as I did leaving for college for the first time two years ago. That’s odd, actually: I’ve been at Georgetown for two years, and now I’m not going back. The semester will go on without me; someone else will live in my room overlooking Red Square. Here in Ann Arbor, MI, where I’m sitting at my kitchen table to start this blog (and I make no guarantees about how enjoyable my early attempts at blogging will be for any readers that might turn up), the snow will fill my driveway and rim the power lines in white. And I’ll be in Dakar, Senegal. I’m not expecting too much snow.
Already feeling a bit lost without my fairly impressive collection of cardigans, I can’t say that the packing process has been particularly enjoyable. This, of course, is coming from a person whose primary criterion in packing to go to Washington, DC at the end of summer 2008 was that bringing more books than shoes would constitute proof that I was adequately un-frivolous. Well: I have fewer of each books and shoes than I would like, but at least I’ve made up for it with the sizeable percentage of CVS that my mom has purchased for me. This, of course, is on top of the two prescriptions and three additional drugs (one for treating side effects of one of the prescriptions) that I got at the same travel clinic appointment during which I subjected my arms to the indignity of five vaccinations in a row. Here I am, popping my first anti-malarial pill, feeling rather smug with regards to whatever crazy diseases await across the Atlantic… or, rather, perhaps I would be feeling that way if it weren’t for all of the advice in the travel clinic packet. After perusing the thirty-odd pages, my thought was something to the effect of: wait, so basically I can’t ever go outside in Senegal?
Here’s the thing: for all of my preparations, things aren’t going to work out perfectly or predictably unless I stay wrapped in mosquito netting in a box in an armored van for the next four months. And that, aside from being distinctly boring, would defeat the point. I may not like being clueless, but I can occasionally remind myself that I did that on purpose. I’ve been meaning to do this since the first time I spun a globe. And Dakar may still just be a point on a map to me, a name to roll off my tongue when asked what I’m doing with my life in the immediate future, but it’s going to be something entirely different soon, whether I’m ready or not. I have a vague image of people swaying through the streets in what I can best describe as kaftans and turbans from my google image search to determine what clothing to pack, an imagined scent of fish and the sea from the myriad warnings I’ve received about cuisine, a scratchy note of the call to prayer from my headphones hooked to the online orientation session in June. I have a few vague ideas of my goal:
To claw my way to real fluency in French? No: Too limited.
To become an educated citizen of the world in the way I feel I couldn’t manage without ever leaving “The West?” No: Too selfish.
To help people? No: Too presumptuous.
To do the best I can with what I’ve been given and managed to get? Well, that’s a bit too vague for my taste.
Then again, the same could be said of the whole thing. At least, for the next twenty-five hours until my plane lands.