Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Grab the Moment

Last night, I was coming back from an errand, (there are a lot of errands when you are planning to be out of country for three months!) We are having a January thaw and, when I got out of my car, it was very windy, but still quite warm. The sky wasn't exactly clear of clouds, but it was clear enough to see the moon, stars, and the clouds. I found myself just standing outside and looking up at the sky. I got so lost in the moment--my hair whipping in the wind and the way the wind felt on my face. That's when I realized I am pretty damn happy with my life and the unknown future of my life. It has been a while since I felt like that.

How did I get here? Honestly, there are many factors and I can't sort them all out here. Recently, many family members and close friends have been telling me that not everyone can do what I am doing. It turns out that I have commitment, passion, and most importantly patience. Ironically, I learned something about all three by growing up deaf.

I've also been forced to think more about life and death because of things that have happened in the past few years. Life is too damn short to put off things or not take chances or worry about being perfect. "Live your life and make the most out of it" has become one of my mottos. Laugh more than you worry. Love people. Be passionate about what you do. Open up to the moment whether it's photographing lions in Africa or getting out of your car on a windy night in your driveway in Ohio. Live your life and leave no regrets.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Comfort Zone

Three months in South Africa...I am excited and a little nervous. This is definitely the longest time I will have been out of my home country. Because the people at Thanda are always changing, I won't know many people when I get there. Some people seem to think I'm brave for doing this. Some people probably think I've lost my mind. I think it's safe to say this is completely out of my comfort zone. But that's kind of the point.

When I think back on it, my best experiences have always come when I stepped out of the "Safe Zone." In elementary school, I was sheltered at a safe school with a deaf program. When I transferred to a mainstream school where I was the only deaf student, it was hard but I learned so much more about the world and about myself.

In college, I decided against playing soccer at a Division Three school. Division One was tough--I got cut from the team--but the experience I got there allowed me to be on the Deaflympics team that won gold in Taiwan.

That trip now looks "safe" because I was with a team, so all the travel decisions were pretty much made for me. Going to South Africa the first time was a stretch because I had to figure out a lot of things for myself. On that trip, I was nervous about whether I could find my way around an international airport and whether I could do what volunteers needed to do.

And now, I'm going to stretch again. Three months is a long time, but I feel like it will give me growing room. I want to get the most out of my life. I want to make a difference in the world. I don't think I can do those things in the "Safe Zone." So I'm stepping away from what's comfortable and predictable.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hello Again...

I've decided to start blogging agin, in part because I'm heading off on another adventure. I don't know if this is necessary, but it seemed like maybe I should give a little explanation of how I got from the last blog entry to this one. Maybe I just want to explain the last few months to myself.

Visiting Taiwan for Deaflympics opened my eyes to the larger world. I knew that I wanted to travel, but while I was in college, I couldn't quite figure out how to make it happen. I thought about a semester in Australia. I tried to convince my parents that I should spend spring break helping baby turtles in Costa Rica. I considered going to Turkey with the USAD soccer team. Nothing was clicking.

Then, one day, I read about a volunteer program at the Thanda Wildlife Refuge in South Africa. They needed people to take photographs of animals and to help with other projects. Something about this program called to me. Despite some concerns about malaria, AIDs, and other safety issues, I convinced my parents that this would be a good experience after I graduated from college.

When I left for Thanda in May of 2012, I didn't really know what I was getting into. I just knew that, after four and half years of studying, I wanted to do something completely different. I wanted out of my comfort zone.

My time volunteering in South Africa was everything I hoped for--and more. I fell in love with Africa. I don't know whether it was the people, the wildlife, the land, or the work. I just loved everything about the month I spent in Thanda. I got to do so many different things--photography for research and the database at the nature reserve, community projects including working with children, and conservation work including learning how to use a machete to hack out invasive plants. Somehow these experiences added up to the most rewarding month I have ever had in my life. Ever since I left Africa on June 24th, there hasn't been a day without Africa in my mind.

And now I'm going back. It took a while to save up what I'll need for the program, but I did it and I'll leave at the end of the month. This time, I want to record and share more of what I see, feel, and learn while I am in Africa. I'll be away for three months, and I know I'll miss some good times--an engagement party for a special friend, St. Patty Day, the annual Rugby Fish Fry, several important birthdays. I know life here won't stop while I'm away.

I also know that going back to Africa feels like what I am supposed to do. It's hard to explain why I feel this way. Maybe that's why I wanted to start this blog again. Something about being Africa is really important for me. I want to figure out what that is. You're welcome to come along for the journey.

P.S.--I don't know exactly when I will post because Internet access in Africa will be unpredictable.