So I took a trip this Fall. I have ventured all over the United States and also went to Cancun as is required for most young people mid winter. Once, when I was way up north in Michigan for a work assignment, I ventured over the bridge to a Canadian Tim Horton’s. Then I went back across the bridge because it was late and I was tired. I never had a passport. I suck at geography. Even as lovely church missionaries and Doctors without Borders and Peace Corps people head across the ocean to help other people in other countries, I was content here at home in Indiana.
One day, the heavens and stars aligned to send me on the trip of a lifetime and I said: “No Thanks!” My church’s international mission team wanted to pay for someone, maybe someone like me, to go to Sierra Leone, West Africa with Operation Classroom. I said “No thanks”. The price tag on such a trip was over $3,000 for those of you keeping track at home. I could go for free. I suggested ten other souls much more likely to agree and better equipped than me for such an undertaking. I told my dear husband that maybe just maybe, if everyone else said “no”, I would consider the trip. My dear husband, considering being left alone with our household and children for two weeks simply said, “Well, you’d need a passport.”
I slowly realized I wasn’t getting out of this. I understood at last I needed to go on this trip to break out of the rut of middle-aged parenthood and its trappings. I finally said “yes”. I started buying all the things an entitled American could need to go to a humid, sweltering, mosquito ridden African country. I got that passport. I got a yellow fever shot and a mosquito net. I wrote out childcare directions for friends who love me enough to read and mostly follow them. I changed our wills.
Preparing for this trip did nothing to prepare me for this trip. Our trip coordinator had extensive details and suggestions and caveats that kept all the basics aligned, but you guys! The world! The world is out there! I have always espoused the need to shake up routines; in our minds, our traveled paths to work and the grocery store, the stories we tell ourselves. Travelling to another continent, living in another country amidst a different culture changed me to the core. Travelling changes you, too. The world! The world is out there and adventure awaits!
The purpose of the trip with Operation Classroom was to celebrate and support the grand opening of the first STEM school in Sierra Leone. The school was part of a refurbished secondary school in the village of Taiama, Sierra Leone. I went with five other people, three of whom I already knew; the other two would become new friends. I thought we would help the people there. I don’t know that I helped much at all but I learned. I learned that African Time is a thing, in which the American punctuality is non-existent and meetings may start hours after the suggested start time. I learned that people in poverty, washing dishes on the dirt ground or playing with literal trash are happier than most Americans I know…including myself. The village where no one has ‘anything’, as far as my self-centered yardstick could tell, that village had more life in it than many of our American neighborhoods. The African sense of relationship, community, peace and joy was the biggest surprise to me on the trip. The students at the Taiama school and the Taiama Enterprise Academy(also called The TEA) really want to be in school. Their desire for knowledge and their respect for education eclipsed every child I know. Even my own children.
Travelling to another part of the world taught me (in the way a book or news story never could) how much we are all alike. Travelling taught me the true value of all that I have. I am also learning the richness of intangible things. Meeting children my own children may never meet, living lives my daughters could not imagine has reshaped my mamahood. I am better and wiser after going on this mission trip I didn’t want to take. Is there a trip you need to take? There are cheap ways to tour places around the world. There are a bajillion blogs sharing tips to save money and go adventure on the cheap. There are mission trips saving you a spot. The world is out there, have you been?