I have been preparing. Apart from studying a little Xhosa, (Oi, what mixed up language I will have in three months or a year!) I spent today packing a suitcase, which I believe will be able to hold all of my possessions for up to a year. I have to give a lot - all - of the credit for this accomplishment to my mother, who is blessed with the ability to warp space inside suitcases.
I've spent the last two weeks reading a text for my sociology course (Development and Social Change, or "Why the author thinks you should be angry with America." But some of the critiques are well-founded), getting vaccinations, buying malaria medication (thank heavens for local grocery stores that give 11 months of malaria medication for $27!) setting my finances in order, and so forth.
The most important preparations I have undertaken, though, have nothing to do with travel at all. These past two weeks have been so much slower than my previous thirty, even with travel preparations. I have had time to sleep, to relax, and most importantly, to study and think.
Pondering has yielded rich rewards. Gordian knots I had thought impervious to steel have obediently unwound themselves. I don't doubt the general course of the past year - it has been better and more intense than many other years put together - but I feel I am through it now, and ready to begin another. In the past two weeks, my unanswered questions have been answered; the wounds of my soul have been salved, my mind has been set at rest. The benefit of pondering has been illumination.
Take a scholarship application, for example. I was surprised today to find that I could articulate my goals cohesively. I know what I want to do; I feel I understand my spiritual responsibility in my career, and I believe I have several appropriate ways to enter the field. Here's a short excerpt from the essay I'm submitting tomorrow:
I plan to establish and improve systems of education around the world; specifically, I want to work with Muslim communities around the world and establish schools that encourage children to practice a non-violent form of Islam. If I am able, I will work with the Chinese government to establish culturally appropriate schools for Uygur populations in western China. Alternatively, I will work with the Indonesian government and USAID to establish schools promoting moderate Islam in rural areas of Indonesia. ...
Personally, my experiences living abroad have expanded my perspective on morality, on ethical behavior, and on friendship. Exposure to multiple cultures and lifestyles has helped me to become a better person; most importantly, such experiences have informed and enhanced my religious belief and behavior. I feel that international experiences have helped me to draw closer to my God, and to better understand His divine influence in my life and in society at large. That increased understanding, in turn, has given me a greater interest in education globally. I believe that I have a religious duty to serve my fellowman, and I feel that my personal calling is to serve through the international development of education. Therefore, my interest in international affairs and global issues is centered on the development of education and is tied very directly to my faith and to the performance of my duty to Deity. ...
I intend to encourage cultural understanding and personal development through my academic and professional career. Through that increased understanding, I intend to invite peace in volatile regions of the world. I plan to develop working relationships of trust and understanding with leaders of communities and governments; through such understanding, I hope ultimately to help prepare the way for individuals to receive the blessings of the Gospel.
I could not have written that a year ago. I didn't have the vision of it.
I recently read Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson. Apart from being a personal hero, I think that Mr. Mortenson is the closest example I have of what to expect in my life. A good friend and mentor challenged my plan for the future; he counseled that I will want a different set of plans when I have a family. I already knew that this was my calling, but the book opened my eyes to how my family life will likely be. Though it is not ideal for everyone, I know that it will be ok for me. Indeed, I believe that this career is what the Lord would have me do, so this arrangement will be ideal for me. Another friend reminded me, after I had come home - If you're where the Lord wants you to be, that's the safest (and I'll amend that to best) spot for you to be. She's right!
Best of all has been this realization: all of my experiences of the past year, when I have done right, have helped prepare me for the adventure I embark on now. I feel no fear, only a low and growing excitement. I intend to come back better than I am, and I feel that this truly is the beginning of greater things to come.
We shall see!
"And so came the dawn, like a page turning on a new day. He looked to the East and saw only light. He looked in his heart and felt only happiness" - Songs at Daybreak, Michael Taylor
As a test, I'm also including here some pictures from the past little while. These are random; again, this is only a test.
Me, fresh off the plane coming home
At a young men's activity on international cooking, I taught the young men how to make fufu and egusi soup; I learned on my mission from some wonderful Nigerian and Ghanaian friends.
This is me, demonstrating how to eat the soup. Take a lump of the fufu, roll it into a ball with the hand you're holding it, put an indentation into it using your thumb, and then use it to scoop your soup. It's a manly thing in Nigeria to just swallow the thing whole without chewing (you leave the meat in the soup until the end and eat it separately, so you don't choke); the bigger the piece, the more manly. Of course, I had to demonstrate. :-D The young men loved it, and fortunately, we didn't have to perform the Heimlich on any of them. :-D
Here's the egusi soup, in a slightly out-of-focus picture
And, the audience feedback. (One of the young women stopped by as well) I would suspect they were just being nice, but they all had a lot of fun eating it, and a good number asked me for the recipe.