Thursday, March 19, 2009
Africa can be a mirror.
I stood on the edge of the embankment looking down. At the bottom lay an overturned Jeep Cherokee, it having tumbled off the highway probably 15-20 minutes before. There were lots of people down there and up on the road. I asked if an ambulance had been called, that's just what you do when you see an accident.
We were half way on our drive to the Rwanda/Congo border. People were meeting to help get us through customs and immigration. I had no time for car accidents. I had no time for African blood. I had no time for getting my last clean clothes dirty. I decided the situation was under control. We weren't needed. I got everyone back in the van and we drove on.
For the next hour we drove in silence. I had no idea who I was. The person I thought I was would have been down that hill doing whatever I could. I thought I was the guy who 'did good', traveled to Africa, came back, told stories, and encouraged people to engage with those less fortunate.
Africa didn't let me get away with myself. That roadside incident is one of many where I was unpleasantly surprised by the reflection in it's mirror.
I was the guy who didn't want dirty clothes, who cared more about a schedule to keep than people. I really didn't like that guy.
That one hour drive was the beginning of an eighteen month journey. I began by being unable to answer the question of who I was. I realized how much time I had spent being what others wanted me to be, or what would win me approval from others. That facade worked ok, until I was faced with a situation like on the road to Congo.
Most of the time now I am pretty damn sure of who I am. What I strive for these days is authenticity. My identity is not tied to who others want me to be. I am even ok with disappointing people on occasion if I don't live up to their expectations.
A year and a half later Africa welcomed me back. This time, no mirrors.