‘The guest is polite, a nice Englishman. He has come to Zambia to show Africans how to run state-owned businesses to make them attractive to foreign investment… [he] says nothing, but his smile is bemused. I can tell he’s thinking, Oh my God, they’ll never believe this when I tell them back home. He’s saving this conversation for later. He’s a two-year wonder. People like this never last beyond two malaria seasons, at most. Then he’ll go back to England and say, “When I was in Zambia…” for the rest of his life.’ Excerpt from Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller.
A two-year wonder. A one-year wonder. Is that what I am?
Will I continue to reference my transformative year as a volunteer with the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program for the rest of my life? Will I ever go back to South Africa and Swaziland? Go somewhere else? Continue to journey onwards and have adventures? The answer, I hope, is YES.
Will I look back on my time as a YAGM volunteer as the end-all, be-all experience of my life? Will I always be comparing things to it? Will I be unwilling and unable to move on? Will I continually live in the past and close my mind and my heart to other opportunities? The answer, I hope, is NO.
During the YAGM interview process now almost two years ago, I remember being told that the real adventure wouldn’t begin until after we returned home. Hearing that then sounded absurd; what could possibly be “more” than spending a year of my life serving others in another country? I saw adventure as a one-time-only opportunity, rather than an ongoing process.
I see now that this perception was completely and totally inaccurate. In many ways, YAGM now feels like the pre-adventure, the taste of things to come and the kick I needed to get myself moving in a new direction. It has been difficult, more difficult than I imagined, to get settled back into American life. The sudden stress of finding a place to live, a stable job, a supportive community, and meaningful spiritual life has been rather overwhelming at times. Each day I learn new things about myself and the world in which I live. It’s surprisingly similar to waking up in a strange country and wondering, “Just what do you suppose I will encounter today?” Except I’ve learned that I don’t need to be halfway across the world in order to wake up with that same thought.
I guess that means that now, “after the adventure,” I know that I am starting again, journeying again on a road that leads to… somewhere. A destination that is TBD, I suppose. And I’m okay with that; in fact, I love it.
Because when I say, “When I was a YAGM volunteer…” it is with the inherent understanding that while YAGM has shaped my life it in no ways was the singular experience of my life. And while I don’t discredit its supreme importance and impact on transforming who I am and how I view the world, I know that there are other experiences that will continue to do so in my future.
There will be other adventures. I know this, because I’m on one now, and there’s no end in sight. "After the adventure"... the adventure begins.