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Losing Control in Africa

I like to be in control. I like the feeling of knowing exactly what I want, executing a few steps and accomplishing my goal. In my house, you could even call me a bit bossy. I’m the mom. I call most of the shots. We eat what I make for dinner. The house is cleaned when I say it needs to be cleaned. If one of my children wants to play outside, he/she has to run it by me first. Outside of the home, I know how to get things done. If I want an iced tea from Panera, I have the means (money and transportation) to get one. If I am made to pay more money at store based solely on the color of my skin, I know where to report it and can be assured that it will be looked into. I know how life works in my world.

When I stepped off the plane in Africa, I realized just small the world I know how to control is. As a foreigner in an unfamiliar land, I didn’t have a clue about how things worked. I had heard stories and had a general idea of what to expect but the actual application of this knowledge was completely different. It’s a very odd feeling to be completely helpless. To suddenly be in a country where you have no money, no transportation, no working phone and many of the people don’t speak your language I had almost no means to control anything. I was forced to rely completely on our team leader. A new feeling for a mom who is used to always being in control.

Many things just work differently in Sierra Leone. In Northern Virginia if you schedule a bus to arrive at 9, you expect it to arrive at 9 or 9:15 at the latest (which would be late and unacceptable). In Sierra Leone you might schedule a bus to arrive at 9 but it might not come until 10:30. While disappointing, it doesn’t seem as critical in Sierra Leone. Had it happen the morning we needed to catch our flight home, I’m sure I’d be singing a different tune, but since it was not the morning of our flight, my inability to control the situation led me to realize two things: I could either sit and complain about the bus being late or I could enjoy the extra time with our group. I chose the latter. There is a lot of waiting in Sierra Leone because there is so much that is beyond your control. I typically don’t like waiting, but it seemed different there. It was not anxious waiting as if you will miss something, it’s more of a calm waiting like when you are waiting for the sun to set over the ocean. It’s waiting without the rush.

As I said before, I like being in control, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed not having to control it all. While confusing at times because I didn’t always know exactly what the plan was three steps ahead of what we were currently doing, it was relaxing not having so many balls to juggle in the air at one time. It wasn’t my job to make sure dinner was on the table each night. There were no toys to put away at the end of the day. I wasn’t constantly checking my phone to make sure I wasn’t missing anything from work. I was able to focus on the main reason I had traveled across the world to Africa: to show love to a group of amazing kids.