When I stepped off the plane last Tuesday afternoon, as expected, the familiar intoxicating air of Entebbe airport – that combination of diesel fuel, earth, and smoke – nearly knocked me off my feet, and made me wonder whether I had finally succeeded in sleeping mid-flight and was dreaming just another beautiful dream…
Working off 30 minutes of sleep and an anxious air of “where did the past two weeks go?” the 4am wake up time, of course, led me to rush in a sweaty daze to help people carry luggage down stairs and basically load up the entire bus alongside my new brother-in-beards, Mac. 2 hour bus from Yale to JFK. 4 hours til departure. Yoga in the airport. 16 hour flight sandwiched between my dearest GHC friends, taking selfies with the flight attendant, losing at nearly 48 rounds of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire with Brooke as we drank (perhaps more than one bottle of free) wine courtesy of Emirates. Best flight of my life – not an exaggeration. I played candy=fairy feeding treats to all the GHC fellows, and of course to our fearless and ever-lovely Mama B.
Wait, this is a terrible place to start this whole story. Should I back up? How about we go back to the end of June…
Leaving California behind after the best year of my entire life – full of new friends, new experiences, spiritual quests, multi-month backpacking odysseys, more dancing than most people do in their entire lives, all the chakra-aligning yoga and meditation a newly reawakened soul could possibly desire, night after night of Agape songs, boundless love, mind-bending self discovery, and of course, that shiny new tattoo – was one of the most emotionally difficult experiences I think I have faced. To uproot from such pure incandescent beauty and launch full-throttle into the unknown, into a boundless sea of uncertainty and doubt, into what people often refer to as “adulthood,” which I feel I’ve been fairly successful at evading for some time, despite graduate school and a spattering of attractive professional jaunts. But to uproot myself meant, and could only have ever meant, planting myself in the fertile soils of Uganda (fertile soils in both the literal and figurative sense, meaning, ripe for planting my new budding soul and watch my Self grow as rapidly as the banana trees and corn fields surrounding my new house). Uganda. The country I have been trying to get back to since 2011 when I left this place to move to New York City for some ungoddessly reason. Oh right, that shiny Master’s degree. And what did THAT get me. Oh yeah, this job. And a million contacts. And perspective. Cool. We’re on the right track.
Transitioning from my California life to my 2-week intensive training at Yale University (oooh la la so fancy) was roughly 72 hours of sheer terror, self-doubt, social anxiety, and to a degree, excitement for the endless possibilities ahead. And then something clicked.
Maybe it was grabbing a drink with Orrin, Chiara and Sharon and realizing I could be real with my GHC cohort and not always put on a strictly professional front. Maybe it was realizing that the Still Harbor component of training was the exact spiritual-emotional outlet I generally turn to Agape in LA for and feared I would have to live without for years to come. Maybe it was sitting in a room that was filled with as many East and Southern Africans as it was with Americans, knowing that we were all working in partnership to train for work that was bigger than ourselves. Maybe it was meeting a fellow follower of the Burner-ethos (Africa Burn in South Africa in 2015 may be my first Burn), Brooke, and realizing not only can I be real with my cohort, but I could actually be my unfiltered Self with some of them. Maybe it was practicing Lusoga and Luganda with Becky and Ronald and cracking Axel up with my Swahili (“You are the craziest guy I have ever met” he’d say). Maybe it was the series of illustrious speakers, the nights of flooding New Haven bars with our stories and laughter and constant need to watch World Cup matches, the willingness of everyone to accept me for being a serial-hugger, the realization that my co-Fellow Viola and I were going to be an unstoppable team in Bujagali, or the fact that the whole thing felt like a graduate school/summer camp hybrid complete with group yoga and sickeningly cute ceremonial events to show our appreciation for one another.
Or, perhaps it was the fact that for one of the first times in my life, I truly felt like I was on my own. And for some reason, it didn’t terrify me. I wasn’t picking up broken pieces of my self like I had in the past when I ended up on my own. I was stronger than ever before, and I quickly became fully aware of how I fit in with this whole thing. I always had a hard time reconciling my two ostensibly conflicting selves: the Self that wanted to work in international development and use my academic training to improve educational and public health systems in sub-Saharan Africa and be taken seriously and respected within my field; and the Self that believed that connecting, smiling, hugging, loving, dancing, letting my freak flag fly and ultimately just having faith that people coming together preaching the importance of One Love really can make a difference. The two never seemed to go hand in hand, since one was, in my view, all connection and no action, and the other was all action and no connection.
Somehow, over the past year, I have amalgamated these two selves to form what I consider to be my highest Self. I have unfolded into who I really am. And when I bid farewell to most of the fellows, I knew I had a new family behind me in this journey. Those beautiful hours above the Atlantic Ocean gave me time to reflect on the man I had become over the past several years, and the True Self I had become over the past 12 months.
Stronger and happier than ever, I stepped off the plane, and breathed that familiar intoxicating air…….