Last night I break down alone in the program office, with Ben desperately trying to comfort me over chat from 2000 miles away. I know I have skills and abilities to offer here, but after reading story after story of how western aid work has destroyed local economic systems and in some ways, hastened poverty, I second-guess whether or not my work will help or hurt. Last summer someone also told me that I gave myself too much credit, “you alone will not break or fix a system,” but just as I alone can be a small pebble that hastens an avalanche of good change, could I not also be the pebble that hastens bad change? We are warned constantly against the advice of development NGOs without a lasting investment or real on-the-ground presence…how am I as an intern any different from that, despite the deeply knowledgeable advice of a great organization and expert people at my back? 20% of the way through this internship and I can barely form a Swahili verb, much less make sense of what someone says to me.
I cannot help but wonder, too, how much of this unhappiness is reawakened pain caused by my last boyfriend's abandonment last summer…pain that I pushed away as absurdity rather than accepting it into myself and allowing myself to grieve for the lost energy I’d poured into that relationship. The promises that came to nothing and that seeded a doubt which still plagues me today. How much of the sadness did I stash under a too-heavy workload all year? Did I not then continue to cover it up as I tried to prevent its influence on my developing relationship with Ben, who I trust and love as the man I want to be with for the rest of forever, to whom I wanted to offer my heart as a fresh, new gift and not as a jaded, broken thing? But I cannot forget the things that have been said; the implications that a woman who sets off on her own adventures might be seen as the one who is doing the abandoning.
In this land of wind and dryness, where the night sky swallows you whole if you stand too long before it, and dark trees marching up the cracked slopes in the morning light awakens a primeval sensation of being born, it is in this place that every feeling of doubt and bewilderment and loss that I have ignored or overcome in the past 9 months comes rushing forth again.
It is so beautiful here, here where the nocturnal tracks of a lion on the road will be brushed away by the passing of mid-morning cattle, here where the call of the go-away bird disappears across the arid plain, here where the thorns of roadside acacia catch and rend shirtsleeves if you drive too carelessly. It is the first time this year where I truly have to wonder what the past three years have made of me, whether or not I truly belong here. I bend under the weight of too much feeling, and look around me for hope.