I didn't expect it.
I didn’t expect the air to burn so hot when it rolled across my face as I stepped off the plane and onto the dark tarmac.
I didn’t expect the dirt roads to be so red against the gigantic sky.
I didn’t expect the palms to wave so exotic and the bananas to hang so lush on trees above a ground so littered and scarred.
I didn’t expect the smell of sweat in every inhale to be a scent that filled my nose not with repulsion but rather with humanity.
I didn’t expect to find unity in hot skin against skin, sweaty palm against palm, for sticky arms hugging shoulders to be our common ground.
I didn’t expect to ingest so much dust, to thirst so deeply, to be so filthy every night, and yet feel so alive.
I didn’t expect the disparity of hospitality. To be treated as royalty, served chilled sodas and heaping plates of steaming rice and chicken, all while a dozen sets of little eyes gathered on the outskirts to quietly watch every motion of spoon to mouth.
I didn’t expect the extravagant generosity, gifts given with pure joy from hands who knew hunger to hands who knew no physical need.
I didn’t expect my heart to throb again. I thought I was prepared for the cracked lips, the skinny arms, the protruding bellies, the sheer desperation for a bite of sugar.
I didn’t expect to feel the helpless ache of love. I thought the years had scarred over and even calloused the cuts Ethiopia left. I thought I could visit and learn and embrace and then come home without the hurt this time. But the callouses are rubbed off and I feel raw again.
I did’t expect to sit by John and feel at home.
I didn’t expect to carry the mother-weight of worry, fear over the future of a boy I’ve only seen a total of 3 times, back with me across ocean and continents.
I didn’t expect the juxtaposition; Ebola signs and barren school rooms and wells that run dry and naked children and so many scars on so many arms and legs, set against the loud singing and clapping and dancing and smiles that fill entire faces and hugs and hard work and hopes for a better tomorrow.
I didn’t expect to come home so conflicted. To laugh or to cry? To stay present and ache, or to move on and mute the pain? To promise to return and feel it all again next year, even if my only offering is a few days of companionship? Or to spend my money supporting from afar, less dollars on 20 hours of plane travel and more for a college fund and bags of rice?
I didn’t expect to be writing this from the dark of my closet because I am too restless. Because my house feels too big again, like it did after my last trip to Ethiopia when I couldn’t stand the sight of the two empty chairs at our kitchen table for weeks after my return.
I didn’t expect to encounter such a tenacity of human sprit in Sierra Leone, to see such persistent optimism from people who’ve known suffering at its worst. Such dedication to their education and studies from students who have so little. John showed me his meticulous biology notes and diagrams, how he’d named every part of a microscope, the steps to preparing wet and dry mount slides, and the details of how an amoeba eats. He’s never even seen an actual microscope, let alone looked through the eyepiece.
I did’t expect to feel such an urgency that I have to do all I can to change the story for one. A familiar notion, but it hit me with new fervor. One high school degree, one college education, one good lawyer or health care worker or pastor… maybe it could be the difference for a family, a village, a generation?
I didn’t expect the hope that would fill me when I witnessed this strength of character, how the sum of all my fears about the looming obstacles in his path are still less than the total hopes I have for John's bright future.
Choose to change the story for one. The impact on a child's life, and yours, will go beyond what you could ever expect!