Psychiatrists, politicians, tyrants are forever assuring us that the wondering life is an aberrant for of behavior; a neurosis; a form of unfulfilled sexual longing; a sickness which, in the interests of civilization, must be suppressed . . . Yet, in the East, they still preserve the once universal concept: that wondering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.
~ Bruce Chatwin
I open with a quote today because I know people wonder why I do what I do. I want to explain but I fear my words don’t capture anything as it truly is. I don’t want to over or under-exaggerate anything – I want to be candid. But, there is something strange about communicating only by the written word, what I put down on paper is something altogether different from my actual experience in the bush of Africa. The minute my fingers start taping away, a second self beings to surface, conditioned, guarded, forgetful, ecstatic, vain, lyric, discursive; the words becoming what all recorded events become eventually, a false image that is probably a mixture of the known and the unknowable.
I cried in a workshop yesterday. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t expected, it wasn’t all together appropriate, but I cried nonetheless. We were holding a joint training with Medicines De Monde (Doctors of the World). The plan was we (CVT) would cover torture, trauma and PTSD and they (MDM) would cover psychotropics, anxiety and psychosis. It was a great step for my local counselors as it was the first place they could present what they have learned thus far to colleagues they respected. I was surprised by their desire to be good training facilitators (especially given my aversion to teaching) but they worked hard and did a good job.
Towards the end of the day one psychiatric nurse from MDM started talking about how he wanted to admit something. When he was first told about counseling and the counseling process he thought it was a sham and only joined the psychiatric department because it was a pay check and a chance to try something new. It took two full years of attending trainings and building their psycho-social program before he realized how the process of being heard can be healing and that many medical problems are really, at their core, psychological issues. He was great speaker and did a great job of utilizing examples to back up his points. He gradually transitioned into depression and told a story about a dear friend who had committed suicide in 2000 following the loss of a job when Taylor took control of Liberia. He recalled having been approached by this friend a number of times with pleas for help. He didn’t “hear” them and then one day he discovered his friend had taken his own life. Clearly this was not his fault (and he knew this) but today, in this training he reflected back on this loss with a few ‘what ifs.”
I can relate to this because I (and more intensely – my brother) lost a dear friend to suicide the summer after I graduated from high school. I was shocked by my reaction but I think I wanted to commiserate and I was again shocked by the universality of human experience. I think of my friend often but I am not alone in the content and make-ups of my thoughts and today I was confronted by this simple fact. I (and others like me) may feel like nomads, but we can’t escape some universal truths – everywhere you go there is love & loss; excitement & boredom; tragedy & celebration; beginnings & endings. The players may vary dramatically but the content is so very similar that it can feel like a narcissistic wound to our need to believe we are truly unique.
Wondering may re-establish the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe but this harmony may be a by-product of something else. The wanderer has been given the opportunity to resolve their “grass is always greener” dilemma and subsequently decreased the amount of anxiety being experienced by the collective conscience.
Sharon my roommate (who given our status as outsiders has quickly become somewhat of a sista) is a beautiful petite Austrian woman of 35. She just returned from America two days ago with HUGE news – She’s engaged! She joined CVT last October and shortly after she arrived she met this charming Ethiopian fellow on the beach in Monrovia. Abbi was here working with the UN and did such a good job with his project that he completed his goals and objectives early and he was being sent home. Home for him was now in DC as his family had been given asylum in the States 15 years ago during a time of war in Ethiopia.
It just so happened Sharon had not been to our head office for orientation because she had been living and working in Ghana for the last 3.5 years and came directly to Liberia after accepting the position. So a few days after Abbi left, Sharon followed. She would first go to chilly Minneapolis for orientation and then join Abbi and his family in DC. They would then take a short excursion to NYC to visit old friends. While in DC, Abbi popped the question and Sharon accepted. He is in the process of applying to graduate programs in public health and she is ABD from a clinical program in Austria. They don’t know how they are going to do it, but they are committed to trying and simply report, “How is it possible that it gets a little bit better ever minute we are together.” They hope to one day live in Africa again together and it seems they were destined to meet and settle on the continent they both hold so dear.