Traveling to Africa has always been a well-vocalized dream of mine. I used to taunt my mother about my aspirations, threatening to suddenly depart for the foreign continent in a state of rebellion and leave her worrying at home. The imaginary trip represented everything my disagreeable thirteen-year-old self sought: uncertainty, independence, and a definitive shock factor. When I first asked my family to guess what I would be doing this summer, my sister immediately replied with a sarcastic “I don’t know, you’re going to Africa?” comment. Both my family and I knew that this journey was a long time coming. Somewhat hesitantly, my parents agreed that I could go.
Yet as the departure date slowly began to loom closer, my excitement about the upcoming “no-rules” adventure melted into pervasive nervousness. Everybody deals with anticipatory anxiety differently. For me, I bring stuff. Tons of stuff. Stuff that could fill a commercial truck (and did, when I arrived at Yale for the first day of my freshman year). To try and deal with my nerves, I cleaned out all of CVS, Eastern Mountain Sports, Old Navy, and REI. A part of me believes that hauling an exorbitant amount of clothes, medicine, and wilderness supplies will somehow make me less likely to be caught off guard during my stay in Mauritius. But the problem with traveling overseas is that everything has to fit in suitcases, and my sea of security blankets did not make the cut. The amount of stuff I had for my trip was just a physical manifestation of my nerves, a coping mechanism for ignoring what I felt inside. It was my anxiety, not my purchases, that were truly overwhelming.
Grudgingly, I unpacked and repacked my bags, filtering out the items I did not actually need. My suitcases zipper now but, to be honest, my nerves are still the same. To manage that, I am working on coming to terms with the reality of the situation: I cannot prepare for everything. Instead of dreading the unknown, I try to remember that there is inherent value in the things that take us by surprise. Maybe eventually I can recapture that fearless spirit that drove my mother crazy. For now, it is enough to know that my anxiety does not own me. My father likes to tell people that, when I was younger, I assured him I would do one thing every day that scared me. I really had no idea what I was agreeing to, but I like to think that I have maintained my oath to the best of my abilities. I will never intend on breaking that pledge, no matter what continent I am on. So here’s to 63 days lived, 63 promises kept, and 63 fears conquered.