A real feature of the last few weeks has been a feeling of inbetweenness. I have this whole life that it feels I am walking away from, at least for the time being. Its hallmarks have been steadiness, certainty, knowing where the next pay packet is coming from and when I’ll have the time and means to get the washing done, and other things like that. It has the advantage of security and the disadvantage of familiarity, even boredom. Ahead lies the something very different: uncertain, contingent, risky. Even dangerous, if you look at it through certain spectacles. In the last few weeks I’ve mainly been focusing on moving house, and I have been impatient with the relentless focus on the mundane ‘here-not-there’ concerns such as selling my car or renting the right size of van. But now that my 55 boxes and various other stuff is safely stored, and I am living out of two bags, my thoughts have finally turned back again to what happens from 6 o’clock (or 12am as they call it in Ethiopia) on Thursday morning, when my plane lands.
The plan is basically this: to rock up in Addis Ababa, convince someone that I have some skills worth offering (I’m sure I do, by the way; I just need some guidance on which ones, and where they might be applicable), and to offer those skills, on a voluntary basis if necessary, to whoever can offer me the most interesting experiences. Laid out like this, it all looks pretty optimistic, especially given that I have exactly four weeks in Ethiopia and am hoping to have at least got somewhere by the middle of August so that I have some time left to travel if the whole thing doesn’t work – I don’t want to come back empty-handed and having seen nothing but a capital city. So this gives me about two weeks, perhaps two-and-a-half, to find something, or at least to feel like I’m making enough progress to persist in Addis and leave my travelling until some putative return trip in the near future. It’s an odd plan, because I can’t quite be sure yet whether it’s business and pleasure, and I know this is leaving some people a little unsure of just what the hell I’m up to. From the outside it probably all looks as if I am running away from a sh*tty situation and just trusting to fate in a very ill-defined way. But I’ve done my homework, and have spoken to people who have parlayed a spell as a volunteer into serious development careers, including one guy, through the Cambridge Careers Service, who started by going to Nairobi in much the same way as I am going to Ethiopia, with a backpack and £500 in his back pocket. He ended up in Sudan for a while and now works at the UN in New York. He reckoned that turning up and offering your services for free works; if you can then stick out some time in a placement it shows that you have sticking power at least, and you can hopefully also demonstrate your skills. A steep learning curve, for sure, but I’ve faced some of those before.
I haven’t done a terribly good job of explaining myself to certain people and have been irritated by the pooh-poohing and cavilling of others. So maybe writing this helps me to rough out what I think I am up to here, and also perhaps will help others to understand what I am doing. Of course, I am doing a certain amount of escaping. In the last few months I’ve experienced a few losses that I’ve hardly had the time or the distance to process, let alone grieve for. I would hardly want to be spending the summer looking at another year in school, living in the same house, doing the same job, and feeling the world had turned with me staying where I was. I think there’s also a bit of a desire to get back to what I was before Maria and before teaching; a bit more adventurous, a lot better-travelled, and not feeling constrained by what seemed ever-contracting horizons. More than anything else, though, I want a challenge; something that involves taking a risk and hopefully turning it into a reward. I’m not taking it blind and I know it’s a risk, but I’ve got enough money, stability, research, and sensible living behind me that I’ve earned the right to take it. Now all I have to do is cross my fingers, make the most of any chances that come my way, and try to accept gracefully and find plan B if it all comes to nothing.
The next post will come to you from Addis!