Why do I travel? What makes me go from Eastern Europe to South East Asia to Africa? Why am I en route to Rwanda to cross the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Why is that while I travel for this trip, I must plan for my return to Liberia to present results to the government and then to launch the field work for the evaluation of the national US Govt funded OVC response in Ethiopia?
After the DRC, the Ethiopian project is is my next big field work, a mixed-methods partnership with with the Addis Ababa University School of Social Work and a team of 60 data collectors. We’ll get support from Pact Ethiopia and the National Statistics Agency. The summer months are before me, my garden is growing, but data needs collecting, we must overcome the logistical barriers and launch the study.
I pass the time on the flight making revisions to our Mozambique report, reading qualitative transcripts from women in Bosnia and children in India.
I am somewhere over Africa as I write this, Libya I think. Not always, but more often than not, if I am idle, it hurts too much. I have physical pain from missing my children. Last night’s over night flight to Amsterdam wasn’t great for sleeping so I am tired. Not the fatigued-to-the-bone exhausted that comes later in the trip. Just tired, emotional, unsure. I watched some of a rather silly movie about a mom who travels for work. Stupid movie. The woman had an adorable daughter and a 2 year old son. Hits too close to home and makes me cry. I wonder how often stewards and stewardesses see people cry. So again, why do I do it?
These projects I take on and fall in love with, that drive me stark-raving mad and make me angry as a wasp, and that become part of me–these projects that take me all over the world–I do not do them because of ambition or success. My ambition bled out following a few failed grant proposals, poor treatment by some leaders in this field, when my organization let me down, and then some close collaborators, well, betrayed me. I was ambitious at one time, but no more. These major disappointments knocked the wind out of me and forced me to look inward.
Career “success” is too fleeting. It is too dependent on others approval. I am too old and too young to be jerked around or need others’ affirmations to feel satisfied. Either I am satisfied or I am not, and it is based on my relationship with my work.
Thus, the drive or the motivation that I muster to engage in global projects is not linked to ambition or career success or some early-career or female ‘need to please’. Neither do I think I will single-handedly “change the world.” I do not board the plane thinking I’ll write the report of the journal article that will save lives.
I want to very much of course, but life, development, change, improvements, progress, these are all complicated.
When I fly across the globe to some of the less glamorous regions where war, disease and poverty live, it is about my duty as a human being. My life is bigger than me. Bigger than my words, bigger than my needs and desires. It is about connections and linkages. I am linked to boys and girls in Liberia and Botswana, children and elderly persons in Malawian, Bosnian woman and children, Indian families affected by HIV, Zambians riding bicycles, Zimbabweans struggling for employment, South Africans trying to adhere to their ARVs, Ethiopian families and organizations, Congolese families trying to survive war. I don’t know what it all means yet.
Maybe my linkages are important steps in a bigger picture. Maybe I’ll say just the right thing to someone on an airplane, or a student, or policymaker. I’ll influence the right person at the right time….maybe during a presentation, in the classroom, or in a meeting, or maybe at the park or a birthday party. And that person will make the decision that changes the world for the better. Maybe I’ll teach the person who influences another.
Maybe I’ll finally piece together some small part of a larger puzzle and I’ll share these results with someone who knows someone who can change something. I don’t know what how it all plays out. I am not certain my academic contributions are the thing that matter, just that this is the way I am supposed to learn and teach and contribute to the world. I have no illusions of grandiosity. Yes, still, somehow it all matters. I don’t how, but it matters and my contributions are part of the solution.
So my question to you: What are you doing for humanity? Maybe there’s no proof it will matter, but what are you doing? What do you want to do? What would you do if you were not afraid?