I don’t ever know how or where to begin!! There is no possible way I can convey how much I’ve seen, felt, learned. How amazing the people here are but also the heartache and confusion when I listened to people share so casually about their neighbors, loved ones & family members passing. It shouldn’t be so casual. But at the same time there are countless times when my heart is bursting with so much happiness!! Following up with patients who are looking so happy and healthy, there are no words to describe it. One of our patients, Victor, is a grandpa I met during clinic rounds on week one. He was carried in from our van and unable to sit without falling over. We went and did a home visit the following day and after spending the session massaging his hands & feet and doing physical therapy exercises I left the house in tears. He was just so weak. We went back the same afternoon for the nutrition program, and he was so excited to see us back so soon. Shwele, one of our Zulu staff members tickled his feet (which had gone from pasty white to pink and rosy!!) and his knees shot up so quickly! Unbelievable!! Considering he was not even able to move them that same morning. I told him to keep exercising and next week I’ll be back to see how strong he’s gotten! He is a sweetheart. At the end of last week, we surprised Ntombi, who is paralyzed on the left side of her body, with a bed we built! We visited her for home base care one morning and the look on her face when she was explaining how thankful she was, it was priceless! We went around her garden and picked some guava, passionfruit & bananas. It was a great morning. I’ve also learned a great deal about myself - that I can so bravely take care of wounds or be hands-on with every patient but the minute I step foot in the pre-K crèche I am terrified! A room full of children might be the most frightening experience I’ve had so far. I always thought I was a kid person, I was wrong. So very wrong. There is so much more to share, but I want to mention that I can’t say enough good things about the friends I have made. Sneaking up on cheetah brothers in the savannah safari, singing along to Adele for every single car ride, movie nights and eating so much chocolate!!! Attempting to mimic each others accents & laughing for days and days. Hunting for hippos and chased down the street by monkeys!! These memories I will cherish forever. Africa, you have my heart. People keep asking me now that I'm home if I was scared. Or they say that I am one brave girl to travel alone. Lots of friends told me I was crazy and some people asked me why.
To those people I say, why not? And maybe I’m crazy but 20 years later I’ll have no regrets. Maybe I’m brave or maybe everyone else is a little too sheltered and a lot too comfortable. For my collegiate peers, you know those introductory classes that are required for upper-level courses? Prerequisites. Seeing the world, in my books, should be a prerequisite. Before you decide to commit to a career, or that major, marriage, or anything, you should buy a ticket to somewhere that makes your heart race, you should get lost, you should give back to that country by volunteering and supporting local businesses. You should learn their culture instead of boasting your own and take lots of pictures. Not with your camera but with your eyes and your heart. Some things are better left for yourself. One of my dearest friends asked me, “Do you love it there? Like you just belong?” Yes, I loved every moment and detail about the small portion of Africa that I’ve seen. But it’s more than that. It’s purpose. Never in my life have I understood the idea of purpose. Now it’s loud and clear. Some people search their whole life looking for purpose. Damn do I feel lucky for finding it within the short 21 years that I’ve been alive. Am I scared? Yeah, a little bit. But if your hopes and dreams don’t scare you then you’re not dreaming big enough, right? About the author Jenny Lee, who volunteered on our Rural Healthcare and HIV/AIDS Awareness project in St Lucia, South Africa, is currently living in Seattle, Washington while completing her final year the University of Washington. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biology and looks forward to continuing her education as a medical student!