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Almost one year ago, I set off for Africa. On the verge of completing my Master’s Degree in International Communications and Development, I headed to Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Nigeria to conduct my thesis research, looking at the impacts of ICTs and Social Media on African Women’s Leadership.
The trip was beyond memorable and impactful. I had an opportunity to meet many wonderful women, men, and youth, to learn about their communities, and to take in the local culture in each country that I visited. I was able to pack many memories into a (very!) short six weeks. In retrospect, although I didn’t give it much thought in that moment, I’m sure I was proactive about making the most of my time because I understood how limited it was. What’s more, I didn’t fathom returning at any point in the foreseeable future.
Saying ‘goodbye’ to Africa wasn’t easy and, along with my baggage, I left the continent with many mixed emotions. On one hand, the weeks felt like days, and the days flew by. “Six weeks already?” I thought to myself. “But I’ve only just arrived!” There were people I left who I had wished to spend more time with, and there were many sites I had yet to see. On the other hand, I was anxious to reconnect with my friends in London (where I was studying) and return to the ‘comforts’ of home. I was also looking forward to a change of clothes and to nursing an infection on my foot that I’m embarrassed to say… started off as a simple carpet burn (it should have been a more exciting ‘story’, I know), but with a night at the beach unbandaged, worsened to the point of swelling and pussing (TMI? You’re welcome.). Needless to say, I wasn’t ‘done’ with Africa, though I had no idea when I would step foot back on the continent.
And so, after my adventures in a very different part of the world, along with my time in London and other European countries, I felt that 2012 had been a whirlwind of travel activities and learning. 2013, I thought, would be tame, by comparison. Even in my ‘About Me‘ section, which I composed several months ago, I had no idea what this year would have in store (I have many talents – predicting the future isn’t one of them…), but I was excited to find out. What I never (ever, EVER) anticipated was the possibility that I would be returning to Africa so shortly after I left.
In an interesting turn of events, however, that is exactly where I find myself today. In six weeks, I will be boarding a plane… to Zambia. As I write these words, I still can’t believe it. It almost feels like a dream. Which, sadly, I wouldn’t know about these days because, since I received the news, I haven’t been able to get a wink of sleep!
Whether or not you’re wondering how this all came about (if you’re still reading, I presume you’re still wondering…), I’m going to tell you either way. Because this is my blog… and I can do what I want. 🙂
Let’s first rewind to a couple months ago. A friend of mine had posted a link for a CIDA-funded placement that was aligned with my professional interests: communications, development, and women. The placement, working with a renowned human rights organization with a focus on women and girls, was based in Africa, which further provoked my attention. The application was tough (I felt like I was pleading my ‘case’ with the graduate school admissions office all over again…), but I like a challenge and so I persevered.
Fast forward to a few weeks later, and I received the much-hoped-for e-mail: Progress to Interview.
Second Challenge: Accepted.
The interview (on Skype, to make it ‘fair game’ for applicants across the country) came and went, followed by a writing assignment, and my hope began to fade. In my overactive imagination, the interview had gone less than ‘swimmingly’. Why did I wave at the beginning (a greeting acknowledged by my interviewers – ‘Wow, you’re the first interviewee to wave at us…’)? Had my answers been too vague? Did I seem too unsure of myself? Had I ‘over-prepared’? Was it even possible to over-prepare?! My mind works in overdrive sometimes, and trust me when I tell you that it’s more annoying for me than it is for anyone else…
My one saving grace, I thought, could be this writing assignment! That was my ‘a-ha’ moment. Even if I had bombed the interview, I love to write! If I had one final opportunity to present myself well in writing, then perhaps, even if I had lost the ‘battle’, I could still win the ‘war’. And so I got to work, fleshing out my ideas on paper, making sure every single one of those 250 words were accounted for in a thoughtful and thought-provoking manner…
Then… I waited. And I waited. I didn’t expect to hear anything until the end of this month (which was when all candidates were supposed to be given the ‘yay’ or ‘nay’), so it was much to my surprise when I received a Skype call less than a week after submitting my assignment. “I’m sorry…” said my interviewer. “Great! Just great!” I thought to myself on the other side of the computer. They’re calling me early to tell me I’m no longer in the running. Who hasn’t heard the “spiel” before? “We’re sorry… but there was a very strong candidate pool and while you’re certainly qualified, we cannot offer you the position at this time.” I mentally prepared myself (or tried to…) for the remaining words that were about to escape from the corners of his mouth.
“I’m sorry… to disturb you on Skype, but I saw that you were online. I just sent you an e-mail, but thought I would tell you personally that we’re excited to offer you a placement in Zambia!” He went on to inform me that I had interviewed “very well” (I had?!), that they had wanted to break the good news sooner but were “waiting on my references”, and that they wanted to scoop me up before someone else “got to me first”. The only thing I could muster in response was… nothing at all. Hard as I tried to say something – anything – I couldn’t. I was speechless. A rarity for me. Was this real?! Was I really being afforded an opportunity to return to Africa… to carry out the kind of work that has always been so important to me? Finally, my brain reconnected itself to my vocal chords and “I feel incredibly honoured and privileged to have this opportunity…” was the only sentence that I could formulate. But I think it said enough.
So off I go again! I’m leaving… on a jet plane… to assume new challenges and explore new territories. And I will revel in every minute of it. For now, I will continue to write on North American soil. But, soon enough, you will begin to hear from me as I navigate Southern Africa.
I’m excited to embark on this journey… and even more excited to share it with all of you.