“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
Any journey begins with the first step and after 14 months (application through field based), here I am at the end of my PULSE assignment. It is so hard to believe that what started more than a year ago, is finishing. I do not think of it as ending as much as a beginning for what PULSE was to provide: a unique chance to step out of GSK and develop myself as I went on a transformational journey. Everyone’s experience is different and based upon your surroundings and what you and your NGO puts into the relationship. When I wrote my first blog I wondered what my last blog would be like; I try to think with the end in mind but through the course of the past 7 months, whilst a good practice, I’ve learned you need to be flexible.
As I transition back over the past several weeks I’m a little melancholy for the freedom I had. Freedom to experience life in a new place, freedom to learn at my pace, freedom to think outside the box. I am finding it tough to adjust. My mind is wandering, wondering…. what strikes me during conversations with friends I meet up for coffee, or a short chat after Sunday service, is how much life in the ‘West’ is different and how during the conversation that the problems we deal with here are truly 1st-World problems. Most do not have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from, do I have clean drinking water, nor will I or my family survive a medical emergency? We are lucky and have access to all these things. If nothing else I’ve learned to take a step back and approach things with a new set of eyes as to what matters most and have an open and honest dialogue with those around me. I hope that my family and team are patient with me. I’ve been told that the transition back is harder than the deployment and so far, I agree. Life has moved on for everyone you left behind, but your life has been changed and all we really want to do is talk about it – the good, the bad, the ugly. We want to talk about the experience, we want others to be interested.
I came home for my mid-trip visit which coincided with the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year in the USA. Talk about an eye-opening experience upon returning and seeing the excess all around me. My wife said I was not any fun going out to shop with because of my comments about the excess of decorations, commercialization and waste I saw around me. We all need to reset our perspective if we really want to make a difference in the world. This assignment gave me great perspective!
As I returned in the New Year to finish my assignment many emotions ran through my mind – did I really make a difference to the community to which I served? During my assignment I was throughout Mozambique and Nigeria (with a bit of the UK thrown in for good measure) but did I leave them with a sustainable change? Did they learn from me along the way? On a personal level, there were challenges with this assignment and I could not have done it without the support of my wife, who I’m sure really didn’t understand at the time what supporting me in this crazy adventure would entail. My children – whilst proud, I don’t think deep down were too thrilled about having dad away for an extended period. The moves into college dorms, scholarship and other school events missed – – but I have amazing children and have been impressed with their maturity and ingenuity in the face of my absence. I hope they understand that I feel passionately about what I did and that they get what we instilled in them through their elementary schooling at their local school St. Francis of Assisi – that we are so blessed for what we have in this world and therefore we all have an obligation to serve those who are less fortunate.
I know you receive many emails and whilst the amount of information you need to process can be overwhelming, I still thank you for being willing to follow me on this journey. Thank you to those people who continue to reach out to me with good wishes and words of encouragement especially as I blogged across the Continent during the early days of the assignment. But now the time has come to say farewell. I have made some lasting memories, experienced life from a different vantage point, situations that helped me grow and allowed me to use a unique lens in which to see the world and the situations I am presented with. I have been given a gift. Like all gifts, they need to be shared to be truly appreciated.
As I finished my last days in the UK Headquarters reporting on my progress and saying goodbyes I took a trip to Greenwich on the day prior to my departure home to North Carolina. I was thinking about time – not African time, not Nigerian time, but the time from the hour we set our alarms, to the gatherings between family and friends for fellowship and meals shared, milestones like birthdays, anniversaries…the time of our last conversation.…for some, time moves too fast, others it moves at a snail’s pace – in the end it still is the same unit of measurement. From here in Greenwich, time sets but it also begins. Here’s to what awaits our futures – excited to see what’s next!
‘It’s in your hands to make a difference’ – Nelson Mandela