When I was young, high school and college-aged, I had big dreams of becoming a world traveler. I went to Italy when I was 16 (on a “short-term missions trip,” which never fails to give my husband a chuckle).
Afterward, I thought, This is what I want to do. I just want to find a way to go everywhere and experience everything.
This isn’t exactly an abnormal dream for a young person. In fact, it’s pretty much a cliche. But I unashamedly embodied that cliche. As the years progressed, I did get to travel to a few places, but for the most part stayed in my little (now home) town of Tallahassee. After all, there’s only so much one can do on the limited funds of full-time school and a part time job.
When I was 21 I got married, and though my husband and I traveled a bit for our honeymoon and for our first anniversary, that was pretty much the end of my traveling aspirations. Josh doesn’t mind traveling, but neither does he have some deep desire to go globe-trotting, so it wasn’t high on our priority list as we grew our family and life increased in busyness (as it does for everyone).
But lo and behold, about 8 years into our marriage, we found ourselves traveling to the unlikeliest of destinations, not to see the sights or experience the culture (though we did that).
It was two little orphans who brought us there, and when we arrived in Entebbe, Uganda at about midnight on a Tuesday, we settled in for what would be a month of living in and getting to know a completely different culture.
So, this was basically my dream come true, right? I mean, sure, we weren’t exactly there for the sake of travel, but we were seeing a new part of the world, experiencing it in a unique way, trying exciting foods, and so on and so forth.
I remember as we were preparing for this journey, I was so obnoxiously self-assured. In my mind, I’d be this calm, collected traveler who adapted easily. I’d show my less-experienced husband (who had never traveled west of the Mississippi, let alone overseas) how it was done.
Of course, we all know that pride comes before the fall, but the problem with pride is it makes you blind, hence the falling. And man, I fell hard. It was not a pretty sight to behold. Guys, never has anyone been LESS awesome at traveling, and I still cringe a bit to think about it.
First, there’s the fact that as I’ve gotten older, my propensity for motion sickness has increased exponentially. I spent most of our actual air travel either out cold from the Dramamine or making everyone around me nervous as I turned green and breathed heavily to avoid vomiting in that dreaded tiny white bag.
Oh, and you know that little patch you wear behind your ear? That helps a lot but it gives me blurred vision so on top of everything I had to hold all reading materials as far away from my face as possible in order to read it, which made me look ridiculous.
The motion sickness was especially embarrassing when I avoided going out to the villages Josh would preach in on Sundays because I was afraid I’d get sick on the two hours or so of bumpy red dirt roads it took to get from Kampala to these villages.
I wouldn’t say that I was necessarily laughed at for this sentiment, but there was definitely a sense that I could not be more fragile or American.
Josh was highly amused.
Second, there was the fact that apparently, I don’t handle jet lag well. As in, I was exhausted for four days and it culminated in me sobbing hysterically and telling Josh, “I can’t do this.” Four. Days. That’s all it took for me to fall to pieces.
Incidentally, this seems to be my response when faced with something I clearly have to do but don’t feel equipped for. “I can’t do this.” Maybe I can get out of it by simply expressing the fact that I can’t. I said it when I was in labor, as though I’d suddenly not have to deliver the baby who was clearly coming. And I said it in Uganda.
Um, you kind of have to, Katie. We’re IN Uganda and we can’t leave until the job is done.
Regardless, it wasn’t a great moment for me. Thankfully, things did improve after that, but it seemed that every step along the way I was faced with my own NON-adaptability.
I wanted to be super cool and squat and do laundry for hours with the women we stayed with. Instead, I’d get a neck cramp or my knees would ache and I’d have to take frequent breaks. Also, I was accustomed to a machine doing this for me, and I have no upper body strength, so I was terrible at scrubbing dirt and stains out of clothes.
Meanwhile, these women got my whites whiter than they’ve ever been simply by using their hands. So yeah, the laundry thing was a bust.
I frequently grew impatient with living on Africa time. Which, if you’re unaware, is basically having no schedule. Ever. You eat when you’re hungry. You show up late to everything. The sermon starts when the preacher arrives, not at a specific time. The paperwork can’t get done because the clerk’s not in the office today. Why? Who knows. He just didn’t come today.
Honestly, by the end, I found the whole thing kind of refreshing but much of the time I wanted to bang my head against a wall because everything took. So. Long.
I actually have a friend who is from Africa and she says that she and her husband have to remind themselves that here in the States when they say 2:00 for a party, people will show up at 1:55, not 4:00. I imagine we make her want to bang her head against a wall sometimes, too.
I was frequently accidentally rude. I often said the wrong thing. I got funny looks. I’m sure I offended plenty of people. I hid in my room sometimes just to avoid getting in trouble because of my big mouth.
My two new little children definitely got a healthy dose of the worst parts of me from the get-go, that’s for sure. My daughter Eva has more toughness in her pinky finger than I do in my whole body, and that was abundantly clear that first month we were together.
What’s the point of me sharing all this, other than the fact that apparently I’m a glutton for punishment and want everyone to know I’m a disaster?
Well, one, I think it’s good when God gives us a little taste of what we thought we wanted in order to prove that He knows better. The truth is, I’m sure I’ll travel again someday, but it’s good to know that this thing I pined after was never something I could have done full time.
I’m honestly glad to know that I couldn’t have survived frequent plane rides and jet lag, and God didn’t let me have it because I would have been more miserable than happy most of the time if I did.
But second, and more importantly, I like to share this story because I think that things like international adoption or world missions take on a bit of a hazy, beautiful quality in our minds and we think it’s the sort of thing that strong, put-together people do.
One of the films I actually watched during the 24 hours of flying it takes to get to Uganda was What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which, side note, is a surprisingly funny and poignant movie. There’s a scene in it where Jennifer Lopez is meeting her baby in an Ethiopian village and it’s so lovely and it makes you cry and it romanticizes the whole thing. The music swells, that baby is placed in her arms, and everyone is beautiful.
That’s the image we tend to have.
But the truth is, obeying God and doing something crazy like adopting a kid (or two) isn’t just for the perfect people (who don’t exist, FYI). It’s for real, messy, I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing people. It’s for people who fall apart and cry and don’t get it right. It was for me. And who knows, it could be for you, too.
Everything changed for me during that month. I got seriously in touch with my weakness in a deeper way, which means I got seriously in touch with the grace of God. Because that was the only impressive thing about that journey.
So yeah, I’m no world traveler, and thank God for that. But I’d do it again.
But only if He makes me.