We always counted.
My kids and I would start counting the number of 'sleeps' left before the time to fly away. It was a fun way to 'up the excitement quotient', not that it was needed when you had surprised them with a safari to Kenya instead of Christmas. It did, however, require them to give up all their presents and multiple family turkey dinners. They were ecstatic, of course. We were a travelling family. Everyone went to bed with dreams of zebras and elephants and Africa in their heads. I remember them being excited about the food we were going to have on the plane. How times have changed.
It was important to me to take them, not just to witness the sight of hundreds of wildebeest in the Serengeti, or to see a mother elephant lovingly and carefully shepherd her baby to the water hole, but to teach them about the world. I needed to take them and support some understanding that the world is mostly not as they know it. To help them know that there are places where girls, instead of going to school, walk many hours every day to find water for their families, and mothers with babies who will die for lack of a three day treatment for malaria, consisting of just three pills. I wanted them to know the joy I had experienced travelling across this amazing continent, and the complexity of it. I needed to allow them to witness a world that is both utterly and astoundingly beautiful and overwhelmingly and despairingly unfair.
So, tonight, I lie in my comfortable bed, and my seven 'sleeps' are upon me. My first malaria pill has been taken, all my immunizations are updated, and I may have some great dreams from the malaria prophylaxis (this is sometimes an exciting side effect).
But . I . cannot . sleep.
I never have insomnia, unless accompanied by jet lag. It is very annoying. I am having empathy for my patients who tell me of their struggles with sleeplessness. Not many people in South Sudan have this as a presenting complaint. But for me, now, no sleep. I am running over and over the lists in my mind; the things to be done before I am on that jet plane. I will be saying adios to a friend I have only just started to get to know well, and that is weighing heavily on my mind. Just as I am making my decision to go off for six months to a challenging new job, I have the perennial problem of humanitarian workers who meet someone, and then, either you or they are gone. We make our choices, and sometimes it is hard to know the why behind those choices. We need to go and we long to stay. It can hurt big time.
Tonight, I said goodbye to family members that need to be protected from the reality of where I am going and what I am doing. I never mention the snakes or the bats and the scorpions. Others are less anxious with the choices I have made, but the look in the eye, and the uncommonly long held hugs speak volumes. I am off to dangerous places and they are forced to worry for me and about me, but we are doing ok with it. I think. I hope.
Once I have whittled down the 30 or 35 kilos of preliminary packing to the 20 kilos allowed, I will feel a wee bit more in control of this packing process. I must take the exercise mat (part of the mantra of taking care of yourself while you care for others), and the multiple electronic things that allow me to do stay connected. I need the comfort things (nail polish, lipstick, pretty undies) and the essentials (malaria pills, sunscreen and shoes that protect against venomous things.
And The After,with much gnashing of teeth and down down downsizing.
I need photos that I can hold in my hands and look at of the people that are most dear to me, and for a different comfort, I am bringing the tacky red Christmas Tree to hang from my tukal (the mud and thatch hut that will be my new home) so I can celebrate Christmas with a little bit of my old home.
It seems selfish to be thinking of the things that will be so important to me, when I know I will be working with a population that has so very, very little, and has lost so much. But that is there, and I am here, and I am going there.
In seven days.
I will take the single malt scotch, just because I can and I should.
And I hope I will write more.