When I was in college, it was normal for me to put over 20 thousand miles on my car in one year. I had a hunter green Mitsubishi Montero Sport with a sunroof (BTW, I think the kool kids now call it a moonroof) and a killer sound system. It was nothing for me to hop in my car after classes, throw on some sunglasses, put on The String Cheese Incident and drive seven or eight hours back to visit my parents or friends in different towns. I always drove with the windows down and the sunroof open. There was such a sense of freedom and release as the sunrays warmed my face and the wind whipped through my hair. I saw life fly by in snapshots…lazy cows grazing in a field, the sun setting behind an old oak tree, remnants of a house that burned down. As the miles passed by, so did all my worries and stress, and slowly a smile would creep on my face.
Fast forward ten years, and life has gotten a little busier…and a lot less solitary. Now, it is a rareity to travel long distances by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life now. In those college years, lonliness and emptiness accompanied the solitude. These days, though sometimes I crave alone time, my heart and soul are full and happy. I started thinking about those drives a couple days ago when I was travelling from Soddo to Addis. It is a five to six hour drive through the southern half of Ethiopia, and my only company was a non-English speaking Ethiopian driver, a sleeping baby, and my very heavy heart. You see, the day before, I had to watch my precious husband drive away from our new little family and head back to the States to continue his role as the family provider. My heart ached as the van pulled away. There was no end date in sight or “I’ll see you in a couple weeks” or even “Everything is going to be okay.” There was only a couple tears that streamed down my face as I tried to stand stoically holding August…and then the car disappeared. August and I walked back to the house and then…I cried. I cried real hard. One of those cries that clinch your whole body and take your breath away. For those of you that have ever seen me cry, it isn’t pretty…and there isn’t a whole lot more in life that I despise more than crying. So, I finally pulled myself together and carried on with the day (for the mommas our there, you all know there really isn’t another option.) And the day didn’t really get better. That evening, I got ferociously sick and dehydrated. When I woke up to get August a bottle, I blacked out on the bathroom floor. It was probably one of the scariest moments of my life. I could just picture someone coming to our house in the morning, me laying unconcious on the bathroom floor and August screaming in her crib (a scene from Steel Magnolias flashed through my mind.) This silly fear caused me to stay awake the rest of the night and beg my mom to make extremely expensive international calls to me on the hour, every hour to confirm my existence. The sun finally showed its face and all was fine.
So the next morning as I climbed into the Soddo Christian Hospital van, my heart was heavy. I don’t know if I even recognized how down I was. Has that happened to you? Usually your loved ones call you out and ask what is wrong, and it’s not until they point it out that you realize you aren’t yourself. Anyway, that was me. The first part of the trip, I just sat in silence. Then, as August fell asleep, I glanced over my left shoulder, through the curtains (oh yeah, it’s one of those rad vans) and realized the windows were open. I leaned left and felt the warmth of the sun, and then a little further left and felt the breeze brush my face. And just like that, I was taken back to those college days…breath in, breath out. The weight of all those worries and sadness started falling by the roadside. The miles became a series of snapshots again, but this time so much more meaningful and beautiful. I wish I could describe the magic of the African countryside, but as a woman who is usually full of words, I am at a loss as I am sure I could never do it justice. As we reached the outskirts of Addis, I found myself smiling again.