After spending a few weeks in the south, it has been a challenging to get my footing back here in Missoula. The sun doesnt shine too much, because the cloud cover creates a pocket over the valley. It's amazing how weather can affect the mood, and the culture of a place. There was even talk of someone crying over the inversion. I guess the lack of sunshine will do that to you. The beauty of the inversion though, is that when the sun shine's through you really feel the warmth it sends.
THE ROAD TO AFRICA: It has been some time since I began my quest to return to Africa. After forming a life in Montana, I became disconnected from the reasons that drove me to return to the Motherland. I was excited and honored after being nominated for a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, but after a year of waiting and no set plans it has been hard to imagine that the day will arrive that I get to actually board a plane. Although I still have yet to know which country I am traveling to "officially", I was pleasantly surprised by the energy at the Rotary training I attended in Greensboro last weekend. I must admit the training exceeded my expectations, mostly because it is a difficult task to prepare 40 people with varying age and travel experience for a year abroad in countries that span the globe. I had spent so much time thinking about sitting in a room for 10 hours straight that I forgot the purpose of the organization and that everyone is united under the "service above self" motto. Training began for me when I was introduced to my Greensboro Rotary Club Sponsor, an established international business woman from Nigeria. My doubts subsided after meaningful and cheerful conversation with Chi about her philosophies of cultural experiences and all that my experience in Africa could be. The first few hours were a whirlwind of introductions to other fellow scholars as well as Rotarians from all over the Eastern U.S. It was a jam packed day of networking. The sessions themselves served to inform us of the logistics and the process that follows acceptance of the scholarship. We heard from returned Scholars from Europe, South America, and Africa. I was excited to meet scholars heading to the same district, so at least I have some spots picked out to visit. Mostly though it helped me realize what a great experience this can be, and how above and beyond getting an education I will be able to make an impact using a powerful organization.
MY PIECE OF THE PUZZLE: I feel the most important piece of training for me was finding that strong passion I have had for returning for Africa, that has faded over the last few months. I haven't realized how disconnected I have become from my original desires to travel, learn under a new system, and make a positive impact abroad. How did just one night help me remind of this deep routed desire? Well, it started with an outgoing Rotarian. If you couple that with comedy, tangeable items, and inspiring stories you get something close to the feeling each of us left with after dinner that evening. John T, was the man's name, and he told stories with fervor about how we have the ability as people to make change. He talked about the adversity he received abroad in the 80s, and how he managed to break down those barriers. He showed visuals of all of the things Rotarians have managed to do abroad, and then he handed each of us a puzzle piece. I began hearing names of established politicians, writers, world leaders, and peace keepers - all of whom who were Rotary Scholars. During this speech I began thumbing over my puzzle piece, wondering if I would have to get up and miserably try to put together a huge puzzle with the other 70 people in the room. Then I heard him say, these people are all pieces of a greater puzzle (if you are an SLCer, then you understand my love for Legacies, and how beautifully they fit into inspirational speeches). What is your piece of the puzzle going to be? I'm not sure if it was the way he spoke, that he strongly believed what he was saying, or that he had spent most of his life doing service abroad and using the money of an established business organization to help end a widespread virus (polio). Nonetheless, when he got off the stage, I no longer thought of the next 9 months of paperwork, the year I have spent filling out applications and interviewing, or the times i've questioned whether this was the right choice. Instead, I remembered that above and beyond anything, I have a desire to connect with another culture, to understand things from a different perspective, and to serve by meeting the needs of the community I study in.
APATHY VS ACTIVISM: Lately I have felt like there is no way to take action the way I used to be able to. At Elon, I felt that there was a certain unifying component of activism. Sometimes it was simple little acts like fasting shoes for a few days or walking on the grass not on the paths. However, when tragedy struck anywhere in the world it was a guarantee that students would be ready to act. I miss the days of walking through the Moseley Center and seeing tables, billboards, and signs of the countless causes that students were trying to raise awareness about or seek volunteers for. I often took for granted this environment, or at least did not stop to consider that this may not be the norm for most campuses. Here, as the inversion creates a pocket in the valley, it seems to also keep the culture inside. Missoula has so many non-profits and everyone in the community gives back to them somehow. However, the feel of UM and Missoula has not been the same in response to international tragedies. This is something that might have to do with the students, and the fact that we are in winter session or the way the school functions when it comes to service. IT has taken some time to get used to, and will take more work to get certain fundraisers going. I also feel as though I have let apathy overcome me a bit lately too. I'm not sure if this is due to not knowing where to commit my time or how to get involved outside of work, but I have not been as involved in the community as I had hoped after 6 months of living here. I have decided to work with the Missoula Rotary Club to see if there is anything they can do to raise money for Haiti. I have also committed to doing direct service with the Watershed Education Network, which will get me outside and more involved in the community. I have felt a bit of the effects of my own inversion, staying only in the office, and not making the most of the position ive been given in the community. My goal for the next 6 months is to really get out into the community, and stay committed to a few of these organizations.
So the past 2 weeks of being back in Missoula have certainly tested my patience. It has been difficult not knowing where I am going and when I am leaving the country, but I think the waiting has been good for me. I also feel like Rotary got me hyped up to get involved before I leave, and make the most of my time in Missoula. I am working hard to get back on a schedule, and feel like my old, fired up, Elon self again. It is a hard transition back into the clouds and gray of the mountains, but I look forward to the sun shining again. The good news about winter in Missoula? Just when the inversion seems too much to handle, snow fall brings relief and takes the gloom out of the day.