What Did I Just Hit?

This afternoon, as I sat down and made the final travel arrangements for my December trip to Rwanda, I became focused and energized on finding the best flight deals and dates. We bounced between sites and played with various routes and narrowed in on an itinerary. With my vacation days requested, flight carriers figured out, seats selected, dates plugged in, and with the round trip flight costing a little over $800, I hit the confirm button. And then it hit me; I just booked a flight to Africa. What the heck am I going to do in Africa?

Now, when I say I made “plans” for traveling to Africa, I really mean I booked a flight. I am pretty sure the contacts I have made will follow through on picking me up at the airport (at midnight) and will provide me some sort of a room as we had discussed. But, I am not really sure what is in store. They did mention bringing mosquito netting. Maybe I should throw in the hammock too?

I told my contact there that I am an occupational therapist and I am looking for orphanage/group home type facilities for children and adults with special needs. This is the primary goal of my travels. I identify such facilities and then implement a therapy plan that can be carried out by a local resource. My greatest fear in this process is being misunderstood. It is difficult enough to explain what occupational therapy is here in the states, but trying to explain what I can help with or what I can provide is even more challenging in this environment. It looks like I will be beginning at a local hospital in Rwanda. While working abroad in the hospital or clinical setting is not necessarily my goal, it’s always a great opportunity to network and often they are the path to finding the in-home orphanages that I am ultimately seeking out. If I can provide them with some education or be their resource along the way, then I have served an even greater purpose than planned. As I said, the greatest hurdle is trying not to be misunderstood.

While still in college, my brother and I were travelling deep into the jungle-covered mountains of Mexico when we came into a very small village. For some unknown reason, either he thought it would be entertaining to tell the locals I was a doctor or it was lost in translation. But, the end result was the locals became convinced that I was a medical doctor and was willing to see locals with any ailments. It seemed like several people came out of nowhere with illnesses and wounds for me to provide treatment. I, sadly, had to turn them down and try to better explain that we were students and not doctors. The take away lesson for me was two fold. First, never let my brother make introductions with the locals. Second, it is extremely important for me to know how to explain what in the world I am trying to do. This continues to be my greatest challenge as I embark on this ongoing adventure.