What did I know – or thought to have known about life? About living standards? Adventure? Poverty? What did I know about myself?
I was in Kathmandu in February once, and I remember being so, so cold. The cold was inside of my bones, seeping through my entire body. I felt like I’d never get warm again. We didn’t have warm water for showers, no heating, next to no electricity, and I woke up more than once in the middle of the night because I was freezing.
So I thought I knew how to appreciate electricity and warm, running water. I thought I wouldn’t take it for granted anymore because I knew what it was like to have to live without it.
The reality is different, though. It’s frightening how fast and easily you adapt back to what you consider normal and take things for granted again once you’re home. And how, from that experience onwards, you think “Oh well, I can go through anything now.”
How wrong I was.
My days in Africa were filled with difficulties: the language barrier was the most obvious one for me, but it was something I expected to be hard. What I didn’t know about was the complete lack of electricity whatsoever. The lack of plumbing or running water – never mind warm water took me by surprise, too.
I carried buckets of water from the cistern to the main house, making a ten minutes walk seem like eternity. If we wanted hot water for the shower, we had to heat it up over open fire. Toilets? Ha! How about a hole in the earth that was used by the entire village?
Cooking dinner? Awesome when you can’t see anything at all. We sat around a tiny bench, torches in our mouths trying to cut tomatoes and the chicken that was, until a day ago, still living right next to our room.
I thought I’d seen everything. I thought I was conscious of poverty and I thought I was able to handle it all. Culture shock seemed to be a word I thought I didn’t know. And in a sense I wasn’t shocked, it just took me by surprise. Never once had anyone mentioned that this was how I’d spend those two weeks. Never once had I thought all these things would end up complicating my stay – adding to the already established difficulty I experienced because I couldn’t speak the language that well.
However, my days were also spent with playing with kids, “teaching” mathematics and French, cooking meals, washing the dishes or collecting water. I went on wild taxi moto drives up to a waterfall – the true speed never to be known because the speedometer was broken. I was in a car with four French girls when the driver got lost in the African bush at four o’clock in the morning.
I danced around the fire, clapping and laughing to the sounds of a drum, drinking Togo Gin, eating Fufu, and having a great time.
It was difficult, yes. More so than I ever could have imagined. Was it worth it though, in the end? Yes. A thousand times, yes.