I am on the plane. I am sitting in row 27 of the plane that will bear me to Ethiopia, where I will spend the next 27 months of my life. I am surrounded by people – by a beautiful, foreign people speaking a beautiful and, for now, inscrutable language. Exotic music pours insistently from the plane's overhead speakers, harrying an already chaotic scene on a plane rapidly filling to capacity. An old Ethiopian woman with decorative tattoos on her chin and neck takes the seat to my left. We exchange a wordless greeting as I help her to sit down. I can say nothing. I know only a handful of meager phrases in her language. I search desperately for words that are simply not there. I can summon only an awkward smile.
The week that has brought me to this point has been one filled with emotion: the anxiety of entering into the unknown, the thrill of anticipated adventures, and the sadness of leaving behind the familiar and beloved. I cannot describe the excitement I feel for these next two years in Ethiopia. It is a breathless anticipation. I have high expectations for what will come out of this, for how I will come out of this. Being in a new country and a new culture is revealing. It strips away family, friends, church, community, popular society, and all other familiar influences formerly relied upon for identity and ideology, until all that is left is YOU. It points you toward who you really are and forces you to confront difficult questions about what you believe and what you value. The prospect, quite honestly, can be terrifying. But the opportunity shines forth like never before to,"First, know thyself," and so to live more truly, fully, and beautifully. Many people, commenting on my decision to join Peace Corps, have been compelled to use the word "sacrifice". I cannot deny now – and I am sure I will be reminded continually over the course of two years far from home – how much I have left behind in coming to Ethiopia. Far from laying these things upon the altar of sacrifice, however, I hold them close to me as I go, with every expectation that what I will experience and learn in Ethiopia will deepen my understanding of those things and thus enhance the life of which they are a part.
I have spent the past hour of the flight playing language games with the Ethiopian businessman sitting across the aisle from me. Mostly, these games consist of the gentleman trying to teach me Amharic phrases, me trying to decipher their meaning and mimic their pronunciation, and the old tattooed woman laughing at my clumsy attempts. I let the old woman borrow my headphones to watch the in-flight movie, and she laughs in surprise at the noise being channeled into her ears. She and I watch the rest of Mr. Bean's Holiday together, though I spend more time watching her giggle and shriek "Oy!" at Mr. Bean's antics. I think everything will be okay.