When I boarded the plane to leave Namibia summer after my sophomore year, I cried. Never before had I been to a place so wild. I thought - this is it. I've found where I am meant to be the rest of my life. I belong in Africa.
But as I sit here in Kenya, I find myself feeling somehow guilty for not having that same feeling of wanting to live here forever. I realize, of course, that some things were different on my Namibia trip. Life was certainly much easier, with the study abroad itinerary, camp helper, driver, and cook, but it was more than just the ease of living that filled my heart. I went rock climbing, quadbiking, and animal tracking. I got charged by elephants, swam with seals, and kayaked with dolphins. I braved waters that mix with Antarctic currents, and camped in the oldest desert on Earth. And, most importantly, I formed some of the best friendships of my life.
So when I came back to the suburbs of North Carolina, I felt lost and empty. At the time, I didn't know the U.S. could hold wild places that would give me the same sense of pride and fulfillment. I didn't know I could feel so complete in a civilization so tame. Now, I am proud to call Portland, OR my home, and a little scared by how much I miss it. For the first time in my life, I'm homesick. I look back through pictures and show everyone in Kenya and say, "That's my home!" It's where I can go skiing, and cliff jumping, and mountain climbing, and spelunking, and windsurfing, and critter searching. It's where I'm surrounded by people fighting to protect the beautiful places we still have in America. It's where I can save the world and enjoy it too. And, it's where I've made some wonderful friends and can enjoy a good [cold] beer with them.
There are some things I haven't missed: the need to post to Instagram the moment something cool is happening, the distraction of TV shows from being productive, and how ridiculously expensive fresh produce is. But I still find myself longing for Mt. Hood and dream of the Gorge. It's not that I haven't enjoyed my time here. I am still ever passionate for all things Africa, and of course, the elephants. The opportunities that have come my way through this internship are endless, and the experience unforgettable. I plan on staying connected to Save The Elephants and all they do as much as I can.
Conservation work in Africa will always hold a special, uniquely wild place in my heart, but Portland has helped me realize that I don't have to pitch a tent in a third world country to feel complete. And tweaking my dream a bit doesn't make me weak, either. It just means ... I want it all! I want to live in a city full of culture and life, minutes away from untouched wilderness, and have the option to travel all over the world - working to protect multiple things I care about, not just one species or group. If scuba diving with giant manta rays on vacation and coming face to face with a protective matriarch for work give me the same thrill and inspire the same actions, that's ok. It's only now, after working on an incredible project in Kenya for 3 months and being less than 2 weeks away from returning home that I realize that I can have it all.
So, thank you, PDX, for inspiring me to reach further and showing me how to live happier.
"... and I miss you; I'm going back home to the West coast..."