My checklist is getting checked off. I have the basic necessities covered. There are other details I could obsess over, more material I could learn, extra gear I could bring. But I imagine that I’ll be able to make do with what I have or grab what I need on the fly. I feel pretty good to go! My faculties are sharpening into adventure mode. And my old gumption that has been busting a gut to get loose for a quarter century is now ever present, even at three a.m. when I lurch wide awake from my warm bed in a cold sweat and blurt out, “What the hell am I thinking?”
It’s not that I’m having serious personal reservations. It is simply that moms tend to worry that their families will implode without them. As it happens, I find that I am not in the least fearful for myself. In fact, I discover that I’m as game as ever to take this next leap of faith. The “yee-hah!” exhilaration of climbing out to life’s edge has never entirely died out in me. It’s merely been lying dormant beneath a meticulously constructed, implied housewife persona, a twenty-five year stint of nurturing-mother prioritizing for which I have absolutely no regrets. Everything has turned with the seasons, as they should. And a bygone time has finally come back around, although to what purpose under heaven remains to be seen.
That being said, this go-for-it attitude of mine does pose a psychological incongruity that I do have some measure of difficulty coming to terms with. I am experiencing a powerful, altruistic desire to “go help starving children, be a blessing in the world, touch just one life,” with a hefty side of, “travel, have an adventure, get out there, prove you can still do it,” purely selfish thrill-craving. Like a cup of warm milk with a Wild Turkey chaser. When I ask my husband, who has actual skills and a medical background, if he is planning to accompany me, he replies, “Pami, I have a job I love, responsibilities, the mortgage and college tuitions. I don’t need to go. I don’t even want to go. This is your dream. And yes, I am afraid for you to go. But I know you. And I am more afraid for you not to go.”
No, I don’t want to go without this wise man, but I want to know that I can. I don’t need to fly halfway around the globe to be benevolent but I do need to get back out into the big world. I have no concrete conception of what I am moving toward but the lure of the unknown pulls me like a familiar drug. There is nothing in my life to escape from and yet the passive act of staying put evokes despairing thoughts of, “Oh, if this is all I’m going to do, then just shoot me now!” Some things never change. This is still the same me, just me a little older, me a little slower, me jetting off to Kenya . . . with Ian.
Ian is our son’s pal, the child of a good friend, a physician who personally knows the doctors who are running the program that I am going to join in Kenya. Ian knew about the project from his father and was committed to going even before I was. He is a lot like the “me” of 24 years old. And I cannot fault him for that.
However, I have to say that having one of my children’s schoolmates in on my personal journey of self-reinvention wasn’t in my blueprint. I fear Ian will disrupt my somewhat anal and scrupulously economical organization. I am packing the bare minimum, just what I think I can get by with; for example, one handful of laundry tabs, one small two- in-one bottle of concentrated shampoo/conditioner, one bar of soap, one package of antibacterial wipes separated into several neat little plastic snack bags, and one box of energy bars. One! I envision Ian bumming a tab for his rank clothes, a dab for his cruddy hair, some suds for his grimy bod, a swipe for his germy mitts, a bite for his grumbly tummy. And will I deny him, scold him for being unprepared, admonish him for being selfish, berate him for blowing my cover and outing me as “the mom person” I am endeavoring to leave behind? Never. I am resigned and actually curious to discover how it will all play out between us. When his folks implore me to please look after Ian for them, I tell them that we will look after each other, figuring that I can at least keep myself off the liability hook to that extent.
Truth be told, Ian and I do look after each other. We both prove to be ready, savvy, daring, caring, and gung-ho—intrinsically different, independent explorers embarking on a journey to discover our separate ways—together.
And what grander venue could we dream up in which to have at it than extreme Africa. The Dark Continent looms outrageous and I find I am not permitted not to be outraged. The media blitz has played on this brilliantly. Hollywood is literally and figuratively all over the map with the Dark Continent and they aim to pluck my purse strings. From Oprah to George Clooney, Angelina Jolie to Madonna, HBO to CNN, Bill Gates to U2’s Bono. There are brochures advertising the dozens of religious charitable organizations with their hands out, along with a smattering of non-ecumenical groups. Then there are the governmental and non-governmental organizations, the grants, fellowships, and philanthropists. Africa’s plight is discussed on the floor of Congress and at the annual G-8 summit.
I can’t help but gag on the grisly need, while feeling sick from the force-fed horror. Consequently, I gamely truck right on over to a little godforsaken corner of Kenya. Enter my story—timely, unique, honest, important, shocking, and first-person true.
Pamela Bitterman’s first book, Sailing To the Far Horizon, her own story of life, loss, and survival at sea is graphically biographical. It encapsulates the author as product of the first thirty years of her life. Muzungu, the story of the author’s unlikely escapades throughout Kenya, picks up on that journey a couple decades later.
She has also written a children’s book titled When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read; A Story of Hope and Friendship for One Young Kenyan Orphan. Finally, the author has penned a homily entitled, Child, You Are Miracle. Links to these, plus trailers to her three published books can be found on her website: www.pamelasismanbitterman.com
Bitterman’s writing has emerged amidst her travels, adventures, and finally her marriage and children, her persona as wife and mother – the heart of her; the author as her best self. Her future remains to be seen, and to be told.
Pamela, thank you for sharing your Gutsy attitude and for being so honest. I enjoyed what you said, ” I am experiencing a powerful, altruistic desire to “go help starving children, be a blessing in the world, touch just one life,” with a hefty side of, “travel, have an adventure, get out there, prove you can still do it,” purely selfish thrill-craving.
I would like to do something like this myself and the fact that your husband said, “This is your dream. And yes, I am afraid for you to go. But I know you. And I am more afraid for you not to go.”
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