Today is World AIDS Day, and though it was commemorated in full force at my university, this is the first year where I've been forced to think about the reality of the virus. In just a few weeks, I will be living in the country with the largest percentage of HIV positive people in the world. Though there is some hopeful news (like this and this), the fact is that of the 33 million people infected with AIDS in the world, 22 million of them live in Africa, and the so-called "Dark Continent" is often overlooked in favor of issues closer to home.
On a more personal note, I'm really struggling to come to terms with the fact that today is the first of December. As I told someone over the weekend, when I thought about going to South Africa, I was content to mark the time passing, then suddenly realized that I had only two months to go! Just when I'd accepted that fact, time had slipped by and now I'm on the brink of my last month at home before I leave for South Africa.
I've been reflecting a lot on life and the choices I've made thus far, and how I can choose wisely and have the best life possible in the future. In talking to AV alumni, especially of the South Africa program, I've just gotten so excited to meet people. I know the country will be beautiful, and the culture will fascinate me, but even since beginning work at ADROP last August, I've really come to appreciate the simple interactions that life provides with people from all walks of life.
When you work in a city (even if you don't live there... yet), you're surrounded by strangers from the moment you leave your home until you return at night. You walk alongside them on the street, get into very close quarters together on the train or subway, and they serve you coffee and deli sandwiches when your energy dips. I love that about cities-- the interactions with strangers that serve as a reminder that we're all just going about our days next to each other.
I can't wait to feel similarly about the new people I'll encounter in my year abroad as an Augustinian Volunteer. In a conversation with Emma, an AV alum who served in South Africa in 2008, I mentioned something about how amazing it must be to have such an uncommon experience every single day. She agreed with me, but then said, "You know, it starts to lose that after a while. As time passes, that "experience" just becomes your everyday life."
I think moving to South Africa will be a series of highs and lows. Though volunteering won't be the same type of experience, I remember vividly the pattern that my emotions followed during my semester abroad in France.
There's the inevitable excitement a few months before, then a bit of nervousness as the date of departure approaches. There are the final goodbyes with friends and family, and the inevitable tears shed at the prospect of a year without face-to-face interaction with the people I love the most. There's the exciting trip itself, and the feeling of landing on foreign ground, knowing that as time passes, it will inevitably feel more like home. And as the weeks go by, there's the routine to slip into, to help numb homesickness and nervousness and fear, and the new friendly faces that become a foster family away from home. There are the moments when I'll look around, at the three girls I live with and at our surroundings and think, "Wow, look at us. These people are our reality and this is our everyday life." And then, before I have time to notice the passing of time, it will be over. December will come again and with it, the promise of a return home, to tell stories and share experiences with friends and family-- and maybe even a stranger or two.
So today, I've got Africa on my mind, and not just because it's World AIDS Day. Today I can see a major global crisis and my personal ambitions tied up in a life that will begin in just over a month. I hope that at this time next year, I can look back at today's reflection and feel like I've made a small difference, even if just in myself.
Image courtesy of the ONE campaign