The woman in the first image is in her early twenties. She was born in South East London and stands (almost frozen in fear) on her first overseas and voluntary assignment with Health projects Abroad. She has a sense of adventure which is how she was selected to join the 16 volunteers on the project. They diligently assisted the optometrist as they moved over bridges, through rivers and on rough terrain from village to village in Mundemba, Cameroon.
At each village, there were crowds there to greet the ‘good people from England with the glasses’. She worked doing whatever was necessary to set up the makeshift clinics where sight tests were carried out, medication was collected and glasses were distributed. The local people left happy for many of them could never have afforded to buy such glasses. She had questions about the project and ‘giving people fish and not teaching them to fish’ . She would later know that the questions were part of her growth and learning.
On the bridge, her legs turned to jelly. She wanted to fall and beg someone to carry her. She wanted to tell the other volunteers to stop jumping and larking about! She didn’t though. She took her South London self and moved slowly to the end. She learned that even when fear cripples, there is often a tiny bit of strength that once ignited, can get you to the next stage.
As a vegan, she was asked if she wanted to eat dried fish, porcupine or monkey in many of the villages where they stopped. There were no fruits or vegetables in the village at that point in the year. There was the amazing smell of fresh coffee which she didn’t drink but enjoyed in the heat and moisture of the rain forest. She learnt that she was not fanatical or political about her diet. It was indeed a matter of choice. She choose dried fish! On the day that she had to cook, the chicken was pointed out to her, still running around live! She cooked it all the same. She had signed up to be in a team and learnt that the ‘we’, was more important that the ‘me’. In the villages, the women bathed together in the local river. The men bathed together too. There was no choice. No sense of ‘I’ or ‘privacy’. At night, the villagers surrendered their beds and tents to the ‘good people from the UK’. She was uncomfortable with their decision but knew to not accept, would insult. There was also the option to sleep under the stars which she wasn’t ready for then.
The second picture is taken almost 30 years later. On another bridge in a rain forest in Malaysia with a colleague. That same woman has now travelled and worked in a number of locations. The journeys past fear have been many. Each opportunity has taught her so much about herself, her core values and her perspective on life. It is the going away that has confirmed who she is. The locations inside where she has grown and found the person who can overcome them, has been the biggest growth journey.
The Fear, oh the fear! She has learnt to feel it, know it and still do it anyhow.