There is a certain curiosity that comes with climbing a mountain – the thrill that comes with exploring higher ground and the eagerness to see the view from the top. Often regarded as a physical exercise in itself, mountain climbing requires patience, will power, mental strength and endurance. There are no elevators or escalators to the top, and most of the time the terrain is never smooth. To get to the top there will be meanders and the pathway is never usually a straight one.
I remember the first time l climbed a mountain. This was in high school, at Monte Cassino Girls High School, where, by virtue of being a girl guide, it was one of my earliest expeditions. This would be later followed by activities like camping, camp fire and treasure hunt walks. The mountain we were to climb was just overlooking the school and the seniors told us that there was a big beautiful white cross right at the summit of the mountain. This definitely put my inquisitive senses in motion and daily from my class or hostel l would look up at the mountain, wondering what climbing it would be like and how the cross looked from close range, and how the school would look from an angle high above. I was curious.
Finally the scheduled day arrived; it was a Sunday l remember. We were very excited. We giggled and chatted endlessly as we manoeuvred through trees, stones, rocks and bushes. The chatting became less the higher we went because our limbs were getting tired for this was an uphill task, literally. But our curiosity would not allow us to stop or give up, worst of all, to turn back and return to school. So we trudged on. Eventually, tired and out of breath we reached the summit, and with renewed energy we raced to the cross and marvelled at the view that was before us. We quickly forgot about the tired legs and the thirsty throats.
The summit was just amazing and all too soon it was time to go back to school to resume our studies. No doubt we talked about the mountain top, the feeling of having finally reached there, how the cross looked like a dot from the ground view yet it was actually several meters tall and gigantic at close range. Our curious minds had been fed and within a few months we became the seniors responsible for telling new students what an experience it was to be at the top of the school mountain.
The process to get accepted into the Atlas Corps fellowship was not an easy one. The applications were the longest l had ever gone through, and I also had my first ever skype interview. I was nervous the entire time but I still held on. The transition from leaving home to coming to America was very short and fast. It all seemed to have happened in a flash and in no time l was on the long flight to Washington DC. Although l had been to the USA before, it had only been for a week and the thought of having to spend a year in DC both thrilled and frightened me. How would I survive away from home was the question nagging at the back of my mind. But would I turn back, no!
Now I have been here for exactly six months and I can say I am at a mountain summit as I am halfway through with the fellowship. A pilot would say we are now preparing for descent to land. Perhaps that is what I am beginning to do now – slowly going back down the mountain to the ground level. The climb up this mountain was symbolized by the move from Harare to DC, the meeting with totally new faces and placement in an organization l had only seen on the internet. There have been workshops, site seeing, networking, meeting and traveling. This can be the most intense six months of my life if l can say that.
The road is never straight, but the secret is to move on, to learn as much as possible, to feel the experience and to enjoy it while it lasts – for surely nothing lasts forever. And of course every experience is unique. Many a time will come moments of depression, but they are all phases meant to increase one’s mental strength. Issues like culture shock, home sickness and feeling lonely – those will surely come, a lot of times, but they remain passing phases. I have experienced all this considering that this has been the longest time l have spent away from my home country. But then, no man is an island – we need each other. The friends I have made in this fellowship, by their mere presence, have shown warmth that has nestled me through the lonely moments.
However, I lost a very good friend of mine in June, and I am probably still to come to terms with his death – a very sudden death that robbed him of his life. I do celebrate his full life and remain grateful for the time that I knew him. He was a good sport. I guess those are the stones that stand in the way and the thorns from bushes that prick us as we go. Of course there are at least six new lives that came into this world whose smiles, giggles and chubby cheeks I cannot wait to see and feel.
In the blink of an eye, it is October, the summer is over, it’s fall and we move steadily towards the much dreaded winter. What?!! It’s been six months already – and we’re at the summit!! YAY! The lessons learnt in the past six months and what I have experienced both personally and professionally have propelled me to where I am today. Certainly the feeling is different from when I set on this journey, I have a new outlook on life and from atop this mountain I am looking at my surroundings with a view from the top, an angle that is different from before – perceptions surely have changed.
From this place I can see the world and I feel ready to make my voice heard and to be a relevant part of it. With a wider network and more intellectual and social resources to pool from, I feel equipped and much more open minded than before. The journey has been worth it and now it is time to prepare for the descent. Tapping into more knowledge and ensuring that I direct my energies into my passion will be critical at this stage. Surely no one can be the same again after a mountain climbing experience and definitely I know that I will not be the same after this fellowship in more ways than one. The descent from the mountain has started, and in six months I will be an Atlas Corps graduate, transitioning from fellow to alumni.