As I was packing my bags to embark on a new adventure in my life, a friend said 3 strong words I will never forget: You be brave. Then, there I was, with tears in my eyes, blowing a kiss to my dad from the gate about to board by myself on a flight going across the world to meet up with a group in the middle of Africa for a humanitarian trip. I didn’t know what being brave actually meant at that moment. However, I was able to come to a harsh realization for the 3 months following that day.
In my mind at the time, I thought being brave might mean to work hard even when I’m homesick, or to be careful in dangerous situations. I was wrong. After a few experiences, I’ve come to find my own definition for bravery.
Our first orphanage we walked through was surreal. We got out of a bumpy taxi ride to meet with 70 barefooted African children in ripped shirts, or sometimes nothing at all; each with his or her own heartbreaking story and reality. They touched our white skin and observed our differences. I had to walk away. The scene was too hard for my own heart to even bare. Why do people have to live like this? What will happen in their lives? Why wasn’t I the one in their shoes?
There were multiple experiences in Africa that are still hard to talk about. I volunteered in schools, hospitals, and communities. To explain it to someone who’s never been would be like trying to describe the color red to someone who was blind. It’s near impossible.
One day, in one of the villages, a sweet little boy was climbing mango trees with his friends and fell about 13 feet on his head. He had a concussion and some kind of neck injury. One of the villagers, not knowing what to do, picked him up and took him on a dirt bike taxi to get some help. I was at the hospital they brought him to. We had to take him in an ambulance to get to another hospital. This little nine year old laid on a shiny metal cot that was rolling around in the back of a truck bumping around like crazy on dirt roads. When we finally reached the hospital, I ran to see if we could get him in to help save his life. The answer I got from the hospital administrator was, “He’ll have to wait. I’ve got 900 other people in line.” At that moment the whole world spun in a circle and I realized I wasn’t in America anymore. My legs ached as I walked back to the ambulance truck to deliver the bad news. As this little boy waited at the hospital, I went home and spent time away from my group to pray for his little life. With a lot of help and events in between, little Ivan made it. I remember visiting him when he was recovering and he had a big bandage on his head. Not one whimper. He was ready to face whatever he needed to do to stay alive. He stood up and took a few wobbly steps. Despite the torment his body felt, he kept moving.
He is my definition of bravery.
As time went on, there were many other experiences that were similar to this one. As hard as life is, there is a love that exists in Africa that you can’t find in America. I was able to feel that every single day.
Two-thirds into the trip was my turn to be brave. I received one of the worst phone calls from back home. One of my best friends that I grew up with had passed away at such a young age. When I heard the news my body froze. I was clear across the world and felt hopeless. I called my baby sister and just sobbed as she held the phone to her ear for quite some time. I laid in bed grieving, with flashbacks and panic attacks of a cold reality. That night I had to make a decision.
That night, I needed to be brave.
The next morning, I woke up to the beautiful sounds of Africa. I made a choice. I got out of bed and put my shoes on. I was ready to go to work. I couldn’t dwell on things back home and I knew my friend wouldn’t want me to either.
We visited a primary school that day and on the wall I saw a hand made sign that read, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. My dad always taught me that growing up. Right then I knew this was when I needed to take my friend’s advice and be brave. I had new motivation for the reason I was in Africa. I woke up every day with heartache, and every day I would put on my shoes and go to work. I put my energy from my breaking heart into my hands to help someone else. I learned to be strong because I had to be.
Courage and bravery aren’t just an attribute you are born with. Being brave is having the courage to keep going even when you are terrified. Being brave isn’t choking back hot tears and forcing a smile, it’s allowing yourself to feel heartache and then making the choice to get back up again. I still have times in my life, even as a mom now, where I feel defeated. Those are the times when I hear a voice in the back of my head that says, “You be brave”.