The space between worlds

The space between worlds

As I pushed back into my airline seat, I exhaled… not so much in relief as in resignation. I was feeling a very old, familiar sensation. It was a sense of dimensional shifting – the world I was leaving, the world I was moving toward, and the suspended “nowhere” place in between them, where I seemed to belong.

I pushed back deeper into my seat, bracing my feet on the floor to help me do so, and I closed my eyes. I ran the film of the past month across the screen of my mind… Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia. So many warm faces, awkward handshakes, and humbling moments. So much hot sun, long work hours, determined focus to find evidence that the project was having a positive impact on some intensely rural villages and communities.

I remembered the Zambian schoolgirl, who grabbed my hand in both of hers and said happily, “Now I will not walk to the river to fetch water! I will not have to miss classes, for water.” I couldn’t believe it had taken 4 years for the water borehole to be repaired in this community… and that the villagers had seen NGOs come and go, each with a new promise to return with a fix. In the meantime, schoolgirls were losing precious time each day, walking long distances to the nearest river (of very poor quality water) to bring water to their homes. These girls would simply be forced to miss classes and fall behind, as their peers – mostly boys – would enjoy the privileges associated with education.

Although I was very happy to be there on the day the borehole was repaired, and to see the community respond with such enthusiasm as the new water flowed, my mind battled the idea that 50 households and more than 200 students had been made to wait for one of the basic necessities of life that we take so for granted all over the world. I struggled with a sense of defeat, wondering how many other boreholes were in disrepair in neighboring communities, and how many young girls were walking alone on dusty, sun baked roads, carrying heavy jugs of water.

Just then, my memory was disturbed by the airplane’s soft “bing” – a comforting, familiar sound indicating that I could remove my seat belt, and relax into the long journey that would take me away from Africa and back toward Canada again.

It struck me that for as long as i have been making this back-and-forth journey between worlds – “developed” and “developing” (to borrow a phrase) – I have felt this sense of a “veil” that exists between them. And I have been aware of my own need to pop in and out of this veil, in order to do the work and the journeying that I have set out to do. But the longer I have moved through the veil, the deeper my detachment has grown from both sides of it.

This dissociation was at first, in the early years, quite liberating. It then became a wonder, and would leave me pondering its meaning in journals, and in conversation with the few close friends and colleagues that I thought might relate. But now, almost 20 years later… this detachment and dissociation has become a deeply rooted and life-giving fact of *who I am*. It is an essential part of how I see the world and how I process it.

In short, I don’t belong to ONE side or the OTHER, because I belong to BOTH.

My heart has always and intuitively, felt at home *in the world*… as though “at home” is a state of being for me, rather than any one single place. In the moments that my feet were placed on Nepal, Cambodia, India, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia or any other country I have tasted, I was always “at home” then and there.

When I’m there, it’s like I step out of my skin… I let go of things that I’ve always wanted to release. I feel freer and lighter, and somehow more like the person I’ve always wanted to be. She cares so much less about how she looks, and she always remembers to look at the sky, inhale the earth, touch the trees and daydream. (What is it about the removal of convenience that actually improves my outlook?)

In retrospect, I feel profoundly blessed to have walked on the outside of the lines for so many years, with an accepting heart and a questioning mind. I feel that I have been open to the idea that “we” (the West), have had it wrong for a very long time. And this doesn’t actually dismay or destroy me — on the contrary, it gives me such hope.

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