Friday, October 7, 2016
Calgary, AB, Canada
One week. Seven sleeps. 168 short hours stand between me and my departure gate for New York City. And then, Paris. And then, finally, Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city.
My feelings go from excitement to anxiety to gratitude and back again. I still can’t believe that I’m really going. All of the hard work and the dreaming that went into fundraising for this trip is finally becoming a reality…I am going to Africa. I am going to get to experience first-hand what the work of Water Aid has done for the rural communities in Madagascar. I am going to learn so much. Because of all of you. The people who believed in the cause and supported the cause and donated to the cause and bought jewelry and came to the benefit concert. Thank you. This is for you. I want to share this with you.
Traveling to Africa has been a dream of mine since I was 11 years old. I remember the moment so clearly when I told my parents about my dream of someday exploring this vast, faraway, beautiful place called Africa. Unfortunately, I was met with pure fear. My parents were scared. They told me that Africa was dangerous and VERY different from home (‘duh, parents’, said 11-year-old me, ‘that’s why I want to go!’) and when that didn’t work, they tried to scare me by telling me about all of the giant bugs. That part actually worked a little bit. But I still wasn’t scared enough. I was fascinated. I wanted to learn, to experience, to know more. My thirst for adventure, as it so often does, overpowered my fear of the unknown.
It makes me sad that my parents’ first instinct was to feel fear about this unknown place. I still relentlessly pursued my dream, even going as far as planning a trip to Kenya, (behind their backs, obviously, in true teenage style) with Me To We when I was in grade 9. When I made my pitch about how I wanted to go to East Africa with this trusted organization, how my teachers and friends all thought it was a good idea, and even how I planned to fundraise the entire registration fee on my own, I was still met with a resounding “NO”. I was devastated, but I knew that one day, when I was a grown-up, (oh my God, am I a ‘grown-up’ now?!) I would go to Africa. My Dad always said, “Wait until your mid-twenties, once you’re educated enough to make an informed decision.”
Well, as Dad would have it, here I am, smack-dab in the middle of my twenties at 25 years old, educated-ish and kinda-sorta informed, and one week away from finally going to Africa. I like to think that he would be proud to know that I’m going for the reasons that I am.
If I’m being honest, Madagascar was never really on my list. Well, I mean, it was on my list, but I kind of figured I’d just throw it on there for decoration and probably never cross it off. Like the North Pole. But back in February, when this amazing opportunity came up through Water Aid and the Aveda Canada network, my manager, Jennifer, told me, “Ashley, you have to go.” I knew she was right. I wanted to go. I have been a part of the Aveda network for 10 years, which is exactly how long Aveda has been partnered with WaterAid. I’ve watched, year after year, as we fundraised and walked and educated and changed lives. But I’ve watched from a distance. I never imagined I’d be lucky enough to get to see these changed lives up close and in person. It scared me, but I went for it. After months of fundraising, and through the generous support of the amazing people around me, it became apparent that I was actually going to go to Madagascar.
So, here we go. My backpack is packed. My immune system is turbo-charged with vaccines. My iPhone is full of e-books, podcasts, and re-runs of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” for the 29 hour journey.
My eyes are open, and my heart is as ready as it will ever be.