The moment I got off the airplane it was as though I had been given a rounded base to replace what had always been most reliable legs. I was like a baby’s rattle, batted by unseen hands. I was teetering, rocking, spinning uncontrollably. And all the time a little alarm bell was ringing in my depths.
What was I doing here?
I was batted by the heat. It hit me, turned me pink. I swear I could hear my pale, freckled skin softly sizzling. My nose was immediately burnt.
Then it engulfed me, heavily suffocating. All I could do was sweat. In a heat unlike anything I had before experienced, breathing, walking, talking seemed impossible.
Outside the airport I was overwhelmed by sounds. Unfamiliar sounds. Unfamiliar language. I became dizzy and breathless and felt out of control.
I put out a hand to cling to the closest sleeve available. How relieved I was that I had chosen to come with a team. Navigating this new world alone seemed incomprehensible.
Matt, whose sleeve happened to be the one I’d grabbed, smiled reassuringly. “It’s a bit overwhelming at first.”
I nodded dumbly. I couldn’t believe he’d done this three – or was it four? – times before. But at least he understood.
But how could you live with this? How could you stay for years, maybe permanently?
My incredulity increased as I was led to what looked like a small flatbed cattle truck. I was horrified when I realised that this was to be our transport to the orphanage.
It was dirty. Mud, animal droppings, dust….
It was old. It creaked and shuddered as we climbed aboard.
And it had no seats.
And, though I never was great at maths, even my rudimentary calculations seemed to prove that there would not be room enough to fit all the people who were lining up to be transported. And that wasn’t even counting luggage. Unless, of course, we crowded together and weren’t shy about body contact.
Due to my grip on his sleeve, which Matt was so kind as not to dislodge, I found myself sitting uncomfortably close to him who I had been trying not to show too much partiality towards. But at least I wasn’t having Jen’s experience. She was half-sitting, half-kneeling, snuggled between two absolute strangers.
One of those strangers was a woman who was nursing three excited and remonstrating chickens. Thankfully they were caged. However, it seemed they would be very smelly by the end of what was going to feel like a very long trip.
On Jen’s other side was an unknown man. I tried to imagine a parallel situation in my seemingly far-off Australian life. The closest I could come up with was a mosh pit. Sweaty. Noisy. Bouncing around. And strangers too close for comfort.
“How far do we have to travel?” I whispered in increasingly loud accents. I had to make myself heard above the backfiring and whistling-wind noises.
“Oh… only four hours.” ONLY?! FOUR HOURS?!
I am sure my eyes spun around twice. I know my stomach did. I probably also would have wobbled on my legs if I hadn’t been so securely wedged between Matt and Sal.
As I ate dust, gathered bruises and tried to ignore all the more unpleasant body odours all I could think was, “Dear God, are you sure you got it right?”
I know that was almost blasphemous. But I felt that His tugging of my heart towards Matt and his mission warranted a little questioning at this particular point. Throughout that horrific, bone jolting, teeth-rattling, nose-hair-curling journey I kept asking, “Why? Why am I here?”
Four hours later as I tumbled, smelly and teary, onto a ground that seemed to be bouncing and jolting, I was still asking the question.
Then, with the others in the team, I was engulfed by children. I was steadied and guided by small, needy hands. I was welcomed and cooled by giggles and smiles. I understood and communicated, for love was their language.
I was batted by the hand of realisation.
With tears in my eyes, I looked up at Matt. A very different bell was ringing.
I knew then, deeply and unmistakably, that God had got it right.
Why was I surprised?
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