Let's See How Far We've Come
After a last minute rush to get everything sorted, a three hour road trip with a puppy, an overnight in Oban and a ferry, I am on a tiny island floating somewhere in the Atlantic Sea.
I am here for my training. A year on from the nervousness of selection and I am retracing my steps. Suddenly the weight of everything that has happened since I was last here hits me and I can hardly believe it. Suddenly selection feels like just yesterday and I can hardly believe a year has passed.
From the minute we arrived in Oban I knew I was doing the right thing. We parked the car and within two minutes had ran into the India girls. Jenny, who was on Selection with me hugs me tightly and I say I'll see her later because we're going for dinner. The hostel is full of people and part of me wants to hide away but I don’t. Instead I tell myself these people are just friends I haven’t met yet and just like that, they are.
That night the minutes pass like years all tangled up together, wondering aloud how we were just strangers mere hours ago. I meet Alex, who'll be my partner/ roommate / wifey for the next year on the ferry over to Coll. We're a little like opposites but I have a feeling we're going to get on just fine. Despite our many differences I think we do compliment each other, and we're both quite positive people so I think we can make this work.
Our first day on Coll the India girls all huddle together in a tiny room with wooden ceilings, listening to Rosie speak. Her voice booms. She speaks about the the responsibility and power of being an volunteer, of sharing the uglier parts of life for those who can’t and of changing the world through actions. The days we have together on this island are a gift, she says. This is a time and place where we can be totally ourselves, as weird or as mad as we certainly are. Training is incredibly intense but also beautiful. Its beautiful to be surrounded by people who understand what you're going through. We have a lot of passionate conversations and I feel my excitement growing.
When we wake the next morning Emma, Sara and Alex are laughing at me for talking in my sleep. Sara tells me I was muttering "project trust has the microphones" repeatedly and we have no idea why. It's been so long since I've knowingly talked in my sleep and I worry that maybe I'm more anxious about this than I realise. Training is intense, every minute is filled and we are bombarded with information about India and situations we might face. That night Izzy helps us try henna and we decorate our hands while planning our lessons for the next day. That night Alex and I have our meeting with Rosie about our project. We find out that there's a slight possibility that we might not being going to our Hyderabad project anymore and instead to a primary school in Ongole. I'm not sure how I feel. Both projects look amazing and originally I wanted a primary school project, but I think I've built up the eye hospital so much in my mind that readjusting my focus is strange. Rosie tells us we'll find out for definite next week. Alex and I don't really know what to say.
There is no phone signal where we're staying and so we go down to the beach to get it. I find one little rock where I get pretty good signal and I call my family. I am so overwhelmed by everything I just need someone to listen. We talk for a little while before getting cut off. I can see the sea sweeping in and out of the shore and I remind myself how lucky I am. The hardest part of being away from home, and what I think I will struggle with the most, is the things I ache to tell them. News, stories, funny antidotes that pile up on top of each other, swallowing the ones that came before. They’re insubstantial things. Like, the sun was falling through the windows in such a way that there were these lovely circles of golden light on the walls. Or, I ran into the boy who entertained me silly last year and it was totally unexpected. Or, I thought of that word we couldn’t think of and it was an answer in my crossword.
Isn’t that a beautiful thing about our families? Who else would care about my thoughts on strangers, or my sore ankle, or my dreams every single morning? I’ve grown so used to telling them every little thing that I’m being crushed by the weight of my unspoken thoughts, dreaming of the nights to come when they’ll all come flooding out like a tsunami of moments and ideas. When we're not scheduled to be somewhere I explore the island and listen to the others. They share stories that rattle bones and lessons born of great failure. I am blessed, sitting cross-legged on that floor soaking it all in. We sit up late at night planning our lessons and I'm shaking with nerves. Everyone else seems so confident and I can barely breathe.
On the day of our lessons we’re all piled on the couch. The morning feels sweet and still. As people come to the door we bring them all in until the couch is a crowded mess of limbs and laughter. I often downplay my immense love and affection for people so I don’t weird them out but with these girls O feel like I can just be me. I’ve always known myself to be more loving than most other people I’ve met. In the same way I’ve known myself to be more sad, more excited, more sensitive, more introspective. I seem to only feel things at full force, which can be either crippling or the best thing in the world.
I try to keep my nerves in check but having someone take notes as they watch what you do is difficult. Although my feedback is quite positive I am too nervous even afterwards to appreciate it. I don't think I've done well at all and it eats me alive. The second time around my timing is even worse and when I sit down I cry in front of everyone. I'm a mess at the best of times, but I keep trying my best. I write a letter to my future self that they'll give us back in India and I let loose how I feel. I repeat strangely motivation thoughts in my head over and over until I calm down a bit. I write them down as they come to mind and read over them whenever I start thinking I'm in way over my head.
You are not as weak as you think you are. Change is normal, this is normal, and you will be fine. Keep your head high. This feeling of uncertainty won’t last forever. Change is inevitable; don’t let your heart be weakened by fear. You have already overcome so many things. You are resilient. Be confident; this is merely a test of who you are. There isn’t one thing that you can’t overcome with faith and perseverance. Fluids, Fluids, Fluids. Every time you face a fear, you only become stronger. This is an opportunity to show who you can be. One day at a time. You can do this. Life is about to change, but you are still the same strong person you always were. You can’t let this break you. You won’t let this break you. Just be stronger than you were yesterday. You were born ready to face challenge. Look how far you’ve come; this will be easy. Have confidence—you are an amazing person. You should be proud of yourself.
On our last night we have free time to get ready before the ceilidh but a bunch of us decide to go down to the beach for a while. It's the hottest day of the year so far and we're running about in the sea, a group of strangers turned friends. We pose for photographs with our arms intertwined, not like the stoic awkward smiles we had at the beginning of the week. If anyone saw these photos they'd think we'd been friends forever. Sarah and I paddle about while one of the boys narrowly escapes a riptide. Training is exhausting. Despite this I’m not sure I’ve ever connected with people the way I did here and maybe I never will again. Whatever it is that makes this place special, this is my last chance to embrace it. So I soak it all up for what it is worth, and for what it is worth, I love even more than ever. When we're on our way back I get chased barefoot by a cow I was taking a picture off across a field of sheep and one the girls tells me it's the funniest thing she's ever seen.
We wash the sand from our feet and get into our dresses when we get back. Everyone is smiling and excited and I suddenly it all feels very real to me. We leave for India in 50-something days we calculate and as we smile with the flag I can barely believe I made it this far. We dance our legs off and laugh at ridiculous things like armadillo armies and fake spies and the words we all have for being drunk. As the darkness settles a thunderstorm starts. Lightning cuts across the sky and it's one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. I run across to the other side before the rain inevitably comes and watch it from the window. I chill with Emma in our room as we finish our letters to our future selves and laugh at everyone's antics.
I climb into bed at 1am feeling strong. Feeling like my love isn’t a flaw but a strength. A superpower that comes with great responsibility and a need for transparency. I'm proud of how far I've come.
|my beautiful partner Alex :)|
|first night on rainy coll|
|Roommates! Alex, Emma, Sara and Me :)|
|my signal rock!|