Monday, June 27, 2011

What the $?@& am I doing in Ireland?

A great question, you may ask, and I hope that you will not feel deceived that Our Great Adventure in Africa did not begin when we left our home. Maybe in the interest of time, or perhaps in an effort to be more dramatic, I decided to omit this leg of our journey when posting my previous blogs. The truth is that we packed up our house, left our lives and families, and journeyed to NY, where we spent time with Dave's brother and his family, then set off for the great green land of Ireland, with my wonderful father in law and three whining children in tow. The month of June has been spent on "vacation" (and I put that in quotations because anyone with children knows that a true vacation can only be spent on white sand with blue water, margarita in hand and children being cared for by a doting grandparent far away) in the land of my husband's ancestors.  Faced with the prospect of being (at least temporarily) jobless, with kids out of school, it seemed that the natural thing to do was to pack ourselves onto a plane, drug the children with Benadryl, and see a little bit more of the world.  My kids may not have been blessed with the most patient or carefree of parents, but one advantage to being in our family has been that they have traveled quite extensively in their young lives.
My travel lust, which has largely driven our family adventures, was inspired by my father, whose deathbed regret was that he had not seen the lands he had read about and imagined throughout his life. I spent my early twenties waiting tables and saving pennies, then loading up a backpack and exploring the world, with the goal being to stay abroad for as long as possible with a given amount of money. There was something about being alone, without personal history or the context of the familiar that left me free to discover who I really was. I would spend hours watching the scenery unfold from the windows of buses and trains, journaling and reading, contemplating my future and my past while drinking in the sights and sounds of foreign lands. A stranger among strangers, I got to know myself.
Traveling with three kids in the back seat of a rental car: not so much. It has sometimes
seemed like we are on a tour of the public restrooms of Ireland (much like the US, but with accents at the gas stations). There is little self-discovery to be had when one is trying to drown out the blood curdling screams from the back seat with the giddy refrains of Irish music on the radio, and it turns out that there are no strangers in Ireland, as apparently my husband is related to EVERYONE.
However, amidst the angst of being a permanent referee to the endless squabbles between my children, and despite the strep throat that ravaged my tonsils in Kilkenny and the stress of trying to keep three small people warm, dry, and well-fed in a land of rain and wind and unfamiliar foods, this has been one of the best months of my life. I find myself looking across the front seat of the car at my handsome Irish husband with his strong jaw covered with a five o'clock shadow, eyes squinted as he navigates the narrow road, and I feel an overwhelming sense of love. I stay up late reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the kids, then tuck them into their sleeping bags and kiss their sweet sweaty heads and the moment is magic.  The clarity that I found in my youth, when introspection was not a luxury but a daily occurence, reveals itself in the quiet moments I have to reflect on our travels together.  It is not myself that I see more clearly, but the people I love most in the world.  At risk of romanticizing the journey, which has at times been exhausting and left me yearning for the escape of employment, I have found that the hours and days and weeks we have spent in each other's company has shown my family to be the loving, compassionate, interesting people that I have always known them to be, but never have time to enjoy.
This week our Irish adventure ends, and we will fly back to the States.  I will proceed immediately to Houston, where I will start training for my job in Malawi (pediatricians in the US do not care for children with HIV, or malaria, or malnutrition, so I am eager to be taught).  Dave will drive the kids from NY to North Carolina to get our bags, then on to Houston (kind and wonderful soul that he is...) Then, at the end of July, we will fly to Lilongwe, and on August 9th I will begin my work.  In the pleasant chaos of vacation, with its procession of castles and beaches, extended family and unfamiliar towns, I have almost forgotten to worry about the future.  Almost.  We have managed to find a home in Malawi, and it looks gorgeous.  It is a townhouse, with air conditioning and a community pool (!!!).  We still do not have a school for the children, but are hopeful that the International School will have space by the time we arrive, and I have prepared myself (and Eamonn) for the possibility that it may not.  As I told him when we had the chance to walk home together, hand-in-hand down a winding Irish lane overlooking verdant hills lined with iconic crumbling stone walls, everything has a way of working out for the good.  The example I gave him was of my father's death, which at the time seemed an unimaginable tragedy, of which no good could come.  And yet, it led to my decision to become a doctor, and to travel the world.  Without his illness, I would never have gone to medical school, met Dave, or had Eamonn, and I certainly wouldn't have been given the gift of that magical time spent with him on that meandering Irish road.