Often I doubt my intuition, but when it screams at me to pay attention, I’ve learned its best to take a leap of faith and follow my instincts blindly.

I stabbed my shovel into the soft dirt, bent down and heaved another wavering load to the pile beside me. My sweating was getting worse, the toxins from last night’s binger were seeping through my skin, attempting to relieve my hangover to no avail. I dug another scoop full, kicked my boot to the shovel’s metal edge and slung another load. My nausea was really starting to kick in now. I tried to remember the events from the night before but my mind drew a dizzying blank. Another shovel load. “God when will this pain end?! Just let me throw up!” To my disbelief, I suddenly felt sick. I scrambled out of the hole, my boots sinking into the mud and making my dash to a trash can hopeless. I ran into a nearby field with my entire crew watching and hurled a mixture of shame, embarrassment and pinkish, mucous-filled vomit into the grass. My body reeled in alternating cold and hot flashes as I tried to catch my breath. “hmmm, guess I had mixed drinks last night.”

It was May 2010 and I had been working as a laborer for about 8 months. I spent my days digging ditches, assembling water mains and listening to my co-worker’s racist jokes. On the weekends I drank with friends, watched tv or went for walks on a nearby trail. The latter of these was my favorite because it gave me time to reflect.

It was coming up on a year since I gradated college and I still had no direction in life. “I want to see the world!! What am I doing here?” I would cry and struggle and wonder what I was doing wrong. I was upset, angry and frustrated. There were some amazing things I wanted to do with my life, but I had no money to do them. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. I felt imprisoned and confused. And what’s worse, no one else seemed to be struggling as I was, so I felt alone. (Somedays, I felt so hopeless I couldn’t find a reason to get out of bed and I’d call in sick.) This was a rough time…

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My days off work held a small amount of joy however. I had the whole day to myself! I would go for long walks in nature, rock out to music in my car or watch my favorite show on TV, Big Cat Diary. (A TV series that followed the lives of lions, leopards and cheetahs in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park.)

I loved this show. For a short thirty minutes, my world would melt away and I would be totally absorbed by the colors, sights and sounds of Africa’s big cats. It stirred something in me, something hard to explain. All I knew was that that… was my favorite part of the day. Afterwards, I returned to my life of uninspired drudgery.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at home with my aunt and uncle, laying on my stomach, on the floor with my elbows dug into the carpet and my chin resting on my palms as I watched my show. There was a part coming up where a cheetah was getting ready to sprint after a gazelle. She crouched down, every muscle coiled in anticipation of the chase, and then… zoom! The big cat took off!

They showed part of this in slow motion and I remember thinking how free she looked. How beautiful the open plains were and how rugged and vividly awesome Africa must be. And I said, “Man, watching this is my favorite part of the day.” And right then, I heard a voice that said… “Then go do that.”

I wrote my inner voice off, ignoring it out of habit and logical sense, but my heart started pounding and my adrenaline kicked up ten notches. I stood up to shake to off the excitement that welled inside me, I became short of breath and my eyes started to water… something BIG was happening. (this all sounds so fake as I write this now but it’ crazy true!)

I heard the voice again, “Then go do that.” (And I was all like, what… Africa? And the voice was all like, yeah man!)

Long story short, I immediately googled Africa volunteer programs, found a 6 month internship in Kenya that looked unbelievable, slept on it for 2 days, then booked my trip!!!!!!!!!

It happened so fast. “I’m going to Africa!” I was beyond excited. I had no words for the amount of relief I felt knowing I had a plan, something to work towards, something I was passionate about. Oh my God thank you thank you thank you thank you!!!!

There were however, a few catches. My internship in Kenya didn’t start for a year. A YEAR!!! That was a Hell of a long time to wait for something I wanted then and there. That was disappointing, but I saw this time as an opportunity to address another problem. This trip was massively expensive, and I had no savings whatsoever. Like none. (I was surprised I hadn’t drank my paychecks away to the point I couldn’t book the trip with a deposit in the first place!) So, I needed money, and lots of it.

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I did the math and there was no way I was making enough money at my current job. I needed a plan. After lots of thinking I decided to follow the spirit of my trip and do something spontaneous and drastic. I quit my job and moved to Denver! (My mom lived out there at the time.)

I didn’t know what I would do once I arrived. My logic was, “I have a whole year to make this money, and this is my dream… I’ll make it work no matter what!”

The final issue I faced regarding my trip was in the telling of my family and friends. So many times before I have boasted about these epic journey’s I was planning, only to have them fall through. And every time, I would feel like a failure. As though everyone I knew was disappointed in me for not keeping my word. (I don’t know if that’s true, but its how I felt.) My trip to Africa was my chance to prove to myself and everyone I was strong enough and smart enough to organize an expedition on my own. This was my chance to prove my independence. So I didn’t tell anyone. Not a soul. Not even the people closest to me. For a whole year I kept this secret. It was my secret Africa.

all photos in this post are courtesy of pixabay.com

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