Here’s my worry about going to Africa to see the Born HIV Free project in action: that I’m going to start crying the moment that I arrive, and just not stop. And that I am then going to feel guilty about crying, and that I’ll then cry about that.
I fly to Lesotho on Saturday. I was supposed to go to Napa Valley, first, to hang out with some lovely women and discuss things like life lists and dreams and pixie dust and to drink wine and be light-hearted, and for some reason, some ironic reason or some absurd reason, that – that beautiful little oasis of self-indulgence – was grounding me, was helping me keep my emotional wits about me. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe because they are opposing poles on the same fuzzy dreamscape, whereupon I live a life in which I get to do things like spend weekends in Napa and also go and support humanitarian projects in Africa and I wanted to see them reconciled. Because these things, these actually very real things, are, however different, nonetheless connected, inasmuch as they both have everything to do with this, this thing that I do here, on this page that you are reading.
But things changed, and I’m not going to Napa Valley first, and it hit me this afternoon as I was pushing aside the pretty dresses in my closet to see what clothes might be appropriate for visiting orphanages in Lesotho – what does one wear to visit hospitals and orphanages in Lesotho? – that I had really been relying upon the whole idea of Napa Valley – the Mighty Summit – as a buffer against the soul-rattling hugeness of the journey to Africa. Or maybe not a buffer – a transitional zone. The journey to Africa has its place on my life list, after all, and the life lists are a core part of the Mighty Summit, and I would go and I would talk about that and I would be surrounded by all those big dreaming women and it would all force perspective and remind me about why I do this stuff – remind me of how amazing and powerful we are, pretty dresses or no pretty dresses, tutus or no tutus, and how we have a responsibility to do this stuff, to use this power for good – and I would be ready by the time I got on the planes that would take me halfway around the world. I would be ready. I would have had my moment in my pretty dress and I would then shed that dress and put on my jeans and t-shirt and whatever and I would be ready. Figuratively, I mean. Mostly figuratively.
But I’m not going that route, I’m not making that transition, and I’m not ready. I’m just getting on those planes, straight from my ordinary world of yoga pants and peanut butter sandwiches, straight into the friendly(ish) skies and onward to a world that is so different from my own. And different is fine, of course – more than fine, it’s exciting, thrilling – but in this particular case it’s also weighted with so much that is profoundly moving and heart-shaking, and I’m nervous, I’m really, really nervous.
Part of it is guilt, I think; a non-specific, took-too-many-seminars-in-postcolonial-theory-in-grad-school sort of guilt. Hence the obsessive focus on how it would have been easier to make the transition had I been able to go to Napa, first, as planned: part of this has everything to do with wanting to confront the embeddedness of this, all of this, in my privilege. I get to do this kind of thing because of what I’ve achieved in this space, and I wouldn’t have achieved what I have in this space if it weren’t for certain advantages (not least: literacy, access to technology, time and freedom, etc.), and I’m always aware of that, or at least I try to be. But in this case, it’s so much more than that, so much bigger than that. And I think that I’m going to be emotionally overwhelmed. And how indulgent of me, to be emotionally overwhelmed, to get caught up in my complicated feelings, when what’s at stake are things that are so much more important than the vulnerability, the achiness, of my delicate heart. When what’s at stake are lives.
This is why I make for a very poor hero. Too much hand-wringing, too much self-analysis, too prone to distraction by questions concerning how does this make me feel? what does this all have to do with me? can you believe that I did this without flying to California first to have good round of you-go-girl-Kumbayas with my peers? When what’s at stake are the lives of moms and babies, of women and children who don’t have, will probably never have, the luxury of sitting around and writing about their angst. Women and children who just need people to get off their asses and do something to help them.
But poor heroism – which is just to say, un-heroism, otherwise known as doing-something-even-though-your-hands-are-busy-with-all-that-wringing – is better than no heroism, and so even though it’s tempting to now go off on a mad digression about how I am not a hero (I’m not) and we don’t need another hero, I won’t, because the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s important, that whole doing something thing. And I’m doing something. I am.
I’m still worried that I’m going to cry my heart out the whole time that I’m doing it, but I can live with that.
(You can help. It won’t make me cry any less, but it will make a difference. Just sign the petition here – just leave your name – and show your support for the Born HIV Free program, so that it will get funded, and so that it can continue to fight for its – entirely attainable – goal of elimination mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015. Please.)