For my whole life, (well at least since college, but for the sake of sounding more sentimental I will say my whole life) I have wanted to go to Cape Town. I don’t remember what first drew me to this corner of the world, all I knew was that I had to find a way to South Africa as soon as I could.
After a fall semester of receiving “you’re a great candidate but unfortunately we are no longer taking summer interns” emails and blow after blow to the environmental field, I felt as if every arrow was pointing me to leave the US for the summer. When I received my seventh email blaming budget cuts, I sat down at my desk in Ann Arbor and found myself looking up internships in Cape Town. Within two hours I had found a posting for an international wildlife trade NGO–my dream job. The process was relatively easy, minus the time change, and within a month I had landed the internship beginning the journey towards my dreams.
Fast forward two months and I am anxiously driving from Connecticut to JFK with my twin sister, arguably the worst driver in the Northern Hemisphere. Every jolt forward and slam of the breaks added to my nerves as I tried to listen to the radio to tune out my mind. I had prepared for my trip to no end, but nothing prepares you for the moment when everything actually hits you. Mine was at the baggage kiosk after Shea popped her head out the car (we’re not lovey-dovey sisters) and yelled: “good luck in Africa, Keen” over the New York traffic noise. She drove off and I stood looking out at the airport and immediately wanted to hurl.
This is stupid. I’m stupid. Who do I think I am, moving to Africa for two months? I should just call Shea . . . Keenan, stop this is your dream. Yes, this is my dream. Okay, turn around. Now move your feet. Okay, don’t walk like that people are looking at you. Where is the Turkish Airlines kiosk? WHY IS THIS LINE SO LONG?
I reached the kiosk and handed over my passport accompanied by my boarding pass to the woman. It may be my shaky hand or my excessive nervous chatter that she stopped and smiled at me. “Is this your first time traveling,” she asked.
“Well, not really I’ve been to Mexico but it was just for spring break and I was with about 40 people and it was for holiday not work and I knew everyone going.” I could hear myself talking absurdly fast. “I’m just nervous excited, does that make sense?”
“You’re going to have the trip of your life.” She tossed my two (far too large for only two months) suitcases onto the belt and waved over the next person in line.
I found my way to the gate and watched the departures pass until I was boarding. I plopped down in the international aircraft, my first time on a plane of that size, and soon realized no one would be sitting next to me on the almost full flight. After take off I took a sleeping pill (3) and ten hours later I awoke in Turkey.
I wandered throughout the airport for my ten (yes, TEN) hour layover. The free wi-fi was only one hour, just enough time to text my mom and let her know I was doing fine. For the next nine hours, I sat at a gate across from the main security and watched as the masses poured into the airport. I wanted to sleep but I was so nervous to leave my stuff out in the open while I blatantly snored that I forced myself to stay awake. I made up stories in my head of where people were headed and why they were in Istanbul until it was 2 AM and I had to walk out onto my flight. Completely exhausted, I once more slept for 12 hours only to wake up to the most perfect view flying into Cape Town. Every nerve instantly left when I saw my future home.
As I gazed out the window I promised myself that I would enjoy every single day spent in this already breathtaking city. I promised to be open to any and every new experience, remembering all that has gone into getting me here and to always be grateful for this life I am humbled to be living.
I walked down the plane’s stairs and touched down in Africa for the first time and couldn’t help but start laughing. Who would’ve thought a dream I once had would no longer be thought in the back of my head but actually be my life. I couldn’t wait to finally start my life.