I learned a whole lot about courage and fear in 2016. In 2016 I was in my early 30s and for the first time really pushing myself past fear.
Why does that matter? Why push past fear? Why not just live a simple life and do simple things? It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I really started to do courageous things. Sure I had moved around and got far from home and moved to Boston with no job, but none of that scared me. I once had a friend who told me he loved doing scary stuff. He loved the feeling in his stomach when he was nervous. I didn’t get that at the time. I’m still not sure I get that.
Everybody struggles with fear of some type, to some degree. Completely normal and human. I have a friend who struggles with fear in class. She’s afraid to speak up. She’s afraid to raise her hand to answer questions in class. She’s afraid to ask questions in class. She says she’s afraid of failure, or saying the wrong thing and being seen as stupid or dumb. She doesn’t even want to risk it. She’s paralyzed by the social anxiety. The fear of rejection I suppose.
But when we push ourselves through a fear, even when small, when we’re courageous even in everyday things, we become more brave. Brave people aren’t born, they’re formed by the courageous choices they make. Courage starts with raising your hand in class.
I know another guy that has been working a low paying job with bad managers for decades. He doesn’t like the job but he’s afraid of finding another job. It’s easier for him to put up with the job than to get past the fear of trying something new.
I wasn’t afraid of going to Africa. People expected me to be, and other people were afraid for me but I had no fear of the general idea. But I sure did have some moments of fear later on.
Journey to the “Scary” City
When I was in Uganda, I wanted to go to Kampala, the capital city. I had been in Uganda for about 3 weeks and it seemed very safe and comfortable. But I was in a small town. Kampala was a big city. I’d have to take a bus or a 18 passenger van/taxi (called matatu in Swahili). I’d have to go alone. I asked a couple of friends if they wanted to go but they were both tired of travelling. I got lots of encouragement from them though, saying it’s very safe, lots of people do it and they’ve done it in the past too. I sure wasn’t going to stay in the small town all weekend when I wanted to see this city.
I took a matatu. I got dropped off in the busiest taxi park in East Africa, right in downtown Kampala, City Centre. Turns out no one in my taxi could really speak English but it all turned out and I got to where I wanted to go. I was going to walk to the Pacific Hotel, which I HIGHLY recommend if you’re a budget traveler type. (Read about my time there here.) I drew a map on a little piece of paper, from my travel guide, on how to get from the taxi park to my hotel. I was going to have to walk through a little bit of madness to get there. Lots of people. People selling stuff, people buying stuff, people walking, people loitering. I never have been a crowd person. I like it when strangers are at least 3 feet away. That’s not Kampala. I’m a muzungu girl alone, I got lots of hollers, but I kept marching on to the hotel. I had my huge backpack and I was scared. I had no idea what might happen.
Someone grabbed my arm. I flung it off and kept walking without even looking what they were doing. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I wasn’t too worried about how I got grabbed. Not necessarily a violent criminal, could have just been a fool with no sense of manners. Potential crisis or potential bad manners averted with a quick flick of the arm. Thanks Krav Maga! (I did take about 8 classes in Krav Maga.) In this downtown Kampala area, City Centre, I probably walked through and past 3,000 people to get to the hotel. I’m also really bad at estimating numbers like that. It was noisy. It was scary. Here I was in a big African city, something that people in America told me to BE VERY AFRAID of. I was scared! But I was determined. My porcupine needles were out. Well I got to the hotel and it was SOOOO peaceful as soon as I walked in. It was like heaven. Once I was in the hotel, I could drop my big bag and use a much more manageable messenger bag. I bought a cold beer (yay!!!) from the bar, opened my balcony door, laid on my bed and figured out what I was going to do in Kampala! Craft shopping, walking to the mall, checking out makeup stores, eating amazing Indian food on a rooftop and seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater. What a fabulous day. What a fabulous weekend. I love Kampala, I love that downtown area that I was afraid of at first. I love riding buses and matatus. I never would have known that if I hadn’t pushed myself past the fear.
Avoiding Death and Avoiding Life on a Motorcycle
Motorcycle deaths are the number one cause of death for westerners in the third world. For this reason, I refused to ride a motorcycle. I thought and even told people “that’s not how I want to die!” I felt that I was making the safe and wise decision and preventing some tragedy. Well I sure changed my tune! I LOVE riding motorcycles!!! What an amazing joy to ride on the back of a motorcycle with your hair whipping around and beautiful, Africa, not just 360 degrees around you, but a whole SPHERE of beauty, how many ever degrees that is. Mwwaaah!! (Huge blowing a kiss sound). My first ride was with a very nice teacher that I already knew that just happened to be passing me in the evening. If I hadn’t taken the ride I probably wouldn’t have reached home (on foot) until it was already dark. (There are many reasons why you shouldn’t be out after dark in Africa. Will you die the second the sun goes down? No, but you might trip on a rock or stump that you didn’t see!) Well, I told him to go slow and safe and that I was very scared. He did a great job. But, I definitely didn’t really enjoy that ride because I was completely wrapped up in my fear and constantly was thinking about DYING!
Later on, thanks to lots of young Westerners riding bodas (boda boda is the name for a motorcycle taxi in Uganda), I had some good peer pressure. It must have took about 10 or 15 boda rides for me to finally lighten up and enjoy the ride, rather than watching every bump in the road, every passing car and imagining what could go wrong. So glad I finally got to that point, where I could just sit and enjoy the beauty and breeze.
My best ride was around Otaro and Lake Victoria in Homa Bay County in Kenya. My pikipiki (the name for motorcycle taxis in Kenya) driver, Bonvencha, was great. Bonvencha took me out on several adventures. To a hot spring (not the kind you can swim in!) in the hills. For “my best ride”, we went to a crater lake. Legend has it there is a whole village down there, that was drowned due to the wrath of a witch who was mistreated by the village. That’s where I saw flamingos in the wild for the first and so far last time. We also just drove all around the countryside and it was just stunning. And the dirt road was real nice and smooth too, so that helped! (Bad roads are much less fun.)
Crazy Ladder to Beauty
There was this crazy ladder. CRAZY. This is National Geographic type stuff and it sure looks like it could collapse and someone could get seriously injured. When I first saw the ladder, I said, “Guys, if I knew about this ladder, I probably wouldn’t have come.”
But everyone’s climbing up. If all your friends tell you to climb up a crazy ladder, are you going to? Well, it’s not just my friends though. The community does use this ladder. The people living on Wanale Hill are much more traditional than the city of Mbale, Uganda below. I don’t know how many people live on the hill, but it’s estimated (by my Mbale friends and I) that at least 100 people a day climb up the ladder. Everyday. So, the odds of it collapsing when I, in particular, am on it, is low.
But on the other side of that ladder was the top of the mountain, (yes, I’m using mountain and hill interchangeably, I come from flat lands). Past the ladder was the waterfall. Past the ladder is where my friends were going. Past the ladder was where you can see for miles and miles and miles. My friends helped me and encouraged me. I climbed the ladder. It was thrilling. The other side was SPECTACULAR. I ended up going up the ladder 3 times. It was scary every time, but it was SOOOO worth it.
My life has been so much more fulfilling and I enjoy it so much more when I’m brave. I’m still not brave 100% of the time, but when I am there sure are a lot of rewards. I’m choosing to live a more courageous life and I think you should too!!
At the end of it all…
Some of the stuff I mentioned, really does have a risk of dying. But in LIFE, there is a risk of dying. And not just a RISK but it is an INEVITABILITY. I still believe in being safe and being smart and wise. But I also think that life really gets beautiful and full when we take risks and try new things.
I do want to give a disclaimer: if you have a bad feeling about something or your gut tells you that something isn’t right. Listen to that. It’s not easy to discern the difference between your gut and fear, but try to listen.
What are your thoughts on fear? Do you have some stories about being brave or maybe about passing up an opportunity due to fear? I’d love to hear your guys’ thoughts on fear and courage! Tell me about them in the comments below.