I believe that God and the universe and whatever other higher power you may believe in has a plan; I believe in trusting fate; I believe in keeping my heart open to letting the world surprise me. I believe that ordinary moments can change your life if you let them.
Four years ago from today, almost to this very hour, I walked into a restaurant in Arusha, Tanzania. I was in my first week of volunteering at a secondary school outside of town. I had left the comforts of America in an attempt to better the world and figure out what I was going to do with my life. When I walked into the restaurant that night, I could not have told you what my life would look like from May onwards. I had a couple of options–I had applied to multiple universities throughout Australia before I left and had a list of backup universities in the US in case I wasn’t accepted. I had considered skipping college and trying to find a job. Really, though, after a few years of health issues and searching for purpose in the US, I was lost and praying that at some point during this trip I’d find direction.
We sat down and ordered drinks. The owner of the restaurant came to greet us.
“So, what brings you to Arusha?”, he asked with an Aussie accent.
“We’re here volunteering,” said our leader. “And Katie just found out that she got into the University of Queensland this morning, so we’re having a drink to celebrate!”
“My daughter goes there! Where are you living?”
“Well, I’m not actually sure if I’m going to accept my offer yet. I’m waiting to hear from James Cook and Flinders, as well. And I have no idea where I’d live,” I added.
“Here, hold on,” he said.
He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket to dial a number.
“Hi, Yasmin. I have an American girl here who got into UQ today and needs to know where to live.”
He handed me his phone and walked away.
His daughter got on and said simply, “You’ll love UQ. Come. Live at Union College. It’s the best.”
Any of you who know me knows how the rest of the story goes.
A few months later, after having briefly returned to the States, I boarded a plane in Minneapolis and landed 10000 miles away from home, in a city down under where I knew nobody except the voice of the girl on the phone.
I lived at Union College.
I made friends from around the world–the kinds of friends that will last forever. I learned about new cultures and countries I had never heard of. I learned about education systems, healthcare, military, family values, food, classes and religions from around the globe. I learned the importance of being a global citizen.
I went SCUBA diving at the Great Barrier Reef, sailing in the Whitsundays and parasailing over the Gold Coast. I drank wine in the Yarra Valley, cursed Thrifty auto rentals along Great Ocean Road and climbed Brisbane’s Storey Bridge. I got pooped on by sea birds on Heron Island. I fed kangaroos and cuddled koalas when I should have been studying. I ran the Gold Coast half marathon. I popped over to New Zealand and spent a week skydiving, snowboarding, glacier hiking and attempting to drive a car through herds of sheep. I ate dinner under the lights of the Sydney Opera House. I spent many nights drinking beer on my balcony with friends, with the skyline of Brisbane in the distance.
I rediscovered joy in running and agony in statistics class.
I got my bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Writing.
I met Joost.
I remembered what it’s like to be all consumingly, overwhelmingly, head-over-heels in love with your life.
And now here I am, four years later, volunteering back in Tanzania after those whirlwind three years in Australia.
It’s incredible to think how an ordinary, chance encounter can change your entire life. Who knows if I would have ended up at UQ if I hadn’t walked into Yasmin’s dad’s restaurant that night, or if she hadn’t picked up her phone. Chances are good I wouldn’t have. And if I hadn’t walked in, perhaps I wouldn’t have met Joost. Perhaps I wouldn’t be back in Africa, a place that captured my heart and held fast.
I still can’t tell you what my life will look like in a year. But I know this: I take comfort in trusting that the Universe will always provide.
It is not what you first think. There is no effort of will, no firm resolve in the face of this thing called living. There is only paying attention to the quiet each morning, while you hold your cup in the cool air & then that moment you choose to spread your love like a cloth upon a table & invite the whole day in again. –Storypeople