Well, here I am in the airport, having taken the first step in this journey of a thousand miles. My feelings are complicated, rushing over each other: excited, nervous, annoyed with myself for arriving at the gate about two hours before my flight will be called up, grateful for the help I’ve received to get this far.
In the past few weeks I’ve received so much encouragement, praise and words of congratulation from my family and friends. Despite all of this, it would be a lie to say I feel completely prepared for what I’m about to do.
When people express admiration for my bravery and creativity because of my research, I think of the other students in my department: of J in Algeria during the bombings, of S hitching rides with UN trucks in Sudan to get to refugee camps, of K who came all the way from her Kurdish town in Iraq to obtatin her degree in a third language, only to find out when she got home that a close relative had passed away and nobody told her because they wanted her to finish undisturbed. When I think of their tenacity, bravery and unwavering ambition, six months on a boat in Cairo seems like small peanuts.
On the other hand, my research still feels daunting: I barely speak Arabic; how can I do interviews? Am I asking the right questions? Will I get the data I need? Equally importantly, what can I give to the community I’m asking to give this data up?
When I mentioned my doubts and fears to a professor in my department, he looked surprised and told me everyone believed in my success. (The Fulbright Commission obviously didn’t get the memo, however–they decided not to fund me.) He also looked sympathetic. I suspect it wasn’t the first time he’d seen the symptoms of Fieldworkophobia.
This may seem like an excercise in self-doubt, and to some degree it is. Mostly though, these are the feelings of someone stuck in airport limbo. It is a time where anything could happen, the scales could tip either way. You never know where you might end up, or when. I can only stick it out, and hope the plane delivers me where I want to go. Knowing that I’ve got so many people on my team cheering me on makes me feel like the odds are stacked in my favor.