I’m doing some volunteer work for an organization here in Denver called AfricAid. I wanted to get involved with NGOs and was delighted to find that there was one based here in Denver that worked to support girls’ education in Tanzania, especially girls in secondary schools, and that the organization focused on creating mentorships between girls and local female leaders. Education? Check. Girls? Check. Teenagers? Check. Enabling localized leadership and support rather than a white savior-style setup? Check. So many of my things in one!
Knowing my schedule, I told them I could only commit until the start of the school year. They invited to come in for a meeting to see what projects might work. So a few weeks ago I found the Posner Center downtown and met Julia and Lizzy, two of the 2.5 staff members here in the US (the other workers are in Tanzania).
I had mentioned to Fara that I was looking for some volunteer work for the summer and she immediately began listed possibilities she knew of thanks to her work for our stake. I thanked her for the list, but said that I was pretty burned out on people after this school year and would really like to find work that fit with my introverted needs.
“So your ideal work would be you alone with paperwork in a back office with minimal people contact?” she summarized.
“Yup, exactly,” I confirmed.
Hence my delight when I came away from my meeting with Julia and Lizzy with a cardboard box full of surveys they needed analyzed for digitalization. I got to help out by doing paperwork with minimal people contact! Moreover, I could do it from home!
I also agreed to help with editing videos using footage from the schools in Tanzania for them to put on their website/Facebook/etc. Again, definitely something I can do from home. Woot!
Then Julia emailed me a few days ago to say that they were doing a get-together for the staff/volunteers/interns – lunch this Saturday at someone’s house. I checked my calendar and, dang it, I was free.
Keeping Jason’s mantra for socialization in mind (“When given the choice between doing something with people and staying home alone, do something with people”), I RSVP’d yes, then spent the four days leading up to the event convincing myself over and over again that I could and should go.
Because here’s the thing. Going to a social event with people I don’t know at all, where the only people I know are two women I met for less than an hour a few weeks ago, is so abhorrent it borders on terrifying to me. Going to Tanzania itself would have been far less stressful than going to this party.
I woke up that morning with a headache. Oh! I thought. Maybe I’m sick! Maybe I can’t go!
But no, I told myself. You are going and you will be social dang it. It’s only for two hours, and you can even make up and excuse to leave early if you have to, but you are going.
And so I did.* And it was perfectly fine, as I knew it would be. The people there were all lovely, interesting folks who traveled and care passionately about this project and who were fun to socialize with, especially once they all got into the mimosas. They brunch they made was delicious, and I stayed for a half-hour beyond my self-promised leave time.
Intellectually, I knew that it would be fine. I knew that it would be fun, that I wouldn’t regret it, that I could be social like this. I know it because I’ve done it over and over again, but I just can’t seem to shake the anxiety that always precedes these kind of things. Such a thing will come up again, and once again I will fight the fierce instinct to stay home instead, and it will once again be fine.
At this point I don’t think it’ll ever get easier, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it.
* I did, but I also timed it so I would get there about seven minutes after it started to make sure that I wasn’t the first to arrive. Unfortunately, I got there dead on time instead. There were no cars parked on the street in front of the house, though, so I drove two blocks away and sat in my car making up things I needed to do on my phone. When a kid came out of the house I was in front of and asked me why I was just sitting there, I gave in and drove back to the hosts’ house. Happily, Julia had gotten there by then, so I felt like my time was well spent, minor-creepy-pedophile-vibe aside.