I've said many times, both out loud and written down, that I feel like I've had one of the best jobs in the world. But on each trip I've taken to some of the world's toughest, most isolated and fascinating places, there's always a really hard part: leaving.
While I'm always anxious to get back to my wife and son, often after a day or more in transit, it's difficult to leave most of the countries I visit. I think one big reason is the seeming finality of it all: even though I've had the incredibly good fortune to visit a place like Mongolia or Kosovo, what's the chance I'll be returning? What I take with me in my suitcases and memory are what I'll keep from that place for the remainder of my life.
And, again, that's the really hard part. My work as a writer involves deep, engaging and personal conversations with people from many cultures and walks of life. I've sat in centuries-old tea factories discussing fair labor and the environment, as well as in slung-together huts in Congolese displacement camps talking about the horror of war. I've had animated debates over religion with colleagues in Ethiopia and tried to comfort mothers whose children died of AIDS.
None of those things are easily left behind. Even though I've typically spent only a couple weeks or less in each country I've visited, I feel I invest a lot of my spirit and being in each place. I feel like those who tell me their stories entrust a lot to me. Those are powerful bonds not easily broken.
But we share the bond of story — because just as I carry the stories of those Mercy Corps serves, I leave some of my own story behind. So we continue to be part of each other. Even though I might not be able to go back to many of those isolated and beautiful places, a part of me remains there. Likewise, a lot of that place remains with me, wherever I go.
There's a familiar sequence at the end of each journey that never gets easier:
Handshakes and kind words. Waves. Going to the airport. Taking the long walk to the gate. Stepping onto that jetway, finding my seat, taking a long look out the window. Heaviness, then a smile. Liftoff.