Stationed hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles (ahem, kilometers) from modern conveniences, there’s a seemingly endless onslaught of opportunities for chaos and peril. Crouched in the grass, or hiding in plain sight behind an acacia tree, danger literally awaits me at every step.

Yet, none of that really scares me. I mean, not more than it would any normal human not habituated to seeing larger than life animals at your door every morning. (Which describes pretty much everyone at my camp, but me.)

When I finally decided to quit my job and pursue my volunteer and travel aspirations, I thought I’d brushed with the worst fears I could imagine. The loss of income, stability, and tenure were hard to stomach. Even if I knew all those things would never make me happy, they were still a comfort, and comfort is fear’s best friend. It disguises itself as something warm and loving, and when someone starts to get a case of wanderlust, the loss of comfort can easily reign terror upon its victim, often squashing any aspirations they may have had for life beyond a cube and a bi-weekly paycheck.

Somehow, I made it past that stage. I recently resigned from my job, and was given an incredible opportunity to pursue what I can only call the opportunity of a lifetime. Writing. For a conservation group. In Africa. In the Serengeti.

This is the stuff of books and movies. This is the life I’d always lusted for, but never thought I’d have the courage to pursue.

For months, I anxiously awaited word from my contact at the organization. My corporate sensibilities prevented me from having much patience (something I’m still working on), and in the span of a few months, I lost a fair amount of sleep, and gained a few grey hairs awaiting his reply. And then, it happened.

I bought my ticket, and in just over two weeks I was on a plane to Tanzania. It wasn’t until my layover in Amsterdam that I knew if anyone even knew I was arriving, let alone be there to collect me from the airstrip. Talk about uncertainty.

Was I nervous? Absolutely. But scared? No, not really.

In the week I’ve been here, I’veĀ  been within a stone’s throw of some of the world’s most dangerous animals. Hippos, hyenas, lions, and elephants. And probably, a good lot more hiding in the grass. Yet, while I still maintain a healthy respect, and thus, caution, for these incredible creatures, they have yet to truly frighten me.

I even survived a spur of the moment cocktail party, hosted by my organization last Thursday. I woke up Friday morning feeling quite proud of myself. I’d quit my job, managed to get myself all the way to Tanzania to write for a well-respected conservation organization, dined with wild animals, even camped in the Serengeti with lions and elephants roaming around nearby, and not felt that horrible knot in my stomach I’d become so accustomed to over the past several years. I’d conquered so many of my fears, I wondered if I had any left!

I thought I’d finally won. I finally made it.

Of course, I was wrong. There were still a few things that terrified me, and I was about to face them head-on, no helmet. After arriving back to the camp after the cocktail party the next day, I was greeted by one of the camp staff. We exchanged pleasantries, and before I retired to my cabin, he suddenly lit up with excitement. “We have frisbee tonight, don’t forget!”

I’d heard about this from someone else, but didn’t worry too much about it at the time. Now, after seeing how much like a family everyone is here, I knew this was not a polite suggestion. I had to go. That familiar knot returned tenfold.

Whenever I try to tell someone I’m an introvert, I usually get a few eye-rolls. My closest friends, of course, know this to be true. I could go weeks without speaking to another soul if I could help it. Lonely? Perhaps. But it removed the possibility that I’d have to interact with others socially, which is something I have yet to master without major anxiety.

I can endure it in small bits, and truly have improved over the years. But, there are some things that still freak me the fuck out. And, apparently, playing ultimate frisbee with a gang of strangers, in 90 degree heat, at mile-high elevation was just beyond my progress.

I’m not a religious woman, but that afternoon, I begged whatever power that would hear me, to find a way to get me out of this. I don’t know why, but the prospect of getting competitive with strangers, playing a game I’d never played, just about did me in.

I sat in my cabin, watching the time go by, feeling a slight relief as each minute passed, as the closer to sunset it was, the less likely it was this slow torture would be carried out.

Then, a knock at my door confirmed my sentence, and soon I was sitting in the back of a Land Rover with three other women from camp, en route to certain doom, desperately trying to feign a smile to match the excitement of everyone else.

I made it through about 10 minutes of warm up before I couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t know exactly what did it, but that social anxiety I could easily control in a bar or out for dinner with friends, was suddenly exploding in my gut and I just shut down. It was awful.

And, of course, just quitting wasn’t really an option. Without me, the teams were now unequal, and no one could seem to accept the idea that someone simply wanted to watch, rather than play. For an excruciating five minutes (which felt like hours), I was forced to justify myself repeatedly. And, what justification did I have, really? I couldn’t say, “Oh, sorry, I become paralyzed with fear in certain social situations, and apparently, this is one of them. I’ll just be sitting over here rocking and singing to myself. Don’t mind me one bit.”

I could hear the feeble excuses coming out of my mouth, and nobody was buying it. But, like that survival instinct I would expect to have if confronted with an elephant at my doorstep (which has happened), it wasn’t anything I could help. So, I did the next best thing. I delayed my torture. “I’ll play next time, I promise!”

It turns out, they play every Friday. Well, shit.

Elephants, it appears, are the least of my challenges.

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