life is a wisp of smoke

I woke up, January had turned into February and I had a lot of living left to do. I’ve been on a ship docked in Cotonou, Benin, but I feel like I’ve been sitting around for 6 months. There’s so much left to see and experience! Alright, I need to calm down and be easy on myself. I HAVE been living. I’ve been working and orienting new ship nurses, and working on my marriage. I’ve been pouring energy and time into my blogging for the last year (did you read my blogiversary post?). So I’ll stop giving myself a hard time and pause to remember those things. However, the longer I’m here, the more I want to do!

Reframing the bucket list

When you hear “bucket list” what’s your first thought? Maybe you’d list (mentally or on paper) things like swim with dolphins or learn to play the ukelele. While those are great ideas, they can feel heavy and over-ambitious. You’ll have to invest time and money to make it happen. How likely is it that you’ll get off the couch one day and decide today is the day?

That depends on how disciplined you are, but if you’re ANYTHING like me, you need a little momentum. If all the things on your bucket list are things that take extraordinary effort, it will hang over your head and be hard to start! A full-time job, family depending on you, and possibly fear will make it even more difficult.

That’s why I’m putting big dreams on hold in place of some everyday things that make life interesting and separate today from tomorrow. I don’t think bucket list items have to be big once-in-a-lifetime events.

Benin Bucket List; West Africa; Provocative Joy

Breaking Monotony

One thing I’ve struggled with for a few months is feeling bored, uninspired and monotonous on the ship I call home. Every day is similar to yesterday. The walls in every part of the ship are the same beige-yellow color. Everyone’s cabin looks the same. We have the same meetings week after week. For several weeks after returning from time off in the U.S. I complained to everyone that asked how I was doing. After listening to myself whine for long enough, I started to wonder if it was the ship or ME.

Let’s Back up

In 2014 I expected I’d be in Benin, but I didn’t make it until 2016. Instead we sailed with Mercy Ships to Madagascar and spent 16 months in a very different culture from West Africa. All the time we heard, “This place is nice, but it’s so different than West Africa.” I could only imagine what those differences would look like.

I’ve since left Madagascar, taking with me a tool box of lessons for the road. I remember what I felt like when the ship first arrived to Madagascar: I was nervous to leave the safety of the ship, insecure about the local language, and quite happy to sit inside my safe bubble on board. I’m a different girl two years later. The city of Cotonou beckoned me and I couldn’t wait to explore it.

I was not disappointed. The colors, the urban rush (compared to quaint Tamatave), and the lay of the land were so new. The anticipation made it so exciting.

I remember my first trip off the ship via Land Rover to visit some of the Mercy Ships sites. We stopped for lunch for some pizza. The restaurant was so Western and I was taken aback. We visited the Team House where some of our off-ship crew live during the field service. We stopped at the HOPE Center, where recovering patients live once they’ve been discharged from the hospital but still have medical appointments on board. Finally we took a quick look at the school compound where patient selection would take place.

Since then I’ve done a lot but I’d love to do more. I’ve been to the “stilt village” called Ganvie. I’ve been to the “Point of No Return” where Africans took their last look at home and were loaded onto ships like livestock. I’d love to visit Togo, the country of Fauziya Kassindja (this was my first introduction to Togo), and Ghana, the country of my childhood babysitter.

I’d love to share my bucket list with you

I’m pretty excited about it, but truthfully, I need your help to complete it. I want to start crossing items off ASAP!

  • Ask a beautiful woman on the street if I can take her photo.
  • Go to Togo.
  • Learn more about voodoo ceremony (this is not endorsed by my current employer)
  • Meet a king of Dahomey
  • Tie a baby on my back
  • Go to a local church 19 March 2017
  • Visit Ghana
  • Have a custom-made dress Read about it here!
  • Learn how to make granola (this has nothing to do with Benin!)
  • Eat some pate
  • Have a shawarma
  • Buy local music
  • Go to a jazz concert
  • Buy a painting of a woman with a wrapped head

Benin Bucket List; Provocative Joy; Include every day items on your list so it's not such an undertaking to cross off.

stepping outside my comfort zone

I think of new things to add to this list every day, and it can be a huge step outside of my comfort zone to get some of these done. As I mentioned in my post about how I conquer depression while working abroad, I often have to convince myself to engage in a way that I’ll ultimately enjoy, even if it’s hard at first. My default pastime is to be alone reading or surfing the web, yet it’s that activity exactly that can make me feel isolated and lonely.

I hope to cross as many of these off the list and tell you all about how it went. My current “life overseas” is fairly stable and full of routines. I work 35-45 hours a week and have regular meal times and significant barriers to seeing the city of Cotonou. I may be living abroad, but for me there are similarities to living a traditional life in the U.S.A. You probably have a job and responsibilities to tend to. You might have a family that needs attention and just don’t have time to cross things off a bucket list. I want you to know I relate to that even though I’m living on a hospital ship in Benin!

I invite you to join me! What’s on your bucket list? What’s something you’ve always been curious about doing right in your own city? What types of barriers do you have to trying new things? Do you tend to put monumental, once-in-a-lifetime events on your bucket list or do you have all kinds of fun, everyday ideas? I’d love to hear from you down in the comments section.

Check out the rest of the series:

My Benin Bucket List (You’re here now!)

Snapshots of Life in Benin: The Africa Mercy Wards

Snapshots of Life in Benin: The Seamstress

Snapshots of Life in Benin: Thank You Benin

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10 comments on “My Benin Bucket List: 10+ Things To Do Before I Leave”

  1. what and exciting life in what you call boredom! I love your writing, it’s adventurous and revealing..I love your idea of finding simple pleasures right where you are, and that bucket lists don’t have to be so big and our boredom there’s so much adventure, we need to look, taste, smell, touch, and delight in the people around us..beautiful writing! Loved this today!

  2. This is a wonderful list! I think we goal setters often forget that even small tasks can be part of our bucket list – and that they are the stepping stones to accomplishing our bigger dreams. Your post is a lovely reminder 🙂

    • You’re right! I find that as I’m getting to experience some of the smaller things, those lead me right to the bigger things!

  3. Life is so wonderful and so many things to do isn’t it? I love your list and that idea that we should also create a bucket list for every day things too.

    • Thank you Meg! I need to push myself more since I’m an introvert. Sometimes I wish it was easier for me.

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