Standing outside the local super market at the town mall, I anxiously approached a middle-aged woman as she zipped by.
I lowly muttered “bon dia…” and she turned towards me with kind eyes and a hint of confusion, a look I have become very familiar with since arriving. In broken Krioulo, I explained to the woman that we were collecting non-perishable foods for the Cabo Verdean Food Bank and asked her if she could help us by donating a box or package of any food of her choice. She smiled at me and nodded in agreement before continuing into the store to do her shopping. I let out the breath I seemed to have been holding since I spotted the lady and decided she looked non-intimidating enough to attempt to approach. I glanced over to my language instructor, Dulce, to see if I earned her look of approval. She graciously smiled at me in affirmation, and I felt a small sense of relief and victory.
The woman I approached was not the first person to stroll past me into the store. She wasn’t even the second or third. It took numerous shoppers zooming by me on their mission to get their groceries and many sarcastic yet encouraging comments from my language instructor telling me to speak up and just do it.
By the end of our time there, our boxes were overflowing with all types of pasta, rice, milk, and more. I looked down at what had been donated and felt excited that we had something tangible to give. I eventually become a pro at asking people if they could help us by donating, mastering that phrase and repeating it like a record player. Dulce explained that she had asked for donations in the past and she reminded herself that she wasn’t doing this for herself. She put it best when she said that we are acting as middle men, advocating for others who don’t have the voice to do it themselves. This is something that stuck with me and that I often find myself tossing around in my head as I continue the project.
The Food Bank was just a drop in the ocean of the discomfort and anxiety I’ve felt since being in Cabo Verde. Before the project began, I promised myself that I wouldn’t be passive for comfort. It’s so easy to retreat, to stay out of the conversation, to let someone else do the talking and handle the difficult situations. I’m someone who leans into comfort and will easily stay there if not pushed to counteract it.
Discomfort is where growth and true experience happen. I have nothing to offer if I don’t push myself past what feels safe. All of the situations where I can help involve leaving behind what feels comfortable and being vulnerable to rejection or funny looks. So, I say the phrase, do the silly dance, or ask the question that makes my stomach turn flips as it comes out. Because at the end of day, it isn’t for myself.