One of my objectives this year was to do more things that matter. Not particularly to feel better about myself but mostly to see what it feels like to do something I am proud of and that means something. I had a difficult end of a year in 2016, and most of my “challenges” were about feeling better and get my optimism back. As my job did not give me any satisfaction and I have decided that starting my own company is the only way to make me satisfied professionally, I also began to think that personal life should have a really important place and that this is what has been missing mostly lately in my life.
This whole adventure started in a way last Summer, when my S.O. went for two weeks to Haiti for a Humanitarian trip. He enrolled in a humanitarian association helping local projects by funding material and bringing people from France to remote villages to work on construction sites important for the local economy or life (schools, factories, hospitals). During the mission the volunteers would help the local workers with masonry, painting and such. In a way it is much more expensive for each volunteer to pay for its trip instead of donating the money directly to local professionals. But people who go are obviously in this there for the experience, they are obviously generous people but the whole point is also to give more meaning to what they do, to experience something important.
That is basically why I did not really like the idea. Traveling to an exotic country to work instead of enjoying holidays felt like a cheating, false helping. And it did not interest me at all.
By the way, that is why instead I decided to help a cause that is much more important to me by becoming a foster family for abandoned cats (see Week 30 – Becoming a Foster Family for cats & Week 38 – The Kittens are gone…). I could see that although it was of course very nice for me to have kittens at home for a while I was really saving them from the street until someone would adopt them.
Then, in October, I accompanied my S.O. to a conference hosted by this Association which was presenting the trips and achievements of the previous Summer as well as the upcoming Winter trips (there are 2 periods in which each time 30 missions, 2 or more for each destination, are organised, Summer and Winter). Originally, the idea had been to go on a mission with my S.O. and, what I saw as a bonding experience, really excited me. At least that was the plan. But when he had come back from the trip he had changed his mind, claiming that going there as a couple defeats the purpose of personal experience and complicates community life. Because it was not really my trip I didn’t really care to go on my own anymore but we went to the conference anyway, mostly to meet his traveling companions who were attending it aswell.
There were obviously presentations of missions in dreamy countries, Thailand, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola. And then there was a mission in Argentina, more precisely in San Antonio de Los Cobres, building a quinoa factory at 3800 m above sea level (12 500 ft). That felt like a challenge, the conditions were difficult (30°C during the day, -10°C at night), altitude sickness and hard work at an altitude where you have 25% less oxygen than normal. I have asthma and I have never been so high, and still I wanted to do that. Maybe to prove myself something, maybe to prove that I am better than those who go on this kind of trips lightly, thinking that they will enjoy the sunny weather while pretending to work for a good cause, maybe I wanted to be sure to be with committed people. I don’t know why I was so sure but as soon as the conference ended I ran to fill my application for this mission.
Two days later I received a phone call by the founder of the association, an old lady that created all this when her husband died and who is surprisingly energetic for her age (the conversation had sentences like “I will call you back when I come back from my business trip to Mozambique in 2 weeks”). She told me I was in provided I’d prove I had no medical condition and do some exams first (blood tests, stress test and an electrocardiogram). Of course the more it seemed dangerous and privileged to be there, the more I was sure I wanted to do it.
I later discovered what working at such altitude would entail: as the altitude increases, atmospheric pressure decreases, which affects humans by reducing the partial pressure of oxygen. The lack of oxygen above 2,400 m (8,000 ft) can cause serious illnesses such as altitude sickness, high altitude pulmonary edema, and high altitude cerebral edema. The higher the altitude, the more likely are serious effects. The human body can adapt to high altitude by breathing faster, having a higher heart rate, and adjusting its blood chemistry. In fact, people living at such altitude are completely adjusted to these conditions. Their blood has a higher rate of red cells which bring oxygen to the organs. For visitors, it is more complicated to adjust. The oxygen rate decreases in the air and their physical capacity decreases of 30 to 40% despite the increasing of heart rate. It can take days to adapt to high altitude, generally 2 weeks, the exact time I am staying there!
Anyways, I passed all the physical tests successfully and the next step is meeting my fellow adventurers in 2 weeks to start preparing everything before leaving for Argentina in February : buy all the necessary material as we will live in hard conditions (probably not even sleep in real houses), start an iron cure to increase my red cells level and make a presentation to my company to raise funds for the Association. Today I am really excited to do this, I am maybe scared (my parents keep asking me to cancel the trip) but I really need it, for me, and I hope it will also make some difference there.