Leaving. A word that can mean so much or merely describe a physical act. The thesaurus’s array of synonyms — depart, withdraw from, retire from, quit, disappear from, abandon, clear out, run away from, flee, escape, and clear off, cloak the word with an air of negativity. There are the more pragmatic options — vamoose, scoot, make tracks, up sticks, but overall ‘leaving’ doesn’t get a great wrap.

Flying over the Indian ocean, 3 days before my birthday, I pondered all the ‘leaving’ I’ve done in my life. The first was not a choice. Four weeks prem, only 4 lbs in weight and a couple of days old, I ‘left’ my birth family to become a much cherished part of the Dyer family. That first leaving would turn out to be one of the best.

When I strapped on my oversized macpac in 1989, I surprised mum, dad and myself with my previously untapped adventurism. The shy, timid, little Lisa who held onto her mother’s apron strings, who wanted to go home as soon as we arrived anywhere, was setting off for a year of globe trotting. Returning 12 months later was physically painful. There was an ache to keep moving, to be free. No reflection on family or friends, it was just a part of me, newly discovered and a part I was unwilling to discard. So 12 months on I set off again, without a return ticket. It would be 7 years before I claimed Australia as home again. Traversing continents I accumulated many souvenirs that until last week adorned my home, but more important was the accumulation of deep lasting friendships. Thanks to the internet, (not all my friends are great scribes of emails, let alone letters ), email, Skype, facebook, whatsapp, and Instragram keep us connected.

It was in 1996 that I left Zimbabwe to return home, to be with family. I left nurturing a private dream, to return to development work, or at least volunteering, in my 50s. With maturity, I pondered, it would be a different life experience. 20 years passed. My career meandered along each step has taken me forward, no missteps, no diversions off the path. Mum and dad, who had tolerated all my leaving, though they desperately wanted me near, filled those 20 years with the steady love they had always endowed upon me, until it was their time to depart. I lived with a heavy heart until in 2017, despite having pronounced to friends earlier that year, ‘I don’t think I’ll travel again, I don’t really get the attraction anymore’, I set off for 6 months, reigniting friendships kindled for decades, a few tours to explore new horizons. My soul became full. This is ME! I had found the essential part of myself that lay dormant for 22 years.

It was sitting in the lush gardens of my Newlands Airbnb in Zimbabwe, where there was only a handful of speech therapists still in 2017, that I remembered the dream. It was then that I endeavoured to return. Exploring NGO and UN options, speech therapy didn’t seem a priority in Zim. There was no way I could do this without the support of an organisation, I told myself, sadly shelving the dream. A commitment to annual training through my friend’s child care centre for disabled children was my compromise. But life had other plans.

Sometimes the leaving is pushed upon us. When staying would destroy us. Work was no longer enriching me as it had 18 months earlier. Scans of SEEK and Indeed, offered nothing of interest. When a mentor asked the simple question. ‘Where are you needed?’ my response was swift and certain, ‘Zimbabwe, of course’. With some of my inheritance yet to be allocated and rigorous financial planning I decided I could fund myself for a year, in a single moment removing the barrier I had put in place months earlier. It would be tight, but doable. In the weeks and months that followed twinges of anxiety and doubt percolated below the surface but I trusted and moved forward.

I had ideas if what the year might be but the plan by design was loose. But last week, days before departure, Zimbabwe shouted from across the seas tempering the plan. With fuel shortages, economic ruin, civil unrest and police brutality I was torn. Whatsapp messages from a variety of friends in Harare reflected their own take. Was I being swayed by their fear, was I listening to intuition, was I being naive? Altering my flight to stop in Joburg was a possibility, at a cost, yet I still felt compelled to proceed. Minky, my Airbnb host, called on the Saturday night reassuring me that my safety would not be compromised. And more immediately, that there would be fuel to collect me from the airport. So I stuck with the plan. While the brutality continues in the townships and CBD, just a few kilometres from where I sit, as a tourist, in a leafy northern suburb, I am fine. I am glad I didn’t reroute my flight.

It now seems that this first 3 week stint will be a scoping exercise. Having set up my Ecocash account, getting a good rate for my US$, food will be affordable (a bag of muesli and teabags A$8). The biggest barrier will be transport. Taxis quote in US$, US$2 per kilometer..including the kms to collect me! A 5 minute drive last night cost about A$11, about the same as at home. Everyone knows someone so I am scouting for better deals. Azzi made me promise I wouldn’t use the local kombis, despite my protestations that I used ETs (emergency taxis) in the 90’s. But it may become a necessity. Locals say while safe, the kombis are uncomfortable. I am sure I can cope with that. I could perhaps find an Airbnb in another part of town, a bit closer to where I may end up volunteering, but the costs in lifestyle may outweigh the financial gains.

In three weeks I will leave Zimbabwe briefly for a sojourn in Joburg. Will Zimbabwean government, economy and civil unrest allow me to complete the plan, as loose as it was, or will the purpose of leaving be something as yet undiscovered.

The ‘Leaving’ is merely one more step in the journey. The only other option I suppose is to stand still. For me, ‘leaving’ has been physical, for others, relational. Hopefully for all of us it is at least leaving the parts of ourselves that are no longer of service.

At 56 it is exciting to be uncertain of my purpose, of what lay ahead. Taking one day at a time.