Not too long now

By Monica Richardson | May 29, 2009 | Kenya

Well, the day started out on a bit of a sad note. Preparing for what I expect to be one of the best trips I take in my lifetime -- my first time in Africa (not the last I'm promising myself) -- I also had a tough decision to make this morning (Friday).

My bags were packed in the upstairs hallway and as I contemplated whether or not my bags would be within the 50-pound limit, I was also contemplating something else. I had to put down my 4-year-old Dachshund after only having her for a little over a year. (If you aren't a pet lover, you might want to skip the next couple of graphs.)

A week ago, just before the Memorial Day weekend, Trudy (the dog I got after having to put down a 17-year-old Yorkshire Terrier that had cancer), suddenly stopped walking. And suddenly is an understatement. She was running and walking (and crazy) just fine one day and not walking the next. It was pretty scary to see. Her hind legs were flat dragging behind her crossed over one another as though they were broken. Frantic that night, I rubbed her hind legs hoping I'd massage away a bad cramp and she'd be fine. But after enduring a costly week of vet visits, she was diagnosed with a common genetic spinal disease. The vet said she may only walk again with surgery. Not just any surgery, a $3,000-4,000 procedure that would not guarantee she'd walk. The surgery would involve taking out parts of her vertebrae and fusing her spin back together. Choosing not to put Trudy through this I instead had her put down. I'll wait to pack up the evidence of a dog in my home when I get back.

So, my day has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. But now, I'm here in Washington, D.C. about to embark on quite an experience.

Tomorrow is orientation day; I meet the other senior editors and someone from the Kenyan embassy will give us a presentation. We then travel as a group to London and then on to Kenya.

For those of you who know me well, you know that this trip has been a long time coming. I'll tell you this quick story and let you go.

I intend to use your mind as my landscape over the next couple of weeks, painting a picture of this trip through words, sounds and visuals.

You see this journey started for me nearly two years ago.

I went through this moment of wondering what I'd done with my life. Somehow, I was on one of life's roads that takes you in circles. I wanted off that road. I needed a detour. But not just any detour -- one that would expose me to new things, a new way of life, one that would allow me to share my skills with others in some way. It was that moment where you look up and realize you've always done things the way you've always done them and it was time to throw some spice in my life.

I got the idea for seeking a \"life-changing\" journalism fellowship from Marquita Smith, an editor at the Virginia Pilot. Marquita, a friend and former colleague from the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky, is a Knight Fellow. Right now she is in Liberia developing a corps of reporters with the skills to monitor the effectiveness of government spending. She is also helping to build an association of criminal justice reporters to serve as watchdogs of the country's new justice system. Does that sound impressive of what?

I was inspired by Marquita. Inspired and encouraged to seek out my own experience. So I made a promise to myself that within two years I would find just the right thing. There were lots of factors...time, cost, impact on my career, impact on my personal life.

So, I started searching for journalism fellowships. First through the International Center for Journalists. ICFJ had a fellowship to South Africa for three months. That sounded fantastic but I knew I couldn't invest that kind of time (nor would my job allow me the time off). Still I pursued it with interest until one day I got an e-mail from the organizers that there was no funding for the program.

So that didn't work out. In my research however, I'd also come across the International Reporting Project's Gatekeeper's Editors trip. The organization sought senior editors for the prestigious program. I gave it some thought and applied. That was some time ago and now here the journey begins.

This trip for me is only the beginning.

I'm using up every single day of vacation time I have left to be able to take the trip. But you know what, this might not be a vacation but it will be the trip of a lifetime.

I hope that I am able to change a life through my work in this project and I'm thankful there is a program like the International Reporting Project to help make a difference.

Be blessed.

I'll be in the air soon and will catch up with you real soon.

Monica

View All Posts By Monica Richardson

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