Easing Back Into American Life

Back by popular demand I have decided to write a final blog about the transition to life back home. 4 weeks in another country may not seem like a very long time to some people, but for the traveler there is a noticeable difference between the person I was when I left, and the person who came home. It is nearly impossible to travel and not come home different, inherently I am the same, but the changes are on a level only I can see.

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Adjusting to life stateside has been easy, like people continuously point out, I wasn’t gone that long, but the way I think and how I feel is different. 100_1542Most of all I miss the children, I miss the teachers, I miss the culture and the volunteers; it’s a sad kind of surreal to go back to work and the mundane monotony of every day life. My morning runs have become a reflection period, I can revisit the days I spent in Kenya, I can see the poverty stricken streets of Kibera swimming before my eyes. eed5eb72-32cc-4013-a0f1-1d2e517b0544Those runs are probably the best part of my day, I find a silly sort of smile break across my face as I think about everything that happened while I was there, I’ve developed an urge to go back and relive every day I spent in Kibera.

My appreciation for life here is at an all-time high, the first thing I was grateful for was a shower that worked properly. I almost felt guilty as I took a half hour shower when I’ve become accustomed to showering in five minutes.

100_1520Putting on makeup is a chore, I looked in the mirror at work yesterday and almost didn’t recognize my face. It felt like goo was piled on my eyes, and keep in mind, I don’t wear much makeup to begin with. The night of my families’ ugly sweater Christmas party I ran upstairs to wash off my makeup as soon as everyone left, it feels strange to be trying so hard to look nice just because it is socially expected.

Eating has become an interesting challenge since I arrived home, my body is not reacting well to American food and causes me to become very sick. Sunday I spent sleeping and lying on the couch because the food I consumed all week had finally caught up with me and my stomach was rebelling. I guess living on ugali, spinach, cabbage and rice for 4 weeks and then coming home to the rich, processed American food will cause anyone’s body to go into shock. After being sick all day Sunday I determined I never want to feel that way again, so it’s back to the basics. I’m now only consuming food similar to what I was eating in Kenya and slowly I have to ease myself back to normal food.

I am lucky though, at least I have food to eat when I know so many in 100_1399.JPGKibera at this moment are lying in bed with empty bellies, wondering how they will eat in the morning, knowing they will have to put aside their pride and rummage through the piles of garbage lining the streets for their breakfast. I think of them every time I eat, I think of them at work when I see people throw away half eaten plates of food and STILL order dessert. 20151107_102924I am amazed when I go out to eat. The other night a couple was sitting at a table next to me and got up to leave, I looked over and saw the girl had barely touched her food but didn’t get a box to go. That food could have fed four or five children but instead it’s just going to get thrown out; or at The Cheesecake Factory where I ordered chicken and they gave me enough food for four grown people. Why is that necessary? It is an excessive amount of food that no one person could eat, yet it was sitting in front of me and I had to immediately box most of it up. It makes me sad how little everyone is aware of the things we use in excess that could be used instead to make someone’s life elsewhere just a little better. It’s frustrating to want to do something about it, but the problem is so grandiose, where do I start?

I know there is a problem with poverty in America, but you haven’t seen 100_1398.JPGanything until you’ve seen garbage piled in small mountains on the side of the road, and people pulling carts like a human pack mule because they can’t afford a truck to do it for them. Or children peeing on the side of the road because their home doesn’t have a toilet.100_1497.JPG Or even children piling into a small room the size of a closet to go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground. These are the things I see when I close my eyes, and these are the things I see when I look around at the large homes and neatly manicured lawns. I see Christmas decorations lining the streets and think about my host family, whose Christmas will consist of simply spending time with family. No presents, no big meal meant to gorge us and put us in a food coma. It is a simple life and I wish we could learn more from them. One day maybe I’ll go back, but for now I’ll settle for remembering the kids with fondness and hoping that their futures are infinitely better than their pasts.100_1613

Day 29
It is so strange to me that I am leaving to go back home. Has it really been four weeks already? It’s strange that this is the last time I will be waking up in Kenya, the last time I will sleep in this bed. I almost want to walk up to the Nakumat one more time to take everything in.
Every time I think of the month I’ve spent here I smile. I have to many good memories to bring home with me and I can replay the trip over and over again in my mind and see how this beautiful, amazing country changed my outlook, my appreciation and myself. When I arrived I felt very much like a child, even at 24, I didn’t feel like I was making progress. But after four weeks, I don’t feel as though I am the same person I was when I arrived.
I’ve learned to be grateful for all that I have, I’ve watched children with absolutely nothing be ten times happier than children at home who have everything they could possibly want. I’ve seen poverty in its truest and most heartbreaking form. I used to think seeing a person begging on the side of the road was sad, and it is. But you don’t understand the extremity of poverty until you see children using piles of trash as their playground or watching twenty people rummage through those same piles of trash at 8 in the morning to ensure they get the best options.
I’ve had the opportunity to teach children who live in shacks without a bathroom, without running waters sometimes without even a place to sleep and watched them be the happiest kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I then was lucky to grow close enough that I developed a special place in my heart for each and every one of them. I know I will keep that with me forever.
Here in Kenya it is a different world, a simple world. Aside from the rooster waking me every morning at 6 a.m., it is incredibly quiet and serene here. The people take their time, they are never in a rush and I believe they are happier for it. Kenyans often don’t keep Time, 10 a.m. can mean 1 p.m. and it is just accepted. Its something we can learn from them, why is the westernized world always in such a rush to go nowhere?
And I dare every woman to go a month without wearing make up, without doing your hair, without dressing perfect all the time. It is a guarantee that you will discover your self worth.
Looking back on this trip I have no regrets, I immersed myself in a new country, I ate new and different food, met new and interesting people, I learned to take a five minute shower (which was more like a sponge bath), I learned to navigate the streets of Kibera, ride on a matatu and find my way into the city.
Coming to Africa has been something I have wanted to do since I was 10-years-old. Over half my life it has been my dream to come here and make a difference. 14 years later I finally achieved my dream and it is bittersweet.
But the best part of fulfilling a dream….now I get to go out and find a new one which will consist of backpacking through Europe. Stay tuned.