Finding Myself in Africa- Chapter 13

I didn’t sleep well last night. As a result of seeing the cockroach I had constant, vivid nightmares; I woke up throughout the night terrified that bugs were crawling all over me. After a restless night’s sleep I wake up to Rose turning on the lights, talking in the room, being in and out and leaving the door open so I can hear the music from the kitchen loud and clear. I am beginning to put her on the same level as the rooster.

It’s an easy day at school today, as me and the girls have decided to leave early, around 1 p.m. to take a short trip into the city. We are plus 1 today as we received a new volunteer from Ireland last night. So it goes like this, I finish taking my shower and come into the living room to find our new volunteer looking roughly 20-years-old sitting on the couch that no one ever sits on. I say hello, take my seat and pull out my book. Its Jane Eyre I’m reading this week, but I can’t focus because he is asking me 20 questions; none of which I can fully remember because his accent had me stunned. Having never heard an Irish accent before I am floored, and that doesn’t happen often. But after my childhood obsession with Harry Potter, this is really no surprise.

Our trip into the city is fairly quiet with the exception that we can’t stop talking. Everyone wants to know about the new kid. In order take the bus into the city it costs 50 shillings which is equivalent to 50 cents; everything is so much cheaper here for us. I saw laptops today selling for 18,000 shillings which is 180 USD.

After an hour ride, we are finally in the city. We do a lot of walking around and are supposed to go to the masai market, but after finding out it’s only open on the weekends, we settle for walking around and looking at the shops.

The city is much cleaner than in Kibera where we live. The sidewalks are not ideal with potholes scattered throughout and the pavement risen in places and after my third time tripping Ian smirks at me and tells me I’m about as graceful as a Giselle.

We walk along the streets and look through the windows on the right while on our left people are lining the sidewalks selling all things from jewelry to books to fruit. People shout at us to buy their products and at one point my hand is grabbed by several men and I have to pull away to get them to let go; shortly after that Lydia, Virginia and myself are whistled at. I guess they are trying to make us feel right at home.

It’s lunchtime in the city and I am relieved to have so many options that don’t consist of rice, ugali or cabbage.

After lunch Lydia and Virginia declare they need to go to the store, so we walk in a massive grocery store that is four levels tall. There are no escalators, only ramps to get from one floor to the next.

Back outside there are bookstands laid out every half block, it is a bookworms dream. And for those of you who know me, yes, your suspicions are correct, I bought a book. I couldn’t help it. Yes, I know I have an illness; because who goes to Africa and buys a book? Oh yea, I do.

The way home is quite eventful as I get to know the new volunteer. I am getting to learn a little about Ireland and he asks plenty of questions about America, (Its surprising how similar our countries are) and we start to swap embarrassing stories. It soon becomes a competition of who can level the playing field with the more embarrassing story. At one point I mention my record player and Polaroid camera and he starts laughing and tells me I am a hipster. I begin to argue that I am definitely not, but I think I am losing this argument. I tell him, “I just appreciate older things and don’t conform to mainstream technology and everything.” He starts laughing and says “you literally just explained what a hipster is!” Apparently all that combined with my love of travel, used bookstores and writing a blog make me a hipster.

Two hours later we finally stop in Kibera and get off the bus. Realizing my shoe is untied I step off to the side to tie it. People skirt around me and without paying much attention to where I am walking, I stand up and take one step forward before slipping and landing right in the deep puddle I was trying to avoid. Dirt, water, and I’m sure some diseases shoot up my leg covering me in this smelly substance. Ian shakes his head and starts laughing “Like I said, graceful as a Giselle” he says. What a fabulous end to the day.

Advertisements

Finding Myself in Africa- Chapter 12

Finally, some semblance of normalcy today. The rooster gave it a break this morning, hopefully he made himself hoarse and lost his voice yesterday.

We have a variation at school today, we only have to do arts and crafts until around 11 a.m. At that time we are asked to take the kids outside to practice for graduation. Five kids are chosen from each class to do the catwalk and the children walk up and down the “runway” and strike a pose while the other students clap and chant their name. It’s adorable to see them act like any other child I’ve interacted with, they have fun and put a little sass into their routine. It’s touching to know that not much changes between cultures; sure we speak different languages and look different, but when you get down to the core, we are all inherently the same.

While we are practicing for their graduation, kids from the area stop to watch. Their clothes are in poor condition. One girls’ stockings are so visibly old that her toes are no longer covered and holes are scattered throughout revealing her skinny legs. All of the children are dirty, their clothes tattered and torn, they sit and watch us and I can’t help but wonder if they look upon our students with envy. They don’t appear to have much other than the clothes on their back and an old basketball they kick around as a soccer ball.

There is an old abandoned, beat up car that sits in the side alley next to the school where we are practicing for graduation. I look behind me and the kids that previously were watching us are now climbing on the car, using it as their own personal jungle gym. It is incredibly sad to watch these kids get so much enjoyment from an old abandoned care because they have nothing else.

I’m losing weight drastically here and it’s no wonder why. At lunch time the other teachers are getting worried because I won’t eat more than a banana. I don’t have the heart to tell them that it’s because I’m squeamish about flies in my food, I feel like that might offend them. They constantly ask if I’m okay or tell me to eat or ask if I’m hungry. I figure the best answer is I’m not very hungry, I just like bananas for lunch.

I’ve been here a little over a week now and when I get home it’s time to do laundry and oh, is it an experience! There are no washing machines her, everything is by hand. I really give the people down here credit, my back is killing my back is killing me by the time I’m done from squatting hunched over a small plastic basin.

The process is time consuming, everything takes a little longer down here. Lydia and Virginia were kind enough to show me the process and laughed when I gave them an incredulous look at the effort it takes. We have to fill one basin with cold water and pour detergent mix in before mixing it around in the water. We put a few items in and scrub them and then put them in another basin to rinse off the soap and then hang them on a clothesline to dry. The problem is it’s the rainy season and I’m just praying that my clothes dry before the overcast sky decides to let the rain fall.

So now I wait until my clothes dry, and let me just say, I am NOT pleased about my undergarments being out there for the world to see.

Tonight is bible study for the family and since I’m trying to be engaging more, I sat at the table to work on my blog, however, it is near impossible to sit in a room and not hear what they are saying.

Near the end, Barnabas begins talking about our sins and says to not become a drunkard. He says (and I’m paraphrasing) that “those who partake in drinking will die young, go to hell, and your soul will belong to the devil.” So, bad news for all of you out there who enjoy a good drink, you will live a short life and go to hell apparently.

Every night after writing my blog in my journal I go to bed with my phone and type the blog up on my phone. It is usually a two-hour process in all but tonight I am hindered by an unexpected guest in my room. I am walking toward my bunkbed when something small crawls out from my mattress. It looks kind of like a stinkbug, it takes me a minute to realize it is actually a cockroach when Rose walks in. I begin hyperventilating and yell at her “what is that!?” She starts laughing, grabs it with her hand, throws it to the ground and stomps on it with her bare foot. Laughing, she says “It’s just a cockroach.” I respond with “Oh is that all!?” I miss home, I did NOT sign up for that, on second thought, I guess I kind of did.

Finding Myself in Africa- Chapter 10

I’m beginning to lose track of the hours; it has only been a week but the rooster is no longer loud enough to wake me up. I don’t know why, but I am much more tired here than when I am at home. I have been taking a nap after school every single day, something I never do at home. But perhaps that’s because at home I don’t slow down enough to realize I’m tired.

I shouldn’t feel so exhausted here, I’m not doing any strenuous work. In fact, I hardly feel like I’m being used at the school at all. I came down here wanting to make a difference and impact someone’s life, yet I really don’t feel like I’m doing that.

Today the children have exams so all Virginia, Lydia and myself do is draw pictures for the children and spell out words for the kids to learn next year. We sit in the back office, which is really the size of a closet and draw and color and hardly talk. When this all started out I was told that I would be working in an orphanage for 3 weeks and the hospital for 3 weeks… I am not doing any of that at all. The school closes next Friday and I don’t think they know what to do with me. The other volunteers tell me they thought they would be doing something completely different too. I can’t help but feel I am wasting my time.

I know I sound like a whining child, I should be taking notice of the poverty around me and being appreciative and doing what I can to help. It’s hard knowing that I was promised to be doing so much more than sitting in a back room drawing. Part of me thinks I came here at a bad time though, maybe I should have waited until after the holidays and the kids would be in school learning; but I suppose I am still trying to get the hang of things.

After a long 8 hours, we walk the students home and then make our way for the house. The power went out last night around midnight, so I plugged my phone in just in case it came back on. I get to the house to realize that the power is still out, guess I’ll spend my downtime catching up on some reading then. I brought 5 books with me and I’ve already finished one, so I move onto Jane Eyre, a classic.

The family arrived home today and Rose comes over and gives me a big hug. “I missed you” she says in my ear. It almost makes me feel bad for being so happy she was gone all weekend. Almost. She’s really sweet, but she still smells.

Since the power is out, that means dinner by lantern and candlelight, reminding me of the times as a child when the power went out. My parents would lay out blankets in the living room and light some candles and we would have a starlit dinner. The rain is coming down in droves and it’s bittersweet, bringing back these memories; it would have been nice tonight had it not been for not being able to contact my family all day. Being able to stay in contact with the outside world is probably what keeps me sane.

Chapter 7-Finding Myself in Africa

Chapter 7

On my fourth day in this poor, third-world country I wake up to realize I enjoy the rooster crowing at 6 a.m. It’s like a nifty alarm clock I don’t have to set; he goes off at 15-minute intervals like clockwork, snooze button included!

Going to the school is becoming easier for me. I’m finally getting into the swing of things and I know my way around, although I am admittedly a little quieter than I usually am. I’m waiting to come into my own out here, in fairness, it’s only been four days.

Mila (the mom at the house I stay at and the teacher I work with) was out today, she had to have a checkup since she is due to have her baby at the end of this month. She didn’t want me to teach her class because she thinks I am too quiet. I almost laughed at that, I am the furthest thing from quiet. So instead I spent the day with Lydia and Virginia (the two German volunteers).

I’m getting more comfortable with the kids. Today we can spend the majority of the day playing games and practicing for their graduation. Graduation occurs every two years in the school and in 2 weeks I will get to watch the kids walk in front of their families and receive their little diplomas.

It is becoming easier to relate to the children this way; Lydia, Virginia and myself taught the kids how to walk on a catwalk and strike a pose at the end. It is so cute watching the girls walk like supermodels. They shake their cute little hiney’s and place a hand softly on their hip and walk like they own the runway.

Finally, after much practicing we watched teacher Tyson walk out of the building to watch our progress. The boys and girls were beginning to get tired of posing for the “runway” and Teacher Tyson stopped us to play some games. One or two were so familiar I had to laugh, including red light/green light and shark which is essentially a game of tag but once you get tagged you become a shark too and have to tag the other kids. They giggled and ran with so much joy and happiness it was infectious.

After several games, with the 8-10-year-olds giggling and out of breath we once again begin to practice for graduation.

Each class has their own announcement. The baby class and pre-unit are first up as they thank their “teachers and parents and fellow people” for their education, class 1 showed how they can count in English and class two showed how they can spell in English.

As the class practices, I sit on an old, beat up car that has been deserted for what looks like years. I look down at the kids and try to keep them quiet, in line, and keep them from jumping up on the car since I am being a bad influence. The rehearsal takes about an hour which is cause for a little complaint from me since I am beginning to bake in the sun and my nose is turning into a poorly represented Rudolph’s nose.

When we finally take a break for lunch I can’t help but opt out of eating. I take one look at the flies covering my food and I can’t do it. I think maybe I’ll have some watermelon, but as I look over and see the 20 some-odd flies covering it I think to myself, maybe not.

Everyone sits in their chairs, which are more children’s chairs you’d normally see in a pre-school, and the begin to talk. Not having any food myself I mostly sit and listen to the conversations around me until I am, for the first time, included.

Teacher Winnie who teaches the baby class looks fondly at my hair as she asks “Do you put oils in your hair after the shower?” I reply with a tentative “no” and smile saying I don’t put anything in my hair. Her mouth opens in an astonished gasp and says, “Do you just get out of the shower and your hair looks like that?!” I begin laughing, I don’t know what to say. This is a completely different type of lifestyle and we are still talking beauty products as if I were back home. There is a momentary pause before Teacher Winnie starts commenting on how smooth it is and asks me to take it out of the ponytail I have it put up in haphazardly to see how long it is. “Your hair is so pretty and long,” she says, “and the color looks perfect with your skin!”

It kind of makes me feel bad. In the States, we are so consumed with being the picture of perfection. We are constantly comparing ourselves to each other, it’s always a competition. Yet here I am, in mud-splattered jeans, dirt-encrusted sneakers, a grungy pullover sweater, my hair pulled back in a haphazard bun and no make-up and I STILL get complimented because my hair is smooth and my hair color is pretty. It makes me wonder, why do we try so hard instead of being proud of the qualities we already possess that don’t have a label?

As lunch ends it is time to round the kids up, and since Teacher Tyson is practicing the graduation with our students I go to the kitchen to help Leonard was the dishes. As he scrubs the plates and I rinse the soap off in the bucket of clean water we begin talking about what it’s like in America.

The conversation makes me feel increasingly like an entitled American as he asks me if we wash dishes by hand in America. I tell him sometimes, but we have a machine that washes dishes for us. He then asks me what about clothes. I say “we have a machine to wash clothes too.” He thinks the concept is funny and asks how a dishwasher works. I explain that there is a machine that we place the dishes into and pour soap into a small hole. When we close the door of the machine and press start the machine begins to wash the dishes for us. A smile breaks across his face as he says he wants to visit America so he can see the machine that washes dishes.

Eventually the conversation turns to where I work and I tell him I work in a restaurant. He asks if there is a machine there that washes dishes too? I smile and kindly tell him there is, it is at this point that he suggests that when I go back I should teach the dishwashers to wash the plates by hand like we do in Kenya. Laughter escapes from my mouth before I can stop it and I tell him that the dishwashers wouldn’t be okay with that, he looks at me confused and wanted to know why. I kindly explain that there are too many dishes to wash by hand, it wouldn’t be fast enough.

At that point he stops washing dishes and looks as me seriously and says, “In Kenya we don’t mind hard work and it is important to work for everything. You should teach that to your dishwashers.”

It continues to amaze me how much we take for granted. At home, I complain about loading the dishwasher when it does the work for me and here they are proud of a little hard work.

As the school day comes to an end I gather up my things and walk the kids across the street so they can run home to their families before I rush to the house to take a much needed nap. These days seem to be taking a lot out of me, but with the time change and the rooster waking me up at 6 a.m. I can hardly be surprised.

Rose wakes me up for my nap to tell me it’s time for dinner, so I slowly walk to the kitchen to find, much to my delight that we are having a real treat for dinner. On the table I see pasta with broccoli and carrots! My face instantly lights up like it’s Christmas morning, causing the other volunteers (Tim, Lydia and Virginia) to laugh at my excitement.

Yesterday when we went to the Nakumat (grocery story) I saw Heinz ketchup. Anyone who knows me knows I had to buy it. With that in mind I jump up from the table to run to my bedroom to grab my ketchup. It is honestly the best dinner I’ve had since I arrived. After my first helping I ask if anyone else wants more before I dig in for seconds, which would have been the remainder of the food. I receive funny looks all around and quickly try to tell them that I don’t want to take the rest if someone wants more, but no one says anything and just continues to look at me as if I have two heads, so I shrug my shoulders and dig in. I guess down here it is survival of the fittest and ’86 the manners.

I have begun to make it a ritual of sitting at the dinner table after we have all cleaned up and put the dishes away to write in my journal. I later post everything I write online and I find it very therapeutic and a way to share my life with loved ones back home. As I write tonight’s journal entry I notice that Joseph (Barnabas and Mila’s son) is watching Disney channel. It’s the same Princess Sophia show my nephew watches back home and all I can think it how amazing it is that halfway across the world, I am still finding ways that culture doesn’t matter. We are all inherently the same.

End of Chapter 3/ Chapter 4

The car makes its way slowly as it turns onto an old dirt road. Trodden so many times it’s hard to believe vehicles can drive through the area at all as I bump up and down in the back seat. The car swerves to the left and right avoiding holes in the road and the bigger mounds of dirt. It’s 11 p.m. and it is hard to make out the area through the darkness but I vaguely see houses and shops built haphazardly along the side of the road. Graffiti covers the aluminum walls and it’s hard to determine where one shop ends and another begins. We take a swift left before stopping in a tight enclosure. The path leads on to what I can only assume are homes as Jackson gets out of the car and runs up to a blue metal gate; after slowly pulling it open he runs back to the car and parks in the driveway.

A clothesline hangs above the vehicle with a few white shirts hanging off of it and I glance up to see a small modest home. After stepping out of the car the overwhelming smell of body odor and rotting garbage fills my nostrils, making me nauseous as Jackson walks to the trunk and pulls out my over-sized London Fog suitcase. I am immediately ashamed that I brought a $200 bag with me to a third-world country. My only hope is there is somewhere I can put it so it remains out of sight during my stay here.

We wheel my suitcase to the front door where Barnabas extracts a key from the inside of his jacket and opens the door. I am instantly amazed at how quiet and chilly the night is, “this is Africa” I think to myself, “shouldn’t it be sweltering hot?”

It’s been a long trip to get here, a 16-hour flight and finally I am in Kenya, but all I can think is how much I want to be in bed. Barnabas shows me to my room and tells me that there are three other volunteers here that I will meet in the morning. I walk in my room and meet Rose, she works for Barnabas and will be my roommate for the next three months. She comes up quickly to me and gives me a hug, her English is better than I expected, I don’t know what I thought, but I expected there to be a language barrier of some sort.

She directs me to the top bunk. I have to climb up the end of the bed to reach my cot where there is a blue mesh net hanging from the ceiling. Rose shows me how to drape the netting around the bed to keep out the mosquitos while we are sleeping. It seems to me to be more of an annoying unnecessary process than anything, but I think, “better safe than sorry” as I lay down on my hard mattress and let the crickets lull me to sleep.

Chapter 4

The next morning, I wake up a little disoriented and a little earlier than I had hoped to. A rooster with the biggest set of vocal pipes I’ve ever heard cries out at about 6 a.m., (or 10 p.m. east standard time). I yawn and sit up, looking around I see the room is tiny, a small wooden dresser stands at the foot of the bed with Rose’s perfumes and clothing covering it, while a rack stands in the opposite corner where her towels and jacket hang in a disheveled row. I climb down the ladder of the bed and nearly fall backwards into a table that I would have seen at a backyard party set for party snacks.

I shove my suitcase haphazardly below it and meander out of the room and down a small hallway. Entering through a door I see Barnabas sitting at the table sipping on a cup of tea and a young man who looks about my age sits across from him with a laptop open in front of him. Rose can be seen cleaning dishes through an opening in the wall next to the table and I sit down while Barnabas offers some bread and butter for me.

It is at that point that I decide I should keep a daily blog and begin to take note of everything I am seeing, eating, smelling, living.

Day 1

I am finally in Nairobi, I really thought this day would never come. The flight was what I was most frightened of, but I had no idea what I would be in for.

I am staying in a modest home. A small television set sits near a window next to a stereo. Two armchairs and a couch sit in the middle of the room and seem to be more for display than anything else.

The room I live in is small and quaint with a table pushed up against the wall and a bunk bed for myself and my roommate, Rose, pushed up against the opposite wall. The bathroom consists of a toilet and nothing else. A small rust covered sink is in the hallway for us to brush our teeth.

Taking a shower becomes an experience. A nozzle comes out of the wall and water falls on the laminate floor. A switch needs to be turned on for the hot water, which is separate from the cold. It gets too hot so a small green basin has to be filled before being poured over myself to wash off the grime for the day.

At this point I interrupt your daily blog material to say that I did not explain the bathroom situation clearly enough. The bathroom has flies covering the walls and crawling on the floor. Small flies that are more of a nuisance than anything else. The shower is one of the most difficult things to get used to. As I shower I think of the glorious shower back home, falling in a steady stream on top of my head. The shower in Kenya forces me to wear flip flops to take my shower, strongly reminding me of my days back in college, fear of contracting any sickness followed me to Kenya. The thought crosses my mind that I should thank my mother for instilling the sense of fear of becoming ill while I’m here.

The water falls in one single stream and is either scalding hot when the electricity it working, or freezing ice cold when it’s out. There aren’t any nozzles to adjust it to just the right temperature, which becomes an issue when it’s time to shave. Because as my mother would put it, unless I want to look like Magilla Gorilla, I needed to shave.

The process in turn became taking a wash cloth and dowsing it under the hot water, waiting for it to cool down before wringing it out over my body. Imagine the method of washing my hair; if my scalp gets hit by the water, it’s a pain I’ve never known.

As far as the sink goes, for brushing my teeth or washing my hands, well, washing my hands wasn’t an option. The bar of soap looks like it has been sitting there since the family bought the house and might make my hands dirtier and be a tad counterproductive; so hand sanitizer becomes the course of action. I risk brushing my teeth with the water, I have read that as long as I don’t swallow the water, I will be fine, so fingers crossed.

I have become most nervous about eating while I am here. For lunch we had liver and rice with cabbage and potatoes. It was incredibly difficult to choke down and a couple of thoughts crossed my mind. For one, I hope I don’t insult them by throwing this up, two, I miss American food, three, I guess I’m going to be a vegetarian while I’m here.

It is the rainy season here in Nairobi and the sun shines briefly in the middle of the day, but not long enough to dry up the puddles that cover the sidewalks and the dirt road. Piles of trash line the street and I can’t help but wonder why they don’t have an organization to clean it up. I know money is an issue down here, things cost almost nothing for me, but it could even be a job for the volunteers. Send people in to clean up the streets.

Yet somehow, despite being surrounded by so much filth, the people seem to be happy. I hear Rose in the kitchen humming to herself while she cooks. I hear children outside laughing while they play. At the Havilla Children’s Centre, kids are separated into groups and are learning in classrooms so small you can barely open the door. Yet despite all that they are so happy. They laugh and smile and sing; I was told to wait in a classroom for a few minutes and the children ran to me shouting “Teacher Nikki! Teacher nikki!” And held my hand and gave me many hugs.

These children come from the Kibera slums, the worst slums in Kenya, and a place I will be visiting tomorrow. No, I am not prepared.

The power is out right now, which happens from time to time, so I have to write next to the window on the couch that no one sits on. I am sore already from the stiffness of the furniture and have already begun dreaming of home. “Am I crazy?” Is a thought that continuously crosses my mind. “Three months? What was I thinking?” I’m sure it will get easier; it is only the first day.

The people here seem to be incredibly friendly. They smile and wave and ask me about home. One boy who lives with us, Jackson, suggested multiple times that maybe he should come back to the U.S with me. He asked about where I work and said he could work there too. It was very sweet to hear him talk about it.

There are so many people living in this house with me. There is Barnabas and his wife Mila and their 4-year-old son Joseph. Rose (their maid) and Jackson, Tim (a volunteer from Indiana), and Virginia and Lydia (volunteers from Germany) and then myself of course. People are always stopping in and I’m surprised I’ve remembered as many names as I have.

This is certainly going to become quite the adventure.

Finding Myself in Africa-Chapter 3

Chapter 3

After what seems like forever the plane finally touches down in Kenya. “I can’t believe I am actually in another country, on another continent!” The thought scares and excites me, I’ve never been this far away from home and I immediately get worried. The ‘what if’s’ that I didn’t think about before now surface as I step off the plane into the muggy airport. It’s smaller than I expected, there is no security as I step off the plan and through the gates, I look around and see empty walls, noting that this part of the airport hasn’t seen it’s days of glory in a very long time.

I immediately run to the restroom where I notice there is a working toilet and with a surreal sense of understanding, I have to remind myself that this might be the last time I use plumbing for the next three months.

As I exit the stall the worrying thoughts fill my mind once more. I begin to be afraid that no one will be there to pick me up and I am about to go against everything my mother once told me, “don’t get in the car with strangers.” I laugh a little to myself as I think that is exactly what I am about to do. I wonder if my mom is nervous for me, I know I am.

There is a small queue to pass through “security” which consists of haphazard guards checking to make sure you have a visa. I get nervous, as anyone would, when coming up to the guards. What if they don’t let me through. My worries are needless though as they barely glance at my passport and wave me through.

Once past security I am outside, the arriving area is set up similar to a metro station with no doors on once side, it is completely open. I stop and look around, I feel very out of place with my London Fog suitcase and wish I had packed lighter. My eyes scan the crowd looking for Barnabas but my eyes land instead on a dark skinned man. He is hard to see except for the whites of his eyes and his white teeth that reveal a big smile. He is holding up a sign for Nikki Main and I walk over thinking he looks nothing like Barnabas.

I am instantly shy, which anyone who knows me would find it hard to believe, as he holds out his hand and introduces himself as Jackson, he works for Barnabas. He tells me in a thick Kenyan accent to follow him and we walk down the parking lot to see Barnabas leaning against the wall waiting for us.

He welcomes me to Kenya and says he hopes I enjoy myself and guides me through the parking lot to their car. It is surprising to note that all of the cars in the parking lot are brand new, similar to the cars back in the States, even the car Jackson is driving sparkles. I am shocked, as we leave the parking lot and drive onto the highway I begin to notice all of the signs are in English, there are palm trees lining the road and there seems to be no speeding laws at all. We speed down the highway, all the while Jackson and Barnabas talk freely in Swahili in the front seat and soft Kenyan music plays in the background.

I am beginning to get optimistic about the living conditions, “this may not be so bad,” I think to myself…until we turn onto the road to the slums.

Finding Myself In Africa – Chapter Two

Chapter Two

It was a cold winter night when I decided to pay a visit to my parent’s house. After a couple weeks of contemplating my future, I decided it was time to share my plans. I sat at the kitchen counter sipping hot coffee and I looked at my family laughing and relating the news of their day. I took a deep breath before telling them I had something we needed to talk about. I’m almost positive they prepared for the worst, as is natural with parents, when your 23-year-old says “I need to tell you something” your mind most likely does not go to bright and shiny places. Their expressions grew somber as they asked me what I had to tell them. I then proceeded to ask them if they remembered the book I had loved as a kid, Angel of Hope. I shared the premise of the book with them and I could see it all come flooding back as they realized what I was planning to do. I calmly told them that instead of looking for a job, I would spend the next eight months saving and preparing to go to Africa and do volunteer work.

I was surprised at the responses I got from my parents. I expected, being daddy’s little girl, that my father would be nervous and tell me absolutely not. But my dad was incredibly supportive, he told me if that’s what makes me happy then I should do it. My mom on the other hand, instantly tried to talk me out of it, she worried about the dangers, so much could happen there. It is a dangerous place. The government is corrupt, kidnappings happen all the time. She was right, of course, but I needed to see for myself. I still felt the desire to be inspired, and in my heart I knew that going to Africa was the right thing to do. Have you ever just had a moment, you were coming to a decision but didn’t know what to do? Finally, you just went with your gut and once you chose you knew deep down that was the right decision? That’s how I felt once I made the decision to volunteer.

The next day I started saving money. I took a Folgers can and determined that would be my private stash, I had received my tax return consisting of a few thousand dollars and knew that would be a good starting point, so I set it aside. Every time I picked up a shift, it went in the jar, every time I made more than 100 dollars the extra went in the jar. You’d be surprised how quickly money accumulates when you remove the ability to spend it. First I applied through the Institute for Field Research and Expeditions (IFRE), then I paid for the insurance and the housing fees. I did my research and after a few weeks comparing poverty level, climate and price, I decided that Kenya had the best program for me. After paying the initial fees I bought my plane ticket and my visa. Once the big fees were covered, I began saving for the shots I needed to stay healthy in a third-world country.
While all of this sounds very tedious, it is meant as encouragement, that if I can do it, anyone can. It’s amazing how hard you work when you really are invested in something. Two months before I left I got hit with a massive bill, my car needed a lot of work done and it required most of my savings to fix it. Two thousand dollars went to fix my car that month and suddenly I had no idea how I was going to go to Africa. I had spent the rest of my money preparing for this trip, and now I had nothing for while I was there. I considered selling the car until I found out that what it was worth, was less than it cost to fix it. Like I said though, anything worth having is worth the obstacles you have to overcome to get there.

Before I knew it, it was October 1 and I was moving out of my apartment; then I blinked and it is November 1 and I am leaving for Nairobi.

I wake up that morning with butterflies in my stomach and for the first time second guess myself. Should I be doing this? Am I crazy to be doing this?

I push those thoughts away as I pack up my room. The usually cluttered area has now been stuffed into various boxes. I take one final look around, close the door and mentally prepare myself to leave for a trip I am certain will change my life. After a brief nap on the clean, soft, leather couch in my parent’s living room I wake up to realize it is 4 p.m., time to go.

My dad helps carry my over-sized suitcase holding three months’ worth of clothes, toiletries and medicines to my mom’s red Mercedes Benz. Once in the car it is unusually silent, the 45-minute  drive to Baltimore-Washington International Airport suddenly feels endless. As we coast along I-695 taking the ramp toward Baltimore my mom turns around in her seat to tell me, “You don’t have to go you know. You can back out.” It takes a moment or two for her words to sink in. I sit in stunned silence before exclaiming “You say that now, on our way to the airport? Of course I’m going.” She slowly turns around and I hear her softly sigh and say, “I just want you to know you don’t have to do this.” I quietly sit in the backseat and glance out the window.

I know she has been through a lot, it was only two weeks ago that my mom lost her mother and it was only a week after that when my brother left for the Marine Corps. Now, only a week after my brother, my mom is driving me to the airport where I will get on a plane and journey 7,400 miles to a country known for it’s poverty, disease and crime.

As we pull up to the curb and I unload my bags there doesn’t seem to be a grandiose farewell; I hug my parents and my mom tells to be safe. Mom pulled out her camera and tearfully took a few photos, excluding herself from the camera’s lens. But mom has always been like that, always behind the camera, never in front of it. I say goodbye and give one final hug before walking through the doors to the airport. I glance back quickly to say goodbye one more time, but they are already in the car and pulling away from the drop off zone.

“Great,” I think to myself as I proceed through the entrance and follow signs to check my suitcase. I am completely alone, this is the first thing I have ever done truly on my own and if we’re being honest, I am incredibly scared. With all the research I’ve done I know nothing is going to prepare me for the things I’m going to see, and I begin to worry. What if my suitcase gets lost? What if I get on the wrong flight? What if the family that is supposed to be picking me up in Nairobi isn’t who I think they are and I end up on the news “Girl Goes Missing in Africa.” I am a worst case scenario thinker; I start to wonder if I am prepared.

I walk my suitcase to the counter and the woman tells me to lift my bag onto the scale. After some struggling with the 60 pound bag that is nearly the size of me I finally get it on the belt when she tells me it will be one hundred dollars. My heart stops in my chest. A hundred dollars to put a suitcase on an airplane! This is ridiculous, I think, as I hand over the money. I already have limited funds and now I have to waste it on a bag.

Next, I make my way over to customs, security isn’t as bad as I thought it would be with all of the violence going on in the world, but then again, I’m leaving the country, not trying to get back into it. Now it’s time to wait, I sit in the terminal and text my mom for what I think will be the final time before arriving in Africa. We download Whatsapp to stay in contact, just in case I will have service. Finally, I hear the boarding call and slowly make my way over to the line. “This is it,” I think, as I walk through the gate.

The first flight to Heathrow International Airport is eight hours, I have brought five books in my carry on, I have my journal, headphones, an Ipod and there is a personal television on the flight. “I can do this,” I think as I begin to look up the films listed.

Once in Heathrow I am thankful for the one hour layover, because it takes me that long to get from one terminal to another which actually requires transportation via bus. Feeling overly thrilled that I am able to find my way from one terminal to another without getting lost I pull out my phone to make a very important call home. At this point it is one in the morning back home but my mom answers anyway. I get a very sleepy “hello” before letting her know that I am in London, safe and sound, waiting for my next flight. We talk for a few minutes when I hear the boarding call. I tell her I love her and if I can, I’ll call when I arrive in Nairobi. The phone goes dead as she hangs up and I realize this is the furthest away from my family that I’ve ever been. I take a deep breath and join the line for the flight to Jomo-Kenyatta Airport.

2 November 2015

I can’t believe it. I am 40 minutes away from Nairobi. I am so excited for this experience; I can’t help but wonder if I am crazy for doing this. Everyone says I’m brave but I’m not so sure. I’ve been told I inspire people and they are so proud of me. The thing is, it was only a dream that I knew I had to see through. How could I pass this up? I have no idea what to expect, I have absolutely no money, but somehow that doesn’t matter. This will be extraordinary and I can’t wait. I’m fairly certain though that I am definitely crazy for doing this.