8 Trips You Need to Take in Your Lifetime ~ Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

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Finding Myself in Africa- Chapter 14

Day 11

I had such an incredible day today. Maybe it’s because I’m finally getting comfortable with the kids and I know what I’m doing at the school. But today I was sitting in the courtyard thinking about why I’m here and the experience I wanted to get and everyone back home. I was thinking about everything I was missing out on by being here, it’s mom’s birthday and while I got to talk to her this morning it is the first birthday in 24 years that I won’t be spending with her. And then I started to think about something a friend of mine said. He told me he is jealous of where I am and what I’m doing. At the time I was really missing home and feeling bitter about my living situation. I told him there is nothing to be jealous of, I wish I could be home. And then I started thinking about it today, I am so lucky. I’m having the kind of experience many people crave but don’t have the nerve to seek out.

I have the opportunity to meet so many new people and learn about different cultures, not just the Kenyan culture. I have been blessed to meet other volunteers, people from such different backgrounds and from different parts of the world. And I have had been able to experience that while we are so different, we are also very much the same. I am so immensely lucky for this opportunity. It took me two weeks to realize it, but better late than never. I am ashamed of telling my friend not to be jealous because there are so many things that break my heart to see, things I never wanted to see, but it is the most wonderful, annoying, crazy, saddening, incredible experience I could have hoped for.

I step out of my epiphany to take pictures of the kids. I’m smiling and laughing and have finally become completely immersed in the experience I am having here. I don’t think I have smiled that much in a long time.

It is dirty here, and the streets are unpaved and lined with trash, but I’m falling in love with the people here. Their positive outlook is unparalleled and contagious.

We played with the kids all day long and took endless pictures. It is pure fun involving piggy back rides and throwing the kids up in the air. They enjoyed most of all getting their pictures taken and taking mine. I’ve never seen so many kids enamored by a camera, but it was amusing to me that they all knew how to use it perfectly. Children somehow never cease to amaze me.

When the kids go down for naptime us volunteers made our way into the storage room where we spend most of our time. Virginia pulled out a guitar that she brought to school and insisted on singing. She asked Ian to teach us a song which he refused so we ended up singing the same four lines we all knew to Galway Girl.

“And I ask you frien, what’s a fella to do.

Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue.

And I knew right then I’d be takin’ a whirl

‘Round the Salthill Prom with a Galway girl.”

The end result… the song was stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

After naptime I decided I wanted to do something special for my momma on her birthday, even though I was so far away. So we all went to Class One where I filmed the kids singing happy birthday to my mom. My favorite part was when the kids started singing “Are you one, are you two, are you three, are you four, are you five…” We couldn’t do that forever so finally Virginia stops the class and yells “No, she is 50!” The kids burst out laughing and wouldn’t stop, it was contagious.

After walking the kids home from school the four of us decided to do some vendor shopping. The girls leave tomorrow and I’ll be so sad to see them go. They made the hardest days enjoyable, but we will keep in touch and with any luck I will see them next year.

Life is improving here, the family is very considerate and have started cooking things I like for dinner. This means a lot of pasta, but I’m not complaining, at least I’m eating. My stomach is shrinking I think, I don’t require much food now which is fine and I’ve come to realize I like Rose a lot more after 10 a.m.

Things are looking up and I’m feeling good. Let the good days keep on coming!

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 11

It’s my 8th day in this poverty-stricken country and the power has now been out for the past two days. Even the slightest drizzle of rain causes the WiFi to shut down and the power to go out. It poured all night and it was so loud that even my ear plugs couldn’t keep out the sound. It doesn’t help that I was in bed by 8:30 p.m. like some old woman.

After a fitful night’s sleep I wake up to the rooster directly outside of my window. He must have been angry about the weather because he is LOUD and instead of going off every 15 minutes, it is more like every 2. I strongly am considering finding a gun and putting the annoying bird out of his misery.

After getting to school and setting up shop (we are still making letters and pictures for the kids) I finally have realized where the terrible stench in the courtyard is coming from. I’ve been smelling it for a few days and didn’t realize the toilet the kids use is in the courtyard, right next to where we’ve been working. Although, I use the term “toilet” loosely. It is a small area about the size of a broom closet. There is a wooden door that only locks from the outside and I have seen several children go in to use the toilet at the same time.

How is that possible, you might ask? Well, the toilet is not a conventional toilet; it is a hole in the ground outlined with a plastic rim. A couple times a day a teacher or a group of students dump a bucket of water down the hole, for what purpose I have no idea. All I know is I have to sit in the room right next to it and smell it for 7 hours a day.

I do feel bad for the children, not only do they have to use a substandard toilet, the food we feed them is hardly nutritional. They eat the same food every single day without complaint. We feed them tea and bread in the morning and for lunch they get a small portion of white rice with watered down beans and cabbage. They actually put extra cups of water in the beans to make it a soup-like substance so there is more to go around.

On the side, they get a small slice of banana or watermelon but when I am finished serving the food there is always some pieces left. Carefully I take the tray to the baby class first but the children swarm around me. They all want the extra food I have to offer. Their hands are in front of my face and I raise the tray high above their heads for fear of them knocking it down. They yell “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” hoping I will hear them and put a morsel of food in their tiny, outstretched hand. The little kids tug on my shirt to get my attention since they are not tall enough for me to see them.

I can’t imagine being so young and having to fight for food because I’m not sure when my next meal will be. The best part though, is these kids have such high hopes for the future. When you ask them what they want to be when they grow up you don’t hear the things you’d expect of a 7-year-old. When I was little we said we wanted to be a ballerina or a champion figure skater or professional baseball player. These kids tell you that they want to be a pilot or a lawyer, a doctor or a pastor; proof that they are reaching for a brighter future.

After getting back to the house the power was out again so I decided to take another nap. I know, I acknowledged already that I nap too much out here. Half an hour later I’m waking up to Lydia at my door telling me the water is back on and I can take a shower.

Due to the power being out I haven’t been able to shower for a couple days and between you and me, I’m starting to smell like my roommate. So I jumped (literally) at the opportunity. I launch myself out of bed and run to the shower, just as it starts to rain again. Even though I really want to soak under the water, two things prevent me from doing so, the small trickle of water coming out of the spout and the fact that I am afraid the rain will cause the water to shut off while I have soap in my hair.

It’s amazing how one day can make any sort of difference in how I feel here. I’m beginning to get more comfortable, instead of hiding out in my room all night, I hang out in the living room with the family. Instead of writing my blog in bed, I sit at the table and write. It’s a very interesting scene with Lydia and Virginia on my right talking in German, and Mila, Rose and Joseph on my left speaking in Swahili. I’m beginning to think I’m not cultured enough. Every country in the world makes their people learn several languages. In America, most of us only know one. I’d like to become more cultured. There are so many opportunities available to us, why not take them?