You might have noticed the giant gap since I last posted. It was for a good reason. I was getting ready for and going on a mission trip to Kenya! Shortly after my last post in March, we were given the opportunity to spend the month of June in western Kenya working with children in the schools. Our dream of moving the Germany has been postponed. We aren’t sure how long it will be at this point, but it has become clear to us that we will have to be debt free before we can start down the road to overseas work. Our goal of starting youth centers and outdoor education programs in Europe will have to wait for a while. It is our goal that the time we spend in the US will be spent working as hard as we can to get as much experience in non profit organizations (hopefully as our full time work) and taking opportunities like this, to gain overseas experience.
It was an amazing experience. I learned so much about life in a third world country and the amazing people who live in these areas. I have to say, the one thing that has stuck with me is just how happy the people in Kenya were. Most Americans living in the same situation as these people, would be angry, but not the Kenyans. They were so happy and welcoming and positive, it was truly inspiring. We went with an organization that focuses on evangelism. It’s not really the kind of work we want to do, but the chance to go overseas and work within a new culture for an entire month was too good to pass up. We got the chance to not only work with the children of western Kenya, but we also spent a lot of time with the Kenyans who daily worked with these kids. We got to learn about their lives and their culture by submerging ourselves into it.
The most obvious and immediate things we noticed about Kenya was the buildings. Nairobi looked like it could have been pretty much any city. I mean, it doesn’t look like a city in America, the store fronts are different and the architecture isn’t the same, but it was like a lot of cities I’ve been in. There were high rises, little hole in the wall restaurants, apartment buildings and drug stores. The driving is very different, but crowded and has it’s own rythm, like any other city. It’s when you leave the city that everything starts to look starkly different. The buildings were made of cinder blocks or sheet metal and most of the businesses had advertisements painted all over them. There were few homes we saw that most Americans wouldn’t describe as hovels. We asked the local team members that we were working with what their homes were like. One said that he lived in a mud home that he built himself with no electricity or indoor plumbing, another lived in an apartment that was about 200-300 sq ft with both electricity and indoor plumbing, but their metal roof leaked in many places. Only one person we talked to lived in a home that would be comparable to to a middle class family of 3-4 people and they said 6+ people lived in the home. A few of the Americans we were with looked at the conditions the Kenyans lived in as though it was sad and depressing. The homes could use a bit of fixing up and the more urban areas were very sad, but the traditional mud homes had a simple beauty to them. The way they lived had a certain music to it. It didn’t look like our way of life and we met a few Americans who thought that made it bad, but life is a dance. Every culture has their own unique dance and they are all beautiful in their own right. The further away you got from the cities, the more you could see the traditional local culture come through. The Kenyans didn’t have a lot of the modern conveniences we do, but they loved life and were full of joy, no matter how hard it was or how little they had. They were positively the most inspirational people I have ever met. They inspired me with the way they lived their lives in a quiet dignity. They inspired me with their constant joy despite any situation. They inspired me with the simplicity of their lives and the rejection of materialistic desires. his, was just the beginning of what we would see in Kenya.
In the schools, we saw children of all economic levels. Thinking back to the kids from the wealthy areas and the fancy schools, the thing that amazed me was how smart they were. They knew things that I didn’t even learn in high school. I think sometimes there is a perception that people outside the US can’t receive a great education, especially in African nations. Everything we saw showed us that not only were all these children smart, poor or rich, but the kids from wealthy families were also getting a great education. Their perception and understanding of the outside world blew me away. It was clear, they were as curious of me and my culture as I was of them and their culture. The poor schools broke my heart. Many of the kids thought all the Americans were fat. By US standards I’m not overweight, though I could stand to lose a bit, but I was talking to children who never eat breakfast because they can’t afford to. Any well fed person looked fat to them. Most of them wore two shirts, both full of holes. They said they wore the first shirt to cover the holes of the second and the second to cover the holes of the first. They wore two shirts, but between the two, they were only wearing one full shirt. Most of the kids in the poor areas had no shoes either.
This is where I have to give a shout out to Toms. Their one for one program is not a sham and they are doing exactly what they say they do. Many of the poor schools were full of kids with no shoes like the girls in blue in this picture, but in the poorest schools, the ones so poor the kids couldn’t even afford uniforms most of the time, there were Toms shoes on most of the feet. There were so many, I had to stop taking pictures every time I saw them. I asked the kids where they got their shoes and they told me the Red Cross brought them. When I asked the adults if they knew how the Red Cross got the shoes, they had no idea. I don’t know if it is some big secret or if it just never was mentioned, but they didn’t know that people in America bought the same shoes and every time we did, a pair was donated to a child with no shoes. They were blown away by the generosity and idea that someone would pay so much for a shoe just so their children could have shoes as well. Sometimes, when we had some down time to talk more one on one with the kids, I would put my foot, in my Toms shoe, next to a child’s foot, in their Toms shoe, and I would say “Look! We’re wearing the same shoes. Did you know that in America, these are very popular shoes and all the cool kids wear them?” It never failed to send a shock-wave through the student body. They were amazed that they were wearing the “cool kids” shoes and it seemed to make them very happy to know that they owned something that Americans think of as desirable. I think I would have gotten the same reaction from a group of American children if I had told them that the glasses they wore were the same ones that Justin Bieber wore. They just thought they were shoes that the Red Cross handed out. I never told the kids about how the Red Cross got the shoes. I don’t think it would have really mattered to them. Most of the kids saw Americans as rich and it probably wouldn’t occur to them that it was a sacrifice for an American to pay $60 for shoes. I talked to the adults about it though and they were really very amazed and curious about the program. I explained that we basically overpaid a little bit for the shoes, but that most of us felt it was well worth it to help a child in need. I already have two pairs of Toms shoes, but now I think I’m going to try to buy them any time I need new shoes. For most of those kids, their “Red Cross shoes” were the nicest things they owned. I can’t feed every child in Kenya and I can’t make sure they all have clothes, but I can at least spend a bit more than I would otherwise pay to give just one little boy or girl a pair of really sweet shoes.
While in Kenya, we saw amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery. We got the change to see the local waterfall near the town we stayed at, called Webuye and subsequently Webuye Falls. We also got to have a day off that we spent in Kakamega Forest, the last stand of rain forest in Kenya. It was gorgeous! On our way back to Nairobi, we took two days in Nakuru, Kenya. Nakuru is known for the national wildlife preserve that surrounds Lake Nakuru. It is also the home of the Menengai Crater, a massive shield volcano with one of the biggest calderas in the world. We got the opportunity to visit both of these wonders while visiting Nakuru. It was the cherry on top of an amazing trip that has truly changed my whole outlook and mindset on life. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Oh, one last thing. We got to spend 24 hours in Amsterdam on a layover. As amazing and life changing Kenya was, one day in Amsterdam was life affirming. It was everything we imagined and just really left us feeling at home. It is just became really obvious to us that we love the wilderness and when we choose a vacation, it’s almost always one with sleeping bags and no bathrooms, but when we choose a place to wake up every day, it’s going to be a city every time. It was beautiful in a totally different way than Kenya and had a magical energy. We are already planning on a trip back some day!