So much to say. And really no good way to put it all into words. A tired, four-person team has finally made it back to America – safe, sound, and certainly a little different than when we left.
We got back to our readers late on Monday because of our terribly long matatu ride from Kisumu (emphasis on terribly). This meant we only had half a day, and because we were so exhausted we left early too. I did finish two books though: Radical by David Platt, and God Bless You Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Voneghut, my favorite author. Then we headed home for dinner. The rest of the week with readers went by as usual too. I wish I had had more time to write too because there is no way, after a week as long as this one, to remember all the funny things that we heard from the Kenyans during our reading sessions. I do, however, distinctly remember a few. Ginora asked me if it was true what she seen on her African American friend’s facebook: “Are the Israelis really becoming a big problem in America? I heard they are trying to take over the American parliament.” I responded to her question with a short lesson in American Government and Politics which I am sure fell on deaf ears. My response was followed by an equally difficult question in an entirely different arena, also gathered from her African American friend’s facebook: “Is it true that African Americans are not allowed to get jobs easily in America because they are not allowed to get opportunities at education?” Which is more perplexing to discuss with someone from an entirely different culture in fifth-grade-level-English, American Government or American racism? The answer is yes.
The week also brought meal invitation after meal invitation. We ate dinner at George’s house on Wednesday, dinner at Lule’s on Thursday, lunch at Matilda and Franck’s on Friday, and dinner with Susan and her godfather later that night. Every meal was wonderful and each followed a similar procedure. Light conversation and laughter upon arrival. Pastor Paul arrives. Business-meeting-style fellowship begins: prayer, two songs of praise in Swahili, two songs presented by the Americans, a devotional given by an unsuspecting member of the American team, two more songs of praise, a word of prayer, closing comments of welcome and thanks by Kenyans followed by the same by the Americans. I enjoyed the fellowships. It is refreshing to be so constantly immersed in meditation. But we agreed that PP runs everything with a businessman mindset. The meetings became almost robotic, with the exception of Franck and Matilda’s, for which PP was absent. I did however, discover my favorite African drink – Pineapple Cordial. I made sure to pack a solid liter on my check in.
Early Saturday morning I woke up to a noise at our window. Franck and Matilda had warned us many times to be cautious of intruders, especially at that window. Even despite the steel meshwork of rebar framing, the holes were large enough to get a hand through the windows, which were right by our beds. I got up to investigate and upon finding nothing of interest, simply went to the bathroom and went back to bed. No more than five minutes later I heard the sound again. I sat up, anxiously accepting the fact that I would have to deal with whoever was there. To my relief it was just Abbie. She was putting up decorations for Greg’s twenty-first. Unfortunately it was a sick Greg who woke up with surprise to a room glistening with streamers, a happy birthday sign, and shiny, cardboard balloons. It didn’t put a big damper on the mood though. We went into town to do some last minute shopping with Franck, Matilda and David, and because there was no way to make the cake a surprise, we took Greg with us to get it. The big cake was too expensive, but that was just as well because it seems that the one that best fit our needs and feelings towards Greg was a heart. We asked that “We Love You, Greg!” be written on the cake. Three minutes later the cake came back, “We Love You Guy.” The baker sensed from the abundant laughter that he had made a mistake, but we refused to let him change it. This really was the only message that really summed up, in birthday form, everything that we had experienced in Kenya. A number of friends packed in the small living room to help us celebrate. A few hours after the cake came Fanis’ dinner. And since we had all been living in Africa for a month, we had very few qualms about what we ate. Such was the case with a the fish that Fanis served. The fish that had never, in the week or so since it was caught, been in a refrigerator. The fish that had suffered a thirteen-hour bus ride with Fanis, probably in a plastic bag. The fish that would ruin my night!
Throughout the night, I did not sleep well. I awoke a number of times nauseated, coaxing myself back into a clammy sleep through deep breathing patterns that may have resembled a woman trying to give birth. Finally in the morning, it was too much to deal with. I woke up and told Abbie I wasn’t feeling well. As we began discussing probable causes the thought of the previous night’s fish did me in. I practically jumped through the mosquito netting to get clothes on and sprinted outside just in time to greet Kaitlyn in the front yard with a mouthful of the beautiful stuff. As it turned out, she had a similar experience in the bathroom in the washpail about thirty minutes earlier. Greg too had been sick, making a holy mess of that poor bathroom. Fanis and Kevin worked hard though, and that bathroom never stayed dirty for more than five minutes.
We all opted out of breakfast and arrived at the church by 9:30. It was precisely then that Francis told me that I would again be giving the sermon. We were a sad looking bunch. I gave the lesson and apologized for our lack-luster appearances. Just as I was finishing, Abbie too got sick. Except since there was someone in the bathroom, she left her mark on the bathroom door. It was probably just as well, since inside the small room was the mark I had left inside. Aiming can be hard when your sick and your target is a small hole. I had not passed my target practice with flying colors. A number of the church women rushed to escort Abbie to the church office to be comforted, Susan repeating over and over, “Satan is a liar! Satan is a LIAR!” I guess that was supposed to do something to quell off the nausea. To close the service we all received miniature giraffes and leopards from the church members. As I got up to give my closing remarks to the church, Jerry the Giraffe and Larry the Leopard accompanied me to well-wish the congregation.
After church we went home to some biscuits and pineapple juice that none of us accepted. Then we went to the airport where we were seen off by twenty of our friends in true Kenyan fashion. On our way home I reflected on the trip.
In so many ways the life in Kenya was obviously so very different than my life in America ever will be. I was able to reflect, meditate, and grow so much in Kenya. So how do I take what I learned there and apply it to what I know here? And how do I accept that I will not have that type of time to meditate every day when I get back, but still motivate myself to grow in similar ways? How will I re-acclimate to my life in the states? Don’t get me wrong, I know this was a life changing experience in some ways, but I don’t expect to come back a completely different person in every aspect. And I don’t want to re-apply the same clichés that have already been repeated incessantly. Obviously there is more to wealth than money. Clearly these people can be just as strong in Christ as we are even with less. Of course life is different and that works for them. I don’t want to pretend like these were things that were life-changing things that I didn’t at all anticipate observing. I have heard these clichés before, I have lived these clichés in other places before, I’ve probably even said these types of things before. I want to take back the more subtle things. I want to truly be a student of the blatant and subtle differences in how relationships are formed and interactions take place. And I want to truly be a scholar of not only the cultural education this specific opportunity provides for me, but also what this specific culture says about other cultures and other people.
It’s so interesting how experiences and interactions affect different people in different ways. On the flight between Addis Ababa and Washington DC I overheard and participated in conversations with some of these people. One girl told me she had enjoyed her time in Tanzania but would never want to have to live in any place like that. She talked about the lifestyle in a sympathetic, almost demeaning way. It was as if she were talking about a group of poor dogs with rabies. I heard others bleating about how disgusted they were with America and Americans – their self-servicing, self-centered lifestyle. I harmonize with both sides in small ways, but feel that both are too parochial to fully appreciate the richness of the gap between our lifestyles. Many in Africa could certainly reap benefits in health and comfort if they adopted cleaner living standards and education. And many in America would be a lot less ignorant if they realized the importance and truth of the saying, “Money isn’t everything.” Still, I’m not ready to buy everyone in Africa a car, refrigerator and trashcan, or argue that every American should empty their bank accounts and trash their 401(k). Both cultures are, for the most part, comfortable living how they live for simply that reason: it is how they live. It is how they have learned to live. To act like either needs to completely change the way they live is as culturally insensitive as not acknowledging the difference at all. Different cultures are just different. That’s all there is to it, and that’s okay.
It’s been a wonderful trip. Sitting in my living room with my sister though, I’m glad to be home. But this summer’s undertakings have left on me a lasting impression that will never fade.