Reflections from the first week

An update from Sam:

After arriving in Nairobi I was equally nervous and exited to meet my group leader and group members. I had prepared for the trip many weeks in advance, but it was only at that moment in the airport when everything hit me.

“I’m in Kenya!” I thought to myself, “A country thousands of miles away from home”.

All throughout the plane ride I had been questioning my motives; “Why am I leaving the comforts of my home when I could be making money with a summer job?”

Even though I had many doubts, they were all erased upon meeting my group leader, Geno, and members Mary-Stuart, Rachel, and Michelle. It only took me a few seconds to realize that these people were my friends. We were all taking the same chances and exposing ourselves to the same risks, but I figured that if we realized the similarity of our situation then we could all form a bond closer than any of us would have ever imagined. We were having our first group meeting in the Karen Guesthouse and I remember one thing Geno said, which stuck with me: “I believe we are all here for a reason” she said, “for some reason I believe it was meant to be us”. It is these words of faith that gave me the confidence I needed in the initial stages of the trip.

The first week in Kenya was overwhelming. The itinerary was perfectly designed and the schedule allowed for just the right amount of rest, but nothing could have truly prepared me for the culture shock. Even something as simple as walking through the city became an exhausting event. I soon learned that the best way to conserve my energy would be through silence. It was through this silence that I was able to actively listen, hear, see, and smell the new world around me. I wasn’t completely silent because I was still eager to talk with my group members and leader. I wanted to learn about their lives, but at the same time I wanted to openly talk about myself and my experiences.

If I could characterize Kenyans and their way of life with one word I would say “patience”. The pace of life here is much slower, so it is important to be patient. Things will progress, but it takes one step at a time. Even when talking with villagers I find that they are eager to know more about America, but it takes much patience to describe everything in three different ways. When listening to someone I find that it is important to be mindful of cultural differences.

Frustration is useless. It hinders any progress and it only detracts from the experience. Even when something bad happens I find that it is helpful to take a few deep breaths. It helps me remember that no problem is too serious in Kenya.

Walking through the village I sometimes think that I have grown accustomed to the poverty that surrounds. I see the people just getting by with what they have on a daily basis, but I don’t feel sad because every time I see a villager their face lights up with happiness. These people are truly happy to have an American come teach. The respect and loving attitude they show is so immense that it often leaves me feeling guilty. I often find myself asking, “Why should I be treated with such honor when I already have so much more than these people?” At these times it is helpful to take another deep breath while realizing that these people have much more to offer than readily meets the eye. Their strength of heart gives them faith in god and one another. It allows them to move through each day without looking at their situation in a negative light. Maybe Americans can learn a thing or two from this.

The other day a boy with dirty clothes, no shoes, and one arm followed me through the village with a smile on his face. I found myself avoiding eye contact because I did not want to upset myself, but I also did not want to offend the boy. It took a few seconds and a deep breath for me to realize that all this boy wanted was for me to say “Jambo” and shake his hand. That way I could put a smile on both of our faces if only for a brief moment.

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