After tucking in the white mosquito nets that hang above our neighboring twin beds and listening for a few moments to the final drips of the afternoons’ torrential downpour, Sarah read me a quote from her journal that I’ve continued to think about this morning. It was, “Travel guides us towards a better balance of wisdom and compassion and of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly.... And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity, and ready to be transformed” -Iyar.
In all of the books that I read about journeys, (Travels With Charlie by Steinbeck being one of my favorites) I’ve never heard it put so eloquently. After being in Kenya for several weeks now and preparing to go home tomorrow*, I wanted to spend this blog post reflecting on why we have traveled here, what wisdom we sought, what compassion we may have gained, and finally, to consider the memories that have impacted me the most. Whether good or bad, it is true that these instances are heightened in their clarity because their context is unfamiliar and their characters have become so dear- and will be greatly missed.
To start, I traveled here because GlobeMed and WOPLAH offered an opportunity to be involved in more than a volunteer project, but a partnership oversees. I am continuously drawn to such adventures-perhaps for that sense of “love” referred to in Sarah’s quote. The Ambassadors of Hope seemed to have a mission that only their position as community members could enable them to understand, and only our arrival here could bring us to fully comprehend. Further, we came to aid in this mission, not through the imposition of funds and a Western perspective, but as partners in making a difference wherever possible. Thus, in the past few weeks, AOH has demonstrated an intricate network of community health workers, village support groups, income generating projects, and a unanimous endeavor to secure enough recourses to accomplish what they know needs to be done. Therefore our role here has mostly been to observe, to assist in technical dialogues such as media and grant writing, and to learn-not simply about the organization’s objectives, but about them as people. Essentially, I now see that the most fundamental elements in the indefatigable work of our partners are the power of love and the determination to help those who share in common struggles. To live healthy lives, to support loving families, and to empower your neighbor-this has been my lesson through WOPLAH’s mission and a lesson on how to live compassionately.
Of our time in the field, I felt such compassion the most while working on a jiggers campaign at Edwin’s old elementary school in Musanda village. We spent the morning in an airy cement floored classroom filled with 59 children who had been infected with jiggers. From our arrival until each foot had been soaked in washing powder and scrubbed to help their infested feet, these students waited patiently for their turn in the stinging buckets. Halfway through this process, one of the head teachers introduced Edwin and myself to a 16 year old boy whose parents had both died in 2008, leaving him and his five younger siblings on their own. She told us that aid from the community had slowly diminished and the orphans were now left to fend for themselves. I was struck particularly hard when seeing this because I couldn’t help associating the face of the16 year old with that of my best friend’s younger brother back home. I thought about how differently they live their lives-one waking up each morning to haul for lobsters on the coast of Maine, making a decent amount of money to save for a car or new basketball shoes...while the other wakes to feed his younger siblings, wash their tattered school uniforms (noticeably the cleanest in the class), and take each day at a time. Of course such comparisons only serve so much of a purpose, but I am grateful for this memory because it is a reminder to appreciate what we have and bare in mind that there is always room to help. Furthermore, though generating change on a large scale is a daunting task, that boy’s individual face is the essence of who I want to make a difference for and that if no one else, the single effort of helping him and his family is progress.
In comparison, my fondest memories from the field have come from individual interactions with community members. We’ve begun many meetings sitting under the shade of luscious Kenyan avocado trees, meeting each arriving group member with an excited handshake, a kiss on either cheek, and often a hug accompanied by the repeated welcome of, “karibu!”. Such community power-houses are often dressed in deafening colors and bold African prints, their hair woven beautifully, and their smiles the most striking part of it all. These are individuals that we later find to be in their 30s and 40s, windowed or living on their own, HIV positive as well as suffering from TB or various other health problems, the parent of several children, and the adoptive parent of even more. Yet, despite all of these challenges, they are taking the time to dedicate themselves to helping even more people, to being a selfless steward in their community. Such vitality has been most impressive during my time here, and if nothing else, is what I hope to bring home, practice, and pass on to others.
I wanted to close in saying that I can’t imagine a better group of people to have experienced this internship with. Gathered in our living room during the black-out last night, telling ghost stories around our blue kerosene lantern, I thought of how lucky we all are to share an eagerness to be present and enjoy our precious time here. It is my hope that we can take back what we have learned not only to GlobeMed and our family and friends, but let our experiences “guide us towards a better balance of wisdom and compassion”. So as I prepare myself to leave Edwin and the other Ambassadors, Mumias, and my friends here in Kenya, I must remember to preserve the relationships and lessons that I have gained. Finally, to have compassion, patience with progress, and faith in community.
With Love, Rory
* While traveling at the start of the month, I picked up two kinds of food-borne bacteria that have made me continuously nauseous and struggle to hold down food. Because there isn’t the necessary medical care here in Mumias and I’m not improving. This has been a very difficult decision, but I plan to stay in communication with our team these last two weeks, bring my experiences back with me, and of course continue the relationships I have formed with WOPLAH and the Ambassadors of Hope.
|Our Mama and Me|
|The Ambassadors and GROW|