Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Humbling Experience

I came on this trip ready for pretty much anything, open to any experience, and hoping to learn something about a part of the world I had only read about and seen through the lens of popular culture. It has been an amazing, busy, and rewarding trip to be sure. I had a lot of fun and saw some amazing things, but as we prepare to make the trek to the airport to fly back to the states (where the real work of planning the program for the college begins), mostly I am humbled.

I am humbled by the kids at Cura and the people who work so hard to make their lives as good as they are. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for my time with those children, and when we left the village on our last day there, I felt a little helpless. All of the ways that we in the west imagine we can help - sending money, sponsoring a child, collecting books, donating to charities - seem almost ridiculous when you are here. When I was out playing "OK, Who Took My Hat This Time?" with the kids, it made me feel like there would never be enough we could do. So I guess we just do what we can.

I am humbled by the generosity of all of the people I have met along the way. So many people went to such effort to welcome us and make us comfortable here that I can't actually imagine what it would have been like if we were merely hopping from hotel to hotel like an average tourist. Everywhere we have gone we have been met by old friends of Hayden's or we have met knew friends who have worked hard to get us what we need when we need it. Jeff, Courtney, Paul, Gerald, Rose, Ole Kina, Lucy...thank you all so much for opening your worlds to me. I only hope that someday I have the chance to return the generosity.

I am humbled by the country and its challenges. I'm no expert in third world politics, but I can see that the rapid globalization of western culture has already made a radical imprint on this country in some very troubling ways. In Nairobi especially it is apparent that growth and consumption are outpacing infrastructure at a dangerous clip. Add a glacially measured government decision-making machine and the near future doesn't promise to get much better. The city is sprawling and growing vertically while the roads and systems are being patched together. And still? The people here are wonderfully optimistic, hopeful, and proud of Kenya. If you studied the issues and problems of Kenya on paper only, you might write it off as another hopeless third world country, but when you talk to people about their country, you can't help buy into their hopefulness. Things will get better here in part because the people want things to get better. In that way, I think Kenya has a better long-term shot than the US. The people here are tapped in, they know what is going on, they read the newspapers, and they actually engage in meaningful discourse about current events. So it might be slow and it won't look like it would in the west, but Kenya will figure some things out. I just hope they do it by importing less Hannah Montana and WWE and creating more of their own popular culture standards. But maybe that's asking a bit much.

I am humbled by the environment. Our safari in the Maasai Mara was an experience I will never forget. At one point I compared the mechanisms of it to the whale watching enterprises in Puget Sound (the game drivers communicate on radio to tell one another where the animals are, for example, just like captains of whale watching boats do) but from there the comparisons simply crumble away. I don't know what I was expecting, exactly, but it wasn't the nonstop game viewing that we had. In the promotional materials sent to us by the tour operator, it was mentioned that we would not be able to walk from our tent to the main camp without an askari to guide us. I thought this was at least partly for show: have the Maasai tribesman make the wazungu feel safer and give them a photo op. The lions just outside of our tent on the first night convinced me.

From there to the island village of Lamu was a radical change of venue, but Lamu was no less amazing. An island with no roads, a town where donkeys are the primary form of transportation, and a living, celebrated history that goes back to the 1500s. I wasn't tempted, but I can see how westerners would show up in Lamu and never want to leave (anyone thinking about it should get a good look at the managers of the Peponi hotel to see what the long term effects of living there really are...yikes).

But places are nothing without the people. And as I get ready to pack up, it is the people that are on my mind: kind, generous, interesting, successful, strong people. Thanks to everyone for making this such a wonderful trip.

But mostly thanks H, for sharing this part of your world with me.


1 comment:

  1. The world is a much bigger and varied place than it seems at TLF. Good for you and the Colleague to have shared it with us.