March 21, 2010 § 12 Comments
I am finally writing from Kenya! It has been a very massive adjustment to say the least and a challenging couple of days, but I am finally settling in and as my mom explained it best – “You are a toddler learning to toddle. Just relax.”
At that, I’ll jump right into it. I’m living in a town called Njabini, about an hour and twenty minutes north of Nairobi with a population of about 40,000 people. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life – a combination of Priest Lake and Vietnam. Since I’ve never been to Vietnam, I’m making my best guess. Still, it is endless hills of gorgeous farmland set beneath a huge mountain called Elephant Mountain. It looks exactly like a giant sleeping elephant, trunk laid out, and is full of real elephants as well. We are at nine thousand feet and about a two mile walk from town down a road that could easily be a test course for Range Rovers, hard even to walk. I am one of four “Mazungu’s” (white people) currently living in Njabini; the other three are my co-workers Patina, Sarah, and Hannah, although two more arrive next week. I’ll come back to this detail, because my first walk into town explains the magnitude of this and paints the Njabini people in a deserving brush.
The area is devastatingly poor, something I have never even close to seen, and yet I am told it is quite advanced compared to most of our neighboring villages. The orphanage I live in, however, is heavenly. It’s an old British colonial house built in 1917; my room is full of sunshine and overlooks a cabbage patch / back yard eating area. It is really pretty cozy and I’ve done my best to make it home for the time being. When I arrived for the first time, the children came running to the front gate shouting “Uncle Brian is here! Uncle Brian is here!” and I will never be able to aptly explain what that felt like. It was from a dream. They are the most beautiful, smiling children I have ever seen and they have every reason not to be. It is humbling and incredibly inspiring. There are several other Kenyan men who work here, but for the time being I am the only Mazungu “uncle,” so I am of a particular “celebrity status” and I am really enjoying it. I only hope to have the same effect on them that they are having on me.
I have now made two journeys into “downtown” Njabini, which is deserving of this name only in a relative sense: a network of dusty roads, lined with dilapidated concrete structures and stick-built vendors. Yet, just like the children, the people here are a kind of friendly I’ve never experienced, part of which is indeed because I’m white, but there is still an undeniable sincerity behind all their welcoming. As we walk down the road, children either run or coyly approach us from everywhere, over a fence, from the forest, or most just walking down the road just to shake our hands and say “Mazungu” or “hello, how are you?! Hello, how are you?!” over and over. It’s impossible to get anywhere in any kind of timely fashion, which is okay because nothing here is timely. Not a single thing. It’s actually kind of frustrating and I can already tell it’s going to take some major adjusting especially in a work capacity. The adults, young and old, stare at you no matter what you’re doing, and if you so much as wave or say hello, they burst into the brightest smile, give a thumbs up, and excitedly say hello. Its very bizarre at first and I am still very self-conscious during the whole experience, but it is equally humbling and really pretty fun at times as well. The great news is, I feel very safe in Njabini. Even police officers and bank guards came to say hello to me. It’s crazy.
We only have power for three hours a day and adjusting to the dark quiet nights was pretty tough at first. I got very homesick very fast, and the sense of isolation, particularly in regard to communication, was very overwhelming; not to mention the chickens, cows, sheep, goats, two dogs, stray cats, and variety of African birds and critters making noise at night. I had a few very sleepless nights, but thanks to my amazing parents I am feeling in control of my own experience again and inspired to do what it is I came here to do. I love you all, and I hope you know how blessed we really are!
I will do my best to write again soon! Think of me when you flip off the light tonight and kiss my family for me!