I am so thankful to have been able to travel to Kenya, and even more grateful to have experienced life as a local. As I learned more in just two weeks than in an entire semester’s worth of cultural geography, The trip was one I will cherish and carry with me throughout my life.
I first assumed the language simply consisted of Swahili phrases like “hujambo” and “habari gani.” After visiting, I realized that it is rather a blend of spoken word and movement of the body. I learned and watched countless native dances, each varying by tribe and village. I wore traditional necklaces and dresses in Kitengala and learned the Maasai tribe’s dances in Maasai Mara. Although my fairly poor Swahili was a combination of broken phrases and accompanying hand gestures, we could communicate and share smiles through dance.
The heart of Kenya lies within its people. I walked throughout the mountains of Kitengala, greeted by families, kids, and farmers – all excited to see a foreigner in their small community. I not only saw the community, but became a part of it. Living with a host family, my host sister took me to meet her cousins, friends, and neighbors.
Mile after mile and home after home, each person, always welcomed me with open arms. A farmer offered to teach me to milk a cow and a family wanted me to try their local fruit. Although they didn’t have much, they were eager to share what they did have. I also met an 11 year old girl that walked with my host sister and I for hours, never letting go of my hand. She was in awe of my color, as were the other kids in the village that had never seen a foreigner before. Children talked with us and joined us on our walks, eager to hear where I was from and what the other side of the world was like. Most lived in shacks and frail houses, but were grateful to have a place to call home.
Looking at how little they needed to live a life full of laughter and happiness, I realized how much more grateful I should be for my home back in the United States.
While in Kitengala, I traveled to a children’s home (what you may know as an orphanage). We played endless soccer games and shared many laughs with the children. Although it was difficult to communicate, we bonded over games, swingsets, and lollipops. The kids grinned from ear to ear, yet their living situation left me disheartened. Their old shoes were old and ripped. Their clothes didn’t fit. Their feet were covered in calluses. I wondered how they would ever learn to read, go to school, and get a job in the future. They just barely had the basic necessities – food, water, shelter; still, they always smiled. The guilt of leaving the orphanage still haunts me to this day. After a few days of fun together, one boy was in tears when my group left . To this day, I think about the fact that many, many people come and go to their orphanage. The kids become attached and then the people just leave. I wonder if I ever should have visited in the first place.
Nevertheless, the experience helped me realize my mission. Now, our organization improves to better the lives of disadvantaged children and adults in small communities, just like the ones in Kitengala, Kenya.
Written by Maya Sela