As the mornings have gotten darker, I try to remember to look up at the sky when I take Denali out. When it’s not cloudy, I can see so many stars and enjoy the light of the moon. Most of the time, my eyes are drawn to one constellation in particular – Orion. This collection of stars always reminds me of a very specific moment during a very stressful moment in my life.
In 2007 I started working for the Journey Fellowship – a Lilly Endowment funded program that provides renewal opportunities for youth workers in Indiana. I was part of the first cohort in 2003. When I returned toIndiana after a yearlong adventure (another blog post!) and saw this job opportunity, I immediately went for it. Working with Janet and Tom was sure to be an adventure and it was work I knew I would enjoy. Just a few weeks after starting, I found out they had a trip planned to Kenya at the end of the year. The idea was we’d take a group of youth workers to Kenya, develop a relationship with a school, offer them support, then the next year bring a group of their youth workers to the US – a youth worker exchange program. Janet asked if I wanted to join them – of course I said yes!
It just so happened that our trip coincided with the Presidential elections. In fact, we landed in Nairobi the day of the elections. We heard there might be some turmoil related to it, but travel wasn’t banned, so we kept with our plans.
We were on our way toward Eldoret – the location of the school we were partnering with for the week. We brought suitcases full of school supplies. We were ready to help build a new structure. We were ready to meet their teachers and build relationships. We stopped at a hotel for lunch and ended up staying the night. Violence was breaking out everywhere. It wasn’t possible to get to Eldoret for a few days. Riots in streets, people being killed – one church was burned down while full of people trying to find shelter.
We knew something was going on, but we didn’t find out those details until later. Had we known, we might not have been so calm throughout the first day or so. The decision was made to head south first – flip flop our trip. We’d visit the Masai Mara, explore the safari, then in a few days come back north to complete our tasks in Eldoret. Needless to say, we never made it to Eldoret.
We started driving south and eventually several of us had to use the restroom. Our driver pulled over to a bathroom then within minutes was rushing us back to the van. It turns out we were just a few minutes away from angry people with weapons. We eventually made it to our lodgings at the Masai Mara. We had very nice shelters with indoor plumbing. The community area had electricity for a few hours each evening. At this point, it was clear that things were not good in Kenya – so much so that this was national news. It was also big news in Indiana because not only was our youth worker group in Kenya, we had another group of educational VIPs there as well (different itineraries so we didn’t see them much). Our families didn’t really know where we were or what was going on. We had one cell phone to share among our group with limited minutes. We’d have to wait for the generator to come on, charge the phone and then we’d each get a few minutes on the phone to call our families.
So…I had my time on the phone. I stood there under the huge, dark sky talking to my boyfriend. I paced while telling him what was going on and that I was okay and that everything would be fine. I told him to make sure he called my parents to tell them that I’m okay. All the while I kept looking up. I was looking at the stars. I stared at Orion. I asked my boyfriend if he could see Orion too. It was comforting to me – even though we were so far apart, even though my home was so far away, we were still under the same sky. The sky was big enough to reach from Kenya to Indiana and that made me feel not so scared.
There’s so much more to this story. I’m sure I’ve also misremembered a few details or left some things out. Maybe if those that joined me on that trip read this, they will correct me.
But, I will never forget that moment with Orion. And each time I look up and see that constellation, I’m reminded that the sky is big enough – big enough to hold not only our world, but our galaxy and universe and beyond. It’s big enough to hold that moment and all the ones before and after. It’s big enough that millions of people can see the same thing from drastically different locations, and at the same time, it feels small enough that it’s there just for me.
One glance up into the sky and I’m transported to a distant land. One glance up into the sky and I’m reminded of old friends, old relationships. One glance up into the sky and I’m grateful for an experience that changed my life. One glance up into the sky and I’m reminded that one wrong turn may have been deadly.
All from a group of stars that may not even exist anymore. How crazy is that?