I’m straying a bit from my usual content today. I suppose we’re all straying a bit from our usual content! Here’s a story from an experience I had many years ago. I trust you’ll see the connections to our current situation. Much of what we’re experiencing now feels familiar.
It’s only an election
In 2007 I began working for an organization that serves youth workers throughout the state of Indiana. They received a grant for an overseas trip with the intention of it becoming a youth worker exchange program — we’d go visit them and live in their context and vice versa. The first trip was to Kenya.
Now, shortly before we left, we heard about some disturbances in the country because of an upcoming presidential election. It’s just an election, we said, we’ll be fine! The government didn’t prevent us from traveling so we went as planned, flying out on December 26.
We were taking school supplies with us and were looking forward to working on a new school building in Bungoma. On our way there we stopped at a hotel for lunch in Nakuru. While there police trucks were blazing through, headed north toward Bungoma.
Let’s postpone it and reschedule
Our Kenyan friends decided it would be best for us to “flip flop” our trip — we’d go to Lake Nakuru and the Masai Mara first then come back up north to follow through with our plans at the school. We would still go to the school… it was just postponed.
As it turns out, outside our little bubble, things continued to worsen. Riots were going on all over the place. Petrol stations were closing. Police were everywhere. A few days later we found out that people seeking safety in a church in Eldoret were locked in and the building was burned down. People were killed in Bungoma.
We would never go back north to Bungoma. We weren’t leaving the Masai Mara.
It’s time to pivot
We went on a tour of the Masai village and discovered they had a school. We had school supplies and lots of time — so we decided to pivot and work where we landed. One afternoon we handed out backpacks and school supplies to the students.
The head teacher, Susan, asked if we would paint the alphabet and numbers on the walls. They didn’t have enough books for all the students, so by putting content on the walls, everyone would have access. Such a good idea! I was asked to paint the female reproductive system and I was happy to oblige. Some people in the more rural areas still practiced female circumcision (mutilation) at the time.
We don’t have enough
Because of all the last minute changes and unexpected plans, we often ran out of money. We had help with our local guides, but even they couldn’t always get the supplies we needed. The biggest issue was water. It was 100 ksh per bottle of water. We had to ration it. Every bottle of water felt like it was worth 100 USD instead! And, we never knew when more water would be delivered because of the lack of petrol for the vehicles.
We were grateful to have meals three times a day, but the staff wasn’t expecting us to be there for so long. After a while we just had the same thing for each meal. Though it was good, it got monotonous. I had developed a cold which turned into canker sores all over my mouth — it was painful to eat. I’m not sure if this picture is a result of the monotony or the pain — maybe both!
It’s all so uncertain
While we were in Kenya trying to get more minutes for the phone we had as a group, the news back home was not good. There were reports of a group from Indiana being stranded in the country. When I was able to talk to my boyfriend he expressed concern that we wouldn’t be able to get home. My parents didn’t know either and were worried about not seeing me again for a long time.
Brief phone calls and simple texts became the way I stayed connected with home. I also looked up at the stars at night knowing they could see the same stars. That brought me some comfort in the midst of such uncertainty.
I lost track of time
My journal entries stopped after January 5. We came home on January 11. I must have lost track of time in those last six days. From what I read in that last entry, we anticipated leaving to go back to Nakuru, but were told we had to stay at the Masai Mara until the 10th. I was particularly disappointed that pizza and beer were delayed!
Apparently there was to be a protest in Nairobi on the 8th and they didn’t want us near that. Anyway, anything after the 5th didn’t get recorded in my journal. I know the days ran together — the day of the week no longer mattered, we were just living with yesterday, today and tomorrow.
It didn’t last forever
Eventually I returned home and reunited with my family. I hugged my boyfriend and my parents. I saw my friends. A year later my Kenya family had a fun reunion. I’m sure we sat around remembering what we’d been through. I bet we laughed about our antics during our time in Kenya. We made it through to the other side and we celebrated that with lots of drinks!
That was a harrowing experience over ten years ago. It feels like a lifetime ago but when I look at the pictures, I can feel myself right back there on the Kenyan soil. As I look back through my journal I’m reminded of the moments “before” — the excitement of traveling, when rationing water wasn’t even a possibility.
This feels familiar
I didn’t make direct ties to our current global pandemic, but I’m sure you can make those connections for yourself — I’ll tell you what, this feels familiar! Unlike that trip, it happened somewhere else and eventually I was able to leave and come back home. That’s not the same situation now… however, I feel similar feelings and see the progression of understanding.
This won’t last forever, but it will probably last longer than any of us expected. There is so much more to this story than I shared here — the safaris full of beautiful vistas and majestic animals, evenings playing cards with our headlamps after the generators were turned off, dancing with Masai warriors, drinking too much on NYE, cramming ourselves and luggage into small vans… it goes on and on. And I’m sure there’s much I’ve forgotten.
I think we’ll tell similar stories 10 years from now. We’ll remember the big picture but forget about some of these small moments that feel much larger right now. I’m sure we’ll look back with some fond memories and laughter… and reminders of fear and deep sadness. I hope it’s not the case, but I suspect at some point in the future we’ll look back and think, “this feels familiar.”
But, we aren’t ready to tell stories yet. We’re still living in the midst of it now and that’s enough.