There’s nothing that comes close to the emotions of Kenya. I’m not even sure ‘emotions’ or ‘feelings’ are words I could use to describe them.
Strolling through the centre of Nakuru at midday, eyes ahead and worries behind, greeted by smiles and waves and hearts and happiness.
Crouching in the red hot dust of the Mama Kerry School playground, clinging to a toddler who is taking a well needed nap, she is comfortable and content…that’s all that matters.
Driving through the stars along the East African Rift Valley, on the other side of sundown, thinking about everything and nothing, in conversation with God and in battle with the future.
I left Dublin airport on March 11th 2016 with a group of fellow students, on a mission to change the world. I didn’t know what to expect, apart from the distant hum of terrifying airplanes fuelled by my fear of flying. I’m still not quite sure if any of us had hopes, dreams and aims for the trip as one would anticipate, or if we all were just rather overwhelmed by the adventure in front of us and the world that was opening up around us. I was certainly more swayed towards the latter of the two.
After a long and eventful journey filled with lost luggage, nose bleeds and downright exhaustion, we stepped out of Nairobi airport into the light. The heat lingered upon our skin, our eyes were met by scenery so extravagant that it can only be envisioned, never described. It was all worth it.
A 5 hour bumpy bus ride to Nakuru felt momentary with the landscape to admire, music setting the atmosphere and great people to journey with.
Kivu Resort felt like home from the moment we tucked ourselves into the safety of our mosquito nets. It was the perfect mixture of basic yet luxurious. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, the shower was certainly a different cleansing experience to what we were used to! We settled quickly and after a reflection of how far we’d already come, both in miles and mental growth, we drifted into the realm of dreams.
The sound of answered prayers awoke me the next morning, as I heard suitcase wheels grind along the pavement I leaped up to collect my belongings. It was nice to have home comforts, even on the other side of the world.
By now it was Sunday and we took the day to adjust and chill out. The resort’s pool was soon discovered and the group mingled with local teenagers, both nationalities were excited to get to know the other. Hours were spent wide-eyed, taking in everything.
The first day was when we discovered that the Kenyan cuisine was not quite in line with that of Northern Ireland. Everyone was keen to taste the local food and over the course of the trip, there was at least one food item or meal that suited everyone’s taste buds. For me it was the chapattis, the simple dish served with mixed beans and rice was a delight.
After the relaxing weekend we had experienced so far, Monday was certainly a shock to our systems. We were bussed off to our projects, knowing only that there would be children, lots of children. My team departed from the others at the gate of Mama Kerry and were greeted by an abundance of joy. The welcoming ceremony consisted of all the pupils singing and dancing, followed by speeches and introductions. Overwhelmed by the happiness of these kids we joined in the celebrations, it was only when I started to look closer at the children I noticed the torn clothes, shoeless feet and longing eyes.
In that moment the world stood still and all that I could see was the brokenness and overflowing love of Kenya.
If I’m completely honest, the first day at Mama Kerry was one of the most tiring days I have lived. Coming from a country where everyone lives their own life and focuses on where they are going and how they are getting there, it was a bit of a culture shock to suddenly be so intertwined with the children of Africa.
It was amazing to be sitting in a classroom so different to our own and witness the eagerness to learn, education was a life or death essential to them.
It inspired me to work harder, to use the resources and opportunities that are so readily available in Northern Ireland in order to gain skills and intelligence that I could someday bring back to Kenya, to pass on to the children that sat around me.
Lessons were relatively short and breaks were relatively long. I got the feeling that the school aimed to provide the kids with a place to go, hot meals and an understanding of God first and foremost, giving them a chance of freedom, a chance of being kids, being who they are.
Break and lunchtime were crazy. There were children everywhere and they craved the attention of the ‘mzungus.’ I have to admit, at first it was all a bit overwhelming but after realising that all the children wanted was love, I was incapable of resisting their beaming smiles.
Leaving Mama Kerry on the first day I was burdened with fatigue but exhilarated about what was to come.
The rest of the week spent in Mama Kerry was an experience I struggle to get into words. My feeble attempt to describe it in a sentence would be…
Truly amazing, thought-provoking and character adjusting.
My last day at Mama Kerry was a tough yet joyful experience.
I was so thrilled to have been a small part of the kids lives but I was concerned about their future and I knew that I was going to miss being with them each day.
As a team we'd taught lessons, helped with construction of a classroom and did house visits to deliver food parcels but I can whole heartedly say that we didn’t come remotely close to giving those children anywhere near as much as they gave us.
While we gave them material goods and education, which don’t get me wrong are so desperately needed, they gave us love, perspective and life lessons that will forever be priceless to me.
They taught me how to be grateful, how to have a childlike heart, how to love God more.
They taught me the value of a smile.
On Friday the three teams went from our projects to Hilton Dump.
The bus left us off at the bottom of a hill that led to the dump entrance and as we hiked up it, the view of the dump came into our view. I think it's fair to say that I've never seen anything quite like it. At first glance I could see massive piles of rubbish that appeared to go on for what seemed likes miles.
Then, as we got closer and entered the site, things were revealed as they truly are.
Pigs and goats roamed the surface of the rubbish, scavenging for food.
People worked alongside the animals, looking for food, things to make shelter and things they could make products out of or sell.
Kids that inhabited the dump joined us as we walked through their home, we visited some ladies that sold gifts they had made from things they had found among the waste.
The atmosphere among the group was one of sympathy and thankfulness.
The kids I met in the dump were truly amazing, filled with joy they taught me how to dance and rejoice.
I got to spend about 45 minutes playing with them and getting to know them, and honestly that short period of time made me happier than I ever knew possible.
Leaving those kids was hard, I knew they didn't go to school and maybe would never get out of living in the dump, unlike the kids at Mama Kerry who had slightly better opportunities.
I pray that someday they will get a better standard of living, whether God willing I'm a part of that or not, I'm going to try everyday to live my life with the same heart they have.
We spent the remainder of our trip exploring Kenya and getting to experience the culture. On Saturday an early rise let us go on a game drive safari through Lake Nakuru National Park.
I had never done something like a safari, I'd never even been to a National Park so I wasn't quite sure if I would enjoy it, but boy was I wrong to doubt!
We spent about 4 or 5 hours in the National Park, seeing animals such as rhinos, giraffes, baboons and zebras. We made a few stops and one of the buses getting stuck in mud allowed the perfect opportunity for the group to all be together to have fun and take lots of photos.
We made a few other stops including Baboon Cliff which had one of the most beautiful and unusual views I have ever laid eyes on.
The driving around itself was extremely relaxing and allowed everyone to gather their thoughts, reflecting on the trip and looking to what's to come.
We then took a long road trip to Thomson Falls, after a few stops and a long nap we tackled the hike to the bottom of the waterfall.
Like all the best things in life, it was a tough journey but it was worth it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure day, mainly because it was a great chance to spend time with the group and make unforgettable memories with amazing people in such an incredible country.
On the bus journey back from the waterfall, daylight turned to dusk which faded into darkness and the streets stayed alive with community and children laughing and people enjoying each other.
I couldn't help but wonder at what they were all thinking.
It's near impossible to fit in as a mzungu in Nakuru but in the night I could go unnoticed and observe the local way of life from a distance, appreciate and learn from it without intruding.
I put my headphones in and turned on my music, a song called 'Simple Gospel' by United Pursuit came on and it has a line that says 'I reach out and You find me in the dust.'
I got to thinking about how so many times on my trip, that is exactly what God had done.
In the dust of Mama Kerry playground, in the dust of Lake Nakuru National Park, in the dust of my own brain and unsettled soul, I'd been searching and fighting and worrying and I reached out and God revealed himself to me in those moments.
I had intimate revelations with my creator in the most unlikely of places, I was given peace beyond measure and called deeper into a relationship with Him.
The next morning God yet again revealed more of His heart to me when we went to church.
The congregation worshiped and praised with pure joy and peace, they prayed with a passion I'd never seen before, they taught and learnt like true disciples.
As my journey in Kenya came to an end, I finally managed to put my finger on what had made me feel so at home from that first night, what was different in the community of Nakuru, what was special.
They know how to love.
They know to love God, more importantly they know how God loves them which enables them to love others the way they were made to.
On the Monday we began our long trip home, leaving behind what had become all we'd known for the past 10 days was hard, very hard.
Settling in when we arrived home again was and still is also very hard.
The only way to describe the sensation is being homesick.
Homesick for Kenya, homesick for the kids, homesick for the culture, homesick for the love.
I look forward to returning to Kenya someday, hopefully in the near future, but until then I am holding tight to everything Kenya taught me, holding tight to the memories, holding tight to the moments shared with my Mama Kerry children and kids I met in the dump...holding tight to the emotions of Kenya.
I am so grateful for the opportunity African Adventures provided me and will always be thankful for them.
My African adventure may have come to an conclusion, but my new found adventure of life has just begun...
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