I was struck with gratitude tonight. Like, really struck. Surprised, even, by the… powerful swelling of honour and gratitude. I sat amongst friends and teachers at a long bamboo table, and realized, that by the end of my time at University, SSU will have brought me to three different continents, and countless countries within those continents (not counting Borneo and the Philippines (are they their own continents? I should know this).
As I snuck some downtime at the Bangor Airport (Bangor – Detroit – Amsterdam – Nairobi), a janitor came by to dust the pay phone booths I sat near, commenting on Geoff’s charger in the wall outlet; he said, “It’s amazing what people leave behind; they’re rushed, in their flights, you know…” He went on to describe what kind of significant gadgets he’s found plugged in to the wall, while I thought about the events of that morning: being surrounded by my SSU family as I and the ‘Kenya team’ were poured on with prayer and hugged soundly by dozens of friends and mentors (it’s phenomenal how many mentors one tends to collect here). I thought about who I had left behind for two weeks, and how supportive they have been in our pursuit to come here.
A haiku (thank-you, Agnes), I wrote while catching more downtime in the Amsterdam airport… that’s doesn’t comply to haiku rules (…sorry, Agnes).
bright orange corner couch / a home in between two / continents not my own
As I chilled out on the retro corner couch reflecting on our recent walk through the red-light district of down-town Amsterdam, an Italian masseur walks up to me and asks me 1) why I’m taking pictures of my feet (because I think feet pictures are cool), 2) what I’m doing in Amsterdam, and 3) if I think I’de like a book that he’d like to give me. He disappears and comes back with an anthropological look at the English called ‘Native Land’: what makes the English, English, by Nigel… someone-or-other. That’s the thing about travelling; as I study and experience other cultures, I realize more and more about what makes me me, what I’ve been taught, and whether I still want to do things how I’ve been taught… etc. Travelling has made me incredibly aware of myself and my culture. I prepared myself, again, to recognize even more about myself and my home culture while experiencing an other’s. I prepared myself for my second of three continent-hopping study-adventures with SSU, ready and excited to embark on the next two weeks with our team of nine, in and around Nairobi, Kenya.
Since we arrived yesterday morning, we’ve learned about rehabilitating orphaned baby African elephants and illegal poaching in Kenya while watching them play in the mud and drink milk out of over-sized baby bottles (our semi-touristy activity but still very relevant intro to Kenya ‘on the way’ to our accommodations), aaaaaand visited a community centre at the heart of the Eastleigh slum in Nairobi.
learning about water purifying initiatives in Eastleigh
childen at the Eastleigh slum community centre sing in swahili and english
How can I possible describe this experience of visiting Eastleigh? My journal entry today was all questions. All questions, complimented by profiles of the people I had seen or met today. How can I possible pretend that I know something for certain, to write comments and facts, about a place and circumstances that are anything but certain and factual? Eastleigh… as I understand, is almost entirely composed of refugees – in only my short time at the community centre (a partner with Canadian Baptist Ministries [CBM, the organization we came with]), I had met young men and women from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Congo. Among them, a veiled 18 year-old woman named Saada* who had travelled from central Ethiopia four months ago, and a man named Joseph* from Congo who had migrated to Kenya and was learned how to be a mechanic at the community centre to support his family. We met Alice*, too, who has, through the catering vocational program at the community centre, helped about forty young refugees a year to achieve careers in hotels as caterers or start businesses. What an achievement!
In addition to two full pages of questions, I have gratitude, writing,
“Going with a team I’m comfortable with is so important… or rather, is so beneficial, because all I learn is challenged and stretched and multiplied by conversations, questions, and discussion with the group – both peers and leaders; it’s completely different than travelling by myself. So valuable! Sitting around the bamboo table at our guesthouse-that-feels-like-home, Margaret is talking about development literature, and I realize – that we are educated. We are learned, and we are learning. I am grateful. When I lived in Thailand by myself after the Asia trip with SSU, I attempted to dialogue through blogging, pleading with people to dialogue with me about what I was learning. Now, we have spent evenings around the dinner table, hours, sharing and learning and being challenged, in blessed dialogue.”
The last line written in my journal today, regarding something someone said tonight, reads, ‘how can we live that out?’ At SSU we’re constantly challenged to ‘live it out’. Perhaps thats what drives our volunteer initiatives, ‘material history’ or ‘creative writing’ courses, and travelling as pilgrims all over the world. It’s not perfect; anyone who has ever travelled in community knows that… but often, the blemishes accentuate the beauty. And we, like our friends we met today in Eastleigh, can dare to call ourselves beautiful.
^^Thank-you again to everyone who supported our time in Kenya. Today I was especially thankful to the generosity of the SSU community: to mention only a few- Katie Avery, who donated her hard-earned knitting money; Angela Broda who sold fudge for us (as well as so many other apron-wearing student wonders), Karis, Jess, Grace, Moriah, and others who donated their stunning artwork to sell, my own family, Shannon-May who donated a photo-shoot, Kindred Home Care who donated so generously… the list is actually limitless. Thank-you all so much! We are so grateful!^^
I think I was caught off guard by the Bangor janitor’s words; have I left people behind in pursuit of adventure; do I leave people behind in a rushed flight from normal? Um, I don’t think so. After all, if only 20% of the world lives like we do, it can hardly be called ‘normal’. Good thing we travel in community to discuss things like this ; ).
*I used their real names. Real people deserve real names.