Teary-Eyed Goodbyes

jacky

After a quick overnight stay in Amsterdam and lots and lots of airplane food, I’m happy to be back at home in the United States. My experience in Kenya working at KSG was not exactly what I thought it would be in many ways, but I still cherish the time that I spent there for so many reasons. I’ll need some time to reflect on everything that happened to speak about it as a whole, but for now I can share that the most valuable aspect of my trip was the relationship I formed with my students. I don’t really know how I could explain my feelings for these girls. I wrote a letter to my homeroom of around 20 first grade students that comes close to capturing my thoughts on all of the students at KSG. I’ll post it below this paragraph so you can get a sense of some of the things I learned with them this summer. 

I’ve only known you for a month but I will remember you for so much longer. You are some of the most inspiring people that I have ever met. You are so young, but so wise. You are so innocent, yet you have experienced so much already in your lives. Every single one of you are brave, clever, and beautiful. Thank you for teaching me about patience, resiliency, and strength. My time here has meant more than you know. If you work hard in school, stay focused on your goals, and remain loyal to your teachers and friends, I know each one of you will improve lives in your families, communities, and maybe even the whole world. While I probably won’t see most of you again after the summer institute is over, please know that your smiles, laughter, tears, and stories will stay with me for so much longer. I can’t wait to tell my friends and family at home about you and to hear what you accomplish in the future. Thank you so much for a wonderful experience.

I read that letter out loud to my class on the last day of the summer institute. My students were laughing at me because there were parts where I could barely choke out a few words through my tears. Later that afternoon, we had a final assembly where each group was invited to share a special performance. There were parts where all of the KSG girls were wailing uncontrollably with tears running down their faces because they had to say goodbye. Some of the were too young to understand what was going on but cried anyway, which made the situation pretty funny although still painful. While saying goodbye was hard, I’m so happy that I was able to meet these girls and build relationships with them. I’ve always believed that education for girls is a way to solve many of the world’s problems, and it is an amazing feeling to be able to put faces and names to the girls who are becoming agents of change in a community like Kibera. 

Hopefully this gives you a glimpse into what I got out of my experience working in Kenya. There is so much more that happened and with time, I will have so much more to share. Until then, thanks for reading and thanks to all of my friends and family at home for the support!

 

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Close Encounters

hellsgateravine

On Saturday morning, we woke up early to pick up the Kenyan youth and drive back out to the Rift Valley. We stopped by a curio shop to pick up some authentic souvenirs and eventually found our way to Hell’s Gate National Park. Hell’s Gate contains the gorge that inspired Mufasa’s death scene in Lion King. When we got there, we hiked around five miles to get to the entrance of the gorge. The walk was mostly flat and we got to see dozens of zebras and warthogs in the surrounding fields. I didn’t pay much attention to the signs that read “Be Aware of Baboons” until I had a close encounter with one. I was sitting on top of a rock overlooking the surrounding area after a quick lunch when a medium sized monkey came up and sat beside me. I thought he was cute so I reached into my bag to take out my camera. As soon as I started taking pictures, he turned towards me with a determined glare and then leapt through the air towards me. Needless to say, I was terrified. I abandoned my bag and jumped off the rock at lightning speed to avoid him. Thankfully I jumped towards solid ground and not towards the side that leads down to the gorge and I was able to get my bag back afterwards. I’ll never refer to a monkey as “cute” again.

Once we got into the gorge, the temperature immediately dropped because we were away from the sun and it was like we had entered another world. There were waterfalls, hot springs, and various plants and flowers growing along the edges of the ravine. We walked along for about a mile and a half all together within the gorge and discovered places called “Devil’s Kitchen” and “Devil’s Bedroom” with our guide. There were some areas where we had to climb rocks to stay on the path. They were never more than 15 or 20 feet high but it was still challenging for some of the volunteers that are afraid of heights. There aren’t ropes or nets to catch you so if you fall, you could be seriously injured.

At the end of the hike through the gorge, there were Massai women selling handmade jewelry and trinkets. The prices were really low compared to American standards. We finally started the walk back to the van when the sun was just starting to set.  About halfway back to the entrance, we encountered several herds of buffalo out grazing for the evening. Buffalo are one of the more dangerous animals in the area because they are extremely territorial and prone to charging at intruders. It didn’t help my nerves that our guide rode ahead on a bike while we were left to walk by them, sometimes as close as 100 feet to where they were standing. They looked at us with uneasy eyes as we walked by and it was all I could do not to imagine their huge horns chasing me down. It was one of the scarier experiences I’ve had so far, but luckily we made it out without any incidents.

I got to sleep in until almost 8 this morning, a record since getting here three weeks ago. This afternoon, we’re going to visit some of the KSG students at the safe house in Kibera. The safe house is a home for girls who are dealing with particularly risky situations at home. I’m looking forward to spending time with them outside of school, learning more about their lives, and experiencing more of Kibera. This weekend has been full of adventure, adrenaline, and bittersweet realizations that the end of my experience here is coming close.

Attack of the Baboon

The third week of teaching at KSG has flown by. The volunteers have settled into a routine and we’re finally figuring out how to be effective with the girls. The week was off to a pretty monotonous start: dealing with porridge drama, chaotic scheduling, and other various issues at school.  On Wednesday night, we took a bus to another part of Nairobi where we had dinner and hung out at the apartment of the founder of the Africa Yoga Project. It was safer than going out in public to spend time with the Kenyan youth we are volunteering with. We spent the night listening to music and teaching each other our favorite dances. I learned how to “one drop” and helped the Americans teach the Kenyans how to Wobble (Gamma Phis I was thinking of you!).

All week, the girls at KSG have been preparing for the field trip we took on Thursday. I went with the first and second grade students to the animal orphanage in Nairobi. My students were so excited to get out of Kibera and experience something new. I knew I was going to have an interesting day when the girl I sat down by on the bus informed me that she has vomited on every single bus ride she has ever taken. I knew it was going to be even better when I handed her a plastic bag to throw up into and she promptly bit a hole in the bag. Luckily, I was out of range by the first time she threw up. When we got to the orphanage, a guide took us around and showed us the lions, hyenas, leopards, and various other animals. It was essentially a zoo. Most of the animals at the orphanage are in cages, but there are baboons and warthogs that wander around the premises. At one point, a humongous baboon aggressively chased around a few of the students trying to snatch their lunches out of their hands. The baboon was larger than most of my students so it was slightly terrifying, but also one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen.  The girls were for some reason less afraid of the baboon than they were of the ants we had encountered earlier.

Happy Fourth of July to everyone back home in the United States! I’m so sad to be missing one of my favorite holidays, but I’ll be celebrating around the guesthouse tonight with the other American volunteers. It’s not the same as the annual Daniel bash on the Chickahominy, but it’ll be a nice reminder of home after three weeks here.