Kenya is a land where you drive for many kilometers, not seeing anything but a few people carrying five gallons of water on their thin frames from unseen wells to faraway compounds, and truck-sized parcels on their backs that are bound for a market you never come to. It is a place of telephone poles made from live, still-growing trees with branches still on – the crookedness of the tree appreciated and not shaved off or the tree simply abandoned. Where friends enjoy eating teeny tiny fish whole – bones and all. Where you learn of soccer, futball, netball, only to realize they are all enjoying the same sport…sometimes. Where netball (really basketball) is more like ultimate frisbee with a basketball, and one of the hoops is a rock in the ground. Where you constantly wonder if a short cut is really shorter, and children gather to watch your driver figure out how to cross the river, ditch, or rock that “wasn’t there last time” – and you always wear your hiking shoes so you’re ready to get out and push.
Of mud houses you wonder how anyone could live their entire lives in, until you realize they are much, much cooler than any of the “real houses.” How utterly peacefully the villagers have built their lives – and you wonder if this is how life is supposed to be. Where you learn more about yourself than you knew before, and you in turn push new friends out of their comfort zones while climbing down into, through, and out of a cave to overlook Lake Victoria – and they ask if “you always do that?” A country where an industry is booming for chaining side-view mirrors onto their cars because people will run up to your matatu stuck in traffic and sprint away with yours. A government that had the truly brilliant idea to split the presidency between the two parties during a time of “almost civil war,” effectively forcing compromise, only to reverse it five years later. Where you will only vote for the presidential candidate who represents your tribe, even if you disagree with their policies and motives. A land of farmers where it is increasingly becoming less expensive to buy your maize and decreasingly becoming responsible to grow it yourself. Where you can’t believe your motorcycle-taxi driver is wearing a thick down-jacket in the hot sunshine, until it starts raining halfway through your 30-minute drive, and you’re shivering. Where it costs thousands of dollars to see the wildlife, and pennies to see the rest of the country. Where you watch for five weeks as they plow an acre plot by hand to plant wheat or maize they must have to feed their family, watch the dirt dance and play in the hurricane-force rain and winds as “it falls,” and head inside to clean themselves, then they are off to milk the cow, coax the chickens, goats and cows into the storage area for safe-keeping, cook delicious dinners and laugh & smile at dinner like they just had an easy day at the office. Where there are only outdoor splash-showers, and the mud is thick with rain for half the year, clothing is washed in sometimes-clear rivers, yet the colors of women’s dresses radiate like they were under the lights on a New York runway. Where carpenters wait for a decade for their own trees to grow, and then chop them down with a machete over the course of a full afternoon, and turn them into a beautiful house in a few months. Where families are blessed with a housing compound a fraction of the average American yard, yet they share the compound with a mud hut for the grandmother and an iron-sheet house for the uncle, a grove of trees meant for a house that the new baby will live in when it’s older, a papaya tree, banana tree, chickens with their chicks, a small herd of cows, an assortment of goats, dogs, cats, and children of all ages, and still manage to squeeze in a crop of corn that has to feed everyone for a few months. Where a handshake means so much more, and if you don’t acknowledge everyone in the room, they will happily let you know they they are standing right there and deserve to be acknowledged – all with a warm smile that melts your heart as you extend your hand. Where you hear horror stories in the States of the disease, poverty, and death awaiting you, only to find safety in their love, the richness of the world shown in family, peace, and gratitude for what they have, and life real and thriving.