Spending two weeks in a foreign country means there’s no shortage of stories to tell. While my last column focused more on the cultural differences that I had to navigate through, today I want to talk about some of the things I loved.
English. When I travel out of the country, I never expect anyone to speak English, so it is always a relief to find people who do. More Kenyans than not speak English, so communication was not a major barrier. They do use the Queen’s English though so one has to be careful not to use American slang and to understand that their words do not necessary mean the same thing as ours. For example, a hotel in Kenya is what we would call a restaurant in the states; it is a place you can sit and dine but not sleep.
Absolutely, my favorite part of the trip was interacting with the children. My white skin and blonde curly hair was a source of extreme fascination for them. One morning we entered a school compound during recess and as I crested the hill the children came running towards me chanting, “mzungu, mzungu” which literally translated means, “wandering ghost”; watch a YouTube video of the the children singing a welcome song to me:
While the older children smiled shyly, the younger ones clamored for my attention. One particularly adorable little girl kept rubbing her hands up and down my legs. One can only assume she was checking to see if the color would change??
In one village the children, without provocation, dropped into step behind us and just walked along for several miles. I felt a bit like the pied piper. When they showed no signs of returning to their normal activities, I turned to our Kenyan director and asked if they were going to follow us all the way back to our guesthouse. Eventually they all lost interest and we made our way home without any stowaways.
Another day my husband wanted to show me a building that he had visited on a previous trip. The building was situated behind a school, a school full of students hanging out of the open windows. At the first cry of, “Mzungu” we high tailed it back to the town center before the children could swarm around me. I did not want to be responsible for disrupting their school day. After classes let out they managed to find me. As we stood to wait out the rain, the children watched, transfixed wondering what I would do. When I moved towards them so my husband could take a picture, they all jumped in unison. I mean, who wouldn’t jump if they saw a ghost???
It would be fun to have been a fly on the wall in the homes of the children who saw, spoke to and touched a real live Mzungu. I can just imagine the dinnertime conversations.
My time spent with the children in Africa was very rewarding, so much so that I would endure the cold showers, over-packed matatus and everything else that is Kenya if it meant I could spend more time loving on and interacting with them.
What can you take away from my Kenyan experience? Sometimes we must be willing to step away from what we know, and from where we are comfortable for the opportunity to live out our dreams. Sometimes, to pursue our passions, we must choose to experience temporary pain and discomfort. Sometimes we just have to walk into the unknown and trust that it’s going to work out.
Until Next Time,
Becky J. Miller