I’m a bit behind with my blog posts…. I had hoped to write one every week, but somehow, 6 weeks seems to have passed with me writing no blogs. I’m going to use the excuse that so much has happened in this last 6 weeks, since we arrived in Africa. There’s been so many things I’ve wanted to write down and share, but my experience has actually just been more about letting go of the “should” and allowing the experiences to unfold in its own way. It is now, as I sit here in the lovely seaside town of Paternoster in the West Cape in South Africa, getting ready to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends, that I feel ready and inspired to write.
Arriving back in Kenya was liking coming back home; a strange sort of feeling, given I’ve only spent 3 months out of my entire 31.5 years of life in this place. On our first day, I was surprised at how much of the local language I could remember and slipped straight back into communicating with people with that sense of familiarity and ease- a nice contrast to the uncertainty and fumbling around we’d experienced so far in our travels.
It was so nice to drive along the road on our way to the village of Odede where I worked on construction projects through the NGO ,World Youth International in 2010, and remembering all the different landmarks. “That’s where we used to buy our fresh fruit and vegies… That’s the market where we’d walk to buy cold sodas at the end of the day… That’s the house we built…” Tom got a detailed description of everything.
The best was the people I got to reunite with. It’s funny that my time and experiences in Odede and the people I met are so tattoed into my memory and my being, essentially as being part of my “waking up” experience. A personal transformation of discovering a life outside the unhappiness I’d been experiencing before I went to Kenya. I learnt so much about myself in Kenya; so much more about what was important to me, the things that gave me purpose and the life that I wanted to live and could live. Each person I connected with, gave me something different and left me with hundreds of drops of goodness that have shaped my life since then.
So it was so lovely to reconnect with people who contributed to this experience.
Grace- used to come and hang out with us and taught us to make Chapatti. Now is an integral part of the new hospital that opened 12 months ago; working as a nurse’s aid. While we were Odede we witnessed Grace deliver two babies, mend several wounds and just be her usual calm, relaxed and friendly self, taking everything in her stride. As this photo was being taken Grace laughed to us as she said, “life is tough for an African woman”.
Mamma- Mamma is the one everyone turns to. A widow, she is the mother of 5, stepmother to many more and grandmother to what seems like every child in the village. In her 70s she still ploughs her ‘shamba’ everyday, whilst caring for the various grandchildren and greatgrandchildren she has taken in. I love her extremely warm embrace. The wrinkles in her skin are reflective of her massive smile and the energy she gives each and every person she meets. Speaking not a word of English, my relationship with Mamma is testament to the power of body language and a smile to create connection.
Collins- This young boy was about 5 or 6 years old last time I was in Odede. He and his friends used to come and hang out with us on the worksite. He’d be in the same set of clothes; ripped pants from climbing under fences and a constant cheeky grin. I’ve thought of him many times since and wondered how he was doing, if he was ok. I think subconsciously, I didn’t ask about him or actively seek him out when we returned, as I was worried about what answer I would get. But, sure enough, on our second last day in Odede, who were we to stumble into, but this gorgeous boy. He could speak a little more English now and told me he was going to the markets to buy maize flower. I don’t think he remembered me, but that’s ok, it was enough to have a brief conversation with him, smile, shake his hand and see that he’s ok.
Four years ago, my time in Odede taught me about the simplicity of human connection. Regardless of our backgrounds, we are all able to connect. One man who brought this message home to me was Charles. Charles was one of our workmates. He was the senior fundi (skilled construction worker) who worked with us on the project. My memories of Charles are of his big smile, his sense of humour, the banter we had with him, the guidance he gave us, and his incredible patience; teaching a bunch of young Aussies how to build a house is not an easy task.
The ease with which I was able to connect with Charles made me realize that human connection does not need to depend on similarity, but just requires interaction, openness and a bit of care. Sadly, Charles passed away two weeks ago, ironically after falling from the roof of a house he was constructing. Working right until the end!
As happens with life, the people we meet influence us in different ways and that never stops. My time in Odede this time, led to new connections, new experiences and new influences. And what is different this time is that I got to share this experience with my husband. It was pretty special to be able to take Tom to this place that has had such a profound influence on my life. And, as with most places we’ve travelled to, the community really did embrace him. They loved having a new visitor to their home and you could tell felt really touched that people remembered them enough to want to return.
Four years ago, I left this place promising myself that I would not forget, that I would one day return and help share the stories of some of these unique people. It feels pretty good that four years later, that’s exactly what I’m doing.