Last month, Mocha Club and African Leadership intern, Kate, returned home from a month-long stay with our partner, HEKO, in Kenya. HEKO serves the local community living with HIV/AIDS and Kate joined them in their daily outreach. On her blog she shared the ups and downs of her African experience. We were inspired by Kate’s final blog post about her expectations for the trip and how Africa continues to impact her each day.
“Honest truth: I wanted to arrive and report to everyone immediately that, “Hey guys! All is well here! Hakuna matata! Kenya is everything I ever dreamed it would be!” And do you know why? Because I’ve read stories about Africa. I knew the drill. I’ve read the books and blogs and talked to those Africa goers: you get there, locals are friendly and culture is eye-opening and awesome, you buy some cool stuff, take lots of pictures with little African kids, and then come home with cool souvenirs and a “this changed my life” spiel. I don’t know that I’ve met anyone who’s been to Africa who hasn’t checked those boxes.. But I’m sitting in my bed on day three exhausted out of my mind because I’ve been trying so very hard to pretend I’m totally comfortable and in my element, when that wasn’t exactly the case, and I quite literally thought to myself, “What have I gotten myself into?” I can tell you right now that those thoughts continued to come in and out, but by the end of my trip I stopped wondering what I had gotten myself into and started feeling consistently grateful to be there.
When I started to feel a little overwhelmed, charged with emotion over feeling a little like an outsider, constantly treading water in the deep end of the pool, I had a conversation with my mom about how I wanted my experience to be. She gave me the most important advice of the trip. She told me to keep a gratefulness journal, in which I should write down every morning and evening what I was grateful for at that moment. So I tried it the next morning. And again that same evening. And then many times after that, until all of a sudden I found that I had used up about half my journal just writing about what I was grateful for. The journal was totally unconventionally filled. The pages are lined with bulleted lists and prayers and some of what I call my love letters to God, thanking Him for making life messy and hard and challenging, not only for me but for the people I was surrounded by, because every sweet thing I experienced felt like the sweetest thing in the world. Every precious story I was told, each hand that I held, every afternoon I spent with the kids, and fun, chatty nights with my sisters felt like the most wonderful gifts I had ever been given. A banana or a passion fruit was an absolute pleasure. A bath in four inches of water, using my dirty underwear as a wash cloth, was the most lovely cleansing experience. And I learned not to be embarrassed to dance around the whole house, call acquaintances my best friends, or gain lots of weight (which I did, but was told I was made “more smart” (i.e. beautiful) by it).
I’ve worked for the company that sent me on this trip for about a year now. Before this trip was ever even a twinkle in my eye, I had helped promote and send out merch for a campaign by the Mocha Club (when I was interning with that side of African Leadership) called “I Need Africa.” The general message was, “I need Africa more than Africa needs me.” And it’s the most true statement I’ve ever heard in my life. Africa doesn’t need my help in school or my ideas on how they should live, but I need Africa. I need Africa so I can be grateful each and every day, and remember that there’s no such thing as too much love. So is my trip over? Yes. Are my thoughts, love, and absolute fervor for that continent? Absolutely not. Africa didn’t end when I stepped off the plane. I’ll carry it with me as long as I live.”
To read more about Kate’s time in Kenya, check out her blog: http://katemwoodward.wordpress.com/