As always, when I try to sum up my experience in Kenya I find myself without words, without any kind of accurate description or appropriate conclusion. I cannot “wrap up” those three weeks. I cannot bundle them, categorize them, lay them out or line them up. Those three weeks were not linear, they were not structured and they were not predictable. I cannot write a conclusion to this story– in fact, I don’t think it ever truly ended.
Last night, as I sat thumbing through the pages of my journal, it occurred to me that I forgot things. Important things– things that I miss and treasure now even more than the things I did document. Tastes, smells, moments, people, faces, struggles, adventures. Somehow, they didn’t make it into the journal, yet I remember them more vividly than many of the memories I chose to write about. Why? Why didn’t I find those things important then?
My journal traveled all around the world with me this summer. It sat smothered beneath my aching neck as I slept on my backpack in Heathrow airport in London. It rode with me as I clung to my seat, flying through the subway tunnels of Budapest. It was there at 4 (or was it 5?) a.m. as I watched the sun rise over the stark, grey buildings of New Belgrade. And it huddled on the cold floor with me in New York, and again in Amsterdam. The pages are curled and stained from several water/coffee spills. A green acacia leaf is nestled between two entries. In the back are useful Hungarian, Serbian and Swahili phrases.
My journal is nearly as well-traveled as I am. It holds so much, and yet, it is still missing so many other things, things I may never be able to put into words.
Kenya is with me even now. I think of her often, missing her warmth, her friendliness, her wild side. I miss things like mandazi bread, which is kinda like a donut, but shaped like a triangle and kind of inflated, like Indian fry bread. I miss drinking tea at breakfast, Kenyan tea made with milk, spices and sweetened with honey. I miss the animals. The elegantly awkward giraffes standing tall above the acacia trees. The gazelles bounding up and down as we drove by in our would-be-white car.
I miss being dirty simply because there was no other option. Hair greasy, feet brown, legs hairy. I miss the ecstasy of cleanliness after an early morning shower, the first in three, maybe four days. I miss pouring lukewarm water over my head with a plastic cup. I miss burrowing deep into my sleeping bag and falling asleep to the sounds of braying zebras and hunting lions.
I miss living my life on “Kenyan time” and turning one hour into three. I miss leaning out the open roof of the van and gazing out across the mara as the wind tied my hair in knots. I miss reading inside the research center, drinking tea and eating Nice crackers, waiting for a storm to pass. I miss jumping contests.
But most of all I miss my friends. I made so many in Kenya, and they will forever be close to my heart, regardless of whether I see them again or not. I have never smiled and laughed so much as I did during those three weeks. Around the campfire, in the Season’s Hotel, outside the girls’ center, under the ramada, in the van or the jeep, at Fig Tree Lodge– where ever we were, we were always laughing, smiling, sharing and learning from one another.
Places come with feelings. As a traveler, I not only take photos and memories away from a place I visit, but I take feelings too. From Kenya, I took feelings of discovery and warmth, happiness and compassion. There were, of course, many times when I struggled, when the change and the discovery were overwhelming. But when I look back, those moments are overshadowed by so many other moments of pure wonder and joy. I know that when I return to Kenya, I will feel what I felt this summer, and so much more.
When I left, I didn’t know if I would or could ever go back to Kenya. Now, as I prepare to place my journal on the shelf and begin a new journey, I know that I will.
Kidua, Kenya. See you soon.