On Friday morning I hurriedly phoned the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi to try to reach David Berry, Celia Booher, or Rachel Aker or anyone I knew from the group of Second Presbyterian (and people from the interfaith leadership team) volunteers coming to Kenya that day. I was so excited that people I knew and people coming from a program I was familiar with were coming to visit Kenya for the first time. Two of the youth on the trip were in my bible study class in 2009-2010, so I couldn't wait to see them again!
I finally got a hold of someone on the phone and I was able to meet them at the Giraffe Center on the other side of Nairobi. After one of the longest taxi trips I have been on in Nairobi (without traffic jams), I found the group enamored with a giraffe who was eating food pellets out of their mouths! There I saw Rachel (one of the only youth I knew ahead of time, and was really happy to see the surprised sense of excitement when she figured out who I was. The group took me on their whole day adventure from the Giraffe Center to the Elephant Orphanage, to Java House for lunch, to the "Alive and Kicking" football manufacturer, and to the Carnivore Restaurant for dinner!
They explained that the purpose of their trip was to build the relationship between the "Kenya Help Us" fundraising program in Indianapolis and the program beneficiaries in Kenya. Each youth was developing a research project on a specific aspect of life in Kenya. More information about the program here. Some were looking at women's issues, others at Education, and others at many topics known to be of concern in the country. They really wanted to know first hand what life was like for the people they were raising funds for. This seems like a great approach because it gives these young Americans exposure to many issues that have not been a part of their lives in Indianapolis, while also being respectful of the people they are hoping to help. They are not interested in telling these orphaned youth how to live a better life because it would take years for an outsider to understand the dynamics that have created the current environment. However, they want to get feedback from the program coordinators and the orphans themselves as to what has changed in their lives and how they cope to existing conditions. I hope there is time for me to teach them what I have learned about the issues they are researching. Even after a year of working with many people and organizations, there are still many questions that I have about what it takes to provide positive opportunities to people growing up in marginalized communities.
It was really great to talk to some people from home about subjects so familiar to me and so foreign to my environment. I talked to Noah and Ben about boy scouts and track and field, and I talked to David Berry and Emily Matthews about Seminary. Many of the group members talked to me about their first impressions and how they had reached this point. It was nice to be a mediator between the group and some of Kenyan culture as they made plans and worked with their drivers and program coordinators. It was like a taste of what it will be like to go home I think. I started telling stories of my experience here - some stories that I haven't told anyone about yet. I forget how certain stories are really quite tragic and painful to hear for an outsider. Some stories of treatment of girls in Pokot land and living conditions in much of Kenya were a bit shocking to hear about, but when you learn about these conditions from the people living it, you forget about the shocking reality because the people themselves tell you with smiling faces. My sense of what is normal is a bit skewed for the time being.
At dinner, we were treated to extra plates of meat (which at a place called Carnivore, you can imagine is really good!), free drinks (non alcoholic of course), and a birthday cake to celebrate Christine's birthday! This was all provided by the manager whose daughter is now working at a hospital in Indianapolis in part because of their connection to Emily Matthews who was a leader on this trip! You can tell how proud he is of his daughter and how appreciative he is of the opportunities she was given. Here you can see how the staff of Carnivore celebrates birthdays. The manager got the entire staff including cooks, waiters, and anyone else wearing a staff uniform! :)