Monday, August 18, 2008

Good Bye Africa

it is 7:24 in the morning and I am sitting in Jomo Kinyatta International Airport, waiting for my flight to Amsterdam which is scheduled to leave in an hour and a half. Having been here for a short stop over on my way to Dar es Salaam six months ago, I have started to realize just how much my perceptions have changed since I came here. For example, last February in Amsterdam when I transferred onto my flight to Kenya, I remember thinking how odd it was to see so many African people in one place. Over half the flight was filled with Africans. Now, coming into Jomo Kenyatta, I'm struggling to deal with how many white people there are here. I can only imagine how things will be when I get to Europe.

I also remember getting to Kenya and feeling so hot I could hardly stand it and wondering how I was going to spend six months in this sweltering heat. Right now, I'm wearing a sweater.

I have mixed feelings about leaving Africa. I mean, I can't wait to see my family, Ian, my friends. On the other hand, I nearly started crying just now when I wrote that title. My friends here were sad to see me go as well. They told me if it was up to them, I wouldn't be leaving at all, let alone coming back. I'm going to miss them a lot. I also didn't get the chance to do a lot of the things that were on my to-do list for Africa. But once you cross everything off that list, you have no reason to come back. One thing I know for sure is that this is not my last time in East Africa.

Some last observations about Africa:

The amazing experiences and opportunities I've had here have made me grow a lot. Not just in weight either. I've learned so much about adapting to different cultures, been thrown into situations and learned to deal with them, and been given opportunities to try things that I would never have tried if I'd stayed at home. It's made me feel more capable and more powerful than I ever have at home; I feel like I'm somebody here. I hope that feeling lasts when I get home.

Another observation, the people here are amazing. I'm not just saying that. They are so open and friendly. The are very emotionally open and honest, which can make them very vulnerable. A child who has no family and no home will come up to you and hold your hand, ask you to teach them something. They don't close themselves off to the world the way people tend to do at home. And they understand the incredible value of opporunity that we take for granted. They may be terrible at saving money as a rule, but that is a by-product of lack of greed. A person that has no job, no family to support them and is struggling to survive will still invite you into their home and offer you a meal. And they are not unhappy. It sounds strange, but even though poverty and disease don't bring people great joy, they still manage to find it. Obviously they have stress, but they have fun, too. They find it where they can. I think everyone in the Western world could do with taking a lesson from these people.

This is obvious, but there are a lot of issues here that need working on. Some are getting better slowly, but most are only starting to be addressed. Things like gender equality. I have a friend in Mombasa whose husband wont let her leave the house on her own. She told me once about a time that she triend to go meet a friend who was visiting from abroad and he locked her in the house until the friend left. At the clinic I worked at, some women were forbidden to come in for examination during their pregnancy because their husband disapproved of a doctor touching them. Those are some of the nice examples.

Then of course there's disease, poverty, conflict. I passed an internally displaced persons camp yesterday. Imagine being a refugee in your own country.

Corruption, I think, is one of the worst issues. Money comes in to deal with issues from so many sources and it ends up in the wrong hands all the time. I mean, everywhere you go it is happening. The principal of one of the elementary schools in Kabale embezzled a ton of money we had gotten from a donor in England and were trying to use to build a nursery school. The building is still unfinished, and we had more than enough money to build two.

I haven't decided yet what is the best way to tackle these problems - from teh government or via NGOs and ouside aid. There are good arguments for both. At this point, though, I only have experience with the latter, so I'll stick with that until I learn better. My friends in Mombasa and I have started an organization for the slums in Chuda where I was living, helping with feeding anf clothing children, sending them to school, supporting mothers in business and all that sort of thing. Trying to do something about the incredible poverty there. We had some meetings and there are a lot of great ideas. I am very excited about it. When I come back, I will be looking for funds (my favorite) so if anyone has any ideas for fundraising or knows anyone with money to give away to a good cause, please please please let me know, cause I'm out of them after the whole Pole to Pole debacle.

I have to go cause I need to check in with my flight, but I have a whole novel to write about Nuru (the organization), so I'll have to do that in another note when I get to Holland. Can't wait to see you all in a couple of weeks!


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