I woke up at 4:45 this morning and turned on the shower, shivering in dreaded anticipation of the icy blast that was sure to come. To my great surprise and excitement, steam began to rise from the scalding hot water. I stepped beneath the faucet, smiling from ear to ear. Despite the early hour, this was a wonderful start to my day.
We boarded our matatus and rode off into the darkness, watching young children walk alone to their schools, moving quietly through the early morning darkness.
When we arrived at the airport, they told us that they did not open until 7:00, a slightly frightening thought since our plane takes off at 8:00, and we have fifty tons of baggage to load and check. They presented us with a small, peaceful patio outside surrounded by a garden. We all sat together, listening to Audie's devotion and watching the sun rise in pastel strokes of color that painted the sky like a morning rainbow.
We gave our final farewells to Jared, giving him the customary both-side African hug and shaking his hand for one last time. "Asante-sana," he said over and over again, smiling at each of us. "Tell my American friends hello. I will see you next year."
Checking baggage was a hectic mess. It took us forever, but we finally made it through, weary and ready to relax on the plane to Nairobi. We are still in the waiting room, waiting for the plane to show up. Everyone seems excited to finally be on our way home and yet sad to leave. It is a bittersweet moment, impossible to understand unless you have seen what we have seen and met the people we have met.
How can we simply return to our old lives, taking everything for granted, after we have seen people who are drowning in poverty? How can we waste our money on things that don't matter? How can we complain about our school, however poor it may be? How can we take our families, our health, and our homes for granted? How can we eat a bite of an extensive meal and not feel grateful? How can we complain about the most trivial problems in our lives and not stop to think of the children at Lakeside Orphanage who have lost everything that they have because of AIDS? How can our lives ever be the same again?
I am so blessed, so privileged, to have what I have. It takes me back to the orphanage, to the children proudly showing us what little they had. It takes me back to the children at Ring Road, explaining to me how happy they were because God had blessed them with food and an education. It takes me back to the bush at KipKabus, to the woman giving Barbie and I one of, if not the most, expensive thing she owned. It takes me back to the church in Eldoret, where the church elders stood in the middle of poverty, hands lifted high in adoration for the Lord, singing, "He has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all..."
How can our lives not be changed in every possible aspect?
At this exact moment, I am sitting on the curb outside of the Nairobi airport, waiting. I have been waiting for forty minutes now, and I have another twenty minutes left to go before the Seattle team arrives and we leave for the safari.
We went ahead and checked our baggage, and we are again out on the curb, waiting for our matatus to show up. Everyone is hungry and passing out what little snacks we have.
This reminds me of when one of the church elders told us gravely that Americans say that they are starving when they are only a little bit hungry. Africans know what it is like to truly be hungry." Together we discussed this memory, and we all lost a little bit of our appetites. Here we are, stuffing our faces with Sour Patch Kids and beef jerky and pistachios because we're a little overdue on lunch, and there are people living a mile away who are literally starving to death.
Alex paid little mind to the park laws and instead took us behind the tourist fences and into the wild, face to face with the animals with only a chain link fence between us. The leopard lunged at the measly fence, snarling ferociously at us. It was a little frightening.
Alex carried this little baby songbird in his hand. At one point, he handed me the bird and walked away, leaving me standing helplessly, holding the trembling songbird. Finally, after a while, I walked up to Alex and said, "Here, take her back now," and he laughed and complied.
At the end, when Alex gave us our ticket stubs so that we could pass the guards and leave the park, he wrote his email address on the back of mine. He motioned towards the written address with his finger so that I would see it, and gave me a wink before ushering me out the door with the others.
We went straight to the airport, which was a good thing, because the traffic was terrible. It took forever for us to merely arrive, check in, exchange our currency back to American dollars, eat dinner, go through security, and sit down. We had perfect timing, really.
I think that we are all feeling concerned about fitting back into our former lives. We have all been changed by this trip, and it will be hard to live out our extravagant lifestyles when the faces of hungry children are swimming hauntingly before our eyes wherever we go. How can we ever again truly adapt to the hectic, apathetic culture that we were all once so used to? How can we simply move on from this journey when there is so much poverty, so much need, so much hunger in the world?
I don't think that any of us will ever again say, "I'm starving."
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