Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A moment of profound thanks

I have to admit, I had a frustrating afternoon. And more than anything, I wanted to come home and blog about it - because what had happened was the sort of thing that makes me feel like SUCH a foreigner here, and sharing it with my extended community helps me to feel less like an other while I process whatever has happened. Thankfully, tonight my mood got flung to the far end of the spectrum with a number of emails that reminded me of the much larger picture of this journey, and how it continues to evolve and change in ways I can't imagine.

Almost three years ago I gave notice at my job and began planning a volunteer trip to South Africa in the hopes of exploring an international career. What I found when I arrived was an utterly tragic rural situation with too many children facing far too much on their own - be it their own illness or the loss of those that should care for them. These kids became my playmates, my pupils (as I attempted to overcome my fear of teaching in basic tutoring sessions) and my inspiration as I submitted my application for the Rotary Scholarship that would ultimately bring me to Kenya. When I applied, it was with the hope that I would end up in South Africa, and be able to continue building a relationship with these children, who had said goodbye to far too many people in their lives, and whose tears when I left broke my heart in such a way that I can barely think about them for fear of the guilt of leaving creeping in.

Such is to say that while many think that this whole experience has been one hell of an exciting ride (and believe me, it has!), it has not been without a large amount of anxiety, fear, sadness and hopelessness along the way. I don't know of anyone who can immerse themselves in such communities and not face moments of pure despair from time to time. Seeing the situation in Nkandla firsthand, reading the case histories and joining the life cycle there for that short time is one of the most incredible things I will ever do - and yet not being able to go back or support them since has been very hard, and made this whole process feel very selfish at times.

Tonight, I received an update from The Africa Project, the group that continues to raise money and support these kids, with pictures from this past summer. I am sometimes afraid to ask how certain kids are doing for fear of hearing bad news, and these pictures reminded me of their incredible spirits and the ongoing work of so many that I was fortunate to be a part of for that short while, and that in so many ways launched me on this path. I was also told that a large donation given by a dear family friend, Joy Nelson, was used in part to take the children on Safari and camping this summer. Though they live near some of the best game parks in the world, many of these kids never have the chance to see them. What a true blessing to know that after 2.5 years, somehow my time there has continued to play a role in their life by way of the generosity of someone in my community.

I was talking to one of my best friends recently and he mentioned that because I often blog about my struggles to understand this experience and all that I see around me, he didn't think that I'd changed that much having taken the steps that I have. It was hurtful to read that comment, but at the same time easy to dismiss. However much I might struggle with who I am in relation to my surroundings, or how exactly I am to go about creating the change I hope to see here or maximizing my contribution in honor of the opportunities I've been given, I am in no way the same scared, overly logical girl who lacked the confidence to take risks and live life to the utmost that I at some point became. Though I have much yet to learn, this journey has opened my eyes and my heart to so many realities of life that I just wasn't getting where I was at. Having moved quite a bit growing up, I now feel like I have the most incredible community at home - though it's spread out around California, the U.S. and now the world. Just today I got an email from a Newport Beach Rotarian who is working with my host club here, a friend from Monterey my parents met at the fair last year who connected me to the weaving and spinning group I've worked with, and two members of The Africa Project - one of whom is anxious to learn more about Kenya and opportunities to get involved. I talked to two young men in Nakuru who will receive the Orange Rotary Club's computer donations, and finalized plans for the Kakamega trip this weekend. I have learned how simple it can be to ask for help - whether for others, or even for myself - and the profound necessity for being a storyteller when I come across things that need to be shared. I have learned to better value work and opportunities, freedom and health, family and friends in entirely new ways. I have begun to understand what sacrifice is all about, what it means to hold out for what is right and how to communicate across cultures, across understandings of right and wrong. It is hard to share life primarily through the internet, but I hope that every once in awhile I do justice to this experience, to the incredible payoff to any risk taken, to the people who have been a part of it and continue to help me weave a path of inter connectivity that I am in absolute awe of. At the very least, I promise I'll keep trying.

1 comment:

Steve Shin said...

You constantly inspire me. I think what you are doing is great and I love reading the stories on when you discover newfound beauty in Humanity. 8)