Sunday, March 28, 2010

Point zero

I’ve stumbled upon a concept, and I’ve given it a name. Point zero. This would be the title of my book if I were to write one, and it is the perfect summation of my own personal tipping point. I have considered the last three and a half years a special kind of journey. I took some chances on believing in myself, asked for some help and verification of my strengths to do so, managed to break free of an incredibly pragmatic approach to work that dictated a good and secure job should be enough. Once those first steps were taken it’s as if a celestial wind blew down my unseen (or self-constructed) barriers and opened doors I had no faith existed. It has been a journey of total immersion – in my strengths, in my weaknesses, in my relationships and in the homes I’ve made along the way. I have experienced some of the greatest pain and frustration of my life along the way, along with moments of absolute and utter bliss in which I repeat Anne Lammot’s simple praise to God, “thank you thank you thank you thank you.” I feel like I have scratched the tip of what it means to grow up. I grew up pretty easily in terms of the basics of caring for my basic needs and myself – I think I’m on a slightly slower trajectory to understanding the complexity of life, relationships, sacrifice and love. I’m getting there. And much of what I’m learning here has nothing to do with the fact that I’m in Africa, but that I’m in a place, both personally and socially that strips away some of the distractions that kept me feeling somehow detached from the base level of life and humanity in the past.

The most impacting part of this journey is the realization that the more time goes by, the more I understand how little I know and that while there are aspects of ourselves that are absolutely imperative to honor for what they are and how they feed our soul, there are also plenty of beliefs and attitudes we take on as a factor of our circumstance, our culture and our experiences. The longer I live my life in Kenya – in some ways so isolated and in others so much more entrenched in the reality of life than I’ve ever felt in the U.S. – the more I realize that my take on the world, in all its cultural relativity and sensitivity, is the smallest of sand grains in a much bigger picture. It’s as if every day I strip away a piece of knowing and receive a reminder to once again look outward for a new understanding of life. Not to reinvent my philosophy or my faith, but to constantly invite in the awing magnitude of life on this earth, in all its wonder and diversity.

I think this is point zero for me. This line I find myself walking where I can recognize how far I’ve come, but at the same time how much more there lays ahead. Where I can walk with a bounce in my step and a twinkle of potential in my eye, while at the same time feeling my throat close and that guttural feeling of discouragement about the state of things and my inability to do anything about them. It lets me believe 100% that whatever it takes to finish this time is worth it, while at the same time acknowledging a state of disenfranchisement that makes me feel like savings don’t matter anyway. It’s a place I both want to move past, but never stray too far from. It is, I imagine, exactly why that wind blew, those doors were opened, and this time was given.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010


Catherine is en route home and many more posts from her time here are yet to come. In the meantime, I interrupt fun travel posts to process a bit and try and reroute my day so that I can better embrace the energy I had yesterday after sending her off.

I need to be writing and reading pretty much constantly right now. Both things I love to do, but for which I have a really, really hard time setting aside the time and space needed to do them well. My project proposal is due in two weeks and I should be ready to present in class on Wednesday on my progress (of which thankfully, I've made - but have not yet written up). Yesterday I had a great day of getting organized, catching up on correspondence and work, getting a bit of exercise and generally feeling excited about the next few months. This morning, the first text message I received sent me careening in another direction.

When Catherine was here we gave a ride into Nakuru town from Mangu (where the boy's home is - it's about 20 minutes out of town) to a young woman and her 18 month old daughter. On the way, she told us about how she'd come to Mangu following the post election violence of '07-08 because she and her husband were from different tribes and both their families had turned on her. She started crying when she talked about how she could, in a way, understand his family's rejection. It was being denounced by her own mother and sister that she never expected (especially since they had supported the marriage until that point). I've faced this sort of rejection from my own sister so I shared a moment of profound understanding with her, and perhaps it is moments like that that somehow take these brief experiences and translate them into something more for me. We exchanged numbers, I promised to visit on my next trip and I remarked to Catherine that it was nice to be able to connect with her on such a human level, and not just from the stand point of being asked for money - which as a mzungu is exceptionally common and almost expected here when in rural or especially impoverished areas.

Rispin, the mom, keeps in touch sending me a text message every few days letting me know how she and her kids (she has a son in elementary school along with the baby, Brittany) are doing. I sense that she is lonely and frustrated with her situation - living in a new area, working to make just enough to eat and pay rent with a little vegetable stand, and little prospects for further opportunities. She did ask me once for help going to a secretarial training course, but it's much more money than I have or feel I could confidently raise at this point unfortunately.

This morning, I woke to a text message from Rispin saying she was on the way to the hospital, that her husband had found and "ambushed" them. My heart dropped, my subsequent dreams took the situation to all sorts of levels and by the time I got out of bed I was completely out of sorts. If I were in the U.S., I'd know what to do in this situation: call the police, try and find a pro-bono attorney, work on a restraining order. Here I am limited both by my own lack of knowledge of how the system works, the system itself, and the ever-present haze of communication that leaves me certain I never have the full story.

It is so strange to be in a country in which most people speak the same language as me, but as a result of the education system, the tribal makeup, and the residual arbitrary boundaries of colonialism, they do so at all different levels. Because the handful of projects and people that I've created relationships with (in an effort to build their resources and skills through my own and my networks, especially Rotary) tend to come from the lower-economic rungs of society or rural areas (often synonymous), language becomes that much more of a challenge in navigating each unique situation. I am constantly trying to sort out which questions I've left unasked or where someone might have left off a piece of information that could greatly influence how I react. I never know if I've got the full story, or even the most important parts of the story. I get so anxious feeling like I'm missing something that would make the situation easier to address - or perhaps easier to remove my sense of responsibility from. But I never can - I have this sense that these people find me for a reason, that it is part of my growth to learn how to help them - if it means learning how to ask for help, how to make my own sacrifices, how to set boundaries or limits or any other number of things.

Today's message from Rispin, calls from Daniel (a local man with no hands who is desperate to have me raise school fees for his daughter) and documents from the older boys in Nakuru awaiting my review have me feeling heavy in my inadequacy, and totally overwhelmed. I don't have the funds needed, there remain a few debts from Maureen's pregnancy and above all, I just don't know how to set boundaries when people's health and well being are on the line for the sake of getting my work done. This blog serves as my journal, and sometimes I worry it is too honest or personal, but I process things by putting them "out there" and blogging has always felt like a natural fit for me in this way. I remain so thankful for the positives even when I get the wind knocked out of me like this. The small boys home in Nakuru is doing great with three working computers and software thanks to donors and an influx of donations as a result of Nicole and Catherine's visits (these women have absolutely floored me with their generosity, support and love for these kids and for me). I know I'm learning, I know I will get through this next phase and that opportunities lay ahead, and I won't always feel this helpless when confronted with things like this. But in these moments I really do struggle to sort through it all and know how to stay as productive as I need to when I'm so discouraged by the limitations that we all face.