What Grace and I (Ellen) are going to talk about tonight, is something no blog, picture, or verbal explanation can describe. It is something so unreal that you think it only exists in the movies. The experiences the group encountered today will forever be memories in our minds. I think I can speak for the rest of the group when I say we grew into something no Kairos or retreat could ever accomplish.
So what did we do today? Today, we went to a slum in rural Eldoret and split up into small groups of two to three. We then followed a social worker from the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) association to a few houses where we asked each head of the household different questions and took notes on the reasoning behind the help they receive from OVC so we can write a report later. Stories like HIV infected mothers raising their own children, plus orphans they took in because a relative died and therefore have eleven people living in a two bedroom house made out of mud... Or, stories where a mother stabs her step-daughter with a needle to infect her with HIV just because of pure hatred. These, however, are just stories. Unfortunately there is so much more to these stories because of the sights, living conditions and surroundings incorporated with each, very true reality.
Before I arrived in Kenya, I thought I would come back to Indiana depressed because I would see the home I live in, and compare it to the small one or two bedroom homes the Kenyan people live in. However there is so much more to this phenomenon that never even crossed my mind. Things as simple as weekly trash pick ups, paved roads, sewage systems, toilets, even farms for heavens sake. The list goes on and on. Every time I inhale, I smell the waste that pigs, goats, cows, dogs and even humans produce and lay on the roads. There are no toilets, no trash cans, and no separated areas for animals. We literally walked around in straight poop all day. And if that is not bad enough, the houses were made out of the same material we were walking on. A house made for maybe half a person that held five. To think people live in these conditions... To think they fall asleep to screams and barking every night... To think that I go to sleep in a bed twice as big as theirs with painted, hard, walls next to a $1200 laptop and a room bigger than most of their houses... I have met Luck before, and he is disappointing. I gave a woman an energy bar today and that ended up being her, and her son's lunch. That same woman raises her HIV infected three-year-old who skipped around the room with a huge smile on his face clueless of the life he could be living. So tell me Luck, why do you do this? Giving one family the opportunity to own multiple houses and another family a one bedroom home made out of human waste with two meals a day consisting of grains and maize. Yeah, that's fair. Today was the day that we grew into the selfless adults you were hoping we would be after going on this trip.
I felt hesitant to get out of our packed van with my very thin and shiny sandals. I was not expecting to be walking in what seemed like just mud. Though, nothing here has been the way I expected. Especially my emotions today. As we went through the three homes assigned, I didn't really feel anything but as soon as I got back into the van, feet covered in mud, I felt something I never have before. As my fellow travel mates could tell you, I was not being vocal or hinting any sign of what was going through my head. I took time alone to search for this unusual feeling and expressed it in a journal entry that went like this: Right now I feel grief over the things I saw. I feel selfish and most of all, spoiled. The slums are muddy and are mixed with human waste. I was wearing sandals that barely covered my feet but was thankful after seeing kids roaming about barefoot. An infant had a stick that was covered in mud inside of his mouth. No one was there to stop him. The first home hit me hard. My parents king size bed is bigger than the space they call home. I instantly saw weariness in the eyes of the mother that mans the house. Her husband left her two years ago. She is infected with HIV and so is her 3 year old son. The mother cried silent tears while we sat carefully asking questions regarding her life. It was hard for me to see the 3 year old boy and wonder how long his oblivion will last. We asked the mother (Stella) if she is happy. She said that it is hard for her to be happy with all of the stresses in her life. What does she have to hold onto when her sadness overcomes her? That's when I realized how much inner strength these people have. They don't have the luxury of sneaking away to their room and listening to their iPod to drown their sadness. They can't get in a hot bath or shower to hide their tears or relax themselves. They can't text a friend or disrespect their parents to take out their anger. When will we realize how good we have it? I feel an overwhelming amount of guilt.
I'll stop at that point in my journal entry and share what I feel now. We have all seen things here that almost make it impossible to not have a desire to make a change. It is true that giving a family 1000 shillings will only get them through a certain amount of time and then they're right back to where they started. Then I think about holding Lydia, an infant at the Neema house, and wonder if it's the same idea with the shillings. That the comfort and love we give them that day will only last for a certain amount of time. Even if that is true, Lydia gave me something that will last forever, the realization that love comes in the smallest of forms and a flame to make a difference.
There's always a high after vacations, retreats, life changing moments, etc. But this is different. We just need to find a way to take what we feel now and find a way to make it fit into our lives in the busy, greedy U.S. I'll have to get back to you when we find the answer...but for now I'd like to say thank you to my parents for providing this amazing experience that I will always carry with me. As for the rest of you parents, you all have children with huge hearts that you helped mold and now a desire to change the lives of people like Stella and Lydia. Asante and lala salama.