Monday, February 13, 2012

All That I Can't Leave Behind

The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us.  -G. K. Chesterton

Last weekend, when it was sunny and bright and warm, I headed out to the Kentucky River to hike and enjoy the weather. Wandering through the lovely fields in Shakertown, I realized how much I love that place and how much I will miss it when I move back to Kenya. And then I started thinking about all the other things I would miss, but the things that would replace them in my life once I was back at Tenwek. So here we are, in no particular order.

Ten Things I Will Miss
 1. My family
 Need I say more?

My cousin Emma, carrying a picnic blanket.
2. Shakertown
 I cannot count the Saturdays I have spent wandering around that place. My favorite place to hike is not actually around the "town" itself, but the land across the road, down by the river.
I've tried a few other hiking locations around here, but I always end up going back to Shakertown.

3. Contra Dancing at ArtsPlace
You can laugh if you want, but it's one of the best things to do on a Friday night.

4. My Church 
I visited First Alliance after a suggestion by a friend in Kenya, of all places. I cannot begin to tell you how much I have learned and been challenged over the past three and a half years.

5. Embrace United Methodist Kids 

Three years ago, my roommate invited me to come hang out on Wednesday nights at The Rock United Methodist on Wednesday nights with the kids. Wednesday nights have evolved a number of times over those three years--Miss Melissa, the former children's pastor, is gone and now the leaders who followed her have, too, and the church has changed names. We have different leaders and different activities, but the kids are still there. A little older and often a little mouthier. Or maybe that's me. Either way, it's always an adventure. I love those kids, even when they drive me crazy, and I will cry like a baby the day I say goodbye.

6. My Job and My Coworkers
I stumbled into Lexington Christian Academy because I couldn't fathom going back to public schools and no other private school paid enough for a single girl to survive. By the grace of God, they had a job--and a great one. I have finally gotten the chance to teach art full time and I love it. I play with paint and kids all day and get paid for it.
My transition back to the US was not pretty, but Lexington Christian gave me a wonderful place to go every day and helped me find my place in this country. It's hard to feel too sad when 15 first graders actually clap and cheer (yes, they really do) over painting.

7. Autumn
I can grumble and whine with the best of 'em when it comes to cold weather (high of 22? Is that even legal?!), but I love fall. The colors, the slight chill in the air. The apples and pumpkins and squash. The country festivals. It's wonderful and cheerful and bright.

8. My Car
In Kenya, I don't have a car. I was offered the chance to raise money for a car, but that would have doubled the amount of money I would have to raise, so I opted not to. It was a hard choice--I LOVE to drive and at one point declared vehemently that I would not live at Tenwek again unless I could get myself around. I was tired to depending on other people to get me back and forth to Nairobi and I wanted the freedom of having my own transportation. But we all have to face reality at some point.
    I can always take a matatu.  

9. Plenty of Hot Water
I will most likely not live in the same place when I move back to Tenwek, but in my old apartment, my hot water heater held between 10-12 minutes worth of hot water, depending on the water pressure. And hair did not come clean in the water from the faucet (tap water made it worse), so I would haul a big bucket of water from the rain tank into the house, warmed it on the stove, poured it into two large pitchers and carried them into the bathroom before I could shower.

10. Understanding language and culture around me. 
I don't claim to be to the most socially astute person in any room, but in general, I can pick up on most social cues here in America. It took me the longest time to realize that Kenyans laugh when they are embarrassed. So when tried out my Swahili with the kids in the neighborhood and they ran off laughing hysterically, it didn't necessarily mean I had accidentally said along the lines of "I like to eat cow poop for breakfast." They were just shy and embarrassed when spoke to them. I hope, anyway.
 But there are many, many more differences in customs and culture--and that means many, many more opportunities for me to misread and misunderstand the situation.

Ten Things I Look Forward To
1. My students
They are sweet and fun and energetic and goofy and enthusiastic. I love teaching them. I'll have mostly different students this time around, but a few of the same ones. They are a joy to teach.

2. The Tenwek community
It really is like a giant family. You live with 'em, go to church with 'em, eat pizza and play games on Friday with 'em. And go on vacation with 'em. Good thing I like 'em.

3. Mandazis
This would be the Kenyan answer to doughtnuts--minus the icing. They are triangles of fried dough, barely sweet. Once upon a time, I had a Friday afternoon tradition of walking up to the shops by the hospital right after my last class in the afternoon and spending 50 cents on a mandazi and a bottle of Coke. Why not start your weekend on a high note?

4. Kenyan Sunrises
We are only about 100 miles from the equator, with translates into straight 12 hours days, all year round. Sun comes up around 6:15 in the morning, goes down at 6:15 in the evening. That means it's dark by 6:45. And really, other than grading papers and lesson planning (most of which I did in the school room right after classes), there is not much to do other than visiting people and talking to family on Skype. So I often went to bed around 9. That meant I got up e-a-r-l-y in the morning--much earlier than my teenage self ever thought possible.
And, contrary to what I imagined, I loved it. My kitchen window faces due east and I would get up in the mornings and fix a cup of chai and watch the sun rise over the Kenyan hills. It was a lovely way to wake up.

5. Teaching a variety of subjects

I love teaching art--it's interesting to focus on one thing and one thing only. It's fun and has a different set of challenges, but I miss teaching all those other things. I love listening to kids sound out words and talking about science. I even miss those middle school science experiments. It will be fun to teach those things again.

 6. Bargaining in the Markets
I grew up shopping at yard sales and flea markets in the South, so bargaining was not a new thing to me. I loved it. In fact, the first time I bargained at a Kenyan market, the young man finally asked if I was from Kenya. I was proud. I did find out that you can't bargain in the Nairobi airport over baggage fees. And the lady behind the desk does not think it's funny if you try.
(Note about the picture: This is my favorite market picture, but technically, food prices are pretty fixed.)

7. Mangoes
I know you can buy them here in the US, too, but they don't taste the same. I would eat them with every meal. If my stomach would let me.

8. Warm Weather
As I have mentioned, I don't like cold weather. At all. I loved the warm weather all year round. Rainy season cools things off a little, but not too much. Certainly not like this. This was taken a few years ago in front of my old house in Lexington. I will gladly trade all the sledding and snow days to never have a storm like this again.

9. My Spot on the river
It took me a while to find it, but I found rock, a little ways off a walking trail by the river. Just enough to conceal me from people on path. Directly across the river from my spot is a little waterfall, tucked back in a crevice of the opposite river bank. The river, the hills behind it, and the little waterfall are a lovely view. On mornings when my friend Julie and I didn't go walking, I would take my Bible and walk down there.

10. Learning Swahili
My first two years in Kenya, I picked up a little Swahili, but this time around, I will actually go to language school. I will have to work at retaining what I learn. I teach American kids and talk to their American parents. Most of the Kenyans I know are MUCH better at communicating in English than I am at communicating in Swahili, so I will have to seek out places to speak in Swahili. I can't wait.

This is by no means a comprehensive list nor are the items in any particular order. As I was writing and choosing pictures, I kept thinking of new things to add to each list, but I stopped at ten. I am sure tomorrow when I read over this, I will wish I had left some off and added something new.
As always, I am searching for new places to speak and share about Tenwek MK School! If you have a church, small group, Sunday school, Bible study, or simply a group of friends who would like to know more about what God is doing in Kenya, leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!