After spending the past few days getting used to being back in the hustle and bustle of western culture I have finally had time to sit down and reflect on all that has just passed. Africa was not at all what we expected. I don't think anyone could have fully prepared us for the culture shock that took place not long after we arrived in Mombasa. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the poverty, the feeling of isolation realising that you have now become a minority, the roads, the heat and the overwhelming sense of being so far away from anything I knew. I was basically completely out of my comfort zone.
On the first day we arrived it was ridiculously hot. We were both exhausted from the long journey. When we arrived at the action centre where we would be staying I could feel myself becoming choked with emotions. Thoughts like, "How am I going to do this?" "It's so far from anything I have ever done before". I was in an emotional meltdown. Jason and I were shown to our room and the sight of the mosquito nets and the African appearance of the room sent me into emotional turmoil. I sat on the cold hard floor surrounded by our unopened luggage and tears just started flowing. I couldn't stop them. I had never felt like this before. After a time, as the tears began to letup, I looked up and realised that Jason was in the exact same state as me. I had been so overwhelmed that I had not noticed that Jason had sat on the floor in front of me and was also wrecked with tears. We didn't need to speak to one another, I looked in his eyes and he looked in mine and we both knew exactly what each other was feeling. It was as though I was looking in a mirror of myself.
Time passed and eventually we spoke giving voice to all that had been choked by emotions. I felt isolated like I had been dumped on a desert island. The yearning for home was overwhelming. I almost felt the physical sickness of being homesick. I also felt disorientated, like I was out of touch with reality. The feelings were so strong and I couldn't help but say what was continuously going round and round in my head, "I want to go home". Jason immediately agreed with me. I had never seen him look so uneasy. We were called for dinner but neither us felt like we could eat or move. We were both paralysed and stuck. Our leader Kheelie (who is also a Christian) came in as she felt prompted to pray for us. That prayer was such a blessing. We needed a lifeboat to cling on to as we felt like we had been stranded at sea and was drowning. The prayer started to draw my attention back from the towering fear that loomed over me and I was able to eat the dinner that had been made for us.
The feelings still raged within though and as the evening drew on another wave of homesickness hit. This time though it hit Jason really bad. Now one thing I should mention here is that before we flew out to Africa Jason had an extremely difficult experience. On the day we were flying we had to take our first dose of malaria tablets. I found this a hard thing to do as I don’t like having to take medication. I was the one who felt anxious about it. We decided to take the malaria tablets at lunchtime with some food. I took mine first shortly followed by Jason. Jason was standing up when he took them and seconds after he swallowed he said, “I feel dizzy” and then fell on the floor. I was in complete shock. I rang an ambulance but then he started to come round so there was no need of an ambulance. About 10 minutes later he was walking around but he still didn’t feel great. We rang for advice and was told to go to Accident and Emergency at the hospital. By now we were both totally convinced that it was the malaria tablets that had caused this reaction. My mum drove us to the hospital and all thoughts of Africa had gone out the window. I had never seen Jason in such a state. There was a long wait at the hospital and Jason’s mum came which I was so grateful for. I was then able to go back home and try to get ready for Africa even though I still didn’t know what was wrong with him. By about 3pm he text me saying that the doctors said it was anxiety. I was shocked again. I was the one who had been suffering with anxiety, who had panic attacks and had to walk out of certain situations. When he got home it was nearly 4pm and we needed to be at the airport by 6pm at the latest. Now we had another new challenge to face, were we going to make our flights?
We did make our flights with plenty of time. I have no idea how we made it but we did! So the challenges we had faced before we even got to Africa were numerous. That first night Jason was feeling anxiety once again and was struggling to know how to deal with it. In many situations where I have suffered I have never told anyone about it. In other places we probably would have kept the struggle we were having to ourselves and then it would have continued growing and eventually we would have given up and gone home. So I said to Jason, “I’m going to go and tell the others that we are struggling, it might make us feel better”. So I went to Kheelie and told her everything. Kheelie, Rachael, Anna, Jason and I all sat together that night and shared it all. So much of God’s grace was there that night. So I thank these people for just walking alongside us and loving us. As we went to bed that night Jason said to me, “I never really understood your anxiety but I get it now and its horrible”. I had never felt closer to him than I did that night.
Beginnings are always hard, so much harder than endings and the beginning of our journey was testing. We slept soundly though on that first night and woke up much more refreshed the next day. With every passing day we began to get more and more used to the living conditions in Africa. I stopped bothering trying to clean my feet every five minutes, I got used to the cold water in the showers, I got used to doing a bug check every night inside my mosquito net tent, I got used to always having sweaty hands and I didn’t bother wearing make-up. I got used to walking through the village shouting Jambo to everyone and I got used to the crazy traffic in Mombasa and travelling by Tuk Tuk or Matatu. We also started to acclimatise to the heat and was blessed with some rainy days which cooled it down a bit. However the hardest part, in terms of living conditions, was the stomach issues. As the days went on the stomach problems began to get a lot worse. The biggest problem was that we didn’t know exactly what was causing it as it could have been a number of things. The malaria tablets we take have a very common side effect of diarrhoea. However also the food we were eating was a lot of beans etc which also could have affected us and of course there is traveller’s diarrhoea too. There were a couple of days where I felt too weak to go out and was struggling in the heat to cope with it. Since I have come home I have still had the same thing so we think it is the malaria tablets but I am glad to say we finish them today!
Even though adjusting to the living conditions in Africa was hard, the experiences we had were so worth it all! If I had to narrow it down to which three experiences were my favourite it would have to be the feeding program, teaching at Noah’s Ark school and bonding with the children from Casuarina House. The children at Casuarina House are so special, it was such a blessing to individually get to know each child and see the beautiful variety of personalities. Even though each child had such a bad start to their lives, you can see how they have transformed from orphan to daughter or son, of knowing that they are loved for who they are. It was wonderful to give to them the books which we had brought with us and see them get excited but what was even more extraordinary to me was how they opened their hearts to us. On the final night of being with them, they just covered us in love in their own way and it made me realise that this whole trip had been worth it just for that moment. I will never ever forget it.
Teaching at Noah’s Ark was also incredible and once again my heart just melted under the love that each person had. I particularly enjoyed the second visit we made to Noah’s Ark as the children recognised us then and were glad to see us come back. We taught some of the older children that day and after doing reading with them I tried a different activity. I drew my face on the board and wrote my name underneath and said, “Can you draw your own face and write your name underneath?” Even though these children could speak and understand English very well it took a long time to communicate what I was asking them to do. Many children got confused and copied my face. So I ended up drawing a mouth, a face, a nose and eyes on the board and said, “These are all parts of your face, can you use those parts to draw your own face?” Some children eventually understood and got creative drawing their own face but others still couldn’t grasp it. I said to Jason afterwards that it was sad that the children aren’t really encouraged in that side of learning, of being creative. It was just an observation we made while we were there. Education is so important there that I think it can often be seen as a means to an end which we can understand as it is so necessary to improve your life.
The feeding program was one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. We had the opportunity to do it twice on both Saturdays we were there. To serve these children by giving them their food was so rewarding. Each child who came up would look at you and you could almost see exactly how they were feeling in their eyes. Some look tired and care-worn, others hasty, some looked grateful and others even managed to smile and look joyful. The smaller children would come in holding the hand of their sibling and would lift up their bowl that was so large in their tiny hands. They would gaze up at you in a kind of awe. Even now when I look back on it, I wish I had cuddled them more and been more open with my love. It felt harder to show these children love because a part of me felt paralyzed by their need of food. Yet I realised afterwards that they need love just as much. I learnt a valuable lesson there.
By the end of the two weeks in Africa, Jason and I had got very comfortable with the African way of living. We missed home, family and some home comforts but there was something that had grabbed our hearts in Africa. As we sat in Mombasa airport waiting for our flight to be called I once again had the same feeling I had on my first day in Africa. I looked at Jason and said, “I’m going to miss Kenya” and he said, “Me too…Uh oh we are getting homesick for Kenya!” A huge part of me didn’t want to return to western culture. I had felt so close to God during the whole trip and my heart was cracked open…