Here'a a short trailer and a few words from my recent one month volunteering trip to Kenya.
I’ve returned from my mission in Kenya a week ago and until now was juggling between both realities on the physical and emotional realm in order to reach the balance and right set of mind, so I can have a clearer idea on how to put into words my experience there. I didn’t find it yet, so here it goes...
For a little more than a month, which is the time that I spent there I went through many challenges and tough times, tears and discouragements, and countless difficult situations. But I also experienced the most effortless expression of the purest love and unvarnished gratitude human beings can give each other.
The immensity and the tragedy of the poorness of living conditions in which these people live is beyond what I have ever imagined. I have visited many third world countries in my travels, but Africa stands on its own. The degree of poverty is so terrifying and seems so irreparable that scares you to the point it gives you panic. It cannot be explained, written or told in any way unless it is experienced, lived.
It's not in the measure of how much they have and what are their surroundings. It's in the lifestyle, in which probably none of you imagines a human being on this planet survives and deserves to live.
For most of the time I slept, ate, showered and lived like they do, with the minimum required to survive - a bowl of white rice, a hard bed and an old blanket.
I knew it was not impossible, and having intentionally exposed myself previously to similar living conditions in order to keep probing the perimeters of my being, I went for it. I could have chosen a placement in a town like most of the ones the program offers to volunteers - a better connected ones with access to food and water and the basics one needs, but I wanted to be where I was most needed and to experience what the majority of people living in those lands do throughout their whole lives.
I chose the rural and remote land of the Masai in the middle of the African savannah and spent half of my volunteering time in a family hut with no electricity or running water, adapting to their culture and lifestyle, while working with kids from the local community.
The days would start early - between 5am and 6am and the first thing would be to start the fire in order to boil the rainwater for tea and coffee and for a bucket shower. With time I learned to use less and less from the precious water and towards the end I was so perfectly skilled at it, that I was very proud of my adaptation skills. I learned to wash my clothes without rinsing them, as they do, and to brush my teeth the same way, too.
I also learned to eat even less rice, so that there would be more for the kids of the family, who were not allowed to have extra if we were still eating.
I walked about half an hour through the cracked and dusty, orange fields to get to the school where I spent my days teaching and caring for the three year old kids between 8am to 3pm. The children would walk from one to three hours one way every day to get to school, yet they are privileged ones. School fees are about forty euros a month, which makes it impossible for most of the families to provide even basic education for their children who usually remain illiterate.
After school I would work on what I saw most necessary for the kids and safe environment: fixing the facilities, doing as much physical work as possible myself and sometimes using the help of some locals for things I didn’t know how to do.
I bought them more mattresses, as the ones who didn’t fit on the broken, dirty, mouldy ones had to sleep on the chairs, I fixed the floor of the classrooms, and did some painting among other activities and donations.
The nights were cold. A few days later I had made friends with all the bugs, spiders and weird animals, even with the scorpions inside and outside and I stopped being bothered by the dogs barking to the hyenas who used to come by the house at night. And when the rain came, it rained on my head while I was sleeping, through the wholes of the hut. And that was fine, too.
The Maasai are a pastoral tribe and their lives depend on nature. Their dry soil can’t be cultivated for wheat, corn, vegetables, legumes, rice or fruits so they live on cattle. There has been drought for the past three years with no singe drop of rain, hence most their cattle has either died or is sick due to lack of food, leading to the same faith for their owners.
The day I arrived it started raining for the first time and I witnessed the exceptional hype and euphoria among the locals which came with the rain’s promise for a better future, prosperity and health.
I didn’t believe that little rain could have so much impact on people’s lives and was sceptical when they told me how it would change everything within a week.
And then magic happened - baby grass started making its way here and there and ten days later the dry brown ground was transformed to green pastures and the cows, goats, sheep and people were happy and excited.
The women in Maasai communities work hard. They do both the woman’s and the man’s job around the household like fetching wood, water, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, etc, while men are out with the cattle all day. The women work a lot and have little voice in a community where men legally have a few wives and usually between 7 and 12 kids from each one and spend their time divided between the different households. The more cows you have, the more women you can afford, as the dowery for a wife is 10 cows.
Spending time and talking to these women I found out that the most important thing they want in life is to be able to put at least one of their children to school, so he has a chance for a better future. Without a possibility to have any income on their own though, that usually remains just a dream for most of them.
The bond and attachment I created with those people, with the family and kids is just the beginning of a lifelong union of a pure, genuine and unvarnished love and it won’t end here.
As I write this, I remember that last morning I was laying in my dark metal hut, listening to the pouring rain, forgetting the mud, the dust, the cold, the rice and only thinking how deeply I've come to love them, how much I will miss them and how much I am ready to sacrifice to help them.
Being there has shown me not only their customs, traditions and beliefs firsthand, their exceptional integrity, strength and hope, but has revealed to me the raw reality of life of a tribe dependant on nature and people with extraordinary faith and stoicism, who should be an example to us all.
My next volunteer activity was in another part of Kenya, seven hours drive through bumpy roads close to the border with Tanzania.
I heard about an even more remote village next to Masai Mara National Park, where I was headed for a two day off for a safari. The community of two hundred Maasai, all grandchildren of the same grandfather live in a traditional manyatta village with houses made of cow dung. The mornings and evenings are very cold and the closest town is three hours drive from there, so on my way I bought and donated blankets and rice to the women, medicines to the men and school supplies and sweets to the kids.
As a sign of gratitude the women crowded around me and filled me up from head to toe with their traditional Masai handmade jewellery. An extremely overwhelming and humbling moment, that brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it.
The following volunteering experience in Ukunda, my second oficial placement, located on the tropical and beautiful Indian Ocean was not so pretty and as much as I don’t want to talk about it, as it’s very painful, I have to mention it since it played a big emotional impact on me and my experience in Kenya.
I dedicated the rest of my time to six orphan kids, who turned out to be part of a big scam, organised by their family. They had been doing this for years and only the thought that I had broken the chain revealing the truth gives me some relief and eases some of the pain from what I lived in this part of the mission.
I invested a lot of emotions, aside of everything else that did, and my heart was broken into pieces when I accidentally found out by one of the youngest kids, who apparently didn’t know how to lie.
The same day I sprained my food very badly and had a severe infection in both eyes and a terrible skin allergy all over my body, and all of this together with my aching heart put me on a bed to heal for a few days.
Now, there are many more stories that can be told for everything I experienced in Africa. Some are happy, others sad, some are inspirational and others discouraging. Exactly like the rollercoaster of life.
But one thing I know - Love as many people as you can, be involved in mankind, keep giving without expecting in return and strive to touch as many lives as possible. Then you’ll find a different, organic happiness and a true meaning of life. We are all equal on this planet and should have equal rights to breathe, grow, love, explore and laugh.
Thanks to all of you who supported me and my mission from day one! For all the donations, for the moral support and for the constant encouragement.
It gives me strength, hope and motivation in my endeavour to help the ones less fortunate than us and continue working for the cause.
“All, everything that I understand, I understand because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.”