“Impressions of Africa” by Lynn Ostler
Now that I’ve returned home from Africa, people often ask me, “How was your trip?”
That seemingly easy question often trips me up. How do I adequately respond?
How do I express the visual sights that delighted me, of the colorfully dressed women carrying babies on their backs and water on their heads; the school children in their uniforms dancing traditional dances for us; the warm smiles of all we met, accompanied by their “Jambo” handshakes? Or conversely, how do I paint for others the visual sights that stunned me, such the garbage everywhere due to a system in a developing country that lacks the infrastructure of waste removal?
It wasn’t just creating a picture of what I saw that challenges me; it’s hard to describe the stirrings of the heart. How do I adequately express the sadness of meeting a young woman who gave birth on the side of the road by herself only a few hours earlier, and had lost the baby?
How do I tell of my shock of seeing 88 children in Grade 3 packed in a small classroom all quietly studying their 12 workbooks (sharing) even though their teacher was absent for the day?
How do I explain the admiration I have for Iris, the nurse at the village health clinic? She was such a delight to meet. Not only has she improved her own life through education, she has truly bettered an entire community through her work.
How do I convey how deeply moved I was by the care and concern of the women leaders of Kenya Keys for the girls in this community? Through the Usalama program, they focus on the special needs of girls as they navigate growing up in the village. There are many problems that arise, but I was probably the most surprised to learn of the importance of soap, which is hard for many of the girls to get, and can lead to bullying and shaming at school. Something that I so completely take for granted is a precious commodity in their world.
I was comforted to know that there are women like Clemence and Felicity that are there to help. They are strong, thoughtful and capable women, as are all of the Kenya Keys board members.
How do I tell of the many interviews of students who are so grateful for their sponsorship they pour over every detail of their sponsor’s letter, to learn of the person so far away that cares so deeply for him or her. Each student adds a “God bless them” sentiment as they finish reading the letter and looking over every detail in the picture.
They feel a connection to us, the sponsors, that is hard for us to understand in our busy U.S. lives. But I will never be slow to write my letter again, and I will be sure to include some photographs of my family. They want to know about us, to whom they are so grateful. What a humbling experience! Once again, I was taught by them.
I wonder if I can help my American friends understand that despite a lack of almost all the luxuries we have here, they are a happy people, and I feel we have much to learn from them. They love their families and sacrifice much for them. They aren’t just students, they are learners. Their warm smiles, cheerful demeanor and grateful hearts make me love them and want to be more like them. That is what I’ve learned I can say to adequately describe my trip. I was humbled, I was inspired, and I hope I never forget what they taught me.
Lynn Ostler was an intern on the Summer of 2018 Trip to Taru. This was her first trip to Kenya with Kenya Keys.