As I mentioned in a post last week, I’m going to Kenya next month. Saying I’m excited about the trip is an understatement. It will be my first time in Africa and to get there I’ll be flying over the Atlantic for the first time. I love that I’m going somewhere that so few people dare to go to.
But getting there poses a number of challenges. The culture there is unlike anything I’ve experienced up to this point. Much of my time will be spend in a remote village with no running water or electricity. Communication with people in the country won’t be easy, since many people there speak only Swahili or a tribal language. Raising the funds needed for the trip has been challenging, especially with the current state of the US economy.
So why go through all this trouble to visit Kenya when there are far easier places to get to? Part of it is because I want to see the world- and not just the pretty parts. I also want to get out of my comfort zone. I like to travel precisely because it’s a challenge and it puts me into difficult or awkward situations. If I can handle those, then I feel more confident tackling challenges at home.
I also look forward to spending time and learning more about a culture so different from my own. The team I’m travelling with has been having meetings for the last couple of months where we’ve been discussing the differences between the US and Kenyan cultures. In the US, for example, we usually have a “time-is-money” mentality. Schedules must be made and kept and the calendar is king. In Kenya, people have a much more relaxed view of time. Schedules are more of a suggestion then an actual guideline for their lives. They take the time to stop and talk with neighbors and friends, even if it means being late for something else. The relationships, not productivity, are the priority.
Which leads to another cultural difference- the ease in which friendships are formed. In the US, it’s pretty easy to make friends- it can even be done with the click of a button on Facebook. But many of those relationships are shallow ones- they formed because I worked with them on a project together or happened to be at some event together. In many cases, relationships end when people move, change jobs or just “get too busy” to keep the relationship up.
In contrast, relationships are much more highly valued in the Kenyan culture. They are harder to form and take much more time, but the relationships that result are much deeper ones that can last a lifetime.
Of course these aren’t the only issues. I suspect that I will learn as much- if not more- by spending a week in the Kenyan culture then I will ever be able to teach them.
As for helping out the village, I’m not pretending that what the team and I do there will have some profound, permanent impact on the community. It will take a lot more then ten people and a week to do that. I’m not going to “fix” a village or solve all their problems. Those living there are the only ones who can really do that.
But what we’re doing is more like laying down a brick on a wall. Other teams are going in before us, and others will follow after us. Hopefully our efforts might help those in Kenya to change their lives for the better. And this isn’t a one-shot trip. My church has partnered with Food for the Hungry, which works in poor communities around the world to help communities develop food and water supplies; safe sanitary practices; HIV/AIDS prevention and much more. One of their programs involves sponsoring a child so they can get medical care and education. My church sent one team two years ago to the same village we’re going to now, and as a result over 30 children were sponsored. That’s one reason I was willing to sign on for this trip. It’s not just one trip- it’s one more element in building a relationship with the village. I’ve already been trading letters with a girl in the village and I look forward to meeting her.
In the end, I don’t know what will come out of this trip. It is so far beyond anything I’ve done before. It will be an adventure either way.