My family has been home for two weeks now, and it’s hard to reconcile two worlds: one in Kenya which draws us into community, and one Canada which propels us into productivity. It’s hard to capture the range of all my impressions of this trip. Each has its own texture, nuance, shade, or hue.
My children were mostly impacted by the warmth of the people.
Even that impression was tempered: they achieved celebrity status overnight, yet neither of them likes being the centre of attention. Their smallest action elicited a response from other children. The first week, Élia refused to bathe until it was pitch black outside and too late to heat water over a fire. She braved a cold bucket shower more readily than teasing. Anna felt humiliated by 100 curious children on their way home from school. Too late, I realized she was surrounded. And petrified. The children shrieked with laughter and couldn’t get past the little white girl on the road eating something as ordinary as a banana. One reached out and pulled her braids until she was were satisfied Anna wasn’t wearing a wig.
Yet, despite some notable differences and a significant language barrier, my girls still managed to connect with children more readily than home. They even managed to communicate a little - on Kenyan terms. Even now, I catch their subtle Kenyan idiosyncrasies - raised eyebrows mean “yes”, and they yell out brief Swahili phrases to one another in code.
Our large, round mud hut was perfect - mostly, because it pushed my children to live outside, kicking a homemade ball around the field and chasing chicks and goats. I gave up trying to keep my children clean. Their limbs became the colour of the red dirt. I found this wholesome and even gratifying. Kenyan women took it upon themselves to make up for my evident maternal shortcomings and scrubbed their feet with repurposed netted fruit bags.
Kenya also forced us into a more direct relationship with food. Élia was fascinated to watch a bull skinned for the New Year’s feast. (We held Anna hostage in the hut while its throat was slit - much to her dismay). That said, they both enjoyed watching the fur singed off its head as it roasted over a fire for soup. That day, Élia had complained that she missed our family tradition of watching “BBC Earth” once a week - until Michael pointed out that we were living it instead. True that.
My girls’ hearts were broken the day they met street children visibly younger than Anna, who is eight. They spent the day asking the kinds of questions that I could not answer.
Every day in Africa was a contrast.
We encountered need staved by interdependence; we met suffering embraced by faith. We also found hope lurking in the most unlikely places.
Only in Kenya was I able to define paradox in a way my children could finally understand.
We all returned to Canada more thankful than we left: plumbing, clean water, and fresh bread all seemed luxurious. I fear, though, that the inevitable will happen. Slowly, but surely, vivid Kenya will fade like an old photograph. We will peer into the small photo and try to distinguish features through the grainy black and whiteness.
It always happens.
My youngest said to me today that her dream is to return to Kenya; my eldest acknowledged it’s like Narnia for us, but without the witches or the snow.
And so we must return.
Every visit helps breathe colour back into the stony self-sufficient pieces of our lives.