Kenya has changed me. I hope, forever. I was so blessed to be a part of such an amazing and life-changing journey. I have been struggling with what to write, how to tell the stories, and how to bring to life the amazing and wonderful people I was able to encounter on this journey. My brain is still processing many of these things, and I want to be able to do the stories justice. However, for now, I wanted to share a few of the things that I personally learned and the ways that Africa has changed me. Below are the top 10 things that my mind is processing differently these past few days.
1. I am not nearly as wasteful as I once was.
Americans spend millions and millions of dollars on weight loss every year. So, rather than consume crap and then spend even more money trying to counter the ill effects of said crap, I have always been that person that would clear my cabinets of all the junk that is unhealthy. I work very hard to keep my kitchen free of highly processed and starchy carbohydrates. In the past, I would just gather these items up, put them in a trash bag, and haul them all the way down to the dumpster.
Upon our return from Kenya, there was a lot of this kind of stuff in my house. I mean, A LOT!! Normally, it would go straight to the dump. This time, however, I found myself gradually incorporating the left-overs into our normal meal prep. When in Kenya, we noticed that not a grain of rice went unconsumed. The villagers that we encountered were masters of getting the last bit of use and consumption out of everything. I was very convicted about the amount of stuff that we waste every day in the Anderson household. Granted, I will not intentionally purchase the "bad stuff" once it is finally gone, but I am finding myself more tolerant of it in my home, and thankful that we have enough food to eat 3 squares a day.
2. I can pretty much pee anywhere now.
In the remote villages that we visited, there was no running water and no electricity. The bathroom/lavatory/toilet/hole in the ground/whatever you would like to call it, was typically some sort of mud hut or shack with a hole in the floor. No toilet paper, no toilet seat, no toilet--period. When you gotta go, you gotta go. So, go I went. It didn't kill me, make me sick, or permanently scar me for life. What it did do is make me realize that we are so blessed and fortunate in this country to have access to running water on a regular basis.
3. Americans are vile and dirty people.
If you reference item number 2 above, you will remember that I have now hovered over a community "hole in the ground" to relieve myself. Did it smell bad? Yep. Was it any worse than the restroom at any local Wal Mart right here in the good ol' US of A? Nope. While the Kenyan outhouses were pretty much a "no-frills" kind of place, I have to tell you they were significantly cleaner than most public restrooms in the States. The lack of running water notwithstanding, I actually felt significantly less dirty there than I typically do in the US. Granted, I did slather my hands with hand sanitizer when I was done, but at least I didn't have to touch a dirty door handle on the restroom door after washing my hands like I do here in America. (Mostly because, well, there wasn't a door. . . but, details, details. . . ) Anyway, have you ever just observed how many people here don't wash their hands after using the restroom? Yikes!! And a lot of these folks prepare your food in restaurants. . . just sayin'.
4. I am (I hate to admit) a helicopter parent.
As I have established in previous posts, I am a huge micro manger of my kids. I have spent the last 9 and a half years doing everything for them. We started this process of "turning loose" of our kids and teaching them independence several months prior to our trip. You can read that earlier post here. However, in Kenya, I was blessed to witness children ages 2 and up playing just feet from busy highways. Kids just 5 or 6 years old would walk several miles to get water--and then carrying said water back to their villages in large, heavy buckets--on their heads, no less! What? I micromanage everything my kids do! But not any more! Does that mean that I am going to let them play in traffic? No. But it does mean that I will relax a bit more when they are outside playing. I have also found myself less anxious and more tolerant of letting them "fend for themselves" a bit more. I has been good for them, and very freeing for me.
5. American children are spoiled and behave very badly.
One of the most dramatic things that I noticed in Kenya was how well-behaved the children were. We were literally around hundreds of kids at a time--every day. I encountered exactly 2 children that misbehaved. One was a kid in the airport on our way out of the country, and I think he and his family weren't even actually Kenyan. The other was a grade-school-aged kid (maybe 7 or 8) that kept acting up at one of our eye clinics. He ran into the clinic a number of times, but was very quickly and swiftly disciplined by the nearest Kenyan national.
It was so impressive to see the "village" approach to parenting in that environment. Many children there are orphaned, or have only one parent. The entire culture revolves around the community taking responsibility for the training and rearing of children. All I could think was, "can you imagine the irate parents and number of lawsuits that would occur in the US if we did this?" I have to admit, though, after witnessing their methods of parenting children, American families could learn a lot from them!
6. The Kenyan people prioritize technology in a very interesting way.
We were in extremely remote areas of Kenya on this trip. No running water, no electricity, and very few cars. The majority of the locals walk everywhere they go. If they have a long distance to travel, they will hire a motorcycle or bus to take them. However, it seems as if every person in the country has a cell phone! Weirdest thing: I would be right in the middle of an eye exam, my patient would be sitting in the little mud hut with no shoes on, and their cell phone would ring!
I did inquire as to how these folks would charge their cell phones (as they had no access to electricity). I was told that there is an entire industry in Kenya that revolves around cell phone charging stations. Yep, they will actually pay someone in town to charge their cell phones! Crazy! Personally, I would rather have running water over a cell phone, but to each his own. I often dream of what it would be like to NOT be saddled to my cell phone. It was interesting to see how another culture so highly values this mode of communication.
7. Jet lag is brutal!
It has been 6 days since my return to US soil. Yesterday was the first day that I did not have to utilize caffeine to remain vertical after 2:00 p.m. Everybody told me that the first 5 days would be rough, but I was unsure about what to expect. I was pleased to find that I functioned remarkably well (even on day one) early in the day. 2:00 was a whole 'nother story though! I am really thankful for Benadryl and melatonin!
8. Dave and I have awesome friends!
Dave and I have always known that our friends are significantly better-than-average people. Since this trip, we have confirmed that these relationships are indeed great. So many people have encouraged us, prayed for us, and been excited for us along this journey. We have been overwhelmed by the interest and outpouring of questions from our good friends. It has been really fun getting to share this experience with all of these awesome people.
9. I have the coolest job on the planet.
I know, a lot of you think my job must be completely boring--"which is better one or two"? After approximately 900 exams in mud huts I was excited and raring to go Monday morning when I returned back to my nice, clean, fancy-schmancy private practice here in Texas. I have never been more energized and excited about what I do for a living. It is my calling, really. I know, what I do must seem really boring to a lot of you. However, I think it is the best thing in the world to spend 20 minutes eyeball to eyeball with a person and at the end realize that what I do makes a difference in people's lives. I absolutely LOVE it!
10. My kids are funny, sweet, smart, and amazing little people!
Everyone kept asking me, while we were in Kenya, if I missed my kids yet. I can honestly say that for the first 12 days I did not.
What?. . . .
Gasp!. . . .
I think it must have been a God thing--keeping me on task, not letting me get distracted, and providing some much-needed time away. During the 48 hour trek home, however, I did find myself getting strangely excited about being back with my children.
I'm sure some of you are horrified at the notion that a mother can be without her children by her side for even one day. When I say it out loud, I agree that I sound a little cold-hearted. However, I never (not even for one second) doubted their safety. In fact, Grandma and Grandpa pretty frequently afford my children more adequate and yes, even better supervision than even Dave and I do. I knew that they were having a blast, were being safely and lovingly cared for, and were more than likely not really missing us either. (I was right about all of those things, by the way!)
What I found, on my return, was that I was much more relaxed and patient with my kids. I had received some much-needed perspective on life in general, and have been re-energized with my parenting as well. Life moved at an entirely different pace in Kenya than I am used to. It was good for me to spend some time re-prioritizing what is important in life.
What I found is that I am even more excited about the years of parenting that I still have left. I am excited to someday being able to share experiences like this with my kids beside me. I look forward to the day when they can witness, first-hand, a different culture and a different way of life than what they have in Texas. In fact, Dave and I have begun the dialogue that includes them joining us in the future on a trip to Africa! It is all very exciting for us!
So, there you have it: my top 10 list of things that I learned while in Kenya. I hope you enjoyed them and I hope to find the words in the next few weeks to share with you more of the life-changing encounters that we had.