Two weeks into our DukeEngage project, I am struggling to translate my experiences into words. Though I have desired to write almost every day, I often don’t know where to begin. I have noticed that the experiences which have impacted me the most thus far are not, at face value, necessarily the most unique or “interesting” of situations. Instead I find that the small, fleeting moments I am experiencing have a way of creating a home in the recesses of my mind more easily than large scale events, topics, or realities. Perhaps this is because small, quiet moments allow for greater reflection to occur, or so I have come to conclude. Each day, I write in a journal that I brought with me, and each entry seems to follow the same pattern: I list the different classes that I taught that morning and afternoon, write about any new people I might have met, and reflect upon the lessons I learned throughout the day. I also never fail to write about how tired I am, and generally I cut my writing short so that I can get an extra half hour of sleep. (Those kids sure know how to tire you out when playing soccer or exercising during PE class.) However, certain days I will write for a longer period of time, and attempt to process my experiences from the day at a deeper level. I think that throughout the next several weeks I may take some of these journal entries and expand upon them here, as I did with my last blog post.
Each day brings new challenges, but also new joys. The children and staff alike have welcomed us into the community with arms open wide, and each conversation brings a smile to my face. We are connecting names with faces, and trying our best to ensure that everyone knows that we truly care about them as individuals, and children of God. Even the nursery and class one students recognize me and know my name; they love to pull on my arm hair, and they pet my head whenever I sit down. They are inquisitive and joyful, always wanting to play, but they understand the importance of education and they work hard. Several of them are too young to have conversations in English, and the little knowledge I have of Swahili isn’t enough for the younger ones to understand me, but we manage to communicate through action and perhaps most importantly, facial expressions. There are many cliche commentaries on the power of a smile, but truly I have experienced that this simple action can not only break down barriers of fear and uncertainty, but in a matter of seconds also open the door for a new friendship. More than anything else, facial expressions and body language have created a sense of safety and security among both students and myself alike. No, they haven’t created a sense of safety, but rather they have unveiled the truth that we are safe together, and Lenkai is a safe space for us all.
An example of an interaction induced by the warmness of a smile occurred last Sunday afternoon. We were all riding home after Church, and turned onto the dirt road towards the camp where we were greeted by several Maasai boys, and their large herd of cattle and goats. The animals were in the middle of the road, but the boys commanded them to move when they saw us (It’s amazing how these animals will always listen to their master. They move immediately, exactly where their master orders them). At first they looked at our van curiously, and then they noticed that Brian, Sage, and I were sitting in the backseat. As they ran up to the window to look at us, I smiled and waved at them, and then put my hand on the back windshield. The instant I smiled at them, they returned with smiles of their own and they reached up to mirror my hand on the outside of the windshield. The girls were laughing, saying these boys must have never seen a “mzungu” (a Swahili word used to describe white people) before. By this time, the cows and goats had moved, and our van began to speed down the dirt road away from the boys. One of the boys kept running after us as we drove away. He seemed to be sprinting as fast as he could, with dirt flying in his face the whole way, and we both laughed the entire time. We kept eye contact for quite a while before he slowed down, waved goodbye, and disappeared into the cloud of dust.
This moment wasn’t exactly life changing, or even extraordinary. In fact, the reason why it stuck with me was because it simply was so ordinary. I believe that it is important to remember these times; the natural, everyday, routine moments in life, like driving home from church. I don’t want to forget these memories. I want to remember the small children climbing all over me at school, their hands pulling on my hair while they ask an endless stream of questions, introducing themselves over and over again. I don’t want to forget how I have watched the children roll tires across the field, or push each other in wheelbarrows so quickly that they flip the wheelbarrow and fall over each other, laughing. It’s only the end of week two, and I am already worried about forgetting that which I experience here, even as I write memories down each night. However, I should not worry; The image of that boy running after the van is so clear in my mind, and it is the moments like these that truly capture my time here. The small experiences weave in and out of one another to craft a unique picture, one that is complex and beautiful yet simple and quaint as well. It may not be a whole picture, but it is an important piece of a larger one that I cherish greatly, and one that I cannot wait to share with you in person in August.