This time last week I was landing in Asheville from the world’s most jam-packed, not a dull moment, crazy quick trip to Kenya. I had been invited by D.O.O.R. to attend the celebration service of the dedication of the Kenyan Sign Language Bible. Of course I couldn’t be that close to my students from my Peace Corps experience and not drop in for a surprise visit!
Thursday morning my most amazing friend Tyler (you know you have a good friend when they are willing to drive you to the airport at 2 in the morning!) dropped me off at the Greenville airport where I flew to Washington, D.C. to meet up with Trellace, my friend from church who was coming with me to check out the organization I will soon be working with and to meet my children from Mundika School for the Deaf. Trellace is an incredibly smart freshman attending Georgetown right now and has a similar interest in global issues that I do along with a heart for missions so I asked her to join me on this safari. We flew from D.C. to Amsterdam where we had some ridiculously overpriced coffee and then hopped on the next flight to Nairobi. As soon as we landed (Friday night at 9 p.m., so about 37 hours after I’d headed to the airport) we could smell that “Nairobi air”- a mix of burning trash, pollution, and sweaty bodies- and feel that humidity that only the Kenyan rainy season can bring. We were taken to the DOOR compound where we unloaded our stuff and crashed, not to wake up again until 8 the next morning. We made some tea, went outside where we raved about the amazing temperatures (we were both DONE with the winter temperatures we left behind in the States!), and got ourselves ready for the celebration that was to start promptly at 10:30 (and there were enough wazungu (white people) there that delaying the start of the even was not an option as is custom to most Kenyan festivities!).
The celebration was full of songs, dramas, and dances performed by deaf people from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Ghana, and Nigeria. It was amazing to see so many people celebrating the completion of a project that they have been working on for so long and that they take such pride in. The Bible is on DVD so that Deaf people can see the stories through the hands of another deaf person and have a true understanding of what Christianity is, who God, Jesus, and other Bible characters are, and what it means to be a Believer. If you read my Peace Corps blog at all, you know that despite the Deaf having schools that use Kenyan Sign Language, the teachers are often not fluent enough to teach topics in a way that the Deaf can understand and there are often no interpreters at church to let them know what it is that the preacher is talking about and even if they are given a Bible, they are not literate enough to understand what it is they are looking at. By having the stories on DVD in their very own Kenyan Sign Language (not American Sign Language, British Sign, etc like many of the donated resources are) they are finally truly able to understand the stories that they have never had access to in their language before. Although DVD players are not as prevalent over there as they are here in America most schools and organizations can at least get their hands on one for long enough to show these DVDs.
After the celebration there was a lunch with absolutely every Kenyan food I’d ever tried…except ugali! I was flabbergasted! I know all those people went home and made themselves a plate of ugali despite how much they had satisfied their hunger with the other dishes- pilau, fish, beef, rabbit, chicken, chapati, vegetables. No meal is complete without good ol’ ugali (blegh!).
That afternoon I attempted to play some volleyball, hung around with the children that lived on the compound, caught up with friends from the Kenyan Deaf community that I’d met during my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Deaf Education, met some new friends with whom I’ll be working with and got a sense of what life will be like when I move back to Kenya and begin working with DOOR. I’m truly excited about living there!
Sunday morning there was a worship service which included a Bible story, a dramatization of it, a sermon about that story, and then a song and dance that went about sharing the story in a different way. The more ways the story is portrayed, the better understanding people have of it. It was a very upbeat service with lots of drumming, movement, and excitement.
That afternoon, Trellace and I packed up our stuff and headed over to my friend Lisa’s house. Lisa was my Peace Corps medical officer who became one of my closest friends during my time over there. I was so excited to drive through the gate and see her security guard, Daniel, her dogs and cats, and of course Lisa and her amazing family! We had so much catching up to do that we kept putting off sleep as long as we could. Unfortunately, we had to leave early the next day but for a very good reason- to head to my village to see my students and the other community members that took care of me for so long. My friend Martin, who used to be a driver at Peace Corps, was able to take us out to my school. He let us stop along the way at places I was never able to stop at before since I was always using public transportation. We stopped at an overlook of the Great Rift Valley, at the sign marking the equator, and some road side markets. Although the journey was long, it was much more enjoyable than those that I’ve taken too many times in overfilled vans with the stench of fish, chickens pecking at your feet, and children staring at you for hours on end because your skin is a little bit lighter than theirs. Instead of taking 12 hours like it always took in the past, it took around 8 this time.
When we arrived at the school I had Martin drop me off at the road so I could walk up to the school like I was heading back from my walk to town. My heart was pounding with excitement. All day I had kept thinking about this reunion and what it might look like and my whole body would smile. My heart would flutter like I was thinking about my high school crush. I was soooo excited to surprise my kids. So I headed toward the gate and one of my students saw me. He signed my name and then sprinted to where everyone was (they had just returned from sports practice so were sitting around recovering from their runs). When they saw him sign my name they looked towards the gate and saw me and despite their exhaust they sprinted towards me. 100 children gathered around me fighting their way closer to hug me, shake my hand, touch my hair. There was a mosh pit of children surrounding me and I couldn’t have been more happy. My eyes filled with tears as soon as I saw their faces. I looked around me and was in disbelief as to what was going on. It was surreal. I was back. They were there in front of me again. Their smiles made every single mile of travel worth it. When I saw “Piki Piki” and “Monkey” (my babies) I knew I was home. On the drive over that day there was a song that came on the radio “Narudi nyumbani” which means “I’m coming home”. I know enough Kiswahili to know what that means without someone translating for me so when I heard the words I felt as if the song was playing just for me. Martin spoke up a few seconds later and said “Ann, this is your song today” and I said “I know! I’m coming home!”
That evening was a rainy one. After about an hour of catching up with the kids we headed over to the Catholic convent where we had dinner and slept. It was fun to surprise the sisters that didn’t know I was coming. I’d told them all I would be back but I’m sure that is a promise that many people like myself make but never are able to follow through with. The fact that I fulfilled my promise and in such a short amount of time was unexpected to them.
The next morning Trellace and I went on a run to see the sunrise and so she could see what the village looks like farther out away from the main road. We had breakfast and then headed over to the school to be with the children. Most of the teachers had left by the time we arrived the night earlier so I got to reunite with them. It was so good to see them. I think the time apart helped me to appreciate the good things about them. I wasn’t thinking about their tardiness or frequent absence, their quickness to hit the students, or their unwillingness to learn more sign language. I was simply glad to see them, the teachers that had been willing to teach alongside me for two years, to learn from me but, more importantly, to teach me so much. I walked into the nursery class like I always did in the morning and the children rushed to their seats. The new students followed the lead of the students I’d had the last two years and ran straight to the tables and sat with anticipation wondering what the white girl was going to be doing with them. I did the usual- went through flash cards, practiced the letters of the alphabet, and did some coloring. It felt so good, so right, to be there.
While we spent most of our day at the school I did want to show Trellace some of the other things I did while I lived there. I took her to the nursery with hearing students where I taught some lessons—the biggest one being that I don’t like to be referred to as mzungu but rather “Auntie Annie” as they began to call me. I also took her over to see Mama Matilda and her husband Phillip and his brother Charles. They took me in as a daughter while I lived there so being able to see them again was amazing. Letting them know that I would soon be moving to Nairobi was good news for them, knowing I’d be much closer than I am at present and able to make frequent visits “home”.
We spent the afternoon back at the school “storying”, playing games, catching up, laughing, and enjoying our short amount of time together. My church had sent some things for me to share with my school- new resources for the classrooms, some new sports equipment, jump ropes and jacks- so I shared those things for which they were so grateful for.
The next day came way too soon and I had to say goodbye to my kiddos. Although it wasn’t nearly as emotional as the last goodbye (to which they all reminded me was really ugly!) it was still hard to rip myself away from the children that have helped me see what it is I want to fight for in the future and what it is I truly believe in. But like the last time, I said I would be back and I have no doubt that I will make that come true within a few months.
After a long day heading back to Nairobi, Martin dropped us off at the airport to head back here. At no point on this entire whirlwind of a trip did my heart stop smiling. The last time I left Kenya I still had a lot of questions as to what was next, when would the next trip to Kenya be, what would I be doing? I was confident that I would return someway, somehow but there were still too many uncertainties for me to sit comfortably. This time I left with a rejuvenated spirit.There’s not a doubt in the world that I will be back as soon as God allows it to begin my work with DOOR, to visit my kids as often as time allows, and to continue experiencing life as it’s meant to be lived, pure and simple.