So, my plan for my trip to Africa was to write all about it. Right away. Like, while I was there and then more as soon as I got back. But between spotty wifi, exhaustion, and a heart that went into preservation mode the second we landed back in the U.S., that has not happened.
The problem with this accidental sabbatical, as a friend and I were calling it today, is that once it’s gone on for so long it’s hard to break it. I mean, the PRESSURE of the thing is just building, building, building with every day that passes without words published. And now, I’m not sure any post could possibly make up for my unintentional break from blogging.
See that? PRESSURE.
I know that’s silly. But still, it’s there. So I’ve decided to ease into things with a Q&A, answering some of the questions my friends and family have asked since I got back. (I’d love to answer YOUR questions, too, so drop them in the comments!) Here goes…
I’m new here. Why did you go to Africa?
I traveled with a group of 14 other people for a vision trip with Mercy House, an organization started by my friend Kristen Welch to help pregnant girls living in devastating poverty in Kenya. While I’ve supported it in small ways since it was founded a few years ago, this was a chance to see the work first-hand. You can learn more about Mercy House here.
Why haven’t you written before now?
Alternative versions of this question include, “When are you going to blog about your trip?” and “Why have you only posted pictures of the safari? I thought you were going to help kids or something…?”
Right. Fair enough, I guess, although feel free to note that this pressure about writing may not be as completely self-induced as we first assumed. To answer your question, I’m going to be a real downer. Do you remember when my brother-in-law died? I wrote a post called, “Inappropriate,” because after going through that experience I realized so fully how everyone grieves differently and how none of it seems right to anyone else. In a much less heartbreaking way I think going on a mission trip (or vision trip, in my case) is similar. Everyone reacts and processes and experiences it differently. It might not seem right or normal or good to you, but that’s okay.
My silence? Is all part of that reacting and processing and experiencing. Moving on…
Was it everything you hoped/expected/dreamed?
Wow! Way to start with the heavy-hitting questions! I have no idea how to answer this one! It was wonderful and hard and I will probably be processing it for months to come. I didn’t know what to expect or hope for, so I can’t say it met any expectations or hopes. But it was good. I can tell you that.
Was it hot? Why aren’t you tan?
It’s summer here and outrageously hot. But in Kenya, it’s winter. And winter in Kenya means 65 to 75 degrees. Which is lovely and, I suspect, all part of a campaign to make me fall in love with the place. As for the tan thing, well, I’m never tan. World travel didn’t change that.
How was the food?
Um. Well. It was okay. We ate a lot of rice with seasoned meat and vegetables, plus chapati (which is like tortillas) and oogali (which is boiled down maize, smushed into a play-dough consistency. It’s used to pick up food and a Kenyan comfort food and favorite.). Everything was seasoned with a spice I didn’t recognize and, to be completely honest, was tired of by the end of the trip. I didn’t starve by any means, but I was glad I took crackers, peanut butter and bags of trail mix with me.
How did you survive the long flight?
Pretty well. I’m here, aren’t I? Although, I did mention that I think international travel must be like childbirth in that you have to forget the pain of it before you can fathom doing it again. From Houston to Nairobi, it was a 20-hour flight. We stopped in Doha, Qatar — where we stayed for a few hours on the way to Kenya. Our first flight was delayed, and we missed our connection. The airline gave us hotel vouchers so we could take showers and naps. It was unexpected and surreal and meant my first passport stamp says QATAR.
But back to the flight. It was long, and I barely slept. But I did watch a lot of movies: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, How to Be Single, The Martian, Silver Linings Playbook, Our Brand is Crisis, and Casablanca. Believe it or not, I hadn’t seen any of them before — and they were all good to varying degrees.
Did you get jet lag (or motion sickness or zika or malaria)?
No, but thank you for asking! Because of the way our flights were scheduled, combined with an extreme lack of sleep on the way home, I didn’t really experience jet lag in the awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night sense. I was exhausted for several days, though.
As for motion sickness, no! I got the patch for that, and it worked WONDERS. It was so awesome. I didn’t get sick during any of our many, bumpy (UNDERSTATEMENT) rides. I had a rough time as our plane landed in Qatar on the way home, but I think that was the result of turbulence, exhaustion and hunger. As for any other diseases or illnesses, nope. I got shots and meds before leaving, and they did their job.
Did you sleep under a mosquito net?
Yes, I did although I didn’t see anything scarier than a spider (WHICH WAS GIANT) in my shower at the safari camp. And I didn’t get a single bug bite until the very last night as we waited to leave for the airport. Again, Kenya winter is awesome.
Were you worried about HIV?
Oh, huh, I didn’t even think about it. I feel weird admitting that, but I really didn’t. In hindsight I probably should have asked about this, but I didn’t. So I didn’t worry about it.
What was most surprising about Kenya?
The trash. And the goats. And the people. They were everywhere, and all of it was shocking. I’d seen pictures of slums and I’d read stories about the girls who live at Mercy House and I’ve seen wild animals at the zoo. But the way I saw trash and goats and people everywhere? Very surprising.
What was your favorite part?
Wow. I don’t know. One part? My most favorite? Ugh. Picking favorites is really not my spiritual gift. But for you I will try. My favorite part of traveling to Kenya was … nope, can’t do it. The trip was full of too many wonderful things to choose just one.
The people I traveled with were amazing, and meeting Maureen and Oliver made me smile and cry (yeah, at the same time). The girls at Mercy House were beautiful, from the inside out, and being given the gift to worship with them was overwhelming. Our drivers were kind and funny and knowledgeable and kept us safe and informed and, on more than one occasion, entertained. And even though I was the sole safari guest who wanted to sleep in the last morning, I’m so grateful I didn’t miss seeing the sun rise over the savannah.
That reminds me: Did you sing songs from The Lion King?
Have you met me? OF COURSE I DID. I mean, that safari was FULL OF the circle of life business. (Do not ask me about the lions eating the zebra. Because I didn’t watch it. I literally turned the other direction while my new friends snapped pictures and went on and on about how amazing it was. I also looked away from the Animal Planet show the vultures gave us with their wildebeest dinner. *shudder*)
What about Toto’s Africa?
Are you KIDDING ME? It literally rained on us. During the safari. Which, our drivers told us, meant we’d see more animals because the rain drives them out. Do you think I blessed the rains down in Africa? Oh yeah I did.
(On a slightly more serious note, when I was deciding whether or not to go on this trip, I heard this song. A lot. It was everywhere. It was even on my friend Kate’s radio! So as we drove to the airport, I made my fellow travelers listen to the entire thing on my phone. They were kind to indulge me. Or too tired to fight it. One of those.)
Did you want to stay there? Do you want to go back?
No, not really. Yes, I think so.
What do you miss about Africa?
Having a driver, obviously. And unlimited access to bottle of Coke and Fanta. But also, I feel like we were just getting to know the girls at Mercy House and just starting to understand the work that’s being done. So while I didn’t want to stay, I kind of did. Just a little bit longer.
What did you miss about home?
Toilets that flush normally and tap water I can drink. Cheese. My family.
And now for the lightning round…
- Was it sad? Did you cry a lot? Yes. But it was also beautiful and incredible and eye-opening. But yeah, you know all those things made me cry, too.
- Were you ever scared? I was nervous while we were in Doha, partly because it was so different and partly because it was unexpected so I hadn’t had time to mentally prepare for that difference. I was also a bit nervous when we visited a Masai village. The Masai tribe lives in the area we went on safari, and one of the villages welcomes tourists. They performed their traditional dance and showed us their homes. We went inside their small (really small) huts in groups of two or three — and while we were in there, in the dark (no electricity), learning about how the women build the homes from dirt, it started raining. So they kept us inside until it stopped. Whether we wanted to stay inside or not. That made me nervous.
- Was there electricity or running water? Yes, in some places. The guest cottage we stayed in, as well as the safari camp we visited and both maternity homes, had both. Other places did not.
- How did your kids do while you were gone? They did great. Mark couldn’t get off work for that long, so they stayed with my parents. Of course they missed me (and have been clingy since I returned), but they had a great time thanks to my mom’s calendar full of activities and outings.
- Did anyone speak English? Oh yeah! I didn’t realize that Kenya was a British colony until the sixties, but it was. So English was nearly as prevalent as Swahili.
- How many girls live at Rehema House? Currently about 16 girls live at the two homes, along with their babies and the house moms.
- Wait. Why do you call it Rehema House? Well, Mercy House is the global organization that operates two maternity homes in Kenya. Rehema means mercy in Swahili, so that’s what the house is called there.
- How young are the girls? Rehema House takes in girls who are 15 or younger.
My friend Amy also asked how God has moved in my heart during the trip and how you all can help the people in Kenya. I promise I won’t take another sabbatical; I will be answering these questions in depth soon! But at 2,000 words and counting, I think this is enough for today. HOWEVER, I dropped another several hundred words over at (in)courage today about hope and what I learned about it in Kenya. Join me over there?
Okay, that’s all I have for now, but I’m happy to tell you anything you’d like to know. So leave your burning questions in the comments!
Last question for the day: Where did I get these photos? And why are they all from the safari? Where are your pictures of Mercy House and the girls and their babies and the slums and ALL OF THE THINGS YOU SAW?
Valid questions! The zebra photo is mine, but the other three are by my friend and awesome photographer, Darren Pedroza. As for photos of all the other things I saw, YES. I wish I had photos to show you! I’m so frustrated by this. My lack of photos at the moment is the sad result of my computer dying when I got home (and trapping my few photos on my laptop until I take it to the Geek Squad) and the fact that it wasn’t appropriate or safe for me to take photos in a lot of the places we visited. I’m hoping to get more photos to share with you soon. (And you can also see a few on instagram.)