Goodness I haven't blogged in forever. I have been home from Kenya for almost two weeks now, and I am in the middle of muddling through my thoughts about it all. So many people keep asking me about it, and I have a hard time putting it into words. How do you describe things that there are literally no words to explain? I posted my pictures of the trip on facebook a few days after I got back, and the only phrase I could come up with was "one of the most eye opening, learning filled, emotional, and beautiful trips I think I will ever go on". That's all I could come up with and that's all I would say to people for the first few days back. Since I am now starting to explain it in more depth to people and finally come to terms with my own thoughts, I thought it would be helpful to write about it a little bit for people to read. So this is my attempt - to pull apart what happened in my life from May 14-30th, to share what goes on in Kenya, the emotions that it brought, yet the humbling realizations that I had throughout the journey. I have wanted to blog about this for a while and I keep putting it off because I don't feel like my thoughts are organized enough and I fear people will think I hate Kenya (which I don't!!), so please be patient with me as I try to sort. This could be a long post. =]
I left for Kenya feeling very anxious because there was so much unknown. If you know me at all, you know that I am a control freak and like to know what's going on and what's coming next. All the time. Not the healthiest way to live your life probably. Despite the anxiety, I was ready for the adventure, confident that God wanted me in Kenya, and encouraged by all the support of my family, friends, and church. So I got on the plane not knowing what to expect!
The first few days in Kenya were filled with a lot of adjusting and jet lag and preparation for the work we were going to do. It was a fairly easy transition. We also got acquainted with the other three girls on our team that were from George Fox University in Oregon - Page, Megan, and Erin. Culture shock didn't come until the third and fourth day when we were in Tenwek Hospital. I was so overwhelmed with how different everything was! I felt so uncomfortable, and I was embarrassed that I felt like that. I knew I was more flexible than that, but I was so shocked at things I was seeing. People crammed in rooms, medical equipment hanging out windows instead of on shelves, medicine not locked up, and no one was in isolation so I kept thinking about how germs were spreading everywhere. I got to watch a mother deliver a baby with no pain meds and no one by her side to hold her hand which is how every birth goes in Kenya. I watched nursing students do a majority of the work without supervision. I watched babies lay in wooden boxes in the nursery - nothing like the little baby incubators we have. I felt helpless because I couldn't do anything hands on with the patients. All I could do was watch. It took some more adjusting for me to accept what was happening around me and the fact that I couldn't do anything and just start learning and absorbing everything. It was hard. A lot harder than I thought.
We spent a lot of time with orphans as well which is a concept that books and tv can only help you grasp so much of. It's one thing to hear about children getting left at orphanages and adopted and a totally different thing to hold a baby in your arms that had been left in a toilet one week before with maggots eating her two week old little hands. I couldn't understand how mothers can just leave their children although I recognize that the moms probably had a lot going on in her life that I am not supposed to understand. Kids have to be signed into the adoption system by their birth mom in order to be adopted to a new home, and it is very common for the mothers to never sign their kids off which leaves the kids in the "system" until they are 18 and they never get to be adopted. They have to live in a children's home until they are 18 without a family. It just didn't make sense to me. Nothing made sense. That was a common theme for me in Kenya, and I wore myself out trying to figure everything out.
We also worked a lot with HIV patients. I learned about HIV in school, but the nurses in Kenya taught me SO MUCH more about it! HIV is not socially accepted in Kenya, yet 1 in 4 people have it (doesn't make sense). If someone has HIV, it is common for the people closest to them to not even know they have it. If you have HIV, you are immediately thought of as having been sleeping around and living a sinful life even if you are 8 years old. In reality, a majority of people have HIV because the father of the home went out and had affairs and brought the disease back to his wife who passed it on to their children during childbirth. Children tell their parents that if they find out that they themselves are HIV positive that they will kill themselves because they don't want to deal with the scrutiny. HIV is a pretty controlled disease and the patients can live fairly normal lives as long as the patients comply with their medication. However, the clinics are having a really hard time getting the patients to take their medicine on a daily basis because they are ashamed to be seen taking pills. This is when the HIV gets out of hand and can become fatal. These people would rather die than take their medicine and have others know about their HIV (doesn't make sense).
As my time in Kenya came to an end, I started feeling so helpless. I wanted to do more. I wanted to fix things. I wanted to make it better, and there was nothing I could do. I was so tired by the end of the two weeks. It felt like my brain never shut off. I felt frustrated at so many things. I spent a lot of time thinking on the plane rides home, when I got home, when I'd drive to various places the first few days home, when I'd look through pictures, and when I would share with others what I had seen. I spent a lot of time praying and asking God tough questions. Kenya is just one tiny part of the world. The brokenness and sadness I saw is just a little tiny speck of the brokenness around the world. It made me angry, so I can only imagine how angry it makes God. Don't get me wrong - I loved Kenya. I really did. I know this sounds like I didn't, but I really did! I just didn't understand, and it wasn't as easy to process as Brazil was. In Kenya I worked with kids and sick people, two people groups that I care a lot about, and I left feeling like I didn't do a single thing to help any of them.
In the first few days home, God really worked through those thoughts with me and these are some of the realizations I had. First of all, I, Emily Larson, cannot change or fix anything when it comes to these people's lives. I am not supposed to fix them. That's not why I went to Kenya. I went to Kenya to love on those people and share God's truth with them, and I truly believe that we as a team did that- even if I did it in ways I didn't expect. Also, America is FILLED with brokenness - it is not better than Kenya. I can travel through the streets of Chicago and see a lot of what I saw in Kenya. I think a lot of my emotions and comparing that I did came from seeing so much in such a short period of time. I also was challenged by the way God loves. It was so hard for me to understand that God loves me just as much as He loves the men who are bringing HIV back to their families, but He does. The brokenness affects Him too but that is why He died for us. To give us a way out of the punishment that we deserve because He loves us in unfathomable ways. That is a challenging concept for me.
I don't know why I went to Kenya. I don't know what was supposed to come out of this trip. I know I left there feeling encouraged by some of the people there. The teachers at the schools, the nurses at the hospitals, the helpers at the baby centers, really have a heart for what they do and they are doing phenomenal things for the people in Kenya. "God is good" is a phrase I heard on countless lips of the Kenyans despite the many things that they were living without. While this trip did open my eyes to what was going on in Kenya, I feel like it sensitized me to the things that are going on all over the world which are some harsh realizations to have. I may never know the purpose of this trip but I do know that I am grateful that I went on it. Yes, it was hard for me - a lot harder than expected, but I would not take it back for a second. Kenya is a beautiful place filled with a lot of shortcomings and sin but such is true for the entire world that we live in. There are little faces that come to my mind often or little laughs that I can hear when I look at pictures and there are memories and lessons that I have to last a very long time. I can only pray that God will help me carry these lessons with me in the coming years of my life and help me always remember the things that I saw and learned.
This is just a small part of the things we did and the things we saw in Kenya. I would love to talk about this trip with whoever is willing to listen. I feel like that is one thing I am supposed to do - tell people what I saw. Sorry if this is so scattered or unclear, but this is what I have for now and I am finally starting to be able to spit out what is in my head!
I am blessed beyond belief.