Thursday, July 15th -- Homeward Bound & Lessons Enroute

One of my favorite books in high school was "Man's Search for Meaning." Victor Frankl writes, "Everything can be taken from a man but the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances."

Today was the last day of my Kenyan adventure! We woke up early to get one last game drive in before catching our flight back to Nairobi. The beautiful birds that I have been seeing are a piercing aqua color with lavendar streaks. They are called lilac breasted roller birds. Sadly, we saw a wounded wildebeast that was left behind from his pack. It looked like it was attacked by a crocodile when it was crossed the river. Sammy told us that it would most likely be eaten by hyenas by sundown. Although the wildebeests are not the most attractive animals, I felt badly to see him so injured. At the end of our morning drive, we saw one of the most amazing sights yet! First we spotted a male lion walking through the grass, then we saw his female counterpart. All of a sudden, there emerged two lion cubs from the brush. Being about 10 yards away, we could see how tiny they were (the size of a little puppy). Their mother and older sister were watching them closely. Then, the mother scouped up one cub by holding the cub by the nape of its neck in her mouth. She carried the cub to the den about 100 yards away while the other cub patiently waited for his mother to return. She then proceeded to carrying the other cub over also. This was an extremely rare sight to see. Our guide said this was only his second time in his life that he has ever witnessed the mother carrying her cubs. She licked the cubs clean once they were in their den while their father watched them nearby!

After flying from the middle of the Masai Mara back to Nairobi, we took a taxi back to Steve's apartment. We later went to the Giraffe Orphanage in Nairobi with Sisters Mary, Jane, and Sheila. Sister Jane is visiting from Texas, and Sister Sheila is from Ireland and has worked in Nairobi for many years. Julia and I went out to a delicious lunch at "The Veranda" in the county of Karen. Karen is named after Karen Blixen. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the Karen Blixen museum. Julia and I showered, packed, and ate dinner with the Walsh family before heading to the JKIA in Nairobi for our 11:25 pm flight. The entire National Kenyan Track and Field team was on our flight to Switzerland!

As I was on the flight home, I thought about bits and pieces of the trip. Many points stand out in my mind as INCREDIBLE. However, many of the more minor, simpler points are equally as important. These are a few of the lessons I have learned...

I have realized that it is important to emphasize what it is I am "doing" in the present rather than "getting it done." Your attitude is everything. It is necessary to control your attitude or it will certainly control you. No matter how busy I am, making time for others is always possible. Being kind to others overpowers being right. Kenyans have taught me the beauty of giving, sharing, hospitality, and generosity. Forgive everyone for everything, no exceptions. Gifts in Africa move because one gift keeps on giving (I was given a t-shirt that had been a gift to someone else and then the t-shirts I gave the students will probably end up being passed around too.) Stay away from being possessive and hasty. Understand that the people you care about grow and change but that does not mean changing the people you care about. Not everything needs to be planned in advance. Welcome the unexpected. In Kenya, food was always prepared for visitors as a sign of hospitality even if the visitors are not hungry. Enjoy the company of others since you will not always have your alone time. The closeness of spaces in mud huts in Kenya is hard to fathom if you have not seen it. Being stubborn is good in select circumstances -- if it is for something just or for your dreams. Naming in Africa is symbolic and gives individuals a position in the community. Treat the environment with the utmost respect. Try not to feel sorry for yourself because in the grand scheme of things you are probably in very good shape.

Wednesday, July 14th

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page" - St. Augustine

This morning I woke up, had a cup of coffee, and was ready to go for the morning game drive by 6:30 am. Today, we saw many eye-opening sights. I have been asking our guide, Sammy, as many questions as possible about the animals. They are absolutely fascinating. I learned that elephants have a 60-70 year life span and grow 6-7 sets of molars! The topi and the elephants are the smartest animals we've seen. The buffalo, elephants, and hippos are the most dangerous. We saw a mongoose right before we drove to a deserted location to have "breakfast in the bush." As we climbed out of the mountain green Toyota, which was very similar to a Jeep Wrangler, to eat, I felt as if I needed to pinch myself to know that I was really here in the magnificent place. Words cannot adequately describe how amazing this place is. The morning drive included Sammy, Julia, Lana, Steve, and me. Lana is a language teacher from San Francisco and Steve is a water engineer from Ireland. They are here on their honeymoon!

Later on, a giraffe came 100 yards away from our tents! Giraffes stand so tall to digest their food. We saw the hippos basking in the sun. On our drive, a cheetah was looking to kill a gazelle as he was scouring through the Savannah grass looking to make his move. In the late afternoon, we drove to a Maasai village. At the village, we were greeted by the Maasai men who immediately pulled me and Steve aside to be their volunteers. We had to stand in a circle with them and took turns standing in the center, trying to jump as high as we could while they chanted and clapped. The strongest, supreme man in each village is the one who can jump the highest! Clearly, I did not have the same springs in my legs that they have in theirs! As you can guess, it was a hysterical sight to see. Then they look turns showing us their dances and placed a hat that is made our of lion fur on each of our heads. This hat is placed on whichever male kills the most cattle. Then we saw the inside of their one room homes that are made out of dirt, pebbles, and cow manure. Being 5'3, I was unable to stand up straight inside one of the houses. The women in their villages do a majority of the difficult work. While the men are out hunting, the women are in charge of caring for their children, building the homes, walking miles and miles to carry a 20 liter jug of water on their head (along with their baby on their back), and many other tasks.

On our drive back to the camp, we stopped at Paradise Plain! The best way to describe this is to think of the opening and ending scenes in the Lion King when the animals of every species gather together to peacefully coexist. I took a deep breath and thought, "WOW this is actually really happening right now." Today I received some words of wisdom from one of the other travelers. He told me that many doors are going to open in the near future. You can either walk through those doors or watch someone else walk right through them. I am grateful for the sake of learning on this trip. I am not going to declare myself an expert at anything that I have done. At times, I realized that I lacked experience and needed to be taken under the wing of someone who knew more than I did. Others took me under their wing, and I took others under my wing. With one more night left here, I have a million thoughts running through my head...I have learned so much here...I am excited to go home but how can I leave this place...When will I realistically be back...I promised the students and myself that I will do as much as I can to spread what I have learned to help them...I can't lose this hope once I go home

Tuesday, July 13th -- Nachesa = "Fun"

This morning I woke up to the noise of the hippos moaning! It was pretty evident that it was not a person making this noise. I drank a cup of tea at 6:00 am when I woke up for the morning drive.

I finished the book "Unbowed" today. Wangari Maathai writes about the choice we all have, "We can either sit in an ivory tower wondering how so many people could be so poor and not work to change their situation, or we can try to help them escape the vicious cycle they have found themselves in."

Some of the highlights of today included seeing a train of 9 elephants traveling in a line in perfect rhythm. They were positioned with an adult elephant in between each of the babies and teenage elephants. We saw a bunch of topi which are a type of antelope. Although we saw many of them, they are regionally extinct in a few countries. Like the previous day, we saw many wildebeest. They were traveling in a herd as far as the eye could see. Each of them seemed to be keeping track of the others. However, one of them was hurt from what looked to be a crocodile bite and was left behind. Sammy, our guide, told us that it would be eaten by a hyena before the day was over. Sadly, this is how the circle of life occurs. The younger ones long black, bristles whipped back at forth as they galloped to keep up. We also saw four babboons together. Two of them were babies that were contently sitting in adults laps. Today I was able to really see how all of the animals in the kingdom know their role and peacefully coexist for the most part. The entire time I felt like I was watching many of the animals in pairs just as with Noah's Ark. Back at our camp, we walked down to the river with two of the Maasai guards, James and Solya. We saw a crocodile on the river and an elephant that was about 200 yards away from our camp!

During lunch, I got to know some of the other travelers at our camp. Author Dale Peterson and photographer Karl Ammann are writing and taking pictures for their next book about giraffes. Dale has written 16 books about different animals in the wildlife and was very interesting to talk to. He told me that my major of Finance will support me monetarily for the rest of my life but my minor in Writing is what will make me human.

After lunch, we took a break and then went out for a spectacular afternoon drive. We saw two male lions that were sleeping. The animals that are breathing heavily, almost as if they are panting, while they are sleeping have just eaten. We saw impala, ostriches, and a cheetah. The male impala have bigger horns than the females. The male ostrichs are black and white while the females are gray. Needless to say, today was filled with "nachesa" times.

Monday, July 12th -- Into the Wild

One book that I read this past year is called "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer. His main character Christopher McCandless graduated from Emory University and cashes in his savings as he flees from his comfortable home and town to hitchhike to Alaska. McCandless said, "So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

Today Julia and I left Nairobi to travel to the Masai Mara for our safari. We woke up at Steve's apartment, ate a delicious breakfast of eggs, toast, and a mango. We were picked up by a taxi at 8:00 am to take us to Wilson Airport. We met a few interesting people who were on different mission trips and were going on a short safari before coming home. We flew on the Safari Link line on a small plane that said across the side, "Your wings to the wild!" After a shaky flight, we landed in the middle of nowhere. Looking out the window the entire time was not the best idea for my stomach even though I have never gotten motion sickness I was on the verge of it happening for the first time. Thankfully, I was fine with some fresh air! I could not believe my eyes as I stepped off the plane into a field of dirt and tall, straw savannah grass. Forest green Jeeps were lined up with guides waiting to greet their guests. Sammy, our guide, is from the Maasai tribe. He was covered with beautiful, colorful jewelry and a red kanga.

On our 30 minute drive to our camp, we saw SO much wildlife. At the gorgeous camp of luxury tents, we met the rest of the staff and the other travelers. After being part of the mission work in Kenya and completely immersed with the culture, I now feel like I am a complete tourist on the safari. We ate lunch in the main tent and unpacked. We went for a drive that evening from 3:30 pm - 7:00 pm. Some of the highlights from today included seeing: a buffalo drinking at the river, zebras, giraffes, elephants, hyenas, and exotic birds. We spotted a leopard, which is very rare to see, eating a wildebeast. Leopards eat 3/4 of their prey before carrying the remainder of their prey up a tree. Cheetahs cannot climb, and they look like they have brown tears coming out of their eyes. We saw parts of the wildebeast migration! We saw a female lion lounging with her four cubs all sleeping on to of each other in a pile. We also spotted a train of elephants, each baby was following their mother. From our tent, I heard hippos grunting as I went to sleep and woke up. Each of our tents has a Masaai guard who carries a spear!

I am surrounded by the grace, strength, and beauty of nature. Being in the region where civilization was born and with people from around the world is wonderful. The captivating place I am in makes it unquestionable to doubt the presence of God. This is the ideal was to unwind and reflect of the past 5 weeks. I need to really think about and process all that I have done and learned and figure out how I will adapt my life in certain ways when I arrive back home. I keep thinking how important it is to "trust in the truth" as a source of guidance. This beautiful place and increible animals are pieces of reality that so many people do not get to experience or even value because they are so far removed from most societies. It is crucial to value their importance even if you're not personally seeing them. Already on the safari, I feel like I am Karen Blixen from "Out of Africa" in this majestic place. It has made me think that working for National Geographic or the Discovery Channel must be incredible. The other travelers are our camp are great. One family from London is here with their two daughters. One of their daughters is teaching for 2 years at a school in Rwanda so they are here for a visit.

Sunday, July 11th - Kwaheri Kisumu, Jambo Africa

"What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what gets you out of bed in the mornings, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything" - Pedro Arrupe

If it wasn't for the last minute, nothing (or at least not everything) would get done. This morning I woke up at 4:45 am to finish packing, eat breakfast, return items back to the main house, and say goodbye to the rest of the students. Father Stephen drove us to the small airport in Kisumu on his way to say mass at Maseno University. I feel like I was just at the Kisumu Airport for landing and should not be here already for departure. It is difficult not knowing exactly when I will be back next and if all of the people I have met will be here too when I do return one day. While waiting for our plane to arrive, I feel confident that I have changed as a person since I arrived in Kenya four weeks ago.

We flew an hour to Nairobi at which point we took a taxi to Steve Walsh's home. Steve is a PC alumnus from the Class of '89 who works for CRS and lives with his family (Eunice, Malachai, and Martina) in Nairobi. He graciously invited Julia and me to stay with him for the night in Nairobi. We went to a local restaurant called "The Garden" to eat nyama choma which is grilled meat. The outdoor restaurant had a trampoline to entertain many of the younger children! We had chicken, goat, secuma, ugali, tomatoes and onions. Delicious! We ate with just our fingers which is traditional. The waiters came around with soap and a basin of water both before and after eating. We talked with Steve and Eunice about many interesting topics ranging from life in Kenya, to Providence College, to advice for future careers. It was so nice to finally meet Steve after corresponding with him for the past 7 months. After growing up in Massachusetts and graduating from PC, he joined the Peace Corps and worked in various spots in Africa. He began working for Catholic Relief Services after the Peace Corps. He is working on the Great Lakes Cassava Initiative project that is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates. CRS is working to decrease the number of diseases that harm the cassava plants and help farmers plant cassava that contains certain genes that are disease resistant. Cassava is an integral crop to the daily diet of Kenyans. Eunice is from Tanzania. She used to study fashion design but now works for an IT company.

Steve brought us to the nearby market after lunch to look at some of the well known leather, jewelry, and glass shops. We went to a small art gallery that featured many modern, local African pieces. Once we arrived back at his apartment, he made us a pot of coffee in a beautiful tea set. I love the coffee here!! The coffee we drank is from Rwanda. I plan on bringing some of the "Doorman's Coffee" (the best brand here) home with me. For dinner, we had salad, peppers, goat cheese, pineapple, and chappatti with his family. The four of them are an awesome family. What an amazing connection we made of PC Friars uniting together and learning from each other on the other side of the world! As large as the world is, sometimes I cannot believe how small it really is. Truly amazing. After dinner, I read a few bed time stories to Martina who is 3. She read one book in Kiswahili, I read one in English, and Julia read one in French. Malachai, who is 10, goes to a French speaking school. The children are culturally immersed by knowing different languages. Malachai, Steve, Julia, and I went to the French Cultural Center in Nairobi to watch the World Cup Game at 9:30 pm since there was a large screen set up outside. It was exciting being in Africa during the World Cup and especially during this last game. The audience was split with fans cheering for the Netherlands and fans cheering for Spain. My thoughts and prayers are for the victims of the bombings in Uganda that happened during the 90th minute of the game. It was such terrible news to hear. Luckily, I was able to call home at a reasonable hour to wish my Dad a very Happy Birthday :)

Saturday, July 10th -- Friendship Day

This morning we went to school at 7:45 am after being up until the wee hours of the morning making mandazi by candlelight. We went to school to practice with the liturgical dancers before 9:15 am mass. Today the students were scheduled to spend the day with members from the Dominican Laity who are active in the community. The entire school (faculty, staff, administration, and students) collaborated together all week to plan a very special farewell mass for Julia and me. The theme of today was “friendship.” In Kiswahili, “rafiki” means friend and “wasasi” means family.

At mass, Father Martin spoke very fondly and openly about Wycliff. He was very up front with the students and explained to them how he died. He emphasized the importance of the truth so that they are not left wondering. Father Martin and Sister Mary talked about how much more difficult it is to deal with death if you lack faith. Father spoke about how real friends undergo suffering together whether it is over great distances geographically or between one life and the next. He gave one of the best homilies I have ever heard. One African proverb states: "Death is an occasion for seeking more life."

Julia and I danced with the liturgical dancers who are typically some of the older girls but even some of the older boys participated after learning the dances this week. Everyone was singing louder than ever today – whistling, hollering, and hooting during the songs and dances. I read the first reading which was about being prepared to respond to God’s call. The prayer of Thanksgiving was offered up to the both of us. We were given special turquoise kangas to wear with the other dancers. There were speeches given by the head boy, head girl, Mr. Okofe, Sister Mary, and Father Martin all thanking us for our presence at OLG. Julia and I sat in the front of the dining hall at this point and both of us could not help from crying. All of the speeches were so meaningful and heartfelt. The time and energy that went into this mass was truly a labor of love. Everyone sang the Dominican blessing together.

The sisters gave us a carving of a giraffe to place on our desks at school. Sister Mary encouraged us to realize the importance of the giraffe's symbolism. She looked at us in the eyes and said to use the strong legs that giraffes have to kick hard when we need to for what is important. Also, to promise that we will stick our neck out for others who need it most and for justice, peace, and the truth. We were given a hand woven tunic with the map of Africa on it also for when we ambassadors for Our Lady of Grace at PC. Even though there will be many, many miles between the wasasi and rafikis I have in Kenya, we are all connected by the relationships we have formed. Today I felt like my heart was overflowing. We were dared in the beginning of our trip to “let the Dominicans get under our skin.” We definitely have allowed ourselves to be fully immersed.

Later on, we showed the children the movie and handed out our 400, yes 400, mandazi (with powdered sugar on top)! It was a big hit! We finally sadly said goodbye to everyone and promised that we will come back as soon as we can. I gave away some of my PC t-shirts. Penina, one of the girls I have grown close to, burst out crying and said this was the best gift she has ever received. We went to every dormitory door to hug the students goodbye before they went to sleep. One lesson I am learning more and more is to “trust in the truth.” I cannot believe that I am leaving Kisumu tomorrow. Today was physically and mentally exhausting. Its difficult for me to grasp the reality of this right now but I know it will all make sense soon. Most of all, I am grateful that I have become so bonded with everyone here that it is so difficult to say goodbye or see you later.

Friday, July 9th -- May Angels Lead You In

This morning Julia and I went to 7:15 am mass. We then taught Godfrey, one of the novices from Uganda, how to make french toast so he can make it for the community once we leave. Once at school, we went into town to convert some more money.

After being in town, Sister Mary, Julius, Father Martin drove to see Wycliff. Once they arrived at his grandmother's home, they knew that he wasn't going to make it much longer. He has struggled so much through his disease and his body was at the point that it did not have any bone marrow cells left. A little before 4:00 pm, Father Martin called Sister Remea to tell her that he was fading quickly. She gathered every student into the dining hall to pray together. Everyone packed themselves into the room and prayed in solidarity for their very good friend. While everyone (students, faculty, and administration) was still praying the rosary, Father Martin called back to let Sister know that he had died. Everyone felt this pain together. It was almost as if he was waiting until his friends were together and could send him to heaven in prayer. Father and Sister were with him when he died and were able to bring him the Eucharist to hold in his hands. I, who was really upset myself, did my best to comfort some of the children who were crying, confused, and devastated. When he had come to say goodbye to his friends at school a few days ago, he was being the positive one telling them not to worry and that he was going to be ok no matter what happened. Now the giant family at OLG has an angel looking over each and every member. The Sisters and Brothers are instilling a healthy and faith-filled outlook of death to the children. Unfortunately, the funeral will be on Sunday after we leave Kisumu.

Julia and I went to John Lannis and Scholastica's home for a visit. They live in a very modest mud hut. They have been asking us to come over and were so happy that we did. Their hospitality was incredible. With the little they have and many mouths to feed, they gave us each a soda and popcorn and then came out with beef and rice. They are very proud of their children. We came back and began our ambitious, more like crazy project of making 300 mandazi for the students. About an hour into the process, the power went out and we were forced to use our headlamps and candles for light! Luckily, it was only about another hour until the power came back on. By 1:30 am, all of them were completed!