Why My Visit to the Kenyan Tent Village was Full of Laughter
With some trepidation, I walked down the jet way to board the first flight on a long journey from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Nairobi, Kenya in November 2013. Various media reports had some of my friends and family expressing concern about the safety of traveling to this part of the world. It was, after all, only two months after the deadly attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi. I seriously considered turning around, but I pushed myself forward knowing that whatever The Village Experience had in store for me on the other end of the 20+ hours of travel would change my life.
Each day in Kenya, I was mesmerized by the sights, the sounds, and the smells. I met incredibly kind and happy people at every turn. It was fascinating to learn about the various tribes and diversity of religions in different parts of the country. I saw animals in the wild that I had previously only seen in zoos or on television. I had no idea that giraffes and zebras ran alongside (and across!) the highways in parts of Kenya.
On a sunny day halfway through the two-week adventure, our van pulled into the village of Nawamu, a former Internally Displaced Persons camp not far from Nakuru. Children with beaming smiles quickly ascended upon us as we exited the van. They held our hands and proudly led us down the dirt path as they pointed out newly built metal roof homes and lush gardens in their village.
We did not have spoken conversations due to our differing languages, but we found other ways to connect and communicate.
A young girl named Mary walked with me and tightly held my hand with both of hers. With hand motions I asked where she lived. Mary led us into the courtyard and we met a woman she called her Grandmother. Mary’s Grandma showed us their home, the chickens, and the thriving garden behind the home. I remember thinking how proud everyone in Nawamu was and how happy that made me. I knew these people had come a long way since losing loved ones and homes during political violence in 2008.
With the group of children still in tow, we ascended up a hill to visit a camp above Nawamu where approximately 76 internally displaced families continued to live in tents. The group of children walking with us increased in size as we passed more homes and they joined in.
We did not have spoken conversations due to our differing languages, but we found other ways to connect and communicate. I pointed at a donkey and said, “punda,” the Swahili word for donkey that I had learned a few days earlier. I proceeded to make the craziest donkey hee-haw sound I could. The children imitated me and wanted me to do it over and over again. We were all laughing so hard we had to stop to catch our breath on a grassy hillside halfway between Nawamu and the tent village.
I felt really happy at that moment. Feeling the warm sun on my face, I looked around at all the beautiful faces and could see myself in each and every one of them. We were all connected as human beings, and I felt whole in that moment.
Why My Visit to the Kenyan Tent Village was Full of Laughter.
Later that week, as my journey to Kenya was coming to an end, I was reminded of the quote that had been shared with me on the flight into Nairobi, “You may leave Africa, but Africa will never leave you.” How true this was for me–after exploring only a small part of one African country for two weeks.
I have been dreaming of returning to Kenya ever since this journey and am thrilled that I have the opportunity to return to Kenya in October 2015 with The Village Cooperative. Our volunteer efforts on this journey will focus on supporting women facing Female Genital Mutilation and Early Childhood Marriage. I know it will be another life-changing experience.
Why My Visit to the Kenyan Tent Village was Full of Laughter photo credits by Wendy Helpberg.