Well its a few days after we returned and its about time I summed up my reflections on our trip to RUSH.
It was my first trip to Africa and therefore was very different from anything I had experienced before. It was also to a less developed part of Kenya as well. Having said that our accommodation and food was far better than many that we met. We were, if you like, in a part-way house between home and the poor of Kenya (probably this side of the half-way point).
It felt like every day brought new experiences, emotions and challenges. There was a sense in which life was lived in the raw. Each day was a challenge and a struggle for people to make it through the day. Issues to do with food – did they have enough. One person we spoke to talked of April/May as being the time when hunger really hits. This being the time when the rains have come and they need to plant the crop and yet they are at the end of the previous years crop.
Then there was the daily struggles that we saw on another plane. These were the struggles to do with the fragility of life. The day before the bus crash we passed a car accident where one of the people was killed. We saw one of the members of Lucy and Andrew’s household come down with malaria (as well as a school child) and we met a woman on her way to her cousins funeral (also died of malaria). We saw how so many members of Andrew and Lucy’s household had come into it from a place of near death (indeed on the final evening a child joined who was at risk). Or the roads and the driving – not only our frightening ride up but also our near accident at the end when only the speedy reactions of one of our drivers stopped a bad accident.
The adventures that they went through in two weeks would last us years! We have become remote from so much of this in the west. Yes there are trials and tribulations and there is the tragedy of illness and death. But it seemed closer where we were. It seemed like it could be round the next corner.
I had expected to be shocked by the poverty but I suppose that I had expected to be able to keep these things at arms length. To have the dogs barking at night as people went by (and they have three for added security), to have windows barred, to not be able to go out at night. These surprised me. We weren’t in a “nice” part of town with street lighting and pavements. Its easy to forget that poverty often breeds so many problems.
I was always wary of coming out to RUSH to do some great work. To sort some major things out. To show people how to do it. I was right to be wary in this way. There are few things that those living there couldn’t do or couldn’t do better in their culture. We certainly did things that were of value – Paul’s mending and checking the vehicles and the windows; teaching at the school and the training centre; painting the school; visiting those who were ill. These were good things to do.
But our real value lay, I believe, in two other things.
Firstly, they changed we who went. These people weren’t statistics or people that we saw on the TV. These were real people with all the needs and difficulties that they experienced – it created compassion is us.
Secondly, it said to them that they weren’t totally alone and forgotten. Yes, we couldn’t solve everything but we were there. We did care enough about them to come.
This all sounds rather heavy. The other side was the beauty and the laughter and the joy of the people we met. They were so grateful for everything that they had. Even small things that we take for granted. Give someone something, no matter how small or how little we deem it, and they would be so thankful. Give a child a pencil for school and see the joy on their faces. With so little they are so grateful.
We have so much in this country and we are often so ungrateful. We deem it our right to have everything that we want. Maybe when life is more fragile people are more sensitive to it being a gift. That was certainly my experience there among so many, especially the poor. Of course, there were those that weren’t and who would try to manipulate or get you to do things for them but there were so many others who were just grateful to have something.
I think that we experienced a little of this there too. It was remarkable (especially after the first time we had used the loo!) how grateful and undemanding our group was. We saw how little others had and how much we had and little things became sources of gratitude. A drink when we were thirsty, the food that we were served, water to wash in (especially when we saw the effort made to get it to the house). Other pleasures were using the pump at school to wash my dirty feet in – a real pleasure and joy!
And then there was the beauty of the country. The different countryside we went through with the tea bushes, sugar cane, the savannah of the national park, the bushes and trees and animals and birds. It was a wonderful experience. In the five hour journey at the beginning when we went from Lake Nakuru to Kakamega I didn’t want to listen to the Ipod I had (in fact I didn’t use it at all) as I didn’t want to miss anything. A bus journey where you just want to take everything in – it was all so new and strange.
It was one of the most amazing and lovely and moving experiences of my life and I would return like a shot. It was one of those experiences that one hopes will change one for ever. I hope more will go out to encourage and help and be themselves changed – it is so worth it.
Tomorrow I hope to do a blog about aid and Africa – well especially RUSH!