This past July, I had the opportunity of being in the play, “The Wizard of Oz.” In this American classic, a young girl named Dorothy is swept up into a tornado, and her house is dropped into a magical new land called Oz. As she searches for a way back home; she finds new friends, who journey with her and together, they struggle to overcome great adversity and along the way, they each find out who they really are. Little did I know as we took our final bows on closing night, that 3 days later, I was about to be dropped into my own magical land of Oz, destined to be changed for the rest of my life.
My safari to the beautiful land of Kenya began as we drove on the bumpy road into the village. I looked out the window at the beautiful landscape dotted with coconut trees, corn fields, and mud huts. The people were coming out to the roadside, waving, smiling, and yelling “Jamboooooo!” As I took in the breathtaking scene, a song came onto the radio and I heard the words, “Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this. I can’t believe it’s happening to me!” It was like time stopped for a moment, and I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
|Sarah and Fatuma|
|Sarah and Kenyan school children|
I went to Africa hoping to serve, teach, and bless the lives of the people there. I knew it would not be easy, and I was prepared to work hard and tough it out. What I was not prepared for, was the immediate and immensely powerful LOVE that entered my heart the moment I stepped foot onto the African soil. It literally encompassed me to the point that I was speechless, and motionless. (Yes, I know it’s hard to imagine, but it’s true!) Every time I found myself amongst the people, my heart felt like it would burst from all the genuine love pouring into it! I think I spent the entire first day or two, just sitting and watching. It was at that moment that I realized that I was the one who was going to be served and taught.
|Painting at the Tingey School at Gona|
|Sarah and Ann sweeping the floor of the Gona classroom|
Over the next two weeks, I had the opportunity to teach in the schools, and understand the value of a good learning environment, and decent teaching materials. I was taught that what you learn, and know; not what you wear or own is where true value lies. I got to spend the day with an African “housewife” doing her daily work with her, and learned that true strength doesn’t depend on how fast you run, bike or how many weights you can lift. True strength is found in your spirit, as you smile and find joy in each day, no matter what your circumstances are. I was able to find the child within as I sang and danced with the kids, and found happiness and love in every moment. I learned the value of medicine as I watched an African woman deliver a baby completely natural, with not a sound coming out of her mouth. And as I worked in the dispensary, seeing lines of sick people day after day, knowing that there wasn’t always medicine available. I realized that my own child would probably not be here on this earth without the life saving medicines I am able to give her each time she needs it. I learned the value of water, every time I looked outside and saw the people who always had the yellow containers of water with them, and knowing that they have walked miles, a few times a day to get that precious dirty water. I learned the value of beauty and cleanliness as we painted a new school, and swept out the dirt with some brush gathered nearby. I was taught the importance of acceptance and tolerance as the Duruma tribe took me into their arms and accepted me as one of their own, unconditionally, even giving me a new Duruma name to show that I was one of them. I learned to appreciate the grocery store as I cut the head off a chicken, plucked and gutted it and cooked it for dinner. I grew to appreciate moderation as I showered under the African sky each night with only a bucket of water, and learned how little water it really does take to clean myself each day. I came to understand the importance of poli, poli, or slowly, slowly as I took walks through the corn fields, and along the paths. And realizing that slowing down and taking the time to talk and develop relationships with those I love is where peace is found. I found humility as I thought I would teach a small boy to play marbles, only to discover that he had the shot of a western gunman! I learned the importance of “holding tightly”, as I rode on the back of a dirt bike over the bumpy dirt paths.
|Slaughtering chickens for dinner|
|Home building the Kenyan way|
These were my favorite moments; these little snapshots in time when the world would stop, and I would feel that my heart would burst as I connected with the spirits of these beautiful and strong people. The little “chocolate” messages that said, “you are exactly where you are supposed to be,” getting to know the amazing American people who were serving with me, and realizing that they will always be in my heart as well, this is what left me with tears in my eyes, day after day.
|Carrying water like a Kenyan woman|
|Sarah and Monica with primary school teacher|
|We learned to do laundry with buckets and little water|
|(Nice) Kenyan showers|
As we all traveled together, black and white, male and female, young and old, overcoming adversity, connecting and serving each other, I believe we all found out a little more about ourselves. We discovered that we really do have the courage, heart, and brains to make it through this life... as long as we do it together. I learned, just like Dorothy, that even though I love the people and land so much, and that they have helped me find myself, there is a land and people that I love even more. And I don’t need to look any farther than my own backyard to find it. The truth is, it is wherever we all go, because it is in our hearts.
As I walked through the airport before my final leg home, I was led to a little bracelet charm that now hangs on my wrist. It has two ruby slippers and says, “There is no place like home.” It was the final message to me and I will never forget it. The song “for good” from the musical Wicked, (the prequel to the Wizard of Oz) sums it up best...
“You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart, and because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”