When I first set foot on the plane in July 2016, I never expected to end up in Kenya. Kenya wasn’t the plan. I was going to Tanzania. I was going to Tanzania and I was going to stay there for a full five months and work and have fun and enjoy and learn. Or so I thought.
But sometimes life holds small surprises for us, and barely three weeks later I found myself travelling to Kisumu, with absolutely no expectations nor ideas about what on earth I was going to do there. I knew there was something with a school and an orphanage. I also knew there was a bright yellow SpongeBob house and I knew my friend was pretty fond of the founder (hello Torsten ;)). That was my knowledge of Better Me so far.
I arrived when it was raining, everything was pitch dark (‘sorry, the electricity is out’) and it was a complete chaos in the house. Kids were everywhere, volunteers were everywhere and the house was filled with laughter, coloring books’ and Uno cards. I felt like a thousand people shook my hand, hundreds of little fingers touched my hair and Carmen was pretty determined to find out what I was actually coming to do here (which I didn’t even know yet at that point). I sat down amidst all this chaos, took a deep breath and realized I was home.
In the weeks following, I slowly found my way around, learning all the names of dozens of kids (although the names of the 220 kids in the school kept being a challenge) and started my first work tasks. I perfected eating with my hands (though I’m still a lefty, sorry for bad manners), learnt my first words of Luo language (damn this language is hard), got very good at playing Uno (apparently endless repetition helps), learnt the importance of bedtime hugs and storytelling, took my first matatu (man I felt cool), started talking like a Kenyan (‘there is no problem’) and found myself mothering over 35 kids. I realized I was incredibly happy.
Life in Kenya taught me so many things; things that I tend to forget when I’m living the fast life in Europe. I experienced so many wonderful moments. Moments that remind me why life is for living, for attention for each other, to be grateful for what I have, moments that keep me grounded. To keep it real. To treasure those who love me and how important family and friends are. How much impact you can make on someone’s life and how valuable this impact can be. The importance of playing and laughing. Of showing affection and talking about what is bothering you.
I learned so many things from the kids. That time when I was feeling sad about what happened between one of the kids and me, two other boys found me sitting outside. They took my hand and told me I needed to talk it through with this kid so we can forgive each other and move on. That time when one of the girls told me she felt like I was her family. That time one of the biggest trouble makers suddenly asked me for a hug. That time when I got the nickname ‘nurse number one’ and some boys come to show me their minuscule cuts just to get some attention.
I also learned never to leave a pair of scissors on the table when there are more than 30 kids running around. The next moment I looked up, I found Akama very concentrated, neatly cutting across our plastic window. Oops.
I laughed so much the past four months. When I got out of the shower all dressed up, and the kids are like: ‘what’s that on your eyes?’ ‘Mascara. Do you like it?’ The kids, crying of laughter: ‘No!’ Try taking yourself seriously after that.
I laughed, I cried, I have been very angry, but most of all, I have been very, very happy. I found a family and a home on the other side of the world, and I still miss it every day. Asante Sana to everyone! Much love and hugs from the freezing Netherlands <3.
By Elisabeth Hijnekamp