Sunday, June 26, 2011

Half way point

Today is the midpoint of my trip.  I just got back to IU House from an overnight stay at Kakamega National Park.  Me, Ryan, Darren (IU Med) and Madee (Purdue Pharmacy) stayed in the middle of the rainforest at a Christian retreat center.  
 Now, before you think I went off the deep end and had a spiritual awakening here in Kenya, we were supposed to be staying in mud-huts about a mile down the road but found out that Rondo Retreat had open rooms so we decided to stay there instead.  Great decision…we went from a reservation with no bedding, showers or toilets, possible death and certain malaria to amazing accommodations and incredible food.  You could have told me I was anywhere in the US at a vacation home or B&B and I would have believed you.  The retreat grounds were incredible and it was literally located in the middle of a rainforest. 
We went on a guided hike through the rainforest in the afternoon on Saturday, watched from our front porch as a rainstorm with hail came through and then washed up for dinner and strolled to the dining room.  When I got to the door, I realized there may be a problem.  A sign read “Smart casual dress required for dinner”  Oops.  I had packed a pair of hiking shorts, my work/hiking boots, two t-shirts and a sweatshirt.  Remember, I thought I was going to be staying in a mud hut and was prepared for a minimalist stay in the rainforest.  We went in anyway and sat down, slightly embarrassed but it turned out OK.  The 5 course meals for lunch, dinner and breakfast were well worth the extra 35USD for the night’s stay.   We woke up at 5am the next morning for a sunrise hike, went up past the tree line and into a clearing.  Around 615am we ventured into a 50m long bat cave.  First time for everything I guess

It was really, really humid and not a place to be if you are claustrophobic.  We had bats flying over our heads and toward the cave’s only opening.  After that adventure, we continued up another 100 feet to the top of the mountain and watched the sunrise over the rainforest.  Definitely a cool view with the mist rising up above the tree canopy.    

Realizing on the drive back today that I am now heading into the last 4.5 weeks of my trip, I started thinking about everything I have learned and experienced. 
  •   Money doesn’t make people happy – it makes things easier but life in the slow lane seems just as enjoyable. 
  •   I really appreciate diversity.  When I go to a restaurant in the US, there are white, black, Asain, Latino and everything in between.  I can’t imagine spending my life surrounded by people that are all the same. 
  • Misconceptions run both ways.  I had a picture of Africa before I came here.  That picture couldn’t have been more wrong.  At the same time, Africans have a skewed perception of America that couldn’t be more wrong.  
  • 10 weeks is not enough time to solve the world’s problems.  I want to help in every way I can, but there is just not enough time.  I need to stay focused on key areas where I can make a difference.  
  • American’s don’t know poverty.  Poverty in the US is a luxury existence compared to the slums. 
  • Superficial things I miss: Chipotle, ESPN, reading the newspaper (I read the local paper here but it’s not the WSJ or Dispatch), fluoride in my drinking water.       
  • Superficial things I don’t miss:  TV (except ESPN), constantly worrying about my finances – (debt, credit cards, student loans), petty complaints about how hard life is in the US (including my own). 
  • When I come home, I don’t want to denounce the American way of life and preach how there are starving kids in Africa.  I love America.  I wouldn’t want to change my life one bit.  While yes, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a great family and incredible friends in the greatest country in the world, my experience here shouldn’t change my feelings toward how I was raised or make me feel guilty for what I have worked hard for.  It’s a delicate balancing act because I know my experience here will influence me when I come home, but it shouldn’t be the controlling factor in my life.  My time here hopefully will make me a better and more understanding person, I guess we’ll see.   
We had a discussion last night about what our favorite part of the trip has been so far.  I said mine was the cultural exchanges.  I have really enjoyed walking through town, going into shops, talking with people randomly on the street, meeting new people, having difficult discussions about sensitive topics, experiencing something so very few Americans get the opportunity to experience.

It has been an incredible trip so far and I am so very grateful and fortunate that I was given this opportunity.  Next few weeks will be challenging with work but I have exciting trips planned as well.  Lake Nakuru, Hell’s Gate and The Masai Mara – The Kenyan part of the Serengeti to hopefully catch the great migration.  Stay tuned.         

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