I just finished reading My Maasai Life by Robin Wiszowaty, feeling completely inspired. This book touched me and not only because I had been to the places she was talking about and could talk for hours of the incredible love and generosity of the people I lived with and met during my time volunteering there, but also because her story reminds me of why I went to Kenya in the first place – to experience a culture vastly different from my own, to learn as much as I could from the locals and to inspire change in myself and others. Like Robin, I felt restless and was searching for something new as I finished school, trying to figure out what to do next in my life.
On January 12th, 2008 (my 24th birthday), I boarded a plane to Kenya in search of something new – a change, inspiration, a chance to break free from the busy North American academic life I’d had up until this point. Not everyone was excited about this idea and many thought I was crazy, especially since in December the results of the recent election in Kenya had led to widespread violence in the country I dreamed of going to. That was all everyone at home saw on the news and as the date of my departure grew closer those around me became more anxious about whether or not I should be going. In the end, I caught that plane and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
My time in Kenya was spent mainly in an orphanage outside Nairobi where I played “Mzungu mama” to over 30 of the most amazing children I have ever known.
In My Massai Life, Wiszowaty says, “Everybody has a unique role to play in making our world a better place, and there are many places where you can make a difference. My story shows that one can visit as more than just a tourist, observing from the outside.”
Did I make the world a better place by volunteering in a Kenyan orphanage for several months? Maybe not. But spending time with those kids, giving them all the love and hugs I could definitely changed me, and I hope it let them know that they are special and that someone does care.
We all have pictures in our minds of what Africa looks like. I know I did, but what I saw when I got off the plane at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and drove into Nairobi wasn’t exactly what I had expected. I also wasn’t expecting the warmth and generosity I received from everyone I met. People who had so little themselves still invited us into their homes and cooked huge meals to honour us. Back home, most of us wouldn’t dream of inviting a complete stranger into our home, and yet this was a constant occurrence while I was there. By experiencing a culture completely different from my own, I learned a lot about the kind of person I want to be and the one I’m still working towards becoming.
In life, some people seek stability and routine, while others crave change and fight to break away from our everyday lives and experience something new and be inspired along the path of life.
“I hope my story shows that finding the direction your life might take isn’t necessarily about falling in love with any particular place. It’s about seeking those opportunities to find what truly defines, enlightens and inspires you. I invite you to seek your own path, wherever it might take you.” ~ Robin Wiszowaty, My Maasai Life.