“I hope you have an experience that alters the course of your life, because after Africa nothing has ever been the same.” – Suzanne Evans
Why travel to Africa? That is what I had always thought and even after I agreed to go on a tour to Kenya, I still wasn’t exactly sure why I was going. I mean its Africa! It’s corrupt, unsafe, wild and crazy! Yet somehow despite all of these misconceptions I found myself setting out on a voyage that would transform my life.
It was through the simplicity of music that I first felt the connection to the African spirit. We had arrived in Nairobi and spent the afternoon painting the Mirror of Hope’s office. Afterwards, the staff wanted to treat us to a music lesson. Self-consciously, we made our way to the music room, exchanging sheepish looks and the occasional eye roll, nervous about what was to come. Pretty soon though, the Kenyans had put us at ease with their beautiful singing,
“Jambo. Jambo, Bwana. Harbari gani. Mzuri sana. Wageni Mwakaribishwa, Kenya yetu. Hakuna Matata!”
Loosely translated this is a welcome song, welcoming visitors to Kenya and asking how we are. Slowly at first our comfort zones’ faded away and before long, we too were singing at the top of our lungs in a foreign dialect, dancing around a room full of strangers with smiles that completely lit our faces. This is connection. It fills you up and melts you down all at the same time.
As I immersed myself in this magnificent country, the one thing that really stood out to me was the amazing connection the Kenyans have with each other. I especially observed this on our trip to Kibera to visit our sponsor children and meet their families. The day started with us buying food at the markets to gift the families who were generously teaching us how to cook a traditional Kenyan feast. Walking through the market in Kibera was confronting. The extreme poverty and conditions that people live in, opened my eyes to just how lucky I am to live in Australia. What surprised me most were the open faces and bright smiles, small children dancing in the street, the receptiveness and hospitality, innocence and joy shared when a Kiberan meets a stranger.
It was a long thirsty walk through Kenya’s largest slum to our sponsor student Violet’s house. Only Mama Violet was able to welcome us, as the rest of the family was either at work or school. A thoughtful neighbour had volunteered to help cook and I was touched at this kindness. That she would cook for outsiders she had no connection to. As our party sat and ate this wonderful meal, crammed tightly together in a tiny one room house the size of my bedroom, I thought how different my life would be if this was my home. Would I smile and laugh with just as much ease? Would I offer to wash the hands of foreigners and feed them too?
The next morning during breakfast, one of our team members, Christie, proposed we should greet each other every morning by hugging.
“I suggested that we all hug because it’s what the Kenyans do! It’s such a lovely way to greet people and feel connected with each other.”
Which of course it did. Traveling together, witnessing and discussing these eye-opening experiences connected us and within a few days we had become what Adam endearing penned, ‘a travel family’. On tour in Kenya, I realised that I had disconnected. From life, from people, from my job. I rediscovered that real connection doesn’t come at the push of a button; real connection is found when people share a laugh, share a meal and make eye contact during a conversation. My travel family helped me to realised just how important it is to share our thoughts and feelings; and that when we do, we give permission for others to do the same.
As we ventured further West into the Masai Mara, we witness how everything in the animal kingdom and in nature is interconnected. An example was the 5 cheetah brothers we had the privilege of observing for a number of days. While female cheetahs are solitary animals, males are more social. Still, a group of 5 males is very unusual. The thing that struck me most about this coalition, was how they hunted. Being the fastest land animal and hunting in such a large Coalition, these cheetah’s rarely miss a target. As we watched them round up a group of wildebeest, they barely broke a sweat. It was remarkable how in sync these beautiful cats were. I marvelled at how elegant and graceful each movement appeared, their unique connection to each other that allowed them to communicate and interact without words and in ways humans do not.
In an era where we are technologically advanced; my time in Kenya taught me the importance of simplicity and true connection. Somehow with all our Western advancements and busy schedules, we’ve managed to become so disconnected from one another. The paradox is our smart phones and social networking apps continue to administer this grand illusion of connection. At the press of a button we can be linked in a myriad of ways, yet in reality how connected are we truly? How many of us know our neighbours? When was the last time you smiled at a stranger and held eye contact? Do you take the time to just sit in stillness with a loved one?
I wholeheartedly believe that Africa could change your life, if you let her. Maybe not in the same way she has affected mine but the impact of this amazing continent will manifest itself in the most unexpected ways. Africa will open you up to change. It will give you the capacity to make a difference, to make choices you never thought possible and perchance, the greatest gift of all, she shifts your perception of life and how you are living it.