Throughout my life, my friends have always voiced their jealousy of all the places I have explored. I have been to California, Wyoming, Paris, Switzerland, and Lamu. But Kenya was my most extraordinary adventure.
When I was eight years old, my mother told my family without warning that we were going to fly to Kenya to live there for a year, because she needed to work on her Dictionary of African Christian Biography. This surprised all of us, but for some reason I became overwhelmingly excited. My first plane ride! I imagined Kenya as a tropical paradise, where I would be swimming in clear blue waters and drinking a pineapple-mango smoothie at my expensive condo. Little did I know that Kenya was nothing like Hawaii-at least not where we were going.
Two ten-hour flights later, we finally arrived in Nairobi, the capital city. Instantly, when I looked around, I realized that maybe Nairobi isn’t a place where you could safely walk in the park at night. One area had many dirt roads, countless speed bumps, more litter than I had ever seen in my entire life, and children wandering the streets, trying to sell milk and water to earn some extra money. I saw shacks that were made of literal trash, rusty old tin roofs, and mud to keep the walls together instead of cement. This area was most likely the Kibera slum, the largest slum in Nairobi, but it was my first and therefore main memory I had of our first day in Kenya.
The house we were staying at was on a private, well-furnished property. After what I had just seen, Nairobi seemed like a whole other world. In New Haven, we were middle class, but in Nairobi we were considered some of the richest people there. It was so strange to live in a place where Nutella, my favorite breakfast topping, cost ten times more than it would in a regular Walmart. A woman named Gladwell was our “house help” (maid) that we could never afford in New Haven. We had to use a specialized flash drive to access the internet on our computers, and I don’t remember there being doors in every room. This was such a new experience, and my young mind wondered if Nairobi was a city where not everything came easy to some people.
One particular journey we made takes a permanent place in my heart. We traveled to a children’s home to give them new books. I handed out candy to the children. My dad built them new tables and benches to do their schoolwork on. We gave them our pet bunnies, to look after. All the girls braided and played with my sister’s and my long hair. They were all so curious to learn more about us. We even showed them our car! They were so happy to sit and pretend to drive in it. Sometimes the smallest things matter more than we think. The personal growth I had through that experience was that we should not take our lavish life for granted, and cherish what we have while we have it.
Living in Kenya was the most magnificent part of my life. Being so small and uneducated, I held such a different impression of Africa than what I know now. I thought Nairobi was an ugly city, but there was more to it than what eight-year-old me remembered. Kenyan people greeted everyone they saw, and were so kind to us. We took safaris through beautiful landscapes, seeing more animals than you would see in a zoo. There were great riches there, next to great poverty. I came to Kenya with a naive stereotype of what I thought it should look like, but I left wishing I could have stayed longer.