Six months ago (nearly to the day), I was with a group of dear friends, about to ring in the new year in New York City. I had a wonderful time, sipping sangria and tasting tapas with these amazing people, at a Spanish restaurant on 10th Avenue. We spent the night at one of their houses and went back into the city the next morning. During the drive back, everyone was talking about their trips to Africa (they all did the program I am doing and two ended up returning to the continent). I commented that I was the only one in our group who had not been and had no plans to be there any time soon.
Ha. Ha. HA! Yes, that was God laughing. What was it? Man plans, God laughs?
I did not expect to be planning a trip to Kenya a mere three weeks later.
To be perfectly honest, Kenya tugged at my heart for six months before I truly began to listen. However, I didn't because it didn't fit with The Plan. I planned to be done with school by this coming December. I planned to go to Mexico for the summer, to take advanced Spanish classes and immerse myself in Mexican culture. My academic career had not even included Africa. I had taken classes on Latin America, Europe, Spanish, and Italian. The closest class I had taken was a class on Islam (which is like taking a class on Catholicism to count for studying the Philippines). I also had finances to consider. After all, in addition to keeping me in school for a semester longer, I had program fees, a plane ticket, expensive shots and medications, and food to consider.
Yet, when I started school again, Kenya became more insistent. It just kept coming up, in classes, in conversations, in readings, in prayer, and in thoughts. I felt pursued, captured, sucked in, as if I had seen a beautiful person and needed to find why they captivated me so. Three weeks later, in a conversation with a fellow student, she mentioned how she intended to study in Nairobi. She was the one who gave me the final push (not to be confused with Sachs' Big Push, for all the ID geeks reading this ;-)), the push to not only acknowledge my burning desire, but to do something about it. A conversation with my mother encouraged me to take the plunge.
Throughout this process, I've learned to embrace the unexpected. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to go to Africa before I finished college. At the same time, I never expected to find such determination inside of myself, the willingness to sacrifice so much for an adventure. I also never expected to have so many people support me, for no other reason than they truly wanted me to go. I never thought I'd be standing, on the brink of womanhood, on the edge of my academic career, with an adventure in Africa to look forward to. Nor did I expect to be as humbled as I am already, with so many turning out, ready to help me make this a possibility.
To be quite frank, I have no clue what to expect in Kenya. Yes, I know what classes I'll be taking. I know the basic facts, thanks to State Department, the CIA and the CDC. I've heard countless stories, from these same friends and others. I know people from Kenya who give their own encouragement and stories. I know what my program offers. At the same time, I really don't know anything. I don't know how this experience will change me. I don't know how my perceptions of Kenya will change. I don't know how my path will change, how my thoughts on my field work will change. I don't know how my relationships with other people (including these three) will change. I don't know how my thoughts on my own culture, country and national/ethnic identities will change. I don't know how my faith will change.
At the same time, I see this as a chance to plunge into the unknown, to tear down my ego and need for control so that I can enjoy the spontaneous adventures. I see this as the opportunity to allow my brain to learn something new and be receptive to loving people in a different way. I see this as the path that leads me to new paths, to new ways of life and new forms of thought. I see this as the chance to truly grow in ways only an African adventure can allow you to grow. Finally, I see this as the chance for my soul to finally breathe.
Life's challenges are about embracing the unexpected. This entire process has helped me to do just that.