“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
When I read Karla’s reflections of her trip to Kenya, Terry Pratchett’s quote popped into my head. Karla journeyed to Kenya after graduating college in hopes to make a difference in the lives of the Kenyan people. Her open and willing heart, and freshly-learned medical skills launched her across an ocean. Like most mission trips, Karla planned on making a divine impact, which she most certainly did. But in the end, perhaps the mark that Kenya left on her was God’s plan after all.
Let’s hear from Karla…
Standing in line to get my visa, panic rushed over me. I wondered if I ran back to the terminal and begged, if I would be allowed back on the plane. I had barely taken off my cap and gown, and now the reality of my decision to move overseas for six months following gradation hit me for the first time. I had prepared for months, traveled for hours, and played this moment out in my head hundreds of times. But even with all the anticipation, I felt scared and unprepared. “Are you here for business or travel?” the man asked without making eye contact. Before I could mumble the word “Travel,” my passport had been stamped and I was walking out into the cool night. Kenya would be my home for the next six months, but I had no idea that it would become the place where my heart felt most at home.
Those first few weeks left me feeling like I had just landed on Mars. Simple things, like making a phone call or picking out shampoo, took me forever. But it wasn’t long before the initial culture-shock wore off and I began to fall in love with the country, its people, and the way Kenyans did life. There was music on every corner. Splendor shone through the poverty, mountains, and wildlife. There was so much to flood my senses, that the full days felt more like weeks.
Whether in the slums of Kibera or the mountains of Kapsowar, Kenya has so much diversity and raw beauty to offer. The country has overcome so much adversity, and exudes a reflective spirit that is apparent when you walk the streets. As a culture, Kenyans love well. Community is the hub, and the way they focus on people instead of time allows for deep and meaningful friendships. I felt welcomed, not only into people’s homes but also into their lives, walking away from most encounters feeling like I made an instant friend.
I remember the first time I met Brenda. Brenda was a single mom who was determined to give her now-teenage son a better life than the one she was given as a young girl growing up in Kibera. It was a divine appointment that we sat down next to each other in a small building during a presentation on microfinance. When the meeting came to a close, we began to talk and Brenda asked if I would like to go for a walk. As we walked through Kibera, conversation effortlessly moved from Jesus and food, to dreams and plans. We made a stop at her house where we sat, ate spaghetti, drank soda and laughed as we shared our hearts around the table. Brenda’s house became a place where I spent a good deal of time. Her grandmother taught me how to make chapattis and mandazis; two things on the list of why I love Kenya. (Fried flour is always a good idea!) Brenda’s home became a place where I felt known and loved.
There is something beautiful about walks that turn into dinners, and dinners that turn into late evenings of conversation.
The longer I have been home, the more aspects I miss about Kenya. I long for deep and meaningful community, and pray that the things I learned from my time in Africa will become a part of my interactions with people on a daily basis. Travel makes us better, and I pray that I never forget these things…
Karla Stinehour resides in Atlanta, Georgia where she works as a school nurse. You can read more about her incredible journey on her blog Eucharisteo, which is solely dedicated to her trips. Karla’s love for Africa continues, as she plans to take regular trips to the continent to give medical care. She will be journeying to Tanzania this upcoming June.
Photos, video and thoughts – courtesy of Karla