I’m back in Kenya– baby in tow. I can actually say that I think flying internationally with a baby is easier than doing so while pregnant. I wasn’t spending the whole flight watching my legs swell up but instead watching Ellis, which is much better. Thirteen hours goes by a lot faster when you have to actively watch a baby rather than sitting idly watching 6 movies.
After a decade of experiencing Kenya, most parts of life here feel “normal” to me, but I can see Ellis’ eyes popping out as he pokes his head out of the carrier he’s strapped into as we walk into Kibera everyday. He is definitely curious about all the people and the work they are doing selling vegetables, peddling clothes, fixing things, and more. As if I didn’t already stand out enough with my white skin, having a baby strapped to me brings more looks, although this time I can say people smile at me more than stare. I even had a conversation with a local police officer (whom I typically avoid at all cost because of corruption), but he was so interested to know if the baby was partly Kenyan and his story. Until the hotel bombing this week, having a baby meant I avoided most of the security checks (think metal detectors and wands) at the entrances to every major shopping center. They were simply telling me to go around, until today when they actually did stop me and want to know why the detector was beeping (a phone and coins hidden under your clothing will do it!)
I can feel the “it take a village to raise a child” mentality all around me, and I really love that. Everywhere I turn, there’s someone willing to help with Ellis. The kids are thrilled when I let them hold him, and the adults are willing too. Car seats are not very common here, and so mostly Ellis is just strapped to me during every trip. He seems to love this because he has a better view of what’s going on outside his window. One new observation I’ve made is that most people are not okay with babies crying much. Every time I put Ellis down for a nap and leave the room, someone informs me that my baby is crying. Tonight my host insisted that I needed to take him to the hospital tomorrow because he was crying too much to get himself to sleep. And during church today, they called me from the nursery to come get Ellis because he was crying. For the record, my kid is pretty happy most of the time, and I’m not advocating for lots of crying it out, but a little crying is normal I think. And no, we’re not going to the hospital.
You might wonder what I’m doing here…I wonder this myself a lot. Yes, there is a plan and there is a routine every day, but then there is the need to be flexible…I mean really flexible. The pace of everything moves slowly and after spending each full day in Kibera, I wonder what I have accomplished, at which point I have to take it back to God and remember, I’m not in control. The focus of me being here is training—training artisans, training teachers, and training staff who are all part of Grain of Rice Project. But I also I feel like I’m the one being trained…to be more patient, to understand another perspective, to look at my surroundings with spiritual eyes, to remember the village mentality and see that everyone has a role in helping to bring empowerment and change.
And on a funny note, I’m training myself to use an iPad as I train the kids because I realized once here that I’ve never used one for more than a few minutes. I didn’t even know how to close out the apps…
While there has been a lot of challenges, I think the greatest moment of the past 2 weeks was on Saturday when I started meeting with kids to do running records to check their reading levels and see their progress. I was floored when I met with one of our boys named B, who last year could not even identify all his letters and sounds. He can read beautifully now, and he understood and correctly answered almost every comprehension question I asked him. But more importantly, behind his shy smile, I could see a new sense of confidence in him–this beautiful child of God. And so tomorrow when things seem too much, and I am overwhelmed, I will remember B. And his story will give me hope.