Friday, November 16, 2012

The Experts Weigh In: The Journey of 1,000 Miles


I tend to do my best thinking in the shower. Why am I sharing this with you? Well, when one of my dearest friends asked me to share my experience volunteering in a Kenyan orphanage a little over 7 years ago, it hit me how to best reveal my thoughts while I was squeezing the last bit of shampoo out of the bottle and simultaneously humming a 1980's pop song. My solo trip to Kenya at age 21 was a true turning point in my life. I left my cushy existence as a college student in Athens, Georgia, to volunteer in an orphanage in the heart of the slums outside of Nairobi. I really had no idea what to expect, but I thank God for my naivety or else I'm not sure I would have made the trip.

I fear my life would have been very different had I not stepped onto that plane and ventured into an unknown world. I went hoping I could have some sort of impact on the orphans I was yet to meet, but those 67 inquisitive, bright-eyed children (with the most captivating smiles you've ever seen) did more for me in my short time in Kenya than I feel I could ever do for them. They gave my life a purpose that I so desperately needed to find. They enveloped me with a resiliency and strength that I didn't even know i possessed. And they guided me on a path of self-discovery that ultimately helped me to discover and pursue my life's passions. After that trip, I became so much more aware of the signs God left for me and the paths He pointed me toward, and those precious angels in Kenya are to thank.

So back to the shower. As Cyndi Lauper was on repeat in my head, I began to think about the impending day and my promised blog post. How could I possibly share this once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing experience with all of you? How could you truly understand the legacy my trip left? I thought and thought and thought some more until something clicked; there was no need to rewrite the story - to re-reflect on the past. The words of my soul - the song of my heart - was already etched into the pages of my journal. What better way to share my experience than to let you relive it with me in its most intimate form? So here it is, my raw thoughts spilled out on paper circa July 5, 2005 - the day I returned from my trip.

Courtney and Brian
                Once again, I find myself sitting at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam awaiting my flight. This time though, I am headed home with worlds of new knowledge and unforgettable experiences. I learned so much during my short time in Kenya. I learned what the word appreciation really means. I never really knew what it meant before I met these kids. In terms of material possessions, I have so much more than they have. But they have true happiness; they have true heart, and they have true appreciation. With so little, they actually have so much.

                I learned that if I really want to experience the world, if I really want to have a realistic global perspective, I must step out of my comfort zone. Not everyone thinks and does like Americans. America is not the standard to what other countries must adhere to. I have to stop thinking that everyone wants to live as an American does…that their lives aren’t good enough. That’s judgmental and unfair. I learned that although not everyone wants to live the “American Dream,” I am glad I am American. I am more glad now than I’ve ever been. I’ve been blessed with freedom and opportunity—concepts that are so lacking in other countries.

Courtney and Ashley
                I learned that although language varies and people can’t always understand spoken words, they can always understand a smile. A smile is a constant…a constant reminder that no matter how different each person may seem, we are all brothers and sisters in the end. We are all members of this great earth just trying to get by. Everyone has something to offer someone, whether they know it or not. Each person is destined to touch another person’s life in some way at some time.

Dennis and Courtney
I learned that God came with me on my trip and that He comes with me wherever I go. I learned that after I get my undergrad degree, I might want to pursue a Master’s in elementary education. While I was reading to and teaching the kids, something clicked inside of me. I thought to myself, “I want to be a teacher.” I want to influence kids the way I feel like I influenced the orphans. I want to help shape them and encourage them.

There is so much more that I learned on my trip, it’s hard to know where to begin and end. In short, I learned about myself and the strength and courage I possess that I always knew I had but never thought I could show. I learned, firsthand, about another culture; and from that firsthand experience, I learned what it means to humble myself. I am no better than anyone else. In the end, I learned about life, love, and myself. I set out to have a life changing experience, and a life changing experience is what I had. I hope it will stick with me for the rest of my life; may the journey of 1,000 miles begin with a single step. My journey will never be over and those wonderful kids will always and forever be in my heart <3.

I must end this post by thanking my dear friend for giving me the opportunity to look back at these words. When life gets tough, these lessons put it all in perspective; they are a constant reminder of what is truly important in life. I feel so fortunate to have had an experience that affected me so deeply, and I am lucky that I had the chance to put the daily grind on pause, reflect on this joy, and share it with you.

Hailing from Roanoke (or 'Roa-joke'), Virginia, Courtney Blair found herself in cahoots with me when she chose the University of Georgia for her 'college experience' and gave me a friendly hello on move-in day. It was friendship at first sight. Now, Courtney lives in North Carolina and teaches elementary school. They are lucky to have her. Courtney is one of the only people I know who could manage to get into a major golf carting accident, an accident so bad that she was laid up for most of the summer. She's a bit quirky, but that's why I love her! Courtney sleeps with a stuffed peanut butter & jelly sandwich (at least last time I checked) and enjoys introducing people to the joys of Wheat Thins topped with jelly and cream cheese. Hey, it might not be nutritious, but it's damn good! The most important bond we have though is our shared love for chips and queso. What I'm trying to say is, it was pretty obvious from the start that we were going to be great friends.

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