As our time at the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp ends, I find myself astonished at how quickly this month flew by. The fighting baboons, haggling at the market, and early morning cook crews have become normal and welcome parts of daily life in Kenya. It is difficult to put all of these moments into a cohesive statement that adequately explain my experiences, but I will do my best.
Collecting research data was extremely difficult and tiring, yet was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Not only were we able to begin a completely new study of immense importance, but we were able to talk to over 390 mamas about issues that are vitally important to them. Our research focused on examining the impacts of the abrupt closure of the Imbirikani Clinic, a private health facility that provided world-class healthcare and jobs to beneficiaries. After data collection I was completely exhausted, yet incredibly empowered. The days of data collection flew by, yet the memories and stories are still crystal clear in my mind; I hope they remain so.
Visiting and forging connections with HIV positive mamas at the Boma la Tumaini was also a highlight of the trip. This voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) center provides free support services and testing in Loitoktok, the next town past Kimana. I visited this VCT center three times, first with the whole group on a non-program day to speak with three HIV positive mamas about their experiences. These women were some of the bravest people whom I have ever met. They had overcome incredible adversity and were willing to share their stories with us.
Next, myself and three other students in the HIV/AIDS group attended a group therapy session. Twenty-five HIV positive women attended this meeting, many of whom were physically abused, stigmatized and were suffering from opportunistic infections such as Tuberculosis and Karposis Sarcoma. Despite these incredible barriers, these women had all gone public about their status and found support in each other.
Lastly, we spent our community service day helping the mamas make beaded jewelry and soap before teaching them how to make origami doves, which they loved. Before leaving, we shared a meal together. Despite a language barrier, there were plenty of smiles and laughter throughout the day. Making connections with these Mamas was wonderful. Later, we would see them in the markets and would be greeted warmly.
There are infinite aspects of Kenya that I will never forget and will miss dearly. The spellbinding African stars are indescribably spectacular are incomparable to anywhere else in the world. I will miss walking out of my banda and being instantly mesmerized by the surreal array of light above me. I will miss the ceaseless chatter of birds, bugs, and various animals throughout the day and night. The sound is oddly calming. I will miss sleeping under my mosquito net. I will miss having limited access to electricity, internet and hot water, which enabled me to absorb so much more.
I will miss the overall Kenyan lifestyle, where kindness and collective goodwill are values placed at the heart of society. I learned many lessons about the importance of patience, selflessness, and heartwarming hospitality. Beyond this, I met women braver and stronger than I could previously fathom. I will miss hearing their stories and I will remain in awe of them forever.
I could go on with this list indefinitely. My month in Kenya has felt more like a reunion with a long-lost part of me than a month long trip soon to be over. Throughout this trip, I was able to open my eyes to not only a new way of life, but essentially a new way of being. There is no doubt in my mind that I have forged a lifelong friendship with Africa and will return soon.