A New Normal

Posted: March 13, 2014

If there is one thing I cant believe about this program, it’s how quickly one acclimates to it. That’s not to say anything about it is ordinary either. I never expected shooing 50-pound baboons off of my front porch to ever be a part of my daily routine, nor did I ever think bartering in Swahili would be an important life skill. And yet, here I am, having spent just over a month in Kenya, and I’m already taking for granted the view of Kilimanjaro I get every time I shower, and the elephant footprints I see about every time I’m outside the bush camp.

Several factors no doubt helped my quick adjustment. I’ve been surrounded by the same group of open minded and generally likable group of students since day one, and going through an experience with 29 other people that have an equally miniscule idea of what to expect definitely made things feel a bit more natural. An impossibly friendly local staff that has had years of experience working with people like us (vulnerable, fish out of water, white people, that is) has helped as well.

What I think has had the greatest effect, though, is what I am beginning to think is also the defining characteristic of this entire semester: the insane variety of completely extraordinary and fantastic things that we have been doing on a near daily basis. When a regular week involves counting wildebeest to help the Kenyan government with a wildlife census, learning the ins and outs of Maasai spear throwing, and interviewing subsistence farmers about the last time an elephant attacked their crops, it becomes easier to understand how thirty-plus days can start blending into one. In other words, we have experienced so much over the past month that the only alternative to quick acclimation would be to stand in slack-jawed wonder at everything we do and see.

Of course, there are still some things that are impossible to take totally in stride. It is impossible for me to step outside on a clear, moonless night without gawking in wonder at the night sky for the better part of a minute. And even though each of us must have literally counted at least 100 wild elephants each by now, I still haven’t seen anyone not get emotionally affected each time we get close to one.

I can safely say that this is the most unique and extraordinary experience I have ever had. Sometimes I think that it’s a pity that I’ve so quickly lost the wide-eyed excitement I had when I first stepped off the plane. But that feeling has run its course, and has been replaced by the joy of making new friends, the fulfillment of experiencing new things, and the contentment of calling a new place home. Looking back on this experience, I’m not sure if even I will believe everything that has, and has yet to happen. But for now, what matters is that I’m here, and I can’t wait for what’s going to happen next.

Photo Credit: Jayne Ellis