Well, here I am. Sitting in my apartment surrounded by bags and bags of African gifts, clothes to give away, and various other items that somehow need to find a home in one of my bags. I leave in two days—how CRAZY. It literally just feels like yesterday that I was driving to the Abbey for the orientation before leaving. It seems like just yesterday I flew in my first transatlantic flight and the first time I was out of America. It seems like just yesterday everything seemed so new to now and me I am confidently living in Africa. However, sadly I have to leave in two days. This blog post is just going to be a recollection of all that I learned and what I will miss. Obviously, I cannot really put into words what this trip has done for me, but I can try. Here it goes!
1. I will miss the children. I mean, this is an obvious one. There are kids everywhere here and they all love you. The love you and they even know you! If that is not the definition of unconditional and genuine love, I do not know what is. I am not going to miss them for the fact that I feel like a celebrity when I walk down the street (even though I have to admit, it is somewhat cool sometimes). I am going to miss the joy these children bring me on a daily basis. They just want to love you—whether that is run around with you or scream “MZUNGU” (meaning white person) at you or just smile at you. They just want to love. Moreover, they have taught me what love is. Love is simple. It is the key to happiness. All I takes to bring someone joy and the feeling of love is not money or fame. Just time spent out of your day with people. Whether that be listening to them, laughing with them, or giving them a lollipop. A little bit of time goes a long way. And I figured out what I was so hungry for in life. I just wanted someone to notice me. Someone to care for me and treat me as if I was the most important thing in the world. And granted, it has been much easier to be noticed here. But, the time I got from people and the time I gave to people, especially the children, has truly been the best gift I have given and received here.
2. The sisters. I am going to miss the sisters so much! So many personalities thrown into a pot, which has made my experience that much better! They are so unique and all so close to my heart. And they have cared so much for us! They have made sure everything has been set for us from day 1, without asking for anything in return. It is the symbol of God’s pure love. It is going to be hard to leave them that are for sure!
3. The pace of life. Now do not get me wrong. The pace of life here is downright frustrating most of the time. But it has taught me, a high-stressed individual, to slow down and appreciate what is really in front of me. It is okay to do nothing sometimes. Sometimes you need it! It has gotten me to know others more, thing more, and relax more. I know I am going to be super overwhelmed as soon as I get back to America but I will look back on this pace of life and try to replicate it back in the states.
4. How much God is present here. Everyone has God in the center of his or her lives here. It is seen in the music, the schools, and the people talking. Children pray before everything—even the 3 year olds. Mass is lively and long and people sing the whole time. They are always trusting and loving God even if they are suffering or have very little. If there is one thing Africa has taught me, it has to be thankful at all times. Joy is contagious and Christ is living and breathing and everyone! We just have to open our eyes a bit and look. We are so stuck on “God give me this”. Sometimes you need to just sit back and be thankful He has called you to this place at this time with the amount of things you have. I feel the richest I have ever felt in my life, and I have not a dime in my pocket most days. Life is supposed to be beautiful for what it is, not for what we want it to be.
5. The weather. This one is not deep. “I like April 25th—not too hot and not to cold! All you need is a light sweater” Movie anyone? Anyways…it is always sunny here (at least part of the day.) Now, do not get me wrong, I did really miss fall this year and the wardrobe that came along with it. I hope I am able to wear my leather boots at least for a few weeks when I get home! It is so nice here all the time and everyone is continually always happy, which I base partly on the great weather (going all Psychology major on you now, sorry).
6. The friendliness of everyone. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE always asks how you are doing and always shakes your hand. They take time out of their days to make sure you are all right. It will be weird to go back to a semi self-centered world. When I go, back I am going to work on truly listening to what the other person is saying, not formulating in my head what I want to say next.
7. Simplicity. I am going to miss that the only worries I have are what songs to sing with the kids and if I want to go to teatime today. Life is simple here and I do not know how well I am going to adapt to a high-stress, fast-paced world.
8. The food. Okay, now do not get me wrong, I hate the food a lot of the time. But it seriously has caused me to get to a healthy weight and I have never felt this good about my body image! Sounds a little vain, sorry. I have realized I love cabbage, lentils, avocadoes, and mangoes. WHO KNEW? I am afraid I am going to blow up like a blimp when I get home. It will be hard not to eat every type of American food I lay my eyes on. I am going to have to run…a lot.
9. The distance from here and the USA. Okay, I know y’all are reading this and are saying “Kate what are you talking about? You pretty much counted down the days until you would step foot in America.” But like they always say, “Hindsight is 20/20”. I really disliked the distance and the time zones between here and America a lot. And, it truly has been hard to be away from my loved ones. But it has truly taught me to appreciate them and the time spent talking with them THAT much more. I have grown closer to so many people during the course of this trip and even gotten to be better friends with people I was not too good of friends with before. I have loved, prayer for, and missed them from afar. It will be nice to finally be home to all you BEAUTIFUL people in my life!
10. I have learned to be okay with being just me. Caitlin kept saying, “People keep telling me that I am different. But I think it’s just because I am being myself”. Which I fully agree with. Back home in America there is so much pressure to be this type of person and it is quite stressful. I have straightened my hair in six months. For those who really know me, know that I cannot go ONE day without straightening my hair and that I loathe my curly hair. But, I really have learned to love my curly hair. It is pretty and I literally do nothing to it. I know that I will still straighten my hair when I get home, but I know that I will give my curly hair more of a chance. I have not worn make up either, and so this trip has really helped with my vanity. I have not really cared what clothes I have been wearing because they just got either dirty or sweaty during the day. It is nice not to have the pressure to look a certain way, because these people are just happy that you are here to help. And children do not care what you look like as long as you will play with them. I have learned to accept my flaws as beautiful flaws.
Here is the list of things I cannot wait to do when I get home. Harris and Caitlin joke around about how I have a list of “the one thing I can’t wait to do” because it literally is something new every day. I love Africa, but I cannot wait for these things:
1. Hug my family! I miss them a lot
2. Drive my car.
3. Text my friends
4. Sleep with my down comforter
5. Watch television
6. Eat American food—especially “Cookout” milkshakes
7. See my friends at school!
8. Say “I love you”
9. Watch all the movies I have missed on the plane ride home
10. Actually know what the top music is of the week
11. Air conditioning
12. A shower that you don’t need to click a switch on for hot water
13. USING A DRYER
14. Fabric softener
15. COLD WEATHER
16. Ice cubes. No one uses ice cubes here. And everyone loves hot drinks
17. That being said, a cold beer.
18. My straightener
19. Wearing real clothes—matching outfits, wearing my leather boots, etc
20. Going shopping
21. Getting a haircut!
22. Driving up to CT to see my extended family
23. Laughing with my brother and sister
24. Giving all the African treasures I got out to the people, I love!
25. Seeing all my ESA sisters for a wine night!
26. Talking about my experience to prospective volunteers for next year!
27. Seeing the monks and eating their DELICIOUS dinners
28. Going to mass at Belmont Abbey
29. That “moment” when you see all your best friends and family again
30. Touching down in JFK (and probably crying)
31. AIRPLANE FOOD. Yeah I know, sad right?
The list goes on…I cannot think of any more right now!