And that’s a wrap!

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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.

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just hangin' around!

just hangin’ around!

showing off some new stickers!

showing off some new stickers!

he is so precious.

he is so precious.

love this child.

love this child.

showing off her new hat!

showing off her new hat!

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BABIES!

BABIES!

<3

<3

BUBBLES!

BUBBLES!

huh?

huh?

twins!

twins!

my judeeeeeeeeey.

my judeeeeeeeeey.

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LOOK AT THIS LIL NUGGET.

LOOK AT THIS LIL NUGGET.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Making soap!

Making soap!

i am so lucky to have this beautiful chapel to go to every single day.

i am so lucky to have this beautiful chapel to go to every single day.

it is a beautiful place here.

it is a beautiful place here.

HABARI SANA (great welcome!) to Missionary Benedictine Sisters Sacred Heart Priory. My home away from home :)

HABARI SANA (great welcome!) to Missionary Benedictine Sisters Sacred Heart Priory. My home away from home :)

50th Jubilee Celebration of AOSK!

50th Jubilee Celebration of AOSK!

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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it fell on my head. so i did what any good person would do. i ate it. eating fresh guava in kenya? check.

it fell on my head. so i did what any good person would do. i ate it. eating fresh guava in kenya? check.

first african beer!

first african beer!

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.

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....got a little tan.

….got a little tan.

they are the bomb. and our best friends. meet sister loice (next to caitlin) and sister lillian (next to me). we know how to laugh and have fun!

they are the bomb. and our best friends. meet sister loice (next to caitlin) and sister lillian (next to me). we know how to laugh and have fun!

...when we get bored. we do this. or when the internet goes out...which is almost every other hour.

…when we get bored. we do this. or when the internet goes out…which is almost every other hour.

so much beauty here.

so much beauty here.

 

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!

that one time i climbed kilimanjaro!

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So, wow. What a week!  Kilimanjaro was the hardest, most frustrating, but most AWESOME thing I have EVER done in my life! I seriously have so much to say about it– what I felt, how it looked, the people I met, etc but it is so hard to put everything down in words.  I am just going to re-write my journal entries from each day of the trip that I wrote every night and try to put as many pictures in this blog as I can!

February 5, Pre- Kilimanjaro Start

So, we finally made it to Moshi!  It all started at 530 am and we headed in a taxi to the hotel where we would catch the shuttle!  It was the nicest hotel I have ever been in or seen here in Kenya!  It was nice to pretend to afford to stay there..ha.  We met this family of two girls and their dad from Canada that are here on holiday and seeing the water wells that they fundraised for..how cool!  We also met these two girls from Norway who made me feel so NOT hardcore.  One of them just got done a 24 day backpacking tour through Southwest Africa.  They are going on the 8-day Kilimanjaro trip and then she is going to see places all over Asia!  So cool, that’s for sure!  Getting our passports stamped at the border was a tad bit stressful but all went well!  We met the tour guides and got fitted for all our warm gear that we will be bringing up the mountain!  I am not complaining that I have to get so many warm clothes because I know for a fact that it will be super cold on top of the mountain!  The company, Kessy Brothers, is the one that we used for this trip.  I know we haven’t gone on the trip yet, but I have a really good feeling about these guys and I know that they are going to make this trip pretty epic!  I am not too nervous about it all just yet– just ready to get going!  We are at the Neneu Hotel, which is really nice!  It has AIR CONDITIONING which is beyond AWESOME! Oh, the little things in life here.  I really hope I make the summit climb– I will be super bummed if I don’t!  And being the sorority girl that I am, when I heard you get a free “Kessy Brothers” t-shirt if you make it to the top, I knew I HAD t omake it.  Sounds dumb, but that is one of my main motivators.  That and to make my parents proud of me!  We start our trip at 9 am tomorrow and are taking the “tourist route” which has huts to sleep in, which I think we will be really thankful for once we are up there and tired and cold every day!  I am taking “Diamox” which is medication to help me adapt faster to the change of altitude.  I hope that I don’t get sick and that the medicine helps!  I know you can’t predict if you will get it or not, and it can happen to anyone, but I will be bummed if I don’t make the summit because I get really sick!  I know I have to fully rely on God this week and I will have to just maintain a positive attitude about it all!  I have to believe in myself and I have to think of all the people who believe in me back home!   know so many people who would love to be in my shoes, so I just have to think that every time I want to give up!  It’s Caitlin (and Beth’s) birthday tomorrow!  I was going to find a crown for her to wear, but she lucked out because I couldn’t find one!  I am ready to get this party started!

Day 2: First Day of Hiking (to hut number one!)

Well, our first day of hiking is down in the books!  It was pretty easy of a hike today, and it was great to see all the surroundings and enjoy the hike!  We go a lot slower than I am used to, but it is because the guides want us to get used to the altitude!  It is annoying at times how slow we go, but I know I will look back in a few days and be glad we went slow! We got picked up this morning at around 9 am and were brought to the office to get all our stuff together.   We then were brought to the start of the Marangu gate.  After getting registered and sitting around for about 40 minutes (what’s new– its African time) we started going!  Out head guide Paul had to register a few more things so we started with Baraka (which means Blessing in Swahili by the way) who was our assistant guide.  We stopped for lunch around 1230 pm and there were some nice picnic tables to eat at!  I have come to realize that this trail we are taking is really nice change from the trails at camp which are sometimes hard to see!  Our lunch was pretty good!  It was chicken, potatoes, some bread.  There was also mango juice, a cupcake, and a banana!  Very filling and very good!  Baraka took Harris ahead of us and we went with Paul!  It was good to go at a slower pace and he talked to us about random things, so that helped pass the time!  He made us stop for water a lot (everyone is forced to drink 3 LITERS of water daily, which helps with getting used to the altitude).  I will probably be thankful as time goes on for all the water, but Caitlin jokes (and I agree) that she feels like a camel!  We were sitting in the dining hall tonight because it was 730 pm and there was nothing else to do and we met so many interesting people!  Some people are from Norway that are coming as a family.  There are 9 people in the group and one of them made the climb already and is doing it for a second time!  There is a group of 5 — 3 from Canada, 1 from Kenya, and one from Holland.  One of the girls in the group is 13 and if she makes the summit she will be the youngest Canadian female to reach the summit, how cool!  A group of like 20 Japanese people were sitting next to us having their dinner and they were so funny to watch trying to talk with their guide who had no clue what they were saying most of the time.  The guides for the group are really funny and we had a great time laughing with them tonight– I can’t wait to hang out with them the rest of the trip! I have come to realize how friendly the Tanzanians are!  After talking with the guides for a while it was dark so I decided to go outside for some air.  The stars were SO BEAUTIFUL!  I have never seen stars so bright in my life and I felt like I could reach out and touch them!  I could see everything– the Milky Way, the Big Dipper, (all the other stars I cannot name, ha). I joked and laughed with the people from Canada who I learned have been living in Kenya for the past five months!  It was nice to talk about the customs and the things we have been going through during our stay in Kenya!  It is really great to have people doing the climb with you!  It is great motivation to see people I don’t know doing it– people who are younger than me, people that are more experienced at climbing than me, etc.  I just want to do this for not only people back home but for these people I barely know too!  To have people back home tell me they believe in me is one thing but to have people I don’t even know say it makes all the difference in the world!  I am on the tallest free-standing mountain in the world y’all and let me tell you…boy does it feel GOOD! 

Day 3: Second Day of Hiking to Horombo Hut

Today was really good!  I am still feeling awesome so that is good, and I am crossing my fingers that it stays this way.  We went through “Moreland” today which look like a desert kind of.. it went on forever though and there were  parts that were more difficult than others.  Paul was really good, I like him a lot as our guide.  We made it to Horombo Camp around 215 pm and settled in. This camp was a lot bigger than I thought it would be!  There are about 40 huts (some have more than 4 beds in them).  Then there are a ton of tents as well.  We are in a hut by the river, which is nice to listen to!  Like I said earlier, we got here around 3 and had some tea.  It was slightly overwhelming but awesome to sit in the dining hall and be surrounded by so many cultures and languages!  We got to sit by our two Italian friends for dinner, so that was really nice.  We have yet to meet any Americans– we have met a ton of Norwegians and Swedish people though!  They all look so hardcore..mainly because they are used to this cold weather (my SC body is not used to and cannot seem to adjust to the weather change) and have grown up hiking the Swiss Alps..no big deal!  It’s cool to be at Horombo because we are surrounded by three groups of people– those who are on our schedule, those on their acclimation day, and those who just hiked to the summit.  Some that just hiked to the summit look inspiring and are energetic, but some look downright tired.  Tomorrow is a leisure day– we will hike to this place called “Zebra Rocks” and then we are able to take the afternoon off!  Should be fun!  It is starting to get cold at night here!

Day 4: Leisure Day to Zebra Rocks

Today was a day used to get used to the altitude.  We woke up at 8 am which was really nice!  We then headed to Zebra Rocks from 9 am to 12 pm which is 4200  m up (500 m less than Kibo, where we will be tomorrow).  We took our time and our guides are really great so it may the day fun and relaxing.  After taking a few pictures, we went to the top of it and sat for a while.  We couldn’t see the summit because of the clouds, but we did see the path to Kibo– it doesn’t look too challenging.  The key (as always) will just be “pole pole” in order to get used to the altitude.  I’m not gonna lie– I am getting a bit nervous about the summit climb.  We sat next to two German guys who just completed the summit climb and they looked so tired.  One of the guys said it was really cold and really hard but awesome.  He said with every step your chest hurt from the lack of oxygen which made me nervous.  But, I am ready for this!  I just want to make it to the top and I am going to give everything I got in order to do so.  I probably wrote this in a previous entry, but, I am not gonna remember so much the pain of the summit attempt a week from now.  I am going to remember the feeling I had if I make it all the way to the top.  I gotta do this for all my friends and family back home!  They are all waiting to hear if I made it to the top or not and I do not want to go home and say that I didn’t make it.  I mean, I know that I have had an awesome time on this trip and have met so many awesome and different people, but I want to make it all the way!  I will feel like I can do anything if I am able to do so and that’s one of the things I wanted to take back with me to America from Africa! I just gotta push through, trust in God, and do it for my family!  All my steps I take to the summit will be dedicated to my loved ones back in the USA!  I can’t believe that in 11 short days I will be home BUT in 3 short days I will have either accomplished or attempted to accomplish one of the hardest things in my life so far!  I cannot wait to see what these last few days of this trip brings!  BRING IT ON, KILIMANJARO!

Day 5: Hiking from Horombo to Kibo/Prepping for Summit Climb

So we made it to the Kibo hut at around 2 pm!  We left Horombo around 8 am, stopping for lunch around 11:30 am.  I was feeling great until the last 2 km up to the Kibo Hut.  All of a sudden I felt super dizzy and could hardly breathe.  It was really scary, but I was trying not to panic.  After we got to Kibo and I could sit down for a bit, I felt a lot better!  Just a slight headache, but I am good to go!  I need to drink a lot more water and take some Advil but I should be fine by tonight.  Caitlin on the other hand is having a really hard time.  She has been throwing up since yesterday and has really struggled on the hike today.  I am worried about her but I don’t think she is going to make the trip to the summit with us tonight but who knows maybe she will surprise us!  I was really pumped about the summit climb, but the last half hour of today’s hike really freaked me out with the hard to breathe fiasco.  It kind of feels like someone is pressing on your chest and won’t let up at all.  With every couple steps I had to stop and rest.  I think that is going to be the case tonight too.  I just am going to have to push through and take my time and not panic!  I know it’s going to be the hardest thing I will ever probably do in my life, but I just have to do it because I want to look back on this experience and know I pushed through it all and was able to conquer Mt. Kilimanjaro (even if I wanted to throw up and give up and just go back down).  Sure, I will have moments of panic.  I am sure I will cry.  Maybe I will throw up. I know my guides believe in me and there are so many people back home as well as with me now who believe in me as well.  I just need to take it step by step and just go until I can’t go any more.  I may surprise myself and actually reach the top!  I may not reach the top, but that will be okay too.  It has been such a great experience meeting new people and knowing they are all for the same goal as well!  It wasn’t about the destination for me, it was all about the journey.  Sounds cheesy, I know.  But, it’s true!  I met new people, went to a new country, and did something people only dream about doing– I hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro.  And in 7 hours I will attempt to reach the top, Uhuru Peak the top of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.  How intense and awesome is that?!  Even the fact that I am attempting this makes me proud!  This is no walk in the park people!  Not many people can do this!  I just have to remember that I am going to try my hardest!  That is all that matters now!

Day 5 continued into Day 6: SUMMIT ATTEMPT

Wow, what a day! It started at 1030 pm Saturday with tea and biscuits.  We then got in a line outside and started for the summit.  About 30 minutes in, Caitlin didn’t want to go any more but being the pushy and best friend that I am, I told her she didn’t have a choice and that she was going to do this climb (she’d thank me later for this notion).  I was feeling good until about 5300 m up when I got hit with awful altitude sickness.  I had a massive headache and couldn’t breathe very well.  I started to panic and cry, but of course our guides being so awesome were able to make me feel better and make me go on with the hike.  I am glad they were there– without them there was NO WAY I was going to make it to the summit.  Anyways, after crying, throwing up, eating some energy bar that Paul (our guide) force-fed me, we made it to Gilman’s Point!  That was a feat in itself because only about 40% make it to that point who use the Marangu Route (the route we took).  I was so happy to make it that far!  But, Paul and Baraka weren’t about to give up on us JUST yet.  They pushed us to Stella’s Point, and then to the summit.  I know this sounds really cliché, but it was the most beautiful sunrise and view I have ever seen in my life!  I didn’t get any good pictures because it was so cold, but it was awesome nonetheless!  I don’t think any amount of pictures would have done it the least bit of justice anyways.  We could only stay up there for about 5 minutes because of how cold it was and how high up we were.  I wish I was more aware of how pretty everything was, but I was only focused on getting to that sign on top of the peak.  After 3 hours of pretty much skiing down a gravel mountain, I finally made it back to Kibo camp.  Looking up at what we just climbed baffled me.  I think another reason (besides the ground being frozen) they take you to the summit at night is so that you don’t see what you have to climb.  Anyways, I met this cool Canadian guy who did this climb in FOUR DAYS! Ridiculous.  We had a great talk about Canada, the USA, missionary work, and Africa so that helped pass the time of hiking down.  I think he was my age, but just on a holiday break.  When we got back to Kibo, I crashed for an hour.  We then had lunch and headed for Horombo.  We made it to Horombo around 230 pm, had tea, a nap, dinner, and now I am lying in bed about to pass out.  The summit climb was the hardest thing I have EVER done in my life– something I will NEVER do again, but I am glad I made it to the top.  I feel like I can accomplish ANYTHING now!  It was awesome to walk back from just reaching the summit with tears of joy in my eyes!  It was also great to get “congrats” and “good job” from climbers and staff on the trail as well as in the camps!  I feel SO great about myself and this was the PERFECT ending to my time here in Africa.  Now that this is done I AM READY TO GO HOME!

Day 6:  Horombo to gate and hotel

Well, we are back at the hotel after a long 6 days on the mountain!  We left the Horombo huts around 7 am and made it down there to the gate around 1230 pm– talk about BOOKING IT!  We then had out last lunch served by Joseph, our waiter– sad!  We got into the van, headed to the Kessy Brother’s office, and unpacked all our stuff.  Since we reached the summit, all of us got free t-shirts, a beer and a snazzy OFFICIAL government certificate stating we made it to the TOP of Mt. Kilimanjaro!  It was so sad to say bye to all the porters, our chef, and Paul & Baraka– I have to admit, I teared up a bit on the way home and Caitlin can attest to the fact that I had a tearful meltdown in the hotel (mainly due to how tired I was but I really did miss our time on Kilimanjaro already).  We got really close to everyone over the course of the week and bonded with them of course on the way to the summit!  Without them there telling me not to worry/panic and it was normal to feel the way I did, I would have never made it!  I cannot believe I did it still!  I reached the SUMMIT OF KILIMANJARO!  Cross that off the bucket list real fast!  Now it’s time for a celebration!  We head back to Nairobi at 6 am tomorrow and then the USA next Wednesday!  I cannot believe the last week before home is finally here!  I cannot wait to hug all the ones I love, get my phone/car back and eat good food made by my sweet mama!  

Well, now we are back in Nairobi!  Caitlin and I  will spend the next week packing, doing last-minute shopping at the market, visiting our orphanage children, and just spending time with the sisters!  It is a bittersweet feeling knowing I am leaving Africa in 6 short days.  Time has REALLY FLOWN BY.  It seems like just yesterday we got here and now we are leaving!  I will be sad to leave this beautiful country, but I am ready to see my country and all the beautiful people in it!

xoxo

Some pictures from the trip! (internet is slow–couldn’t upload them all sorry!)

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emotions before mt. kilimanjaro

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I know that I just wrote a blog for the valley and posted about two days ago, but I have so many thoughts running through my head at the moment and I thought it may be good to write it all down.

On this upcoming Tuesday, February 5th, I will catching a 800 am shuttle to Moshi, Tanzania where I will begin my Mt. Kilimanjaro adventure.  After a night spent in the hotel, I will go to the National Park where I will begin my 5 night/6 day hike up to the tallest free-standing mountain in the world’s summit.  The more and more I think about it, the more and more crazy I think I actually am!  I know so many people only DREAM about going to this mountain, and I cannot believe all the plans came through and I actually am climbing it.

I will be joining Harris and Caitlin along with 9 porters (the guys that carry ALL our stuff up the mountain), 1 cook, 1 assistant guide, and 1 guide on this 30-35 mile trek up to the summit.  We decided to use the Marangu Route which is the “Coca-Cola” route.  Most people use this route and it is said to be the easiest route to take (not saying Mt. Kilimanjaro is easy by any means though!)  We picked this one because it is the shortest and the cheapest one to use.  It also uses huts that we sleep in going up the mountain.  Some people beg to differ that this is the best route, but in my opinion, any route is good because for gosh sakes YOU’RE CLIMBING MT. KILIMANJARO!  The route is detailed in the picture below (along with a few pictures of Mt. Kilimanjaro I found on the internet).

Huts we stay in!

Huts we stay in!

The "Roof of Africa"

The “Roof of Africa”

Uhuru Peak-- Summit of Mt. KIlimanjaro, our final destination!

Uhuru Peak– Summit of Mt. KIlimanjaro, our final destination!

Marangu Route-- the route we are taking!

Marangu Route– the route we are taking!

I am beyond excited don’t get me wrong, but I am very nervous about this adventure.  I have worked at a wilderness camp for 3 (going on 4) years taking girls up mountains, but I still can’t help but feel like an amateur about this.  I feel like I am going into this a bit naive, but I am trying to maintain some optimism and positive thinking.   I know that I will be able to do this!  And I am trying to go in with the thought that this is all a journey– if I don’t make it to the top, I still am climbing a mountain people only dream about visiting.  So, all in all, it will be a successful trip (summitting or not).

I feel like it will be challenging but nothing I cannot overcome with laughter, prayers, and faith!  The tour guides know what they are doing, and Africans love going slow (poli, poli– “slowly, slowly” is their motto here).  I am excited to get to know all the guides and their stories as well as meet other people that are doing the climb!

The last night is the “summit climb” and we leave the campsite at midnight and hike for 5-7 hours before the sunrise to get to the top of the mountain.  Only about 40% make it to Gilman’s Point, which is about an hour from the summit and only about 30% make it all the way to the top.  I am not going to let that statistic scare me and I am going to give it all I have!  Who knows what will come out of it– tune in February 13th to see how it all played out!  As you know me, I will for sure take tons and tons of pictures– I don’t want to miss any second!

I just ask for all your prayers as I begin this climb!  Should be a good time!

rainwater, orange fanta, and the hokey pokey (all in a valley day’s work).

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This was written about three days before I left the valley, so bear with me! :)

Well, January has come and gone and it seems like just yesterday I arrived at my destination in the Great Rift Valley not knowing what to expect.  I do admit that I went through a bout of homesickness the first week I was here and wanted to go home.  It was only because the life here is MUCH slower than the life in Nairobi, which is funny because I think the life in Nairobi is slow at times.  When we first got here, we did not really do much—just sat around for a few days.  And, if anyone knows me well they know that I cannot just sit around.  I am naturally an anxious person, and that is something I will have to deal with on a daily basis for the rest of my life I gather, so sitting around just made me restless.  I read a lot and sat outside in the sun a lot.  Did I mention it is about 80-90 degrees here daily?  It gets hot around like 10 and does not cool down until maybe night (if we are lucky).  It is nice to be in such a tropical climate, but I am deeply missing the coldness of these months, my leather boots and my sweaters respectively.  It is weird to think when I get home, spring will be arriving and it will just get hot again.  It will make Christmastime next year that much more special to me!

Most of the time I cannot even capture the moment in the pictures.  Like for example, as we were coming to the valley on the eighth, we came across this BEAUTIFUL rainbow.  It was seriously the prettiest rainbow I have ever seen.  It also looked as if it was going straight down into the valley.  I tried to capture the rainbow in a picture, but had no such luck.  This is the best I can do:

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Anyways, so the first few days as I said earlier were spent sitting around.  We took a couple walks to survey the land, and just lay low.  Here are a couple pictures of my bedroom, the bathroom, and the “shower”.  I most of the time took “showers” with buckets of water because the showerhead wouldn’t work…but that’s another story.

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On Friday, one of the sisters told us that one of the security guards was going to take us on a hike the next day.  I was excited!  The wakeup call was 545 am and after a quick breakfast, we got on our way.  When we started this hike, I had NO idea what I was in for.  We hiked up a mountain that was the steepest thing I have ever come across (and I have come across many mountains during my last few years as a wilderness camp counselor).  It literally was uphill for hours and hours and hours.  And our entire guide kept saying was “almost there” and “about an hour left”.  I think if I heard that one more time I was going to go crazy!  But, we made it to his home village around 1130 am and were greeted by all these children—my weakness!  I was tired and hot but I loved playing with the children and taking their pictures!  The children are one thing of MANY I will miss here!  We got some much needed water and tea from Andrew.  What struck me funny was when I was (in my mind) complaining about how hot and tired I was and how I wanted to go home to my bed and everything, Andrew was talking about how he was so grateful it rained last night because they were able to save a lot of it for water.  Here I am complaining, and this person is just ecstatic and grateful for the rainwater.  I am continually humbled on a daily basis here.

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After Andrew’s house visit, we started again on the next leg of the trip.  It only took us about two hours to get to the very top of the mountain, which was our destination.  Once again, we were greeted by tons of children and I was so happy to finally make it to the top!  I felt so accomplished, and it got me excited (but also nervous) about Mt. Kilimanjaro!  I feel like I am semi-prepared for what is to come in a week or so, but who knows!  We then headed back to Andrew’s house around 2 pm where we were going to meet his daughters so they could take us down to the convent.  We left his house around 330 pm and I did not realize that the descent was going to be hard (if not harder) than the ascent.  Not all downhill for about 3 hours is a walk in the park!  As we neared the end of the trip, my knees were aching!  But, we got back to the convent just in time for a quick shower before dinner and I was happy that I actually did the climb.

The next few weeks were just spent either: painting, sorting beans, sorting pills to be handed out in the health clinic, folding gauze or making cotton balls, playing with the children in school, or just hanging out.  We also were taken on a tour of the Marakwet land and went to this market-like place on a Sunday with the priest that lives here (his name is Simon Peter—what an AWESOME priestly name).  We also cooked dinner one Saturday night for the sisters and I drank excessively much orange fanta (I am so obsessed with this stuff—why have I never had it before?)  I could probably come up with multiple stories, but lately I have been having a hard time putting down things in words.  So, I will post what I do best—pictures!  I am so glad that my parents got me this camera for my birthday (thanks Mama and Pops!)  I take so many pictures and I know people probably get annoyed but I do not want to miss a single SECOND of memories here!  All the kids are so beautiful, the scenery is beautiful, and the culture is beautiful.

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MANGOES

MANGOES

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But as I said, everything has been great here.  Only a few days and nights of homesickness, and sleep do not seem to want to be my friend lately (anyone have some tips on combating insomnia?)  There are some days where I really just want to go home because I am sick of being stared at like an alien from outer space or asked for money.  The Kenyans here like to imitate our “American accents” which just sound like someone plugging their nose and talking.  It is funny but sometimes it is so annoying because that is NOT how we sound!  The kids are funny though and most of the time I love being followed by them or shaking their hand.  Just the other day we went on a walk and had kids upon kids join the group following us all the way through the village.  Harris would turn around and scare them from time to time and it was funny to watch them run away or laugh.

I leave for Kilimanjaro in a few days and I cannot BELIEVE that is actually here!  I am getting nervous about it and second-guessing myself.  I know that I will be able to do it easier if I just have a bit more faith in myself so I am trying to maintain positivity about this trip we have been planning for months!  We leave on February 5 at 8 am and spend the night in Moshi, Tanzania before heading on the trek for 6 days!  I keep reading about how hard it is and stuff and I know that it will be the most physically and emotionally demanding thing I probably have done and will ever do in my life.  But I cannot wait to come back and talk about it with everyone!  And once this trip is over on February 12, I will only have a week left here before HOME!  I cannot wait to see all of you lovely people and eat some American food!  It has been a great experience here, but nothing can beat home, mothers, and good friends at college!  It will be wonderful to be in the south again!

small handprints.

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So, I forget where I left off in my last blog so if I repeat myself, I am very sorry. But anyways, on New Years Eve Caitlin and I had a great time! First off the sisters are just really fun and I love being with them, and it’s been fun being with them during the holidays.  We got to go to adoration that night too so that was awesome!  After that, we came back to our apartment and had some sparkling wine while we played a game that Caitlin made up.  We took a deck of cards and all the red cards were “silly” questions and all the black cards were “serious” questions!  It was really fun but it made us with all our girl friends were with us to participate!

The next day, we just kind of hung out and went to the internet cafe again because we still didn’t have internet in the convent.  It was a slow day. Oh wait! We dug a hole for mushrooms that Sister Michael Marie wanted to put in.  But, the catch was we got rakes/hoes to dig the hole.  It was funny and frustrating all at the same time.  Pretty much defines our African experience.  Frustrating at times, but hilarious and so worth it.

The next day we went to Nairobi!  This was big for us because 1) We haven’t been to Nairobi since October (I wish I was kidding) 2) We needed to get out of the convent and we were so sick of sitting around out apartment watching house 3) Harris always comes to Karen so it was good to go to him for once.  We headed there and then just hung out with Harris in downtown Nairobi. I had the BEST chicken, cheese, and avocado panini.  I swear, I am going to go into withdrawal from avocados when I get back to America.  We also got some internet that we will take with us to the valley on Monday!  It will be good to still stay in contact with the outside world.  We then went to the bar to enjoy a few Tusker beers, watched a movie, and then went to bed.  Well, I tried to go to bed.  I was/kinda still am having sleeping issues where I can’t sleep at night.  I really, really, really hope it passes.

The next day we painted a wall at St. Maurus with Harris!  He has been telling us about this project he has been doing for the past couple weeks, so it was good to go over there and see all the progress!  I have to admit, it looks really good!  Way to go Harris!  It was great because I just love going into the slums because the children are just SO HAPPY ALL THE TIME!  They just keep repeating “HELLO MZUNGU! HOW ARE YOU! HOW ARE YOU MZUNGU! HELLO!” as they look through the trash or play in the muddy water.  I should be sad about it, and don’t get me wrong, I really feel sad about these precious baby children who haven’t known any other life than that, but it is beautiful to see someone so happy with so little.  And, me being there and walking through the streets makes their life and I am so happy to be able to provide that happiness.  I may not have the money, clothes, food, or shoes to give them but I do have my smile and my hands love them!  They are just so wonderful.  I am advised not to take pictures in the streets of Mathare because some people would get offended, but I wish I could just show you these beautiful children.  Anyways, when we got to St. Maurus there were tons of children out there in the courtyard.  Some were just sitting and most were kicking around a balled up paper ball and playing soccer.  It just amazes me how in America we need so much to be happy but here, they are happy with a rolled up paper ball and two rocks for a goal.  I will go back to America with the ability to be happy with the little I have.  We got the paint out and decided to paint a heart.  Well about 50 children wanted to help, and who could say no to these children?  So I let them paint in the heart and then we decided it would be cool to do handprints on the wall.  It turned out very well!

Due to circumstances that were out of our hands, Harris had to hang back for the weekend but will be joining us in Karen tomorrow.  We go to the valley on Monday morning!  We are cramming in a car 6 people, luggage, boxes, and a dog.  Don’t ask.  I’m sure Harris will fill you in about the dog in the next blog.  We will be going to the valley for three weeks and will be returning to Karen on January 29th!  It’s going to be hot, but different!  I am excited for a change of pace, schedule, weather, and lifestyle!  This place is “true Africa” and what you stereotype Africa to be.  Dirt roads for miles, heat like SC summers, grass huts, and beautiful people.  I will be sure to take lots of pictures and upload them as soon as I come back to Karen!

After this three week trek we will be going to Mt. Kilimanjaro Feb 5-12.  We will be celebrating CAITLIN’S DAY OF BIRTH on the mountain!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT?  I have to admit… I planned it this way.  But, I am glad it is all working out this way.  I hate to also admit that I am scared to death to climb this mountain.  I keep reading blogs that say “This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life…the altitude is awful and messes with your head…I had to pray the whole time..I can’t believe I did it.”  But, they always say at the end “I’m glad I did it…I’m so proud of myself..I can do anything now!”  Which is exactly the way I want to end this African trip!  I cannot wait to conclude this trip with this monumentous occasion!  I of course will take video and pictures to include everyone in this experience :)

Anyways, it is getting late and we need to get back to the convent for prayer.  But, I will update at the end of my three week trip to the valley since the internet is sparse.  So look for three weeklong blog entries on January 29th!

Pray for me, and I will continue to pray for you.  AND PRAY FOR AFRICA!

xoxo

wanderlust.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR! I cannot believe that it is 2013, the year that we will come home!  And it is coming up soon– the weeks are going to fly by!  We leave for the Great Rift Valley in less than a week at 5 am and I am more than ready to go.  I have been trouble sleeping here, so maybe a change in scenery and pace of life will allow me sleep again and have dreams of all my lovely friends and family back home :) if not, I’ve grown to accept I may be nocturnal these next two months!  It’s actually less than two months that I come home, 49 days to be exact!  So that is about a month and a half!  We will be in the valley until January 28th and then we will be going to MT. KILIMANJARO FEB 5! I am so excited!  This is going to be a great experience and I cannot wait to come back and tell everyone about it face to face.

It has begun to hit me that this is the beginning of the end of my mission trip!  Caitlin and I are beginning to pack up all our things because we won’t have much time when we get back to Nairobi after the valley with getting ready for Tanzania and all.  We are doing our last things here such as going to the cafe down the road for the last times, going into Nairobi to visit Harris this week for most likely the last time, and staying in our apartment for the last time as “residents”.  When we get back from the valley we will only be in our apartment for five days then Kili then five more days until we board the plane to get home!  I have had a great time here but the more and more I am away from my friends and family, the more and more I want to be with them!  It probably is because Caitlin and I haven’t really done anything for the past two and a half weeks because we thought we were leaving for the valley this coming Thursday, so we stopped working and all.  But, it got pushed back because Africa is on “poli poli” time (slowly slowly time).  It is okay, we will just have three weeks in the valley instead of four.  Just enough time to get away and do something different but more than enough time to be away from “suburbia Kenya.”

Our internet has been out for about 5 days due to the fact there was a huge storm that knocked the cable apart (the sister decided it would be a good deal to tape the cable together about a year ago when it broke…now it is totally broken).  It is not that bad, Caitlin and I have been catching up on “House” seasons and playing funny card games over drinking sparkling wine.  And, we are leaving in about a week and it is good to get used to the fact that we won’t have internet at our fingertips at all times for about three weeks.  It just kind of stinks that we don’t get to talk to that many people except Harris during the day at the internet cafe because most people are still asleep when we are here!  I cannot reiterate enough the fact that I am going to LOVE being in the same time zone as everyone again as well as having my phone to text and call people whenever I need them most.

Looking back on this year, I cannot begin to tell you how awesome it really has been!  Yes, there have been tons of ups and downs but God seriously shifted my life this whole year in a totally good way.  I cannot wait to see what 2013 holds!  There are going to be so many firsts for me!  First time coming home in 6 months, first time seeing all my friends at BAC, first time getting an apartment of my own, and first time being able to say I am a student of OT school (something I didn’t think was going to happen this year or even last year).  It will be good to be able to go home and get in the groove of “American life” again.  For one thing, I cannot WAIT to order some SWEET TEA with ICE.  No one has ice over here and it is starting to get really depressing.  I just can’t wait to drink something cold.  And to drink soda not out of a bottle and soda that is actually not flat for once.  It’s the little things I suppose!

But there is still MUCH to look forward to these next 49 days here in Africa.  For one I am totally going out of my comfort zone here in Africa (which is out of my comfort zone to begin with) to go to a remote part of Africa that is 100 degrees at all times.  We also are celebrating Caitlin’s day of BIRTH on top of the highest free-standing mountain in all of Africa and famous mountain, MT. KILIMANJARO! Like, how awesome is that?! It is going to be so worth it and I cannot wait for all the stories, laughs, and memories we will make on this trip.  And we just realized we will get to experience ASH WEDNESDAY and the first sunday of LENT here in Africa!  It will be cool to see how they celebrate this holiday and it is awesome that we got to experience two of the main Catholic holidays in a different country!

I hope everyone had a safe and wonderful New Years Eve and I cannot wait to celebrate this wonderful year of 2013 when I get back to all whom I love in the great U S of A. <3

Here is a look back on the last 4 1/2 months of my trip.  Still can’t believe it’s already been that long!IMG_1907 IMG_1911

so much beauty here.

so much beauty here.

...when we get bored. we do this. or when the internet goes out...which is almost every other hour.

…when we get bored. we do this. or when the internet goes out…which is almost every other hour.

they are the bomb. and our best friends. meet sister loice (next to caitlin) and sister lillian (next to me). we know how to laugh and have fun!

they are the bomb. and our best friends. meet sister loice (next to caitlin) and sister lillian (next to me). we know how to laugh and have fun!

friends new and old! the two on the right are steffy and catalina! they are from germany.

friends new and old! the two on the right are steffy and catalina! they are from germany.

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Making soap!

Making soap!

Making bracelets!

Making bracelets!

more trinkets!

more trinkets!

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our friends! (from left to right: alex, phillip, and lucas)

our friends! (from left to right: alex, phillip, and lucas)

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she is starting to walk! go, elsie go!

she is starting to walk! go, elsie go!

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"you are a real kenyan now!"

“you are a real kenyan now!”

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just hangin' around!

just hangin’ around!

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just living the good life

just living the good life

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dancing away!

dancing away!

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xoxo

Plastic Watches, Scarves, and Goodbyes.

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SO, another week has come and gone….crazy!  We are down to almost 7 weeks left before we get home..NOW that is ridiculous!  I cannot believe it is going by so quickly!  I know that is the theme of what I say throughout my blogs but it is seriously flying by.  It has been great but I have been anticipating the arrival home and Caitlin and I seem to talk about the “what’s going to happen when…we get to JFK? When we get to eat at Cookout? When we see our friends? etc”  It will be nice to step off that plane in Charlotte and see my family!

Last week was our last week of work…it was bittersweet, I must admit.  On Thursday, we brought our kids as well as the “mothers” Christmas presents and who knew a small gesture could go a long way!  The appreciation blew me away- the mothers loved our gifts and didn’t know what to say—and the gifts consisted of cake and toffees.  Not saying you shouldn’t want to have that shiny new piece of technology for Christmas—I am slightly jealous!  But, just appreciate it so much!  Anyways, we got our kids fake watches because they are obsessed with our watches…and they loved them!  We also got them some lollipops, stickers, and these kickballs they can all play with.  After a few whines and explaining the concept of sharing, they all (well most of them) happily kicked the ball around and had a great time!  Before we left, Jane the supervisor told us that they had something for us!  Turns out that the kids got US gifts which was a total surprise.  The best part was the homemade card they made each of us with their handprints on it..now this is going on my fridge in my (non-existent at the moment) apartment at graduate school.  They were so cute and it was really sad to leave them!  We ended the week at Cottolengo, which is always a trying experience…but I am thankful for that place because it has taught me how to love unconditionally children that are misbehaving but either sick or never knew their parents due to the onslaught of HIV/AIDS.  They are lovely kids, just have some weaknesses in the disciplinary areas…but maybe they will change with time!  We got them some kickballs too and Caitlin had a GREAT time teaching them the concept of sharing…isn’t that right, Caitlin? Haha

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But, we are done with work!  We thought we were leaving for the valley much sooner than we actually are—we aren’t leaving until January 5!  Which only gives us about 3 weeks in the valley, which is a lot less than what we thought.  But, we have to get back for Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I cannot wait to do!  It will be a great experience—hardest thing I will ever do in my life, but it will totally be worth it!!  So, Harris is coming over today and staying through Christmas!  It will be good to have someone else from home as well as an American here for the Holiday.  I am attending Christmas Vigil mass tomorrow and I am really excited about it!  I don’t know if I have ever attended the vigil service—or I just don’t remember if I did or not.  I have always wanted to, so this will be really awesome especially considering it is in a totally different country!

 

Not much else will go on for Christmas, which is kind of depressing but I have come to appreciate home a whole lot more! I am having such a great time here and I have been learning and experiencing so much!  But, I do miss home a lot and I especially miss home considering it is Christmas and during this time we are usually making the trek up to Connecticut.  I am usually complaining about the drive, the cold, my brother being annoying in the car, etc and right now I would give anything to be crammed in a minivan with thousands of presents in a snow storm on the way to Connecticut.  Because even if it does stink and the ride is really long, it is the most fun when I look back on it.  I don’t think I laugh that much with my brother and sister except during the 19 hour drive!  And, its so nice to see my grandparents and the snow and my cousins!  I love my crazy family and I will definitely miss Christmas Eve with my grandmother’s throusands of talking Hallmark items, the scratch tickets, 12 dozen cannolis, and of course, fighting for the Target gift cards with my cousins during the White Elephant gift exchange.  I will miss the cozy and warm log cabin of my other grandparent’s house on Christmas Day.  I will miss the huge stone fireplace with the fire going at all times, the chex mix my grandfather always seems to make copious amounts of, and I cant forget the annual Christmas trip (since a couple years ago) to Costco where he would buy me a sundae at the end of the trip.  It is just always nice to go back to my family roots and enjoy a different change of pace and scenery that the North holds.  I will be so excited to go next year (God willing) to the north for Christmas!  This year will just be a bit different I suppose.  I will get to skype my family on Christmas though, so that will be good!

But, anyways, I guess that is enough ranting for one day don’t you think?

If anyone wants to still donate to our cause here in Kenya—for the old people, for clothes, school, Mt. Kilimanjaro (haha, but really), let me know!  I will let you know the best way to get the money to us!

Thanks everyone for the kind prayers and words you have given us over these past 4 months!  We couldn’t have done this without y’all and it is what keeps us going!  We will be home soon!

xoxo

 

Also, because of the spirit of the holidays and my mission, this song has hit home for me for some reason this week! Enjoy!