Day 6–8: The Village in Nakuru

Clay Huts

I wish my mum could see where I am right now. I wonder what she would say.

Most people in my situation would find it tough. Some might even run.

But not me.

This, is what I came for. And this, is what it’s all about.

I'm sat cross legged on a foam bed in a compound outside the main house of our host placement. From inside, I can see that the newly built compound has a frame made from wooden sticks held together with clay. The light of my laptop provides a small glow to my room — unfortunately our light isn't working and it’s now pitch black outside.

Around me I can hear one of the biggest moths I have ever seen crashing violently every now and then against the wall. And that’s just the one bug of many I'm aware of.

I have no idea what else might lurking in the murky shadows and crevices.

My blanket looks different, and smells unfamiliar. Should I have brought my sleeping bag? I ask myself.

I think about going to the toilet before bed but my torch is buried at the very bottom of my backpack and I'm not brave enough to face mega-moth and his homeboys in the dark right now. I feel safer under the temporary barrier of my mosquito net.

The toilet is a hole in the ground outside, which is fine, but there’s no light. The last thing I want to do is aim and hope. That would just make a mess everywhere.

So here I am.

In Africa, sleeping in a clay hut with no electricity or running water in a rural village called Baruk.

The stereotype is unreal.

But it’s also not the full story. Don’t let appearances fool you.

Inside, my room feels warm and cosy. The clay walls I realise later, help to keep my room cool at night in the vicious heat. As my eyes wonder outside, the view above me is of a glittery night sky, the moon beaming brightly in the centre. My torch seems kind of pointless next to the gushing beacon of light it provides.

Every time I breath in, the air rushing into my lungs feels cleaner and fresher. I stretch out my arms and slowly feast on another huge gulp.

It feels invigorating.

The blanket and duvets I am sat on have been very carefully cleaned, prepared and set up for me already. There’s a clear design to their folds, like in a fancy hotel, only done with a lot of time and love.

I lay down and close the lid of my laptop. The darkness swoops in and even with my eyes open, I can see nothing. Only hear the sounds of nature, cricketing and buzzing away in the distance.

After a long and busy day, I drift off into sleep with little effort.

These would be the best nights sleep of my entire trip.

****

Hearts of Gold

We’ve arrived in a small village called Baruk, near Nakuru to visit our second project. It’s called Divinely Placed Community Program, run by a teacher from the local community called Martha Kimani, otherwise known as “Mum”.

Summarising her project and what it does isn't easy, there’s a lot going on. But its hustle and intent?

Devastatingly simple.

Like many communities, Baruk has a lot of problems. Teenage pregnancy, female empowerment & safety, environment & pollution, illiteracy, sanitation & health, and substance abuse all play freely here.

There aren't any big NGOs or charities working here yet. It’s too remote.

But there is Martha Kimani.

A titan of love demonstrating every day that at your fullest capacity and resourcefulness, one person can still make a storm of difference to the world around them.

It is no exaggeration to say that people are alive and well because of the warmth that emanates with every beat of her heart.

We are a good example of this titanic love.

Mum doesn't have running water but has very happily taken in all five of us to stay and share her home with her family of four. An already stretched supply of food, water and shelter now has the added burden of another five westerners to house.

We bring with us big heavy bags, fickle and complex dietary requirements that are hard to explain, all wrapped up in a pretty pink bow of western comforts, ideas and attitudes.

Against what we are used to, it would seem she has little, but it matters not.

She has gone above and beyond to make sure we are welcome. I must have heard the word “Karibu” (Kiswahili for welcome) at least twenty times in the first hour we arrived and on stepping foot off the bus, we each received one of mum’s special bear hugs.

They are pretty legendary. 
 
There are countless more who have been touched by this same care and warmth for others. On the evening we arrived, we met a very young teenage young girl who now had a small child to look after, after she went too far out of the village, only to be taken advantage of by a group of older men and left with to deal with the consequences. Mum has been supporting her and her grandma ever since. From giving her advice and words of inspiration, to finding ways to keep them sustained financially.

After dinner that evening, she spoke about her love for Jessica, who came here last year on her own, and has become like a daughter to her. It started many years ago, with countless back and forth messages through a random connection on Facebook.

Eventually Jessica made the lone trip out this far, literally miles out of her comfort zone, and created a tsunami of impact where years later, people still call and ask about her in the village.

She is one but her impact is also huge.

The motivational talks she gave, the seeds she planted and the words of prophecy she spoke on leaving — I’ll be back, but this time I will try to bring more. And now here we all were. The Super Squad.

Listening to Mum speak, I felt immensely proud of my friend. Inspired by her heart, hustle and fire. And how deep and magnanimous that kindness is. I feel blessed to have such powerful leaders as my best friends.

The kind of people who open my eyes to new doors of what is normal and possible.

The scale of change that is possible when we are open to our real calling is world changing. More often that not, all it requires is a touch of kindness and a willingness to leap beyond the boundaries of what we know.

Jab, Jab, Jab. Knock Out

Mum lives with her husband and two grandchildren — Paul & Felicitous.

The day we arrived, it was Felicitous’ 12th birthday. So we schemed and plotted in secret to host a little birthday party for her later on.

Having only found out on arriving, Jessica got her some gifts from the local store: some little sweets, a purple necklace, and some bubbles. One of our squad, Hannah, had also very smartly packed some balloons (just in case!) in her bag.

We prepared and decorated the room before calling her in. And the delight and joy on her face was amazing. Expressions of happiness illuminated her face like she’d been blessed with the biggest jackpot life could bring. She looked around dazed by the colourful balloons littered everywhere, and stood motionless for a moment as we placed the gifts we’d bought her in her hands.

With Mikayla on DJ duties, we sang and danced together for a while, before eating another hearty meal — cooked with meticulous preparation and anticipation for us. Mum watching us pile rice & mung beans onto our plate as if she were eating herself, and encouraging us to have one, two, three plates.

It’s no wonder I put on 3 kilos during this trip. The food was too tasty to say no.

Have some more fruit, some more tea, some more water. And show and tell all that in Africa you were well looked after and fed. Tell them how the hospitality in here cannot be bought anywhere in the world. 
 
As our day drew to a close, and I sat bare feet, legs crossed on the stone concrete floor during our team meeting, no ceiling above and only a bed & sole lightbulb to fill the bare space… it hit me.

As we danced in a small living room, with only a few of those free marketing calendars we get in the UK but no one ever wants decorating the wall, a small TV with free channels and a very old settee & table, laughing in the moment, the sound of music pumping away and amazing people around me, it hit me again.

As mum and dad fretted and worried that the light in our small outside annex wasn’t working and promising repeatedly they would fix it tomorrow as soon as possible, the frown and concern evident on their faces, it hit me again.

It’s not about the things that fill your rooms. It’s about the people and hearts.

In every place and in any space in any part of the world, all it takes is the kindness and compassion for each other to fill even the coldest corners of doubt and fear in our hearts. 
 
For us to be and feel full, there is one profound measure to bask in the abundance of. And it is not found in the material.

Love.

Day 7:

Mama’s Matatus

After the world’s best sleep, a 1 mile run with Jessica, forgetting my towel during my 1-bucket-of-water shower, when the day started, I was rearing to go.

We began first with a visit to Mum’s school to see the library project she is in charge of. It costs just £0.60 for a lifetime membership. The library started in August this year and Mrs Kimani has been holding off on retirement to keep the project going.

Wow.

#Perspective.

Kids were queuing up outside when we arrived waiting to get some books. All of their eyes were wide with anticipation, their arms and feet fidgeting restlessly, as she slowly opened the gates. While they rushed inside to explore their next literary adventures, she told us more about the project and how she often needed to convince the parents to venture out and invest in the library with both time and money.

Because life is for so many here, a struggle of focusing on survival needs, not many people have seen the importance of education. Or had the time to simply bring their kids this far out.

For some people, even the cost of a bus ride here is too much.

Development is not about what you think people want. But finding the need and addressing that directly. On the walk back, we met more of the people she had helped.

This time, it was some orphans now running a small clothing shop in a corrugated iron structure erected at the side of the road for sustenance. Shirts, jeans and various types of clothes hung on a line on the inside. I crouched down as I entered to take a look, the room was dark inside and the ceiling low.

They now had a family of their own after Mrs Kimani had taught them how to start up a business, develop skills they could monetise and create a life of their own.

After lunch, we had some time to rest as we missed the graduation we were supposed to go to. We used this time to plan the next day — which would be focused on us delivering some workshops on leadership development as Mum had asked.

Mum does an incredible amount for a vast range of people in the village. Our thoughts centred around multiplying this ‘momma effect’.

How much more powerful could this all be if we could create more leaders just like her? Or tap into the already existing ones and help them collaborate more effectively?

Day 8

Victim or Owner?

Today was all about us giving back and sharing.

After a quick morning meeting to finalise our plans for the day, the young people of Baruk soon ambled into the small living room one by one. The time and pace of life is slower in Kenya, so we had to wait a little while for all ten to arrive. During our session with them, we helped them to think about deeper about leadership in themselves and their community.

What was a leader? What were the qualities of a good leader and a bad leader? What were the issues they saw in the community, what was causing them and how they could solve them?

Tears of Frustration

I’ve written before about the different mindsets people can have towards any situation and how it affects their lives. It was interesting to see some similarities here too in Kenya.

In the second workshop we ran, we worked with a group from the community who meet every Saturday to support each other in developing their business ventures. As I explored some of their challenges and problems, it became apparent that many have fallen prey to the same victim mindset I’ve had and many people in the UK have, of blaming external forces for things not changing: government, corruption, tribalism etc.

Don’t get me wrong. They are right.

Corruption, tribalism (favouring and discriminating people based on which tribe the belong to) are huge huge influences here and makes life tougher.

Even something as simple as getting a job interview can be made all the more difficult if you belong to the “wrong” tribe. To add to this, there’s a lack of jobs here, because there’s not much industry this far out in the village of Baruk (pop, 4000). As a result, many people with talent or ambition often choose to leave the village in search of the hustle and bustle of the city.

At the same time, we wanted to encourage responsibility and ownership over what they can do. Yes, the government is corrupt and there are no jobs. But this is a disempowering mode of thought. And which plays right into the hands of those who benefit from the status quo.

The quality of our lives often comes down to the quality of our thinking. And the quality of your thinking, largely is influenced by the kind of questions you choose to ask.

Turn “There are no jobs” as a repetitive thought pattern into “What could I do to earn more?” or “How could I create my own job? What are people willing to pay for?” and the change can be transformational.

I challenged and encouraged them to think in these terms. To move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

To stop thinking in terms of what they weren’t getting, but like Mrs. Kimani, in terms of what they could give.

Who they could serve.

And despite my reservations, it seemed to really have a profound impact on them. Mum told us later how us coming thousands of miles from a very distant culture and place, would have changed so many lives just by our presence alone.

Realising that they were powerful and could do something, that no matter what, they could still make a choice, was a concept not shared with them before.

Of course, you can only do so much in just an hour and a half with a group of people you are meeting for the first time but hearing her speak about it, it dawned on me that the change we were creating was not nothing like I was leaning to assume.

Change can happen in an instant if the conditions are aligned. Sometimes all it takes is a spark, the slightest movement, and a tidal wave is created from the ripples.

One of the ladies came to me at the end, tears bubbling at the brim of her eyelids, grateful for our help and blessing us repeatedly. There was a flicker of angst and frustration in her eyes at the difficulty of what lay ahead for her. With a child to look after and two hard earned qualifications already in hand, she was still struggling to find work.

A lump formed in my throat as I watched her look away in the distance, searching the skies for some kind of sign or answer.

“You’re doing the right things and are around the people who can and will help. Keep doing what you can”, I encouraged and motivated her, as best as I could. “Remember what you've already done and conquered. I know it’s not easy and it is going to take a lot of time and work. But you've come this far, which means you have all the skills and resources you need to keep creating more and going even further.”

I’ll be honest.

It’s tough to do things this way.

Spend three days living side by side with a community, getting to know an entire village, and hearing their stories. Very quickly I’d immersed myself in Mathare with the Beads of Hope guys, and now in Baruk with Mrs. Kimani. But already our time was up and we would have to move on to the next project.

In my noble silence meditation retreats, my meditation teacher taught me that everything is always changing and not to hold onto the present but accept whatever arises and passes before me with equanimity.

There are ups and downs. Growth and decay. Hello’s and Goodbye’s. Things come together only to break down again. And this cycle repeats itself over and over.

If you want liberation from this cycle of pain and joy, happiness and sadness. Learn to remain balanced to whatever manifests itself before. Let go of what was, don’t try to hold on to the past — it’s a dead memory. And equally let go, be open to whatever the future brings. You can’t control those things. But what you can control is how you choose to respond to whatever the present moment becomes.

This was the hardest place of all to try and practice that lesson.

And I’m still trying everyday.

After Sunday morning church service, tomorrow we will be heading out to the last project — The Brothers & Sisters Orphanage in Kisii.

It would be here that that lesson would take on a whole new level of meaning and difficulty.