Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On my way to work

On my drive in this morning, I left the radio off (though it was top-of-the-hour and I could have listened to debt-ceiling news to my heart's content). I didn't even turn on my iPod. Mostly because I was too sleepy to care, but probably also because it's a beautiful summer morning out there and I wanted to soak in every detail.

I drove under a windowed walkway that spans the highway, and noticed a floor polisher at work. It was probably a college student, riding one of those huge indoor tractors that shines the tiles while you ride along... the poor driver was leaning forward, elbow resting on the steering wheel, clearly bored out of his mind. Made me wonder - how often do we automate ourselves into boredom? Mind you, I'm grateful to drive to work rather than walk, but how much of my daily routine would be at least more interesting if I didn't have a gadget to do it for me?

This scene was followed closely by one of automated disaster - the smell of burning toast filled my car as I drove past a series of coffeeshops and restaurants. The conflagration must have been a significant one, spreading as it did across the four lanes of traffic. The smell brought back memories of a fireworks shop in eastern Kansas. We walked into a warehouse bursting at the seams with explosives, and were overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette smoke! With a wry grin, my husband asked the saleswoman about it - after some verbal fumbling, she explained that she had just burned her toast. Right.

About the time the smell worked its way out of my car, I passed my favorite part of the drive - a spectacularly landscaped lawn. Fountains, waterfalls, beautiful plants - every bit as beautiful as our local botanic gardens. And it's simply the entrance to an office building. These folks take corporate responsibility to a whole new level... not only are they caring for their land, they're making it beautiful for all who pass by. I, for one, am grateful to them every morning.

And now I've made it to work, so glad I left the radio off.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


No sooner have I boarded the plane, than the intense experiences of my African visit begin to fade into a surreal blur. Did I truly watch wildebeest and zebra leaping over each other to cross the Talik River? Was that me smiling over a cup of tea on the front porch of my “tent”? Did our family really meet and share chai with our dear friends in Karai?

Africa can be an overwhelming place, at best. Beginning our stay in Rwanda was undoubtedly a good way to ease into it – the country has been affectionately referred to as “Africa light.” Long chats with Mom & Dad, home-cooked meals, new friends, watching sunsets from the veranda with gin & tonics in hand… Mosquito nets, ostensibly to ward off malaria-ridden insects, in actuality added a romantic flair to a very comfortable landing on the “Dark Continent.” I rested well, and enjoyed forays to local markets, walks in the neighborhood, and an afternoon on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Having gotten our “Africa legs,” and largely recovered from jetlag, our family ventured on to Kenya. Nairobi was all I’d expected it to be—and while traffic jams may have been a nuisance, even an hour parked in the middle of a Nairobi street has its charm. Rush hour in the city, however, doesn’t hold a candle to rush hour in Masai Mara. We flew into our camp in time for a casual lunch, followed by the game drive of a lifetime. Elephants, giraffes, water bucks and buffalo, leopards, cheetahs, and a pride of lions feasting on their prey—all in the course of three hours! It was nearly more than a mind could hold. The remarkable thing was that we had two more days to soak it all in. We criss-crossed the plains, traversed muddy streams, and waited patiently to watch the Great Migration actually begin to migrate. The kids and I found ourselves snatching naps between ostrich viewings and rhino hunts… was it the African sun, or perhaps the sheer excitement of the time, that made us so sleepy?

Our guides were delighted that Mom spoke Swahili, and made it a point to teach all of us as much as they could. At the end of each full day of exploring and soaking in the beauty, perhaps our favorite phrase was, “Lala salama.” (Sleep well) And sleep well we did. Our “tents” were more like luxurious canvas-roofed apartments, the meals were fantastic; waterbottles at night and hot tea with our wake-up call topped off a spectacular stay.

And then again, we shifted gears. In a small town on the floor of the Rift Valley, we at last met the friends who have so enriched our lives over the last several years. We shared meals and chai with the administrators of the CRCA (the African partners of Kenya Matters), took walks and played games with the children who live there. We were profoundly encouraged by the great work going on in Karai, and by the godly enthusiasm of those who’ve given their lives to care for orphans (and by extension, many widows as well.) We were simply delighted by our time with the children, who welcomed us and shared their joy lavishly. Their dancing and singing are perhaps some of the most beautiful sights and sounds I’ve ever enjoyed.

This time, too, however, came to an end, and we headed back to Kigali for one last day, and our farewells to family, friends, and then, the continent. One final breakfast on the veranda, animated conversations with friends new and old, one last gin & tonic as the sun set over one of Rwanda’s 1000 hills.

Perhaps it’s no wonder this all blurs in my consciousness. The variety, the beauty, the intensity likely overwhelm my ability to sort it all. At one point in the trip, Kurt and I laughed at Africa’s defiance of any attempt at a “unified theory.” Instead of trying to sort it all as it happened, I simply tried to absorb it. I watched the lightning flicker across the Rwandan sky and wondered at the beauty of the spectacle. I stood in the back of the Land Rover as the Kenyan sun beat down and the breeze blew in my face, and drank in the immensity of the landscape. I laughed with my family and friends, treasuring each moment in their midst. I walked with orphans, listened to the birds with them, warmed my hands on a cup of chai they selflessly shared with me.

I know this all happened, I am sure I was there—but not by the clarity of my memories. Instead, I know it because I am changed. Not perhaps in a way I can clearly articulate, but more by a general sense of expansion – as if the vastness of the landscape and the warm hearts of the people have somehow left their mark.