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.