Imagine yourself flying in an airplane over the world’s largest sandbox: the Sahara Desert. That is what I did this past spring while I was on my way to Kenya. I went on a two-week mission trip to the Homa Bay Catholic Diocese which is located not far from Lake Victoria. One week of my time was spent in a small town called Rapogi, and while there I heard the words “karibu sana” everywhere I went: you are most welcome. And I did feel welcome, so welcome to the point where it felt like home. I was extremely nervous being only eighteen and traveling across the globe without my parents, but I felt God’s blessings throughout the entire trip and never got homesick.
The purpose of this trip was to continue building relationships with the people in the Homa Bay Diocese, sister to the Saint Cloud Diocese, which I belong to. I was in Rapogi with only one other American, my forty-something year old partner Mary Jo. We stayed at Saint Theresa’s Convent and a typical day for us consisted of visiting schools, hospitals, parish outstations, sharing mass with the people, and participating in small Christian communities. It seemed like everywhere we went we were given sodas, tea, biscuits, and mandazis (similar to doughnuts without frosting). As much as Mary Jo and I insisted that we did not need to be fed, the people would not hear of it. They wanted to treat us with the best that they had, and to refuse their gifts would be ultimately insulting. It was hard for us to accept the fact that we were in a country that had just announced a food crisis, yet we were being overfed. This speaks volumes about Kenyan hospitality.
My perception of time was one thing that changed throughout this trip. In America it seems like our lives depend on and revolve around time. I am not saying this is a bad thing as schedules are necessary to keep order and make life run smoothly. In Kenya we experienced what they call “African Time.” If mass is set to start at 10 A.M., it is perfectly fine if it starts at 10:45 and lasts for three hours. We experienced a slower-paced life in Kenya. While we observed noticeable differences in the perception of time, it occurred to me that really, we are on God’s time. So whether we live in a time-obsessed culture or in one that views time in a more easy-going manner, we must give thanks to God everyday for the time that we in fact do have.
Many people in Kenya saw the color of our skin and immediately assumed that we were wealthy. Some people did not believe that there are poor people living in the U.S. They thought, no way – every person in the U.S. is rich. The truth is there are many poor people all over the world: poor in a financial sense and poor in a spiritual sense. What the Kenyan people lack in finance they make up for one thousand times over in spirit. Another thing I learned from this trip is that material wealth is not necessary for happiness but rather, happiness comes from cherishing time spent with those around us.
I would go back to Rapogi in a heartbeat. The Kenyans have transformed my mindset completely and have given me a new perspective of the world. I would recommend to anyone who wants to experience life in a spirited, appreciative, welcoming culture: go to Kenya! You will have a truly amazing and eye-opening experience.
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