Stories of Kenya: part 1
Welcome! I'm so glad you are here to read about my adventures in the Masai Mara and work with Africa Mission Services as a volunteer/missionary. I am writing about what my journey was like and what it was like to spend six months in Kenya: working at a birth center and with the Masai Mara people. It was a life-changing experience that I will never forget and can't wait to share with you.
It was all super exciting in the beginning and it was beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful everywhere you looked. I was living in the place where tourists payed thousands of dollars to go on safari's. I was living in the land with one of the world's most interesting and indigenous people: the Masai. I couldn't believe I had scored such an amazing opportunity to learn about births while experiencing the heart and raw beauty of Kenya. I wished I could carry a camera or videotape around everywhere to describe the beauty to the people back home.
I quickly realized that I had done something a little bit crazy. Here I was in the middle of the Mara- hours away from the civilization of Africa- and a couple plane tickets away from my family back home. I was living among a people I hadn't heard much about before, a group who lived in mud houses, and didn't have electricity. Instead, they walked on foot or used motorcycles as primary methods of transportation.
I continued to feel shocked as I learned more about the Masai culture and the strong gender roles and expectations. I didn't realize how prevalent female genital mutilation was in the community and how widely accepted polygamy was. I hadn't realized how much value the Masai community put in animals and cows and how much there work was as a herder. I was taken back by the poverty and the difficult living conditions which then resulted in difficult and rough health care situations. I was naive and unprepared, yet I was willing and eager to learn and adjust to challenges. I was excited to make friends with the locals and meet new people. Everyone was so warm and friendly. Everyone wanted to be my friend, especially the men.
One thing that was a big surprise for me was the language barrier. I had never wanted to volunteer somewhere that didn't primarily speak English because I knew how difficult it would be to make deep connections. I didn't know that most people in the Masai would speak either Swahili and Ma-a (a local dialect) or even just Ma-a. The few people who could speak English were men around the ages of 18-35: this was the population that was more privileged to go to both primary and secondary school. Females in the Masai didn't have the opportunity to attend secondary school so their English was much more basic.
Cultural barriers and differences were strong. Not only could I barely communicate with the people around me, I could hardly understand the basic ways of life where women walked miles to get water on their heads, how strength and bravery was key to survival, and why people almost never ever cried. I began to feel a little overwhelmed and realized my expectations were far different than the reality in front of me.
I quickly made friends with many Masai people. They would teach me how to cook like them, how to braid and bead like them, how to wear their babies like them. They were friendly and generous, despite extreme levels of poverty, but nothing like my friends back home. I quickly begin to miss people and friends' back home and wished I had not gone into the mission field alone.
I spent the first two months while I was in Kenya living in a tent at Mara West camp. I would commute from the camp to the clinic every day by motorcyle to learn about births and deliveries, provide immunizations to children, and help in the clinic however I could. Although I enjoyed learning about labor and delivery, and I already had worked as a nurse for a year in the United States, I still found working at the clinic in Africa very different.