I believe that there are many different types of travel in the world.
There is the travel that calms you. When I think of this specific type of travel, I think of tropical beaches far away on a remote island where the breeze is warm and the water is clear.
The next type of travel is the type that excites you. Where you’re forced to be independent during the hustle and bustle of a crazy city so that you don’t end up lost. Exciting travel is where you don’t speak the language. When you’re constantly struggling to understand directions or hold a conversation with a local all while laughing hysterically and nodding your head throughout the confusion.
The moments that make you realize that the only thing separating you from the woman you see in the slums is luck. The experiences that sprinkle you with little reminders of how precious life is. The children you meet that give you a new-found appreciation for vulnerability and love. This is the type of travel everyone should experience.
It was 9:10 pm in Nairobi, Kenya when I landed after being on a plane on and off for the last twenty-four hours. I was anxious yet comforted, finally back in Africa after a year of being away. There is something about Kenya that illuminates a beauty that is hard to experience anywhere else. Even now, I find myself reminiscing about daily routines that I took part in while I was in Kenya.
I imagine myself taking a motorbike from the house to Junction Mall where I’d then hop on a matatu (big taxi bus) for ten minutes as I headed towards Riruta Satellite. This was where Mary Faith Child and Rescue Center was located. No matter how many times I’ve taken this route, my heart always skips a beat when its time for me to get off at my stop. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is for two reasons. 1) I’m automatically the center of attention because I’m by myself, have red hair, and am the whitest person a local has probably ever seen- literally and 2) I have so much happiness built up inside knowing that I’ll get to spend the entire day with my favorite kids that this world has to offer.
Even thinking of a routinely task such as this, a commute that I often dreaded at first, causes great happiness in my heart. My hands get sweaty. My heart races. My mind thinks about what activities the girls and I would do that day. I am happy in this moment- and for every moment up until the time I close my eyes to go to sleep for the night. This daily activity truly became an experience that I looked forward to each day. I felt reassured in the fact that I would soon be back with the girls at Mary Faith and we could pick up where we left off the day before when it was time for me to leave.
There is no way to easily describe the way your heart and spirit transfix when you’re put in scenarios you’ve never prepared yourself for. I learned great things, like how someone can be happy with nothing. I learned the reality of the world, the violence and the destruction. I learned that my heart has been forever cultivated by the people I have formed relationships with overseas.
The biggest thing I took away from my traveling experiences was learning to listen to understand and not to listen to respond. The best way to show someone you care about them is by listening to them. Letting them speak. Hearing their voice. Learning to listen to people more also helped me learn to appreciate relationships more. Whether it was with a taxi driver I had just met or a child at the orphanage I worked in- talking with them, building a relationship with them (even if it was short term), and letting them know how much they were loved and appreciated truly amazed me. It is so beautiful to watch peoples eye light up and their hearts flourish because of the joy they feel when they are acknowledged.
One of the most memorable experiences I had when I was in Kenya was when I met Salma for the first time. Little did I know that this 6 year old little girl would become my sponsor child. There will never be enough words for me to describe the impact she has had on my life and the passion and desires she has placed on my heart. It was Christmas Day, I remember it so clearly. She was wearing a faded green dress and gleamed with joy. She was so happy. She had this light about her. An aura that burst from the seams of her being- gracing us all with her profound spirit and playful heart. Within ten minutes of being at Mary Faith Orphanage and just interacting with her my heart felt heavy. I watched her play from a distance as I spoke with the head of the orphanage.
Later that day Salma had asked me if I was coming back. I told her no since I had only intended on going to Mary Faith for just that day. This was a crucial moment during my trip, something that I vividly remember and will never forget. Her eyes changed. Those big chocolate brown eyes that held such a sparkle in them instantly became filled with sadness. She grabbed her face and ran away. I followed her as she ran into the kitchen (which wasn’t much of a kitchen) and saw her sitting on the floor crying. I went over towards her and sat down. I picked her up and placed her in my lap as we cried together. I told myself, “Nicole you cannot leave her.” After a massive amount of snot and tears (gross, I know) we had agreed that I would start coming back each day until I left for Uganda (and even then, not knowing that the distance would be unbearable, that I would end up flying back for a week).
This moment paved the way for my one way ticket back to Kenya.