Two Worlds Become One
It is so good to be home again, but now we are all in the throes of trying to get our head and hearts in one place. I always tell those who join me to just try to take it all in, processing it all will come much later, long after you are home. Often when you visit 3rd world countries, the culture shock comes when you come back. My husband Rod explains it pretty well when he says that, "all of a sudden you are completely unplugged from your life as you've known it, and plugged into a world that is both uncomfortable and beautiful at the same time!"
The common frustration among us all is what to say when people ask, "How was your trip?" How does one put into words what it is like to go from everything easy and comfortable here, to harsh and uncomfortable in Africa? Harder still is explaining how relatively easy it is to go without running water, toilets, and electricity. Having to think about the last time you washed your hair is somehow liberating and having to think about the best method for peeing in a hole is pretty humorous? How do you explain to people here the joy and contentment the people of Maasailand have when from our Westernized perspective they have nothing to be happy about? How do you relate the plight of the 28 SafeHouse Girls to get an education, to our own kids who take theirs for granted? What do you say about the excess of food, water, and materialism we have, when now we know the names of those who are hungry, thirsty, and have never owned something new? When Shadrack asked me for a drink from my water bottle, his eyes were glued to mine as if to beg me not to ask him to stop. I didn't. I couldn't. He drank the entire bottle (of clean water I had the privilege of purchasing in town), hugged me, and then rushed off to play soccer with the other kids. I broke. How do you express the thrill of running with giraffes and the Kenyan Olympic runners who train near us every day, instead of against traffic or our relentless treadmills, or waking up to roosters instead of alarms, eating healthy food instead of our processed and toxic food, and going to bed when the sun goes down instead of when the stress of the nightly news is over. At Mama Sheila's home we spent time talking to one another and playing games in the evenings, instead of watching TV and forgetting the common courtesy of a meaningful conversation. How do you describe the unconditional love as the people showered us with jewelry knowing it is all they have, to those of us who hold tight to what we think is valuable? How do you reconcile the way we are trying to better their lives, with how they are teaching us all HOW to truly live our own! Maybe the answer lies more with demonstrating how Africa changed us, instead of words that often fail us. I hope we can figure out how to do that. Our African friends seem to know what most of us fight in vain for; balance and a simple appreciation for our daily needs being met.
The Shaffer/Ronesa Celebration Day was once again an unforgettable event. It started with the usual goat slaughtering ceremony and many of us were there to watch and learn about this important part of their society. We were "honored," at the length they went to show their appreciation for all the school supplies, uniforms, food, building of the newest classroom and office, as well as the many people who joined us this year. They had singers, dancers, musicians, and countless speeches all giving praise to joint efforts of the Ronesa/Colorado Communities. It is truly amazing to see how far the school has come in just 3 years. We started with 5 children in Mama Sheila's Chicken Coop. Today we have 5 classrooms, 5 teachers, and 91 beautiful, eager and smart students! They performed several dramas, poems, speeches, and even an unforgettable flag ceremony in front of all of us(visitors, chiefs, parents, and even a few dignitaries from the Department of Education).....in English no less! They also showered all 8 of us ( Molly/Brian, my sister Laura, our 4 daughters and myself) with blankets and jewelry in a humbling demonstration of their love and appreciation for not only us, but also our wonderful Shaffer Community at home in Colorado. I wish each and every one of you could be there to experience first-hand how grateful they are for your love and contributions. Each year we are amazed at what Ronesa has become and thankful to be sharing it with so many people from home. Nelson Mandela often says, "All things are impossible.....until it's done!" Pole', Pole' (which means slowly by slowly here...and they say it all the time) we are changing the lives of these young children, and hopefully giving them a brighter future. There is nothing more rewarding than investing in the life of another human being.
Teresia, our newest orphan/student at Ronesa Academy. Her parents are dead...Aids. Imagine if a third of the kids at our school were AIDS orphans. That's the reality in Africa where the parents of 13 million children have been killed by AIDS. While the stats are nowhere near that in this Maasai Community, it does happens. We left just before Teresia came, but like the other orphans, I know she is going to be instantly loved and cared for. Sisters Regina & Penninah,(parents also died of AIDS) were the first orphans we had. I met them in November when my friends from Colorado started the orphanage. They were somber, hungry, and showed little emotions. Today they are happy, well-fed, and while this is the first year Regina has been in school....she is number 1 in her class! Brothers Julius & Isaac joined the orphanage just a few months ago. Isaac who is only 4 did not want to leave his mother, but Julius (age 6) who is the stronger of the two told him that, "he must go with him to this place where we will have hope." They are wise beyond their years and thriving at Namayiana. Often we would find them a long distance from our home grazing cattle and just playing like boys! Our instinct was to grab them and safely bring them home, but they are Maasai first, and this means they belong to the land and KNOW their way around the bush. Anyway, my family and I had a lot of fun painting the gate that you see in the photo. Ok fine, I only contributed to painting the white pillars, but it WAS really hard!:>) Thankfully my sister Laura and our daughters have a lot of artistic talent and they each added something really special to the gate. My son Mitch drew a photo of what he pictured Ronesa to look like and it's the image we were trying to capture on the gate. His picture is now hanging in the new office that Vision Photography donated. We had a lot of Maasai gathering around each day watching the crazy Mzungus painting. It was a blast and some of our greatest memories come from those we met and laughed with while painting that darn gate!
The day we left, I was to meet Simon quickly to exchange photos and download pictures of the Bore Hole so that I could put it on this website. He didn't show up cause he had to attend to his goats/cows that were bothered by hyenas during the night. But, what happened while Ali and I were waiting at the Energy Center is so symbolic of what seems to happen every day in Maasailand....unexpected blessings. We were contemplating leaving cause our matatu was arriving soon to pick us up. Just as we were about to go, a very old man started to approach us. I nearly fell over because I had been looking for him for the entire month of June! I had been carrying a photo of him and I from the previous year when we gave him a goat and chickens. I quickly handed it to him, tried my best to explain the photo while he strained through his cataracts to make out the photo. As he turned the photo sideways, upside down, and then to the right of his eyes, he suddenly burst into laughter, giggling actually. He kept touching me, himself, and then the photo. Words were not needed to communicate this moment we were having. Then just as quickly as he came, he left. What Ali and I will never forget is hearing him burst into laughter every few seconds as he walked into the bush. Even after we couldn't see him anymore, we could still hear him. It was priceless! Then, if that wasn't enough, we noticed an old woman coming toward us, stooped over in Maasai fashion, carrying a heavy water jug on her head. We stopped to greet her and I quickly recognized that this too was a woman whom my own mother had given a goat/chickens to last November when I was there. I also had with me the photo of that day and handed it to her. Again, words were not needed and her joy and laughter at seeing a photo of herself will forever be etched in our hearts.
We were so happy that Simon hadn't shown up that day....otherwise we would've missed out on another incredible moment. Some would say it was a coincidence, and that's fine. I choose to call it a, "God thing." It makes me sad when I think about how much we all must miss out on because we are just too busy too SEE the people who God puts right in front of us, to HEAR the joy and laughter of simple pleasures as if God is trying to remind us of what is really important, and to FEEL the absolute satisfaction of knowing that you made someone else's life just a little bit better because you were aware. Doesn't that answer the universal question of, "What is my purpose in life?"
I love this quote from Bono, "There is a continent--Africa---being consumed by flames. I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for 3 things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did or did not do to put the fire out in Africa. History, like God, is watching what we do." So in closing, I guess that is what I am hoping for all of us that have been touched by Africa, directly or indirectly; that we LISTEN closer to the people around us, that we SEE the needs of those in our local and global communities, and that we take the time to LOOK for opportunities to bless another's life....whether in Africa or your own backyard. To the World you might be just one person; BUT to One person you might be the world!
As our African friends say, instead of goodbye...Be Blessed!