Tuesday Talk: Journeys, and the East Africa Connection

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In the past two days I have thought a lot about journeys. A journey is the act of getting someplace physically, emotionally, spiritually, and so on.  It’s the things you see along the way and the detours you take. It’s also things learned and people met.

Do you have any clearly traceable journeys in your past? Things that you can look back on, and see every step that led you there? Things that kind of make no sense, but happened anyways, all in a perfect and obvious string of events?

For me, this is a connection to East Africa that is going on 6 years now.

It may not seem so to you, but to me it’s super weird. It’s one of those things that makes me believe in the plan of the universe and larger forces that be. Truly.

Here’s what has happened:

In 2007 I went in to journalism school. Although I never wanted to get into newspaper journalism, through a class I was introduced to the editor of the Greeley Tribune newspaper. I later wrote a sample profile article about him for class. After reading this, he told me to get in touch whenever I was ready to do an internship.

In 2009, I was interning at the Greeley Tribune newspaper and sat down with Mark Hagen to write about him, his wife, his partner organizations and a Girl’s Rescue Center that they are building in Kenya. He said I should come to Kenya with them sometime.

I said ‘Sure!’…even though I never wanted to go to Africa and thought it was scary. I thought maybe I would go in two years, after graduation.

A month later he called me with an offer: to accompany him and his wife, plus a PhD student doing research, and one other to Kenya in 5 months.

In April 2010, I got a plane to Kenya-with literally $30 in my bank account-after raising money, getting help, and spending lots of my own. My fellow traveller, Phyllis, paid for an unexpected baggage fee of $50 because I didn’t have enough money…don’t worry, the rest of the trip had been prepaid and went splendidly 🙂

I spent two weeks in Kenya and wrote 3 stories about the Center when I got back.

But what really shook me was three sisters that I met there. All three had incredible stories and had faced early marriage and circumcision. I knew immediately that I wanted to go back, and spent a lot of time researching these tough issues and trying to save money to go back.

In September of 2010, my best friend left for the Peace Corps. I had told her from the start that I would go visit her wherever she ended up. She ended up in Tanzania!

In April of 2012, Alex and I went back to Kenya for a month; I spent a good amount of time interviewing women and girls at the Center and one other women’s village, and we spent the rest of our time gallivanting and carrying out a DIY Safari. After Kenya, we went to Tanzania for about a month and spent 2 weeks at our friend’s Peace Corps site. During this time I realized that I  could see myself doing Peace Corps…but knew we’d have to be married to go together.

Two days before coming home, Alex proposed!

Next, we moved to Grand County, Colorado. I jumped into writing my first book, In the Place of Many Zebras,  a narrative nonfiction project about the girls in Kenya. We also got to work planning our wedding.

In October 2013 we got married!…and almost immediately started researching options for married couples to teach abroad.

On March 1, 2014 we applied for the Peace Corps. On March 25 I published the book!

Right before leaving for a trip to Ecuador last summer, we got nominated to go to Peace Corps Malawi in June 2015.

I thought to myself ‘First trip to East Africa: two weeks. Second: two months. Third: two years….what is it about that area of the world?!’

Then, in Ecuador I learned some Spanish. We thought that Peace Corps might switch us to a Spanish -speaking country since we both now had Spanish experience. But secretly, I really wanted the opportunity to go back to Africa. I felt, and feel, an incredibly strong ‘tug’ and kind of a painful ‘want’ to go back there.

In January, Peace Corps contacted us saying because of both of our ‘Spanish backgrounds’ and other experiences, Peace Corps Mozambique would be a good-fit program for us. That program needs Spanish speakers…because we have to learn Portuguese. That makes perfect sense right?….Send some Spanish speakers to Africa instead of somewhere Spanish-Speaking.

Fine by me 🙂

But…I had to pass a Spanish test first! So I did that.

And finally, we received our invitations to Mozambique for this September! Yay!

Maybe this isn’t as weird to you as it is to me, but for someone who thought she’d never go to Africa, it’s strange to feel a constant tug to go back, and to have things work out in a way that keeps allowing me to go back! I look back on all that I have learned from my past two trips to East Africa, and I can’t wait to see what this new country has to teach us.

Here’s to journeying! 🙂

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan "little sister."

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan “little sister.”

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