We all have them…sometimes our perceptions are right and sometimes, well most of the time, they are not.
In March of this year we were finishing dinner after Mid South with friends. Upon standing up Mirna said “I think you need to come to Africa with me”. All we could say through the laughter was “Sit back down and tell us what that means.”
There is always a plan..we shouldn’t know the plan because we would badly screw it up. But I do believe that my trip to Africa was part of a plan that I did not know at the time. I believe that the plan all along was to change my view of myself and my surroundings as I went to Africa. To allow me to embrace the people and the place but in a very different mind set than I thought I would be in.
When we came home from Oklahoma I told my parents that I was going to Africa. Immediately my Mom said “I want to go!” It would turn out that this would be the last conversation that I would have face to face with Mom. My last accomplishment and adventure that she would know about on this Earth was this trip. It also turned out that she got to go to Africa and rode every mile with me. That was the plan all along…
Nick dropped me off at the Chicago O’Hare Airport with a very large bag and my bike. I was flying alone to Qatar and then on to Nairobi. The first flight was 14 hours long and second a short five hours. This was the last time I would see Western infrastructure until I was back home.
My perception going into the trip was that this would be an adventure of a lifetime and very hard physically. I knew that we would ride 5-6 hours per day and 40-70 miles per day. We had been warned prior to the trip that seeing the poverty would be the hardest part. My reality was very different.
I left the States with a badly broken heart. Mom was killed the beginning of April. Since she was the glue that held our family together we all were struggling to “keep our heads above water”. I also had found that the bike was my friend during those months but quit training regularly as that was just one more thing that I struggled to make happen on a daily basis. What I did not realize was that my heart was going to be healed in a land I had never been to before, and that when I came home I would do so with the singular goal of returning.
The group of 15 women spent 9 days on the trip from Nairobi to Mombassa. We rode 7 of those days through red dirt, barren land and lush tropical areas. We saw elephants, zebras and a variety of birds from the saddle of our bikes. I knew going into the adventure that this would happen.
What I did not realize was that the children would come running to the side of the road yelling “Jambo Jambo” which is hello is Swahili. Their smiles would go from ear to ear as they ran to meet us. There was not a time that we stopped that the children or adults were not there to greet us. We were the oddity in their land and they were genuinely happy that we were there.
I also did not realize how my lifestyle at home would be so vastly different than theirs. The second day as I was eating lunch I turned around and looked into the eyes of the Kenyans watching me. No one asked for food, no one said a word. I knew that they were truly hungry and truly thirsty. I knew that they had walked there on one of the hundreds of trails throughout the landscape, and would walk home. I also knew that I had luxuries at home that they did not even know existed. Suddenly the bread stuck to the roof of my mouth and my water became hard to drink. The transformation in my mind had begun.
I soon realized that we did not work all day to survive. I also realized that the running water in my home was something that women walked miles to get EVERY DAY because they had no other option. The woman in the image below filled this bucket out of a pond that I would not water my horse from, placed the bucket on her head, put her left shoe in her hand, and walked home. This is a trip she makes every day. The only time she touched the bucket was when she walked around our tents, which were clearly set on the path she was using.
With the exception of two nights on the route our toilets consisted of concrete with a hole to “do your duty” in. I have had LOTS of experience in the wild but never had a target before so this was a new experience, and not one I looked forward to. We had showers each night but with the exception of three nights that was a bucket suspended from a rod that we called our bucket baths. It felt amazing and I also realized that this was a luxury item.
As Americans I do not believe we understand the luxuries in our world. We don’t understand that we have roads with an infrastructure, postal system, running water, electricity, readily available food, heat for our homes and heat for our food. The very items we take for granted was the reason we were riding.
My trip to Africa was transforming for me, but the trip was not for me. The trip was a fundraiser for the Non Profit Zawadisha. We were raising money to help Zawadisha be able to fund micro loans for womens groups in Kenya. The same amount of money that buys me dinner one night in the States will allow a family to have a portable cook stove for their home. That is why we were there.
We spent time in the villages with the ladies from the Mangu group. For two days we got to know them, spend time and were treated like royalty. Heck, we even got to learn how to make baskets! During this time I saw pride in the womens eyes that we don’t always have here. They were proud of their homes, country and talents. Their strength was strong! Our group raised $26,000 for the women and I am PROUD of that fact!
I found peace in a place that I never dreamed I would find it. Spending days on end on your bike is good for the mind. It gives you time to think, time to process and time to do nothing more than just ride. Africa is in my heart and soul. I left with a very broken heart and came home with a heart overflowing with experience and emotion.
The plan is always there, the place has been there forever, my perception was totally off but at the end of the trip I found love and strength. Thank you Zawadisha and Kenya for that! The sign in the garden says Change Makers….we were the ones that were changed!