Thursday, December 17, 2009

Our Kenyan Visitor Heads Back Home - Being Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Marta left for the airport early this morning. We all truly enjoyed her two-week visit here. Not only did we learn a lot about Kenya and an African's perspective, we learned a lot about ourselves in the process.

Marta was here with Critical Mass Leadership Education, who partners with the U.S. State Department Youth Leadership Program. There were 20 students here between the ages of 15-18 with four school administrators from Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Nigeria. The students were identified as future leaders in their country and the program helped them develop the skills, connections, and inspiration to initiate big projects in their home countries that have a profound impact on their communities.

Last night we attended a ceremony and presentation from the students and the teachers who attended, as well as the leaders who run the program. It was so moving to our family to be a part of the program and the presentation. There were many young African women who found their voice in the program and spoke publicly, with confidence for the first time to a standing ovation. There were some plucky, confident, earnest boys who proclaimed themselves to be their country's future presidents. I was so impressed with the level of maturity, caring, and commitment of the students. The teachers who attended more as chaperones learned as much as their students did and were so deeply committed to transforming this opportunity into responsibility for their community once they returned.

I understand that every guest and host family had a very positive experience and exchange. There was so much gratitude for the hosts who housed, fed and drove the visitors and made them as comfortable as possible. But, the hosts benefitted almost as much from our participation. There was a lot of laughter and sharing and learning for everyone and the younger people definitely broke the ice and made that learning and sharing easier. For example, the first morning I picked up our regular crew of participants in my neighborhood (we families shared the driving responsibilities) they were wide-eyed, polite, and quiet. On the first morning my passengers, who included Marta, our Christian, Kenyan, female teacher; Sengasu, a Muslim, Tanzanian, male teacher; and Ayla, a South African female student silently looked out onto a frozen, foreign, city landscape full of the discomfort of the unknown on the way to their classes. My normally shy four year old son, Jude, dressed in jeans with the underwear on the outside (Superman style), a blanket duct-taped around his neck for a cape, and shoes (always) on the wrong feet, uncharacteristically busted out singing loudly, "Don'tcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me". Everyone laughed and fell in love with him and all became friends right then. Jude struck up quite a friendship with Sengasu and at the ceremony on the last day, he presented him with a picture he drew.

At the presentation, one of the speeches that struck me the most was one that said that being comfortable with being uncomfortable is the key to growing and learning. Everyone who came here endured the scariness of the unknown, and the hardships of the unfamiliar, like the cold, the food, the customs....) sharing intimacy with people they did not know (yet). Even the host families had to contend with the first awkward moments of polite quiet and the challenges of having a stranger living in their homes. But as the speaker so eloquently pointed out, it is through enduring those difficult times that the best of us comes out and emerges far better than before. Knowing the payoff, it helps to be comfortable with the uncomfortable in nearly any situation in life. It was a great living lesson for us all.

1 comment:

  1. Having been involved with a nonprofit for decades - one that truly "does good" - i have often been surprised by the fact that I gain at least as much as those we "serve", and generally more. I believe my surprise comes because we're trained in this country to think that somehow the recipient is the lucky one ... that we (successful Americans that we are) are somehow better than they. That's sad, because it deprives us of the most valuable experience of all.

    On the subject of comfort - Dawn Mehan, a woman who teaches African dance with our agency, recently wrote a post on our blog at about that. It's called "What doesn't kill us can make us creative" and I think she gives a good perspective.

    As always, Tracy, i enjoy the self-exploration so evident in your posts, and your willingness to continue to grow!