Lessons from Shimoni: Part Two

My grandpa is the one who really got me thinking about what exactly it is that I brought home with me from Kenya. I was explaining to a friend the other day the changes you might make after having an experience like this. She has always wanted to do something similar, but fears she would feel pressured to make huge alterations to her life when she returned. So her question was “what do you change after experiencing all of that?!” It’s a legit question. What do you change after you realize that every single facet of your daily life is a privilege. I finally found the words I’d been looking for and explained to her “it’s not about how it changes the way you do things. It’s about the way it changes who you are”.  So here is one way that I hope Kenya has changed who I am.

When I was young I was terrified of most things. I’ve always had what I describe as an anti-need for speed. I’m completely happy keeping both feet on the ground, moving at no more than a moderate pace. I worry about everything. It must drive my loved ones mental to listen to all the things that concern me on a daily basis. In my best state it’s something to laugh about. Someone is 15 min late and I’m convinced their car broke down or they need some kind of assistance. At my worst moments, it consumes me. I can’t turn my mind off and I start worrying about everything that could ever possibly happen to anybody in all of history.

You can see how how this type of worrying would interfere with a small child being the way small children should be. I can vividly remember the day that the thought popped into my fascinated 7 yr old mind, that the very decision to eat broccoli or not eat broccoli with dinner could determine whether I lived or died. It sounds hilarious now! But at the time I was fixated on the small decisions we make in our every day lives and the effects they could have on everything we know and love.

When I was trying to learn to roller skate my incessant worrying became debilitating to the effort. I couldn’t stop fixating on the possibility that someone was going to crash into me. I would do this awkward slide my feet forward while twirling my head from side to side attempt at skating. Finally my mother came out and skated with me. She asked me why I couldn’t just look forward, and I confided in her my fear of what could happen. My mother said these words, which stuck with me to this very day, although I’ve never been exactly sure why.

“Just watch out for the people in front of you. The people behind you will do the same”.

At certain times in my life I’ve echoed those words over and over in my head, almost as a soothing mantra. Especially during times when I’m in new situations and feeling overwhelmed. It became incredibly helpful at first when I was learning how to drive, until my instructor broke the news to me that at some point I actually WAS going to have to worry about people behind me. Although I think his wording was more like “Hey Megan, they’re called rear view mirrors. Give them a try,will ya?”.

When I was in Kenya there were several instances where I had to close my eyes and chant this phrase over and over. Certainly when I rode in matatus. Also, when we spent a day snorkeling out on the ocean. It was a choppy day and we’d had a mix up earlier with the locals. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I was starting to let the anxiety gnaw away at my excitement.  I thought of my mother’s words of wisdom, and it struck me as a little strange. I’d never thought about them in this context before. I wasn’t physically moving and having to entrust the others following me. I was on a rickety boat in the middle of the ocean with guides who barely spoke my native language in a place 2500 miles away from anyone who knows me. It was a much more internal journey, and a whole new level of trust I was looking for. I needed to realize that although there was no liability waiver, no life jackets, no counting of people on the boat, no announcement of when we should get out of the water, no slight recognition of the safety precautions I was used to, they were looking out for me. In a system that works for them, and in the best way they know how.

It struck me as an incredible a-ha at the moment. That something so basic could help me finally put some of my worry behind me. That all we really need to do is watch out for the people in front of us. Everyone that crosses our path is in our peripheral of responsibility and we really do have to trust those who are behind us. Thinking back on the last year of my life, the people who have been behind me have had a much clearer view of my route. Not only could they see where I’m going, but also they have  an easier viewpoint of where I’ve already been. They told me things were going to be ok when I couldn’t believe those words to be true. They knew because they could see what I couldn’t.

And sometimes we have to change  the route we take to bring new people into our view. The ways in which you can watch out for people might not be as valuable if you stay in the same place. My skills at drawing Albatrosses and knowing the tune of True Colors are completely taken for granted in the States, but greatly appreciated in Kenya 🙂 It wasn’t about me helping those in Shimoni, or even about them helping me out. It was just taking care of the people in front of us. Those that come into view at different times in our life.

Thank you to everyone behind me during these last few years. Thank you for seeing where I was going, as well as where I’ve been and looking out for me. Thank you for knowing that this was something that I should do. Thank you for helping me change my view.

3 comments

  • Being a parent is an amazing process. Who would guess that a conversation I don’t even remember would actually have an impact on you! And I quess I never really thought of you as obsessively worried about stuff, you are so able to look like you know what you are doing and to project confidence that I always assume you really are doing just fine, thank you. That is a gift. But I love you immensely whether you are looking out for the people in front or worried to death, and I always know you are going to come out of any situation in a better place than you started. You are always going to be better than fine. Love, Mom

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    • Well shit, I wish Mom had told me the same thing. To this day I can’t roller skate if there’s anyone else within like 50 feet of me! LOL

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  • Finally read your Africa blogs, loved them! Glad you got to experience this journey.

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