As I prepare to leave Kenya for whatever comes next, I’m reflecting on the experiences, how a place and it’s people change you forever so you can never quite return to who you were. I still have much to learn in the coming months as I conclude my time in Kenya and road trip across Southern Africa, but I think it’s important to reflect in writing so I don’t forget the life-lessons I’ve gained.
Questioning what I actually accomplished during my time in Africa is a constant temptation. I originally came as an intern for The Paradigm Project, doing field research and report writing across East Africa. After mutually agreeing in early 2012 that my job description did not fit my desired work experience, I started my own company, Safi Solutions Africa, to import water filtration products I had researched in Korea. Affirm Kenya, the company I now work for, agreed to buy a certain amount of the filters and I imported the products while beginning to work for them. That’s the basic outline of my time in Kenya. Thousands of other things happened along the way: I dealt with the daily grind of Nairobi traffic. Every day beggars asked me for money. I learned to speak Swahili by talking to my apartment guards. I played volleyball on Tuesdays. I went to people’s houses and drank tea. I learned to debate Kenyan politics. I ate mangoes and avocados and learned to be content with beans and rice. I nearly ran out of money. I appreciated the value of a full stomach. I worried about my shipment. Basically life became normal like it does anywhere. And now I’m to the point where going back to the States is more of an unknown than staying here.
I only question the usefulness of my time in Kenya because I would not consider it wildly successful by any stretch of the imagination. I’m abandoning a tiny company that will just barely turn a profit, assuming all goes well. I have two short job experiences on my resume and I’m still not entirely sure what I accomplished at either. Financially speaking, I could easily allow myself to believe that my time was wasted.
Yet I firmly believe that life is about the journey, not the destination. I read Donald Miller’s book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” in a single day this week and it came at the perfect time. Miller talks about creating better stories with our lives, stories that have meaning and significance beyond ourselves. He says, “If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation… in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just a condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. ”
If he’s right, Kenya has been a positive pressure-cooker for transformation in my life, challenging me beyond my comfort zones and forcing me to think of solutions, not problems. Under this definition of success, my time has been amazingly successful and I can look back at the experience, not with mixed emotions because I failed to make money, but with a sense that I have accomplished something, that I have risked everything in a way that many people would only dream of doing and I have gained an experience that will enrich the rest of my life. God is good, and no matter how much I doubt His plans He keeps sucking me into them and showing me that He has what’s best in store for me.