Monday, July 13, 2009

Muzungu, How Are You?

Everywhere Steve and I go, children yell at us: “Muzungu! How are you?” Most of them are just learning to speak English in school so they just greet us, even if we are driving by them, they shout it. It’s a very strange phenomenon to me. I’m treated like a celebrity. Kids come up to me and want to shake my hand and talk to me and they just stare. Or ask us to take their picture. There’s one family who lives on the way from Clarice’s house to the highway who is building a house. The kids there come running every time we drive by just to wave to us. And it’s consistent wherever we go. They are fascinated by us. They see us come in the car and I don’t really know what their connotation of Westerners is. I know that most of them have probably never been in a car except maybe a matatu. And I find myself struggling to make sense of the situation. I’ve been to many places and experienced so much of the outside world that they do not even dream of. To take one of these children to the U.S. would be such a shock to them that I could never understand. It’s not that people are close-minded. In fact, they are friendly and open. They rarely go into Kisumu, which to me is a very small city, and they don’t have access to the internet or knowledge about the outside world the way I do. And it’s not that I’ve seen it all or that I’m smarter than them, it’s that I have had opportunities that they have not. I hope that my work this summer will facilitate providing opportunities to those who are willing to work hard. And I want to teach people to stop waiting around for someone to come help them and to start helping themselves.

We stopped by the market across the street from Maseno and I was talking to this really cute little girl named Diana, who came over to check me out. Her mother or the woman who was watching her was helping her talk to me because she was only 2 ½. I just love little kids. She was absolutely adorable. The hard thing is seeing kids everywhere who are malnourished. It really breaks my heart. At the same time, though, I don’t want to be sympathetic. I want to learn how to be empathetic, to listen and put myself in the position of the people I am trying to help. I don’t want to fall into the trap of wanting to give money and gifts to people, the way that many aid organizations have in the past. I want to understand how to motivate people to help themselves by getting to know them better.

A lot of what Clarice has taught me is the importance of building relationships when trying to accomplish things in Kenya. She is able to get access to all of the things that she needs because of the relationships that she has. Taking the time not just to listen but to actually hear someone is important. You must build trust. Then, you can get someone to accept your help. The fact that Clarice is African and Luo is really helping the pilot move along faster because she can relate to the people we are working so much more easily than I can. She opens up a lot of doors for her organization and can progress in a way that most NGOs and nonprofits cannot. She just has a way with people, and I hope that I can bring some of that talent into my own life in the future. As I’ve said to Clarice repeatedly, I learn so much here every day that it’s overwhelming. Just seeing things puts a lot of what I have read into perspective. I think after the last two weeks, I am in a better position to help Clarice with her organization and to do design projects for ACESS in the future.

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