I often wonder how Kenya has changed me…

.. it is almost an impossible question to answer. Now being back in England almost makes Kenya seem like it was all a dream. I remember speaking to a volunteer before leaving for Kenya and she explained to me “When I came back I was so confused, I remember sitting in the train station and crying” this is something that stuck out to me, as I remember thinking, wow I can never imagine that. Little over three months later I could fully relate, coming back to the UK felt surreal, like travelling to a different planet, I was confused, cold and I will never forget leaving the airport and breathing that crisp cold air, with no dust, god I miss that horrible dust.

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I think the most important lesson I learned is that Kenya did NOT change who I am, however it changed the way I perceive the environment around me. In the western culture the environment people are in effects their happiness where is in Kenya people seem to be more in touch with their human side, our western way of living teaches us to chase an impossible dream that is financial prosperity, we live in a society that guides us to consumerism, leading us to believe the more we consume the happier we shall be. Kenya is beginning to have this mind-set however it’s a few years away from being plagued with such capitalist, consumerist ways as we experience in the west. We often can still see sights that we would never see in the west, such as the smile of a child playing with a toy car made of plastic bottles, that for me is priceless.

I always believed that money is like a drug, the more you have, the more you want and it’s simply never enough. We are all victims of this drug. The drug that only benefits the rich and powerful, as the 1% will always control the masses. It’s a sad world we live in, however we all victims of it, I want to be rich. This leads to the question, “what does it mean to be rich?” this is a question that since I have been to Kenya I can’t answer, not that I could before, but it has become a much harder question to answer, one that I will probably die without being able to fully understand. Some people would argue being rich is not how much money you have in your bank account its something that comes from within, and that is probably true, however its easier said than done. Few are the people who understand how to be rich without having money, and I envy those people.

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One of the people who had the biggest impact was girl I met by chance; she was a Canadian girl younger than me, yet seamed to understand aspects of life much better than me. In a way I was always chasing the comfort of home in Kenya, I always looked for nice and expensive western places to eat, lets face it I have been eating burgers all my life, it’s what I am used to. This girl showed me a completely different side to life, she was adventurous and she showed me a more African way of doing things. Yes, she was born in Canada but she was so much more in touch with the world she was in, she didn’t care about money, didn’t care about her future, she was just living for the moment, crossing Africa by herself at the age of 21, with one mission, do everything cheaply, integrate with the people, have fun and end up in Australia sometime in 2015. She didn’t go to university, but you could tell that she more lessons in life than some people with PhDs. She was a true inspiration; I aspire to be as adventurous and as fearless as that. There is not a single day that goes past that I don’t think of her.

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My trip to Kenya gave me a new found confidence, however I fear that this confidence is already thinning away. Reality has hit me, I am back in England, it’s cold, raining and I am unemployed and an immigrant in a country of people who doesn’t like them. Thankfully I sound fully English now and I am not a victim of racism any more. Things here are the same, nothing has changed, leading me to often question if Kenya was all a dream. I thought I would find myself in Kenya, safe to say I haven’t. I am still young and confused. People say there are two most important moments in your life, the moment you are born and the moment you found out why. Well I still haven’t found out why, I just pray that one day I will. Well I wouldn’t say I pray as often I find myself more and more distant from God, well I can safely say I no longer believe there is one, in a way that’s comforting. I just simply don’t understand the inequality in the world. Something that crosses my mind often is a quote found in a Jewish concentration camp.

“Wenn es einen Gott gibt muß er mich um Verzeihung bitten.”

It means, “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.” I think it’s incredibly touching and sad, and something that crossed my mind often while I was there. Yes the kids were happy, they didn’t have much, but behind every single smile there was a family that often struggled to sustain themselves, I just wished I could help everyone. I felt hopeless.

God I miss how nice and warm the people there are. Often people associate Africa with poverty and misery. As I returned to England a friend of mine said to me “Is Africa as bad as people make it out to be?” It’s a question that made me angry, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. I knew my friend was asking me this out of pure ignorance so I couldn’t get angry. I guess the media teaches people to believe that Africa is poor therefore is bad, however they are richer in so many other ways, ways I don’t even fully understand myself.

I miss the adventure, the sense of danger. Here going around a supermarket and you realise there is no sense of adventure, almost makes me question if life is worth living in a place like this. An environment like Kenya made me thrive, I felt at home in a strange way, I don’t know if that’s because I was brought up in Brazil which sometimes can be a bit wild. I felt safer in Kenya than I ever did in Brazil. If someone told me to go to South Sudan tomorrow and work there I probably would, I am just thriving for more adventure, there is a huge void in my heart that only more travelling and adventure can fill, or maybe I am saying this because I am stupid. Life here is just too normal, there is nothing exciting happening, here things are always the same in equilibrium of nanny sate and health and safety laws.

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Most priceless moment in Kenya? Working alongside locals, I learned so much, some amazing people. It was great to see how people changed over the weeks in Kenya, some entrepreneurs learned a great deal and developed formidable skills that I am sure will help them in their future lives, some volunteers opened up and became more confident, others showed their true colours.

My only regret? Not staying in Kenya a kidogo longer. There was so much I wanted to do there still, so many projects I had in mind.

My aim for now is find a job or a placement in an NGO; I guess that will make my life a little bit more worth living in England. It will give me a sense of purpose for now.

Alan von Siegert
Balloon ICS volunteer, Nakuru, Sept-Dec 2014