Nyakach Plateau, Kenya
Date: May 2011 (#1 in my series of Kenya blogs)
What do you think is beautiful?
I think a lot of things are beautiful. Simple, evening gown dresses; well-written stories; meaningful quotes; a well-designed bedroom; an attractive outfit; a couple in love; a strong, rare friendship; the high of accomplishments; mountains and plateaus and waterfalls. These are all beautiful things to me.
But beauty is really in the eye of the beholder, is it not? Even though many would agree with me about the above things being beautiful, we would disagree about the degree or kind of beauty. A quote that is touching to me may mean nothing to the next person. And that is how perception of beauty works as well. Yes, I know this is a cliché, but I think many of us forget something very important. Clichés are only made into clichés because they are over-used, and why are they over-used? Because they are true to an extent. Too many of us nowadays scoff and push aside clichés when we hear them because they appear mundane. We forget the real quality behind them.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”
Let me explore that one.
I’m a girl that prefers the scene of nature to the scene of a bustling city. I love the solitude, tranquility, and some essence of purity that just comes with lakes, mountains, hills, plateaus, waterfalls, forests, cliffs, etc. To say that my fill of nature was satisfied in Kenya is quite the understatement.
After spending many hours in a car from DFW to Houston and then two planes from Houston to London and then to Nairobi (capital of Kenya), I was all ready to pass out somewhere from exhaustion. My eyes felt too unfocused and my brain felt stuffed with cotton balls. There was no way I could possibly take anything in, but after boarding my last plane from Nairobi to Kisumu, I realized that if there’s anything that can awaken the slothful mind, it is nature.
It was stunning. Soaring over grassy plains and then encountering the rippling waters of Lake Victoria shining in the African warm sunlight took my breath away. And without even knowing it, the beauty of this country’s nature was only going to get better.
While the whole trip was wonderful, there are always a few moments that will stay with you for the rest of your life, and I had one of those moments while sitting on top of the plateau on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It was the one day we didn’t work and when we choose to relax and interact with the children. I chose to spend my afternoon journaling in a red dress and black rainboots with my heavy hair pilled high on my head. I had warm sunshine on my back and the most beautiful view of Kenya from where I sat.
A boy nearby probably around the age of twelve to fourteen years old came behind me and sat next to me. We smiled at each other and spent some quiet moments in our own heads. He then started humming a song and swaying. I immediately looked up, mostly in shock, since I recognized the tune to be Down by Jay Sean. Here we were – as different as we could be with something familiar between us. The boy noticed my look of recognition and asked me excitedly if I knew the song. I smiled and said I did, and thus started our conversations.
Somewhere in our conversation, I told the boy that his country is very beautiful. He gave me a very curious reply. Shaking his head and sweeping his eyes across, what was and is to me, a breathtaking landscape, he said that this wasn’t beauty. He turned and seriously looked at me before saying New York City is beauty, not this. While I wasn’t shocked by his answer, it still threw me for a loop.
Because through my eyes I saw rolling, green hills lush with nature and fruit trees. I saw and heard the swishing noises and cool water flowing from a make-shift waterfall from last night’s rain. I sighed at the view of all of Lake Victoria from where I sat and smiled at the orange and crimson rays beating down and streaking across the greenery and making light patterns on the water’s soft ripples.
But what did he see? He explained. He saw a home that wasn’t really a home. It was a place where he was trapped – a place he needed to escape for a better future. He saw his past of a father disappearing and having to be raised by a single mother. Yes, he acknowledged it was beautiful, but NYC was worthy of more value in his opinion. And how could I blame him?
Sometimes the unfamiliar is beauty for us because it is the unknown and people always want to know the mysterious. The boy thought NYC was beautiful because it is the land of opportunity and where he could better himself and his family. I thought the Kenyan landscape was beautiful because it was a sight I never got to experience at home.
We continued with great conversations before I left with a smile, and he left with a new pen I gave him. We departed in different directions, and he may never remember me again, but he is someone I’ll never forget. And there you have it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A cliché but an expression I never truly appreciated or thought about.
This whole encounter happened on my birthday, and I can say that his wisdom, unknowingly given, is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Why? Because I had to be reminded of the importance of understanding another person’s perspective. My life runs way too fast sometimes to the point that I only consider what is important in my eyes, and that’s not always the best. I am reminded again that it is more than important to try and look from another person’s eyes. Self-gratification is a temporary pleasure compared to what understanding another person and being empathetic with them could bring.
For those of you who don’t know, I got the chance to travel with the Baylor University Straw to Bread team to Kenya on a pre-med mission trip. It was probably one of the best and most rewarding trips of my life. I went through every emotion on the emotional spectrum there and coming back and transitioning into America. I know it’s taken me forever to write and put up these blogs and my thoughts but it’s because I’ve had to take a lot of time off to truly think about my experience there. I hope you enjoy and learn from this and feel free to ask me any questions about the trip. Check more photos to the right on my Straw to Bread Tab.
I will publish a series of blogs and poetry pieces over the next few weeks. Each poem will be posted at the bottom for a temporary viewing before I take it down. The blog and accompanying poem usually will never relate.
Our Children Miles Away
By the sloping rocks and low tree branches
Four children stand and wave their arms
At the majestic beauty of their home
While they laugh and giggle and run down
Hunched beneath the broken, comforting tree
Pushing grains of rice and sparse brown beans
Chewing to fill a hollow, distended
Belly admist the soft rain droplets
Brilliant white smiles flash as they race with cars
Hollering ‘Mzungo!’ joyously and
Flapping their arms wildly and running in
Dirty tatters and clothes many years old
Yellow, jaundiced eyes stare from a packed line
Wrapped bundles whimpering, lost in a haze
Skulls loll back and forth with feverish skin
Internal time bombs ticking
Claps and slaps and teaching others how to play
Murmuring with eyes so big and curious glaze
Fawning and jumping at cameras
Intertwining calloused fingertips with mine
Toes squeezing between cold rain and hot dirt
While bouncing baby brother sleeping
Wrapped in soft cloth swaying in the back
And thinking where is mother? Father?
But they smile and look beyond Pride Rock
Seeing and imagining the future
Appreciating rain’s handmade waterfall
Their silhouettes glowing in the setting sun