In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to details around us. – Virginia Woolf
First, let me be clear. My time in Kenya was not spent entirely in solitude. The purpose of the trip was not solitude. I spent much time in the presence of others. I spent many moments talking and listening, laughing and singing, and at times even cat walking for a classroom of thirty 14 year old girls. These moments are imprinted in my memory, and I hope I will be able to play them back in my mind for the rest of my life.
I would argue that the amount of time I spent with others could be equally matched with the time I spent alone. I had not prepared myself for so much alone time. For the first time in my life, I had a living space to myself—a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and a bedroom. I often made dinner alone, drank my morning coffee in complete silence, and spent expanses of time journaling and meditating on specific themes or developments of my trip. Solitude is not a passive state. You have to sit with yourself, reach inside, and claim that space in time as your own—to live, to breathe, to surrender yourself to your own thoughts (both pleasant and unpleasant). Virginia Woolf is right. I was able to give passionate attention to my life, to my memories, and to the details around me. This state is addictive. Once I got a taste of it, I wanted more and more of it. It became my sanctuary. I would light my citronella candles and I would sit—sometimes at dawn, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes late at night—and I would will myself into a state of solitude.
I am home now.
Since I have been home, I have politely requested to have some more time alone and in solitude. I have deactivated my Facebook for now. I am letting some emails and text messages sit without responses. I want limited distractions as I peel away at the details of the past four months. I feel like my life here can wait—it has been waiting for four months already. I want to breathe in and sip on this precious time of transition.
To express the deep gratitude I feel toward WISER and toward the relationships I built while in Kenya, I want to write about hands.
Before reading further, pause, and look at your hands. Raise them up in front of you and look at both sides. Seriously. Do this.
Hands are beautiful. I love hands. Their movements are deliberate. Everyone’s are unique. There are different patterns of lines on palms and ridges on knuckles. Some are quite delicate while others are worn and strong. Through touch they connect us to the world and to each other. When I remember the people I met in Kenya, I will remember their hands. Handshakes are important in Kenyan culture. They are partnered with every greeting—nice to meet you, hello, nice to see you again, good morning, good night, goodbye. I may have shaken more hands in the past four months than the rest of my life combined. But more than mastering a solid handshake, my memories are held in hands.
I feel close to the WISER girls when I remember how often one would grab my hand as we walked to the garden together at sunset. I remember the grace of Mama Vosta as her wide, worn hands helped me wash my clothes and my dishes. I feel joy when I remember the tiny hands that waved at me as I passed homes and schools on a piki (motorbike). I feel gratitude at the memory of William’s sturdy hands on the steering wheel of the WISER car has he managed the wild bumps and pot holes of Muhuru’s dirt roads and drove me to the doctor.
My memories of every Sunday church service are partnered with the sound of hands clapping. I will think of Judy and Mouryne’s maternal hands on my arm as they guided me across busy streets filled with honking cars. My host mother’s hands were strong and confident as she rolled out and kneaded dough to make chapattis for dinner.
I want to hold the small, soft hands of my students at Senye Primary School forever. I have beautiful mental images of them molding clay, sorting bottle caps, and learning the parts of leaves. I will think of Mishel’s hands, deeply affected by cerebral palsy, and her great effort to make them move the way she desired them to. I feel peace at the thought of my own hands dipping a cup into a bucket of warm water to bath myself and rinse my tangled hair.
I would argue hands are the most beautiful part of our bodies, and for me they had the power to capture the humble nature of the people I met. The hands that held me have left deep imprints on my mind and my perspective.
My last weeks in Kenya feel like a blur. A lot happened at once, and I was desperately trying to soak up and hold onto as much as possible. Now that I am back, I feel strange, at times disoriented, and incapable of communicating verbally about my trip. My intention is not to tie a bow on my experience with a sweet, simple final blog post. My experience didn’t end when I landed in Nashville. I will continue to nurture it as it continues to live and grow inside me.