Last week, I had the incredible opportunity and tremendous pleasure to return to Hekima Place Home for Girls in Kiserian, Kenya. It was my second time volunteering there, and the following is just the start to my thoughts about my experience.
You know that feeling you get inside when you know something spectacular is about to happen? That’s how I felt when I arrived in Kenya last Saturday. It felt like coming home: the drive to the compound was familiar, less shocking, the winding road up to the Ngong Hills so beautiful in all its lush green beauty. Navigating my way through the post office and grocery store in Karen was a breeze with a new vocabulary of Swahili in my back pocket. All signs that I am becoming a part of this culture.
As we pulled down the driveway, a wave of nervousness hit me. How will my return be received? Will anyone remember me? Four years is a long time to be away. The car comes to a stop and I open the door, and there is a girl standing nearby. She looks up at me with slight recognition. “Mercy?” I ask, tentatively. A huge grin appears on her face, and she runs right into my arms. It was the warmest welcome I could have received. I fought back tears and gathered my things, preparing for the most joy-filled, meaningful weeks I’ve had in a long time.
As much as I’m treating my week here as its own unique experience, I can’t help but compare it to my first trip to Hekima Place four years ago. The amount of growth I see in myself and the community here is astounding. I don’t feel as useless anymore, its so easy for me to fill the hours and find things to do. I don’t mind picking weeds in the shamba (garden) for hours and the ugali at dinner actually tastes good! I’ve also done a much better job at connecting with the staff here, memorizing names, dedicating time to making conversations with Mum Sue in the kitchen, with Uncle Stephen as he guards the gate, and with the house Mums when we pass each other on the sidewalk. There is nothing more fulfilling than taking the time to form genuine human connections.
And then there are the changes in the girls. Most of the girls that I was close with four years ago are now in high school! Their innocent, cheerful, talkative demeanor is mostly gone, or at least suppressed by the “moody teenager” phase. The babies I used to play with everyday are now walking and talking and taking on school by storm. Faith, whose earrings I still wear to this day, is now curvier than I am, the effects of adolescence in full force.
People have been asking me “what’s new?” and I struggle to know where to start. Since I’ve last been here, I’ve graduated from high school, basically finished college, figured out my career path, traveled all over, moved out of my childhood home, had a few good relationships and a few bad, and essentially discovered myself. I am so in awe of how sustainable and independent this place has become in just four short years, and I feel humbled to be back to witness it all. This community has so much potential and at age twenty one, I realize now that this is just the start to my lifelong commitment to service that Hekima Place instilled in me as a seventeen year old.