[Originally published in Media Voice, April issue]
I have always considered myself to be a strong,fiercely independent woman;confident that I could take on whatever the world had in store for me. Yet,one warm October afternoon I sat on a bed somewhere in a village in Coastal Kenya doubting everything I thought myself to be.
At my feet on the dirty ground was a jug of water my host had offered me. It was brown in color. While I sat reeling from the shock a cockroach boldly emerged to inspect my backpack. I fell back on the bed and looked up. I saw the clear blue sky through a hole in the roof.I let the tears roll. Dear Lord, this time I have bitten off more than I can chew.
The first few days at Bamburi were the hardest. I barely drank water. Dehydration seemed an easier way out when compared to the toilet I would have to use.I even frequented a nearby cafe, drank very expensive tea just to use the bathroom.
Water was a major problem, not just for me but for Bamburi. But only I seemed to be affected by it. On a good day the water was brown, on a bad day there was no water. What was worse was that in my compound there was only one tap shared by seven families.
Another problem was the ever prevalent threat of mosquitoes ;dengue by day, malaria by night. At the slightest buzz I would apply a thick layer of mosquito repellent.
In a nutshell there was a general lack of sanitation. More than once I felt like leaving it all behind and going home. I felt like the hypocrite I truly was.
Then on my third day while I was helping my neighbor and her daughter bake bread we started talking beyond the usual pleasantries. We sat kneading the dough sharing stories of family, culture, parents, men, India, Africa and baking. We had similar stories made dissimilar only by a geographical location and time zone. While the bread baked I became one of the family and Bamburi was never the same again. They opened their doors and their hearts to me, a total stranger.
Shortly after my first week in Bamburi Taeko came into my life and my view of life was realigned forever.We bonded over red wine mixed with mango juice and stiff chappathis made from self-raising flour. She was unlike any other person I had met before. She had signed on for two years at Bamburi working with the special needs children at the school. She was one of those people who are contiguously passionate about making an actual difference to almost everybody’s life. Together we worked on promoting the handmade bead necklaces made by the children.
But my most proud achievement was teaching a bunch of children to count till ninety-nine. I never got till hundred. The excitement on their faces as they progressed up the number chart made everything worthwhile. They waited with bated breath and excited eyes while I read them stories. I was their hero. They fought to hold my hand. They longed for me to talk to them.
Suddenly the color of the water did not matter, the mosquitoes did not seem threatening.
When I look back at my time in Bamburi I wonder at how much I really knew myself; of my ability to endure, respond, connect,give.
I went to volunteer teach, when in truth I learnt more than I could have ever possibly taught. I learnt that I can survive without clean water, I learnt that I can give unconditionally and not expect anything in return; I learnt I can trust in abandon; I learnt there was a lot about myself I am yet to learn. I surprised myself!
For all those joyous smiles, quiet conversations, lasting friendships and painfully tight hugs I would do it all over again; in a heartbeat.