Behind that Smile

Now, as we get past half way of our trip, I’ve been thinking about my experience with the people, culture, and environment in Kenya. Given that everyone I meet always asks me “How do you like Kenya?” and I would always reply with a very enthusiastic “I love it here!”

Seems like it’s always my first day here in Kenya.

But I was talking to one of the KMET staff and she said “If you live here long enough, you’ll see life in Kisumu in a different light. There is a lot of competition and life is very rigorous. From age 3 children wake up at 5 in the morning and return home from school after 10 hours. They have to take exams that are very hard. People focus on their own future rather than the community.”

And I had the complete different impression of the culture in Kisumu. I always say that people are determined to work together and help each other as a community. More or less as a team. I don’t think my impression of the culture in Kenya is wrong, but maybe it is the American impression. Even if I spend many years here, I will always have the American Impression, where people are willing to greet me, interested in talking to me, let me pass with scanning my backpack, where I have a lot of privilege.

Though, people are always smiling when I greet them and laugh when I speak my broken Kiswahili I doubt they do that to everyone. Is it fair for me to say that I love it here and I hope someday I’ll return? When those who do live here want to leave. Because behind that smile, comes the struggle that I will never experience or understand. Behind their greetings may be thoughts of hiding in my suitcase as I leave to go back to the US. Behind their laughter comes tears that I will never see, because though the people face problems that can be cured with a needle or rest in the US, they laugh and smile with resilience. They greet with strength and that is something that is why I am here, personally. To smile with the people here, to greet everyone here, to keep saying “Big rabbit”—Aboyo Maduwong in Lou to hear their laughter. To utilize my privilege so that everyone can have a taste of a smile and the breath of laughter. Is that wrong?

Oh yeah don’t forget to donate!

Amy Ma ’18