So I have spent about a month total here in Kakamega Rainforest, and I have been really overwhelmed with projects connected to KEEP and the EcoLodge bandas, but overwhelmed in a good way. Every day there is a new challenge! Even challenges that supersede things like rainy seasons, flooded streets, power outages...I have felt some personal challenges the past few weeks. It is hard to find your place of use when you're brand new, and also very different from the people. It takes time to gain trust, in those you work with and in the community. It also takes time to gain confidence, and that has been my main struggle. Its hard to learn everything about an organization in only 10 weeks, let alone create some projects that may actually be beneficial. There have been days when I even question my own worth...what was all of that studying and investment in this education for? What do I ACTUALLY have to offer?? But today I found some use for myself. The past few weeks I have been thinking really hard about what I can do to connect the people in the community to the tourism part of KEEP. I wanted to model what I had seen from other GVI projects with the implementation of a community/village tour, something that will be organized and implemented by a local group of people, where tourists can actually walk through the village and learn about how people LIVE. How they cook their food, where they sleep, how they farm, what their children are like...I wanted to make this connection because its something that I crave myself. I want to know everything, and I want to be accepted by the community. I want to feel at home, not like an outsider...I want to really know how people here live, and so I can live like them too. And I thought, if I want to know these things, maybe other people do too...and it can give both parties an opportunity to learn from and about the other. So, I created an advertisement for such a tour, came up with the basic plan, and asked to meet with the women's group.
And that is what happened today, and at 2:00 I sat anxiously at the conference table at the bandas with my proposal and advertisement, with a sign in sheet and waited. Then, it started to rain. POUR actually, and my heart sank. It would be really hard to travel in the rain, and lets face it, who wants to dredge across town to speak to a mzungu they don't even know. But I stayed anyways, and slowly by slowly (polepole) women showed up, although they sat as far away from me as possible at the other ends of the table...and we had VERY awkward conversations about the weather (which here...is just rain...so its not even that deep of a subject). But after about 30 minutes, there were 15 women seated around the table, and all talking excitedly among themselves. I took a deep breath and told myself to be confident, I had something to share, and it was positive. So I started talking, and in some very shaky and certainly broken KiSwahili, told them who I was and where I came from, and what I wanted to offer as a project. One of the women next to me, whose name is Beatrice, was clearly the leader of the group and helped me to translate. Just after the first few sentences, I saw women's eyes light up, and lean forward and whisper to each other. I gained confidence, and started to talk about the income-generating opportunities this would bring, the ability to learn more English and customer service skills, and the sharing of knowledge of their culture and their history. Suddenly, everyone started clapping! Beatrice told me they were really happy with the idea, and that it was really exciting and they all wanted to be involved. From that moment on, they took the meeting by storm! They started to form committees and set up the program, all had ideas to share and everyone was talking excitedly. I just had to sit back while they hashed out ideas, elected team leaders, and started brainstorming roles and responsibilities. They started to talk about how the income earned would be divided, they want to use it as a group and divide it to the registered members, to help send the children in the community to school.
It was AMAZING. I felt pure elation. I FEEL pure elation. At the end of the meeting, there was chapati and beans that we all shared. Everyone was smiling and clapping and shaking my hand...I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had done something positive, and I felt like I was a part of something really cool...I was doing development, I was doing what I had always dreamed of doing. I walked home with a great feeling in my heart. Some of the women walked home with me, and we were all talking excitedly and as I turned onto my road to go home, they shook my hand and gave me a big smile. I felt so accepted and happy...and productive and everything that had been a struggle was all worth it for that moment.
The next steps are: getting some tours done!! We need visitors and tourists...so if you're in the area and want to experience and contribute to some community development...please stop by ;-) For the time being, I will be going on the tours, giving feedback, and running some customer relation workshops (aka, how to deal with white people).
In the words of Pam Beasley from the office from the Beach Day episode "yeah...its a good day"