The first time I came to Kenya was over 4 years ago & I stayed for 3 months.
The country captured my heart in a way I hadn't expected.
Or, perhaps it was the IDP community (Internally Displaced Persons) who I worked with that should
take credit for such a claim.
Either way, 6 months later I sold everything I owned, bought a 1 way ticket & moved there in pursuit of my dream to start my own non-profit.
As many of you know, this is when & this is where Go Light Our World was born.
What many of you don't know is what happened to me upon my return.
Because, quite frankly, I don't like talking about it.
But it's time.
So here it goes:
Since the projects that I had set up at the first IDP Camp where I was originally working were already sustainable- I decided to move on to another camp in need.
The members of the first camp took this choice very personally.
They felt I was abandoning them, despite my choice to continually visit on almost a daily basis & still help out in the school.
When their hostility started to become violent, I (understandably) decided to leave the camp altogether.
Shortly after, they started following me home on a daily basis- threatening me, throwing stones at me, even SPITTING at me.
It got so bad that I had to move.
I uprooted everything & moved to another town about 40 minutes away.
I didn't tell anyone where I lived.
The only person who knew was my assistant (who lived with me) & her sister.
I came to find out later that she was actually the culprit initiating the hatred & continually telling them of my whereabouts in exchange for a cut of the ransom once they were finally successful in kidnapping me (they made it very clear that this was their end goal).
I think the most afraid I ever was in the situation was about a month after I'd moved when they followed me out to the new camp where I was working (which is a solid 90 min drive into the bush). There was an all out brawl between the two communities & I was grabbed as they tried to shove me into a car.
Luckily a man called Francis (my motorbike driver and member of the new IDP Camp where I was working) saved me- which is not only something I will never forget, but is also a memory that still brings tears to my eyes, as well.
To make matters worse- the general security of the country was quite unstable at the time (it wasn't even safe for local women to be out past sunset).
I relied on public transportation to get around & our buses would get robbed on a regular basis.
One time it was even at gunpoint.
A girl in my neighborhood was kidnapped by her own driver who had worked with her host family for years.
He even stole all the clothes she was wearing & finally dropped her off at the gate completely naked.
Despite the fact that my apartment was surrounded by a 40 ft concrete wall complete with electric wiring & a Gaurd with an AK47- it still got broken into.
To say I was living in fear would be an understatement.
I was so paranoid that I couldn't sleep more than 2 or 3 hrs every night.
And (of course) the lack of sleep wasn't helping my sanity or general well being.
This was also the time in which my allergic reactions were getting out of control & I was hospitalized on almost a monthly basis (I have no doubt this physical reaction was mirroring my mental instability).
When I decided to go to Indonesia to scout projects, I planned to come back after just one month.
I left my fully furnished apartment & everything I owned except for the small backpack I brought with me- because I had every intention of returning.
But I didn't.
Not only did I get bit again before I left- forcing me straight off the plane & into the hospital.
But I also felt the massive weight of anxiety lifted from my chest, as well.
Once I'd removed myself from the situation, I was able to observe how unhealthy my living situation actually was with a new sense of clarity.
And I made the choice to value my well being first.
I went through every array of emotions once I'd decided to stay in Indonesia.
There were days where I would still suffer from anxiety.
And night where I'd wake up from flashback/night terrors in cold sweats & panic.
Then, there were days where I was angry.
Angry at myself for feeling like a quitter.
Angry at every stupid insect that sent me to the hospital.
And angry that the people who took my trust & broke my heart.
As I continued to find out more about the betrayals, lies & stealing that had happened right under my nose- I was convinced that I would never go back to Kenya again.
I can't pinpoint what exactly initiated my change of heart- but I do know that it happened about a year & a half ago when I was still living in San Diego & staring at the large map on my wall.
I decided I needed to go back & make peace with a place that damn near broke me.
So that's just what I did.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about my return despite the structure of my visit & the credibility of my local partners.
Because I most certainly was.
But I CAN say that my nerves dissolved almost completely the moment I landed.
I couldn't be happier with my decision to come back.
Not only have I seen major growth within the security & development of the country, but I've also come to terms with just how far I shoved all of those experiences down.
When it was happening, I didn't want to talk about it because I didn't want to scare people who loved me & were already worried with me being gone.
Afterwards, I suppose the trauma silenced the truth & the shame of perceived failure masked the healing.
There was also this sense of wanting to still protect a place & a group of people that I continually love.
Now I feel a new sense of liberation that's pretty god damn sweet.
And I can say with certainty that I'll be back again.
Probably sooner than later this time around