Year One Done

Sunday marked one year of living in Kenya. Reflecting back on this year my heart is really full. My main thought concerning this year is that I’m so glad that it happened and I’m also so glad that it’s over and I never have to repeat it. This year was probably the hardest year of my life. It definitely wasn’t the worst year—there’s an important difference between something being difficult and something being bad. I have a huge sense of accomplishment and gratitude for everything this year has brought.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a German lady, about my parents’ age, who has been working in Kenya for many years. She asked me how I was doing. I took a deep breath and said, “Well… I’m in my first year living abroad.” With an understanding look, she said that she had heard the first year compared to an “emotional earthquake.” I told her that that sounded about right. I feel like I have been through an emotional earthquake and I’m waiting for the dust to settle. Transition is difficult, but it shapes us and shows us who we are.

The past six months in particular have been really challenging. I’ve struggled with health, sleep, and anxiety issues. I haven’t slept well since the beginning of the year. Being chronically sleep deprived has made coping with everything more difficult. Being physically and emotionally weak has meant that I have had to trust God so much more for strength to get through each day. This dependence has led to greater intimacy with Christ and a better understanding of my humanity.

Some days in Nairobi I feel like I am thriving, like I am exactly where I belong, like I’m doing exactly what I was born to do, like I couldn’t possibly be any more happy. Some days I feel like I am/that I am becoming the person that I want to be. Other days, I tear up at the thought of having to leave the house and battle traffic for an hour to get to my classes. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the past year (not surprising). I thought the best way to capture them would be a few bullet-pointed lists.

Firsts:

  • First big girl job.
  • First time living more than 90 miles away from my parents (for more than a summer)
  • First time being out of the US for more than 6 weeks at a time
  • First full marathon
  • First trip to Asia
  • First time riding a bus in Africa alone
  • First time buying a car
  • First time leasing an apartment
  • First time living alone

Victories:

  • I’m now conversational in one of the most difficult languages in the world. I didn’t know a single word before I moved here.
  • I managed to train for a marathon in a city that isn’t very runner-friendly. My first time running in Nairobi a man grabbed my arm. This really shook me up and I was really nervous when I was running for a while, but I kept on doing it anyway. I ran a 4:08 for my first marathon – beating both of my dad’s marathon times J
  • I feel comfortable navigating Nairobi. When I first moved here there had been some robberies near where I was living. I was nervous to walk to the store to get groceries. Now I’m able to go about normal life without being as on-edge constantly.
  • I found an apartment! (I had a really hard time finding a place that I could afford and that I felt comfortable living in.)
  • I made friends! One of my biggest fears moving here was that I wouldn’t be able to make friends. I have found people that I love and that love me well.

Lessons:

  • I am learning how to stand up for myself in difficult situations instead of allowing myself to be treated poorly because I’m afraid of how other people might react
  • I am learning what true freedom in Christ looks like and that I don’t have to be bound by other people’s expectations.
  • I’ve learned that I care far too much about what people think of me.
  • I am learning how to say “no”
  • I learned how to not completely freak out when someone asks me out on a date and to have fun, relax, and get to know him instead.
  • I’ve learned that a lot of guys (100% of dates since moving here) don’t use the word “date” when asking you out on a date. This is confusing. I think I’m learning how to tell if it’s a date though.
  • I am learning how to trust God with my heart
  • I am learning to trust that God will provide for my needs – fundraising a salary is a huge act of faith
  • I learned how to do parties better (small talk is hard)
  • I learned the ~very real~ importance of a good night’s sleep
  • I re-learned how to drive on the opposite side of the road and in Nairobi traffic
  • I re-learned how to cook without all of the American convenience items I’m used to
  • I am learning to extend grace to myself in my weakness
  • I learned what is life-giving and restful for me
  • I am learning healthy dependence on others and that it’s okay that I can’t do everything on my own
  • I learned that if you wish something were different about your life you can take an active role in changing it. Are you lonely? Invite people to do things with you. Take initiative. Chances are other people are lonely too. If you want to have deep conversations instead of talking about the weather, start the conversation. You don’t have to wait for other people to engage with you. You can influence your community. It takes courage; sometimes it means stepping out and being the first one to be vulnerable (which is terrifying). Even if it’s not always received the way you’d hoped, it’s worth the risk.

 

All things considered, my time in Nairobi has been a treasure. I am reminded of Matthew 13:44-46 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Moving to Nairobi has cost me dearly. It is hard to be so far away from the people that I love most. It is hard to be faithful in something as tedious as language learning. However, I have also gained so much in this process. I feel like my character is a piece of coal in the earth undergoing the pressure that it takes to become a diamond.   It is not comfortable. It is worth it.

With abounding joy,

Hannah

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The day I bought a fridge in a crazy part of town then celebrated my adult purchase by buying a juice box.

I’m Going to Punch You in the Face

As strange as it might sound that sentence is one of the most kind things that anyone has ever said to me. It is what one of my former roommates and still best friends would tell me when I was being ridiculous. It’s what she would say to me when I wasn’t seeing myself as I really am, when I wasn’t acting in confidence or believing in myself. Basically her saying “I’m going to punch you in the face.” means “I love you and you’re a better person than you think you are.”

At this point you should watch the following video because it makes the story make sense. We had watched it the day before  the events in this story and thought it was super funny.  SNL Adele’s Someone Like You – Crying (If this link doesn’t work because of it going to Kenyan YouTube make sure to look it up.)

One of the most memorable examples of her calling me back into reality by threatening me with physical violence was when we were living together sophomore year of college. When I was driving home from Bible study I suddenly got this overwhelming feeling that I was never going to get married. The reason though was what was really ridiculous. The thought had popped in my mind that I was never going to get married because no Christian men would be able to see that I loved Jesus enough to want to marry me. So I got home really upset, but when I was trying to explain about why I thought no one would ever want to marry me I started laughing. I knew that I was being silly, but the feelings were also so real that I was crying. I was in our kitchen laughing at myself and crying because I felt like no one could see Jesus in me and that that made me completely undesirable.

In that moment she responded perfectly. She played “Someone Like You” by Adele. (The song from the video.) I collapsed on our couch laughing and crying. I explained more fully what was going on in my heart. She told me that she was going to punch me in the face and something along the lines of me being a big influence on her faith and that if a guy couldn’t see how much I loved Jesus that he would have to be blind. — During this time period I was also crying literally all the time because I wanted to drop out of school and do the same type of job that I’m doing now. If there was a reason someone wouldn’t want to date or marry me, “not loving Jesus enough” definitely wasn’t it.

I guess the point to this story is that often times we don’t see ourselves properly. Friends can help us see the truth about ourselves. It especially helps me if those people are sassy with me when I need it. They fight for me to remember truth of who I am.

-HD