Comfort zones are like rubber bands. The more you stretch them, the less likely they are to return to their normal size. Although some people might see a stretched-out rubber band as damaged, the reverse is true for comfort zones. The bigger the better. That’s what I’ve learned this week in Kenya. With each new day, I’ve set out to make my rubber band just a little bit bigger.
Let me set the scene for you. It’s shortly after midnight in the early hours of Saturday, May 27th, and I just deboarded my 8-hour long flight from London to Nairobi. Although I arrive three hours later than planned, I am full of curiosity (and exhaustion) as I make my way through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s immigration, bag collection, and customs. By the time I take the airport taxi to my Airbnb, I’m running on pure adrenaline. Traveling always finds a way to do that to a person, doesn’t it? It exhausts you but energizes you at the same time. I’ve always found travel to be an enticing paradox, one that drains us but that we somehow can’t live without. At least I can’t.
Case in point: after a quick rest, I was quickly introduced to that warm Kenyan hospitality I’ve heard so much about. Stella, Shield of Faith Project Coordinator and my mentor for the summer, sent over a hot breakfast and a taxi to meet me for lunch at Gill’s house, a friend and key implementer for Advocacy Project’s embroidery activities here in Kenya. I was introduced to Gill’s husband, daughter Camille, and (to my surprise and happiness) their wonderful two dogs. Although I was running on fumes and feeling the onset of homesickness, this little guy (pictured below) reminded me of my dogs at home and put a smile on my face. (Side note: we truly don’t deserve dogs.)
Shortly after, Stella arrived and greeted me with a hug and a warm “Karibu” (the Swahili word for welcome). I was soon thrown into the realm of vermiculture composting! Camille showed us her pristinely-kept gardens, and Stella gave her composting bins a check-up. To everyone’s delight, Camille’s bins were displaying all good signs: healthy red wriggling worms and a slow but steady production of the liquid fertilizer Lishe-grow. As someone with absolutely no green thumb (I actually had to throw out my two dead houseplants before leaving), this was all so new to me.
½ of Camille’s garden.
If there’s one thing my professors have taught me, it’s the importance of taking on an observer’s perspective while learning the ins and outs of a new project in a new country. This is what I’ve tried to practice the past few days. While at Gill’s, I learned so much about what makes a healthy composting bucket just by watching Stella and Camille pull the bucket apart and inspect all the worms. I’ve been a student my whole life, and this summer is going to put my learning skills to the test!
The next few days were spent getting settled in, with several trips to the local Quickmart, Foodplus, and Carrefour. Finally on Wednesday, Stella put me to work. She and I visited her friend Betty, whose housekeeper Emily had been collecting 5-liter jerry cans to sell to the project. Betty and her daughter Lavender greeted us with warm hugs and, of course, cups of tea. Despite it being the first time meeting me, they welcomed me into their home as if they had known me for years. After a few minutes’ conversation, the time came for me to complete my first task: recording an interview between Stella and Emily about the jerry cans and their significance for the project (more on this below!) As the following day was Kenya’s Madaraka (Self-Governance) Day, this gave Stella and I a chance to travel to Kibera where a majority of the project’s activities take place and put these jerry cans to use!
Stella and Emily exchanging jerry cans.
Thursday morning I woke up early to go to Kibera with Stella and meet with two members of Shield of Faith. We checked on one garden and even harvested some excess veggies to bring home! As I write this, several bunches of organic spring onion and leeks are sitting in my kitchen, all thanks to the project. Even though I’ve only been in Kenya for a few days, I’ve already benefited from the amazing vegetables grown in Kibera, so I can only imagine the benefits this project brings to Shield of Faith members. In Kibera, where food insecurity is high, every little bit counts.
The majority of our time in Kibera that day was spent with Shield of Faith member Carol and her two neighbors on whose land the three women grow and share vegetables. This is where our jerry cans came in handy. Stella used these cans to construct a vertical tower garden, which makes the most out of the little arable land available in Kibera. I sat with the other 3 women meticulously cutting the jerry cans so that the vegetables could be planted inside and evenly watered throughout. It was hard work, but sitting around with the women who were speaking Swahili and smiling and laughing brought me a lot of joy. Even though I wasn’t able to speak the language (Duolingo has failed me), I felt a strong connection just being there- our attention all fixated on the same task. The women were all so kind to me, making sure I didn’t accidentally cut myself or even offering up their seats for me to sit in the shade. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over this Kenyan hospitality! After only a few hours, I was completely exhausted but proud of myself for having completed another adventure.
Me and the ladies cutting up the jerry cans.
Constructing the tower gardens and planting them with spinach!
So now, as I sit on my balcony overlooking the Kenyan sunset, I look at my rubber band comfort zone, and I reflect on my first week. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I felt sad or lonely. But a wise friend once told me that with discomfort comes growth. The little rubber band I brought with me looks nothing like it did before; it’s grown at least twice its original size. But I’m glad. Unlike rubber bands, comfort zones won’t break if you continue to stretch them. They’ll continue to grow and grow for the better. So with each new day here in Kenya, I’ll continue growing that rubber band, and hopefully I’ll grow along with it.
Posted By Caitlin Mittrick
Posted Jun 2nd, 2023