When I first started writing this post I realized how difficult it is to explain this day. The nostalgia I feel for this point in my life is so real and so strong. I have no way of connecting back to this moment, it’s not something materialistic or objective, and it’s not a place I can return too. It’s a moment in time that will never exist again. Over years the memory of it has been distorted, changed and ultimately, forgotten. We only get so many trips around the sun; we only get so many memories. Eventually, the little details from the happiest days of our lives will slip away. That’s why this is so hard to write. It is such a beautiful memory, and yet I will never be able to remember it all as it truly once was.
It was a sunny afternoon in Mwangaza, Kenya. Two days before I was to fly back to Canada. The group I had been volunteering with was told that the community wanted to put on a celebration for us. We had no idea what to expect. We were all so excited, especially because all the kids from the school that we had become friends with would be at the celebration too.
The celebration began with a speech from the principle of the school, explaining the importance of us being there. All I kept thinking, however, was that he had it wrong. That it should be reversed. They shouldn’t be thanking us, we should be thanking them. I wanted to be the one throwing the celebration for them, I wanted to be the one thanking them and telling them how important they were to us. They taught me so much. They taught me the true meaning of happiness, they taught me about community, and the importance of working together. They showed me a whole side of the world that most people never get to see. They gave me something that I can’t quantify. Not a school, not a textbook or a pencil, no sort of handout or physical object. What they gave me is something that can’t be shown or explained, something that will exist in my heart forever; what they gave me is something that no one can take away.
After the principle talked, the classes performed dances and sang songs. One little girl, Chelagnat, who I had become good friends with earlier (despite the fact that we didn’t speak the same language), was so excited to do her dance for me. When she got up in front of everyone, she was waving at me with the biggest smile imaginable on her face. All the kids were so happy to get to do this for us and it was absolutely the cutest thing I have ever seen.
Then the mamas went up. These women work so hard every single minute of their lives. They walk miles to get muddy water multiple times a day in order to cook, clean and hydrate. They are responsible for putting food on the plates of their many children (Chelagnat for example had 7 brothers, and 4 sisters). The responsibilities these women have are endless. They started to dance and sing and quickly invited all us volunteers to join them. As we did, they made a line and presented us with beautiful handmade bracelets.
After the celebration, it was time to say goodbye. We had one more day left in Mwangaza, but as it wouldn’t be a school day, we wouldn’t be getting to see everyone in the village as they would be doing their own things on the weekend. Hugs were going around and eyes were filling up with tears. Emotions were high. The past few weeks were so drastically different than anyone had been used too, and it was disheartening to know it was coming to an end.
When I said goodbye to Chelagnat, she gave me the biggest and tightest hug, and when I would walk away she would yell my name (pronouncing the ‘e’ like an ‘ay’ : Steph-a-nay, Steph-a-nay’!!! ), chase me and hug me again. It was heartbreaking having to say goodbye, and not being able to express that through words.
The next day, our group went for a short hike up a hill as a way to see more of Mwangaza and to say goodbye to the village we had called home. Along the hike, kids were running out from their homes and joining us. Every time a kid joined us, I would look hoping to get to see my friend Chelagnat one last time. As we were walking down the hill I heard a familiar call ‘Steph-a-nay, Steph-a-nay!!’ There she was, running barefooted up the hill to say hi to me. It was a gift I will never forget. I got to say goodbye to a wonderful friend one last time. Someone who I will never get the opportunity to see or speak too again. There is no mail system let alone technology put in place in the village of Mwangaza. Unless I somehow manage to find my way back there at some point in my life, and she manages to still be living there, then this was the last time I would ever see her again.
It’s 24 hours of my life that is starting to slip from my memory, but was so unbelievably wonderful and I would love to live it over and over and over again.
What was the best day of your life?