One of my favorite books in writing style, content, depth and meaning is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I read it after I finished Peace Corps in Namibia and found it clearly articulated my experience of ‘what I thought I needed’ beforehand for surviving in a foreign place much different than my homeland. I so identified with the book I encouraged all who could not quite ‘understand’ me to read it so maybe, just maybe they would understand the changes I had been through. T.C. Boyle had written Water Music and I stumbled on it by accident at a used book store. This novel also rang true to my heart as I had read Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett long ago and understood the key references to the character names in relationship to the history of the continent. These three books – two historical fiction and one non-fiction, fact based history with primary sources became my comfort and solace at a time when all I wanted was to be back in my village (I was evacuated due to a civil war).
In the many years since, as I have mellowed with age and have been able to compartmentalize some memories so they do not look me straight in the face each day, I also continued to feel deep in my being that Africa was ‘home’ or at least home in the sense of where I felt the greatest sense of peace within myself. Part of keeping the dream of my ‘return’ home alive meant sharing all the wonderful things which had shaped and changed me with others so they knew I was ready for being back on the continent and held no resentment for having to leave in the first place.
My opportunity finally arrived – I will be able to have my dream of doing something larger than myself, something that will improve life for many people and have a positive ripple outwards. My task ahead is not simple – it is teaching and teacher development.
At one point, I thought, even in America where we have all the resources in the world, we can not get education right. How on earth could I ever offer up something on another continent to people who may be lacking in some of the material resources. I kept pondering my idea and realized over and over as I have been packing for the move, it is not the material resources, it is the passing on of knowledge and experience.
The Poisonwood Bible reminded me of all the ‘wrong stuff’ I should not bring in the way of physical and emotional baggage. Water Music helped me recall the dichotomy of western views and tribal knowledge (literally) and Before the Mayflower made me realize, again and again and again, this will be a two way sharing process and I know I will learn so much from my Kenyan counterparts.
These books again provide me with comfort and solace – this time in strong self reflection and strong internal dialogue about who I am, what are my values, what do I hold to be truth, which way my compass points. It is not what I bring, rather it is what and how I share. It is the ability to have intellectual pursuits with others who have lived much of the history and its results. It is the ability to find within myself my ancestors – those who may very well have migrated out of the Rift Valley, but never really left it. My ancestors gave me my DNA and much like a bird or salmon, I am going homeward.