By Rocco Hu, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio
When people find out that I’m leaving on the 1st of May for volunteer work in Kenya, their responses tend to exhibit a mix of concern and admiration. “Is it safe?”, “That is so cool” “Don’t get eaten by lions or trampled by rhinoceros”. My initial reaction would be to try to allay their concerns and downplay the difference of my (future) Kenyan experience- the guy who runs the foundation is a trustworthy guy who’s been at it for twenty years, the area of Kenya to which I am travelling, the upper portion of the Tana River Delta, is generally quite safe, English is a lingua franca in the former British colony, the articulate and humorous Kenyan guys I had the pleasure to meet at the organization fundraiser here do not have the smog of bloodlust clouding their eyes and avoid letting out hellish, ear piercing shrieks. But I can’t really say anything with much credibility, having never been there.
As I write this I can’t help but feel a wave swell of fear and excitement, idealism and cynicism building up in my chest and pushing out immediate thoughts like whether to keep my passport with me at all times or how many books I should bring. Will I be an agent of cultural imperialism whose blind, awkward attempts to make a difference merely help drive in further the nail securing the coffin of cultural loss? Will my efforts contribute to the empowerment, or the disempowerment of the people? Will I, having made the harrowing journey to the Heart of Darkness, not come back unscathed, if not in body then in spirit? Is my overactive imagination just blowing up an experience that would be more prosaic than implied by the grand political and spiritual themes the idea of “going to Africa” brings to mind? What if the people don’t like me? Or what if they are kind to me but I am too awkward to really communicate with them properly? Will I have an absolutely smashing time or will it be underwhelming? When all’s said and done, will I have made a meaningful contribution?
So many questions, so few answers. I shall try to furnish them when I return at the end of May from the end of the world (at least from my geographical perspective).