I WAS HEADED to the Amani Institute in Nairobi, Kenya after spending the previous week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia visiting Global Good Fund Fellow, Bruktawit Tigabu of Whiz Kids Workshop. Faced with the precious gift of uninterrupted time, I found myself pondering why I was traveling to Africa the first place, especially at the tail end of being six months pregnant.
I got to thinking about human dignity — how we seem to need dignity even more than bread at times; how dignity is ultimately about being a custodian of the world; and I thought about the idea of giving dignity to work, of creating products and services with dignity. To profit with dignity. Of creating a company that grows graciously.
That train of thought caused me to reflect personally about growing graciously. One reason I travel is selfish: I grow myself by being exposed to other cultures and making time to reflect. Especially with a baby on the way, it seemed to me that my own self-understanding must be related to parenting; that the more self aware I am, the better I am likely to parent. Like a trip to Africa while six months pregnant, parenthood can be a courageous journey. Little did I know that my visit to Africa would turn into the most incredible parenting exercise I could imagine.
My interactions within the first ten minutes of stepping off the plane in Kenya should have been a sign that this would be a deeply impactful trip for me.
As I left the terminal, I was warmly greeted by a driver who intended to take me to my accommodations. While settling into the car, we conversed casually and I asked if the driver had children. “Yes,” he told me. “Six years and two days.”
“You mean you have a child who was born yesterday?” I asked, quizzically.
Apparently his wife had just given birth to his second child and she was still at the hospital, waiting for him to finish his day’s work before coming to take her home. I couldn’t believe my luck and eagerly asked if he wanted to pick up his wife from the hospital before dropping me off.
With a surprised look, the driver took me up on my offer. We drove straight from the airport to the maternity ward of the hospital where his wife was waiting. I can only imagine she was eager to leave; Unlike many hospitals in the U.S., the maternity ward was a communal area full of women, newborns and their families wherever they could fit – on the beds, standing or seated on the floor. We bonded quickly over shared stories about our pregnancies. When it was time for her to be discharged, I received the biggest honor of all and was asked to accompany the new baby home.
They lived in what they called a ghetto, which seemed to be a slum by American standards.
Despite the living conditions, people were generally happy and grateful. Relatives and neighbors gathered over a loaf of bread to celebrate the community’s newest addition. The positivity was infectious; the baby was surrounded by his village of loved ones, especially the neighborhood children, who were equally delighted to have a new playmate.
While staring down at my pregnant belly as I was playing with the kids, I remember thinking, I hope to bring my child to a place like this one day. Talk about an education in experiencing different cultures with an open mind!
Shortly after this remarkable day concluded, I ventured to the Amani Institute to facilitate a class about fundraising for social impact. One student, Nelson of the Maasai people, informed me that pregnant women in his tribe receive a maternity blessing for the mother and baby. He graciously invited me to be blessed by his tribe.
Fast forward and I found myself on a six hour road trip to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The blessing took place in an open field after the tribe’s women (dressed in beautiful colorful clothing and adornments) walked from hours away to join.
We prayed, sang, and engaged in enriching conversation — all of which was translated by Nelson. The Masai women made necklaces to bless me and beaded bracelets to measure the baby’s growth. They also performed a traditional ceremony (in a cow dung hut) where they rubbed oils on my belly and gave me wisdom for the safe delivery of my child (e.g. stop eating so much so that the baby is small when I squat in the field to give birth).
They even gave my unborn child a name: O’Loserian, which means “The blessed one.” Once again, I realized the power of experiencing new cultures in order to shape the lens through which I view the world.
These stories will be passed on to my child for years to come. I left Africa more excited than ever for this new chapter of life. Not only was I able to witness what maternity looks like in other cultures, but I had the unique opportunity to have my child blessed by a community that is meaningfully different from the one in which my child will be born into.
The experience empowered me to reflect on the values that I strive to pass on to my child:
~ I believe in you. You can do anything.
~ Some people are unable to attend school, yet are more educated and more intelligent than college professors.
~ Failure is an integral part of success.
~ You have my permission – as if you needed it – to be independent and stand away from the crowd, to live life by your terms.
~ You have a voice. Use it.
~ No matter what happens, I love you.
What lessons have you learned through travel or exposure to a different way of life that you seek to pass on?
This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.
Hear Carrie’s 2014 interview with Sandi Klein here.