We are so excited to announce that our new African Operations Director, Ryan Arnold, has made the move to Kenya! Read about his first few days in country below….
A few days ago, around 8pm Nairobi time, I walked down the steps of my plane and stepped onto the tarmac – finally, in Kenya. I followed the directions of the airport employees and packed onto the bus with the other passengers. As we drove across the runway, I tried to keep my cool among the other stoic, tired faces. In reality, I was about to burst with excitement and anticipation.
A year ago, I left Cameroon assuming I would stay in the US for a few years, at least. My plans included grad school, eating a lot of zebra cakes, getting a job and establishing a “normal” life – that elusive “normal life” that has felt out of grasp ever since it was interrupted by my joining the Peace Corps.
A few days after arriving home from Cameroon, a good friend of mine told me about CARE for AIDS and suggested I look into it as he thought it would be a good fit for me. I appreciated the information, but dismissed it initially as it did not fit into the grad school/zebra cake plan.
To make a long story short, I did not apply to grad school because my heart was not in it. After the application deadlines passed, a brief identity crisis occurred that evidenced itself with face-palm-accompanied moments of panic during which I asked myself, “WHY didn’t you apply to grad school!? What are you doing with your life?” After this, I turned my attention to job hunting and remembered my friend’s suggestion.
I visited CARE for AIDS’ website and was immediately enamored with the mission, vision and strategy they have for working with communities in Kenya affected by HIV. I checked the job description and it basically described my Peace Corps service. So, I applied.
Slowly, my heart and my thoughts started turning to Kenya. A Skype interview with Justin, the director and founder of CARE for AIDS, sealed the deal for me. Hearing his passion and vision convinced me that this was something I could get behind and was exactly what I wanted to do, and – dare I say? – what God had planned for me.
In June, I was officially offered the position of African Operations Director at CARE for AIDS in a phone call. After clearing my throat to conceal a squeal of excitement, I think I said something like “That’s great to hear. Let me pray and think about it. I’ll get back to you in a few days with my decision.” I did pray about it and talked it over with a few people, but two days later, I accepted the position. Since that moment I eagerly awaited my arrival in Kenya and the opportunity to join with the amazing, effective and impactful ministry of this organization.
The bus pulled up to a parking garage, and I was confused for a moment. Later, I learned that due to the fire last year, the airport is operating out of the parking garage while repairs and rebuilding are being finished.
After waiting in line and working up a sweat just standing there in the humidity, I realized that I did not have enough cash to pay for my visa. I guess I shouldn’t have bought that coffee and croissant in Amsterdam. I had to step out of line and ask for an ATM. There was not a working one inside the airport, so I had to be escorted out of the airport to get cash, and then come back through security to pay for my visa. After all of this, I arrived at baggage claim, and by this time my frame pack and suitcase were the only items on the carousel. I grabbed them, nodding at the airport employees who had began to hover around like vultures ready to claim my bags as lost, and walked outside.
Outside the airport, I was greeted with warm smiles and firm handshakes from Duncan and Patrick – one of the Kenyan directors and a regional coordinator, respectively. They drove me across the city to the home of the Preston’s where I was given a hot meal, some apple cider and a comfy bed. After a great night sleep and breakfast paired with conversation, I was picked up by Patrick and taken to the airport.
Why were we going back to the airport? Great question. Before going to bed, I opened up my big suitcase and realized that it was not mine. I guess, while I was being escorted to the ATM, someone had taken my suitcase thinking it was his. The suitcases are identical, and since there were only two bags left when I got to baggage claim, I didn’t give a second thought to taking them since they looked like mine. Anyway, Patrick and I filed a report with the airline, and they tracked down the other guy. He is an American and is in Nairobi. They will call me when he brings the bag back to the airport. Luckily, my other bags contain a lot of clothes and all my essential items (unless the yoga mat and french press are considered essential). This has made me realize how little I actually need to survive. I am absolutely able to live without everything I packed into that huge suitcase. If it doesn’t get back to me, I will be perfectly fine. Though, I want it back, obviously,
Outside the airport, Patrick helped me buy a SIM card for my phone, and I took one more step toward being permanent and at home in Kenya. As we left the airport, Patrick asked me, “Are you ready to drive?” I had been waiting for this moment with equal parts dread and excitement. The prospect of learning to drive on the left side of the road in a stick shift on the busy, hectic streets of Nairobi was daunting. My response: “Absolutely.” I didn’t come all this way to hesitate.
Honestly, the hardest part about learning to drive here was remembering that the wiper blades and the turn signal were switched. I turned the wipers on a few times while preparing for a turn. Patrick gave me directions to get us to my new house. We moved my things in, I met Peter the caretaker, and we went out to a supermarket nearby to get money out of an ATM, get lunch and fill up the car with gas. Patrick was so friendly and helpful in helping me feel comfortable driving around and getting me set up to live well. After getting gas, Patrick’s friend Emmanuel came to pick him up.
Patrick asked me,” Are you able to find your way back to the house without me?”
With more confidence than I was really feeling, I said, “Yeah of course. Thanks for all your help today.”
After solidifying plans for the next couple of days, Patrick left me, saying, “Text me when you make it home. It’s just you and God now.”
While confidently driving back home, I thought about what he said. He meant it as a joke, and I laughed, but it made me think about a reality of life. No matter how many people fill our lives, helping us out and making our lives richer, at the end of the day each of us is walking through life on our own. Just us and God. Just something to think about.
As I write this, I am sitting in my kitchen with coffee having just finished breakfast, and I can’t help but think about how much God has blessed me. Through the preparation and fund-raising process and in the first moments of being in Kenya, and even in the first few months of being home last year and the time spent working at White Sulphur Springs in Pennsylvania, God has used family, friends, my fellow RPCVs, the staff at WSS and the people of CARE for AIDS to meet all my needs and get me to where I am today. I am so thankful for His provision and for all of you.