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  • I went to Africa with a broken heart. I fell in love with the adventure, the rawness, the sense that anything was possible in Kenya.

    The glories! Swimming the surging water at the source of the Nile. Gazing at brilliant stars in the bumpy bed of a hitch-hiked pick-up truck. Spotting fresh lion tracks while walking a string of camels across Turkana.

    In all the excitement, I couldn't see...

    How my heart got tough, walking sewage-paved slum paths, watching hungry young men throw old ladies aside to get to Red Cross hand-outs, seeing a mother weep for lack of a-buck-and-a-half to buy her sick son medicine.

    How my heart got skittish, as a friend talked about buying a gun after a gang of burglars drugged her in her bed, as a relaxing weekend on the coast meant wearing a panic button around my neck at all times, as I kneeled before the carjacker raising his machete above my head.

    Spouting romantic notions of how honest life seemed, with the veneer of security, of understanding, of home stripped away.

    My first week in Holland, cycling spotless streets, it seemed impossible that the two places could exist on the same planet. That stink and struggle; those maniacally manicured villages.

    But what a relief to walk the streets after dark, to know that - if something went wrong - I could call the police and they'd actually attempt to help.

    I saw then that Africa had exhausted me. I saw that the years there had made me tense and tough.

    But it's only today, revisiting this story, that I see that my time in Kenya also made me coarse, prickly like those expats I shrank from when I first got to Nairobi.

    This Midwestern winter, I've learned that people prefer pleasant, palatable personalities. I've seen my coarseness, and how it does not serve.

    So the question: how does a heart - tired, traveled, and toughened - find its way home?

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