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  • And so the countdown begins. Less than a week until Kenya.

    Less than a week until I am home.

    Kenya. Home. Kenya. Home. It’s a rhythm of words that pulse through my thoughts as bold and vivid as the rhythm of a horse’s gallop. I can always feel that rhythm, especially at night when I can’t sleep. Some people count sheep…I count strides.

    The idea and uncertainty of Boston had been looming for weeks, and now that it’s over, and my mom and I are home, I find myself wishing I had slowed down a little while I was there. That I hadn’t been so hasty and determined to get Boston over with, before I even arrived, just so that I could perceivably be in Kenya THAT much sooner.

    I took Gabriel for a walk through the woods at the farm a couple weeks ago. It was one of those magical fall days when the sun makes everything shimmer and the leaves seem to defy time (and gravity) as they billow and swirl through the air for several seconds before wistfully falling to the ground. I have been missing Kenya since I left in May, but for some reason, on that walk, my thoughts really wandered… I realized what it will mean to actually be back with those kids again in mere weeks. MY kids. FINALLY. After what has been the longest six months of my life.

    It’s going to be all I can do not to run down that red dirt road of Kangemi to that beautiful rusty school door. I can already see the looks on the kids’ faces as I walk through it, taking them all by surprise, and all of us wondering if it’s really been six months…if our wish really did come true. I’ll want to hug them all…and I will. At least five times each. I’ll want to count them all…call them all by name…knowing they are safe because Mama and Baba and the teachers and kitchen mothers take such good care of them and that we are all back together again. That what I have been waiting on for six months is finally here…I’ll be home. I’ll be home.

    I’ll have so much to tell them…so much to show them. And they’ll have the same to tell and show me. They’re going to be taller and bolder and more beautiful than when I left. They’re going to be smarter in math and further along in science and even better at English than I am. Mary Anne won’t have to reach up so high to grab my hand, and Joseph and Erik, two of my Standard 7/8 boys, may very well be taller than me.

    The kids will ask about Gabriel and Lollipop and Spider Teacher Susie and my grandparents and Safari and Paris and Halloween and Napoleon (in that order) and I’ll be forced to reconcile the fact that the people and animals and things I love the most are on opposite ends of the world, in completely different hemispheres. And for a second, I’ll wish things weren’t so complicated, but then after that one more second in Kenya…which is one more second at home…I won’t be able to imagine leaving my kids and my Kenyan family ever again, and just thinking about it will make my heart ache too much to think about it anymore. And that will be the end of that.

    And I’ll just be overwhelmed and overjoyed at being home. And I’ll have de ja vu back to this walk. In the woods. The Michigan woods. Where the trees reach high and the sun filters down in rays lighting up a cathedral of open space and fresh air and spectacular freedom supported by a canopy of leaves. Where Gabriel becomes a little wilder and bolder and so do I.

    Boston

    Boston was wonderful and unexpectedly so. I met so many wonderful people. And I learned so many lessons—plenty of academic lessons on what makes good (and bad) research, why valid statistics are so important, what makes a good study, what makes a scientific poster too busy…what it’s like in the real world of public health. It’s a pretty neat world.

    But I learned other lessons, too. I learned that sometimes, you can fight for something so hard that you can forget why you’re fighting for it. But it’s important to keep fighting and it’s even more important not to doubt yourself after you’ve won. Most times, the people who fight against you have no idea who you are, and so you can’t take it personally. Well, you can and you WILL take it personally, but the trick is to find the person in them afterwards. Find the friend in them. Forgive everything else. It’s actually easier to do than it is to explain. There seems to be a friend in almost everyone and that’s what’s really important, specifically when you have things to accomplish. Friends still fight, of course, but not as often.

    There was a whole new routine to get used to in Boston, if only for a week. There were coat checks and bus shuttles and public health professionals carrying briefcases just as I always figured they did. It was strange to pull on clean clothes every morning…dress-up clothes…instead of my trusty Carhartt overalls and a scotch cap that only get more comfortable the longer they go unwashed. It was strange to hear the echo of chatter coming from long, neat corridors and get into a routine of riding escalators and breathing air that is neither freezing nor smelling of pine and sweet grass and horses. Curiouser still was looking outside and not seeing a zebra, but instead, concrete and highway and tall buildings. Instead of cooing to the horses as I toss them their hay in the morning, there were people to talk to. Researchers. Doctors. Nurses. Classmates. Professors. Professionals.

    Though I missed stretching my legs with an afternoon jaunt through the woods with Gabriel or sneaking out at midnight to hop on Safari bareback for a starlit ride…I enjoyed stretching my mind over Cox Proportional Hazard and driving through dark tunnels in the morning and walking around the expo center and listening to people talk about their research—important research—that may very well make its way to policy and programming one day soon, meaning better, healthier lives for all of us. If you haven’t thanked your nearest public health professional recently, you should. They live and work to extend your life and make it as healthy as possible.

    I will admit it was hard to sit still for entire sessions of presentations, including my own. I guess I should have known the APHA police would not be sitting in the corners waiting to lock me up if I did not perfectly adhere to the abstract I submitted…because I think it would have been more fun to…I don’t know…improv, or something. Engage the audience. Sing a Joy Beginners Song…break out into a monologue….next time.

    I loved getting to know my classmates—so many of them were strong, brave, hard working women who were as smart as they were feisty and funny and assertive. The rest were men who were professional and interesting and dedicated to their work.

    My professor was extraordinary, and I liked meeting her most of all. She is exactly who I hope to be like when I grow up. The rest of the Walden faculty were equally friendly and amazingly supportive. Many of them bought a copy of my book to support Joy Beginners, and that meant the world to me. I cannot quite explain how grateful I am for everyone’s unconditional support with the book and Joy Beginners School. So many of you have been willing to write to the kids, send them love and goodies, and offer me encouragement and support along the way. The students at Joy Beginners have given me real purpose in the world…the world that exists beyond the farm. And you have all supported me in that purpose, and while this is just the beginning…there is so much good work to be done for those kids…you’ve all made me feel like I’m up for the challenge, and that’s a priceless gift. I really want to thank you all for that.

    Really, you’ve all made me brave. Brave enough to talk to people I don’t know. Brave enough to ask people for help. Because it’s not just me anymore. I’ve got my students to look out for. And that used to feel like the whole world weighing down on my shoulders, but I learned in Boston that sometimes, just the simplest things can lead you down the tunnel to that shining light…and bring you the answers to your hardest questions. I mean, for example, every table in the expo gave you a pen if you wanted one. And I took the time to talk to these people about what their pen represented (because it just seemed like the polite thing to do) and while I mostly just wanted the pen, so that I could add it to my growing collection—I met some pretty interesting people throughout the process, some of whom can help Joy Beginners or help me help Joy Beginners. Others had ideas for making future research better…or better yet, they had ideas for making future research applicable and useful, which helps me as a PhD student. On top of that, I collected 73 pens, two of which light up and one that plays music, and now I have a gift and a story for each of the older kids at Joy Beginners. I was so happy carrying around all those pens at the end of the day. My mom thought I was crazy, and I’m pretty sure I looked like the bag lady after all the fliers and cards and information (and pens) I collected, but none of it will be wasted. I learned something from everyone and I have my work cut out for me in connecting with those I met and hopefully forging lasting relationships. By this time next year, I hope I’ll be greeting them as old friends in New Orleans with exciting news and stories about how what they taught me/showed me/gave me made a difference.

    I should also mention that my mom and my dog came with me to Boston, and I was so anxious/unsure about my presentation and the residency that I think I was probably silent a good part of the time, but the nice thing about moms and dogs is that they know you better than just about anyone else, so they weren’t too surprised or bothered by my particularly introverted behavior. You’re really never too old to bring your mom and dog anywhere. Everyone loves moms and dogs.

    But really what I’m trying to say is that God is everywhere, and He never left my side in Boston. Just as He is always in Kenya at Joy Beginners.

    And I feel blessed and highly favored that Kenya is always with me. I guess that’s what happens when you leave a part of your heart at home.
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