Everything ends. No, not everything. Not love. Not always.
Remember when I first arrived back in June? I was quiet. And you guys relentlessly asked me why I was so shy or why I seemed bored. The truth is that I was quiet and shy because I was trying to listen. I seemed bored because I was so constantly surprised, awestruck, by you, that sometimes I didn’t have the words to respond like a normal human being would.
I was taught that in order to serve, I needed to learn how to listen intently. I’ve long preferred to listen, absorbing the world around me, than to speak anyway. But you challenged how I followed that, because you asked, “How can you listen to us if you don’t let us hear your story? Your story is important too.” At first, I didn’t understand. I came here to serve YOU. It was your incredible, difficult stories that brought me here. My life paled in comparison, I thought. But you quickly taught me that I had to meet vulnerability with vulnerability. I could not take your story without giving mine. “I just want to listen,” would not be enough to know you.
So, reluctantly, speak I did. And you showed ME the greatest empathy I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes on a walk with one of you who noticed I was struggling and demanded, “Safeena, I’m showing you around Kamulu.” Sometimes with a circle of you sitting on the basketball court until midnight, swapping life stories with just a tad too much humor for the subject matter. Sometimes holding back tears at your kitchen table as you cooked me chai while speaking truths directly into my heart. Once in a while, you’d even make me yell. Like when you used me as a human shield while I was holding my laptop when you were about to be washed for your birthday (ahem, Moses). And you all laughed, and opened up to me more. Because, rejoice, Safeena doesn’t just speak– girl’s got some spunk.
Thank you for bringing me out from behind the server’s counter and into your world, for breaking down a wall that I used as a safety net.
Maybe I did that to guard my heart. I knew if you knew me as well as I wanted to know you, then it would be that much harder to want to leave, as I knew I would have to in just a few months. Thank you for teaching me that the true meaning of “serving” isn’t always based around giving and taking and just doing. That’s only a reaction of it. You taught me that serving begins with empathy and vulnerability. It’s about being willing to know and understand, and equally about being willing to be known and understood. I could not have one without the other the past months. You needed to trust me. And you did so quickly that I shocked myself with how quickly I trusted you. You served me before I had the chance to serve you, and because of that, you gave me the ability to serve you better. Thank you.
I sometimes asked you about the interns or visitors who impacted you in the past. You’d tell me about the difference they made to you, but often accompanied with, “Ahhh…what was their name…I can’t remember…maybe two or four years ago…?”
In time, you will forget the specifics of who I was.
My voice will be hard to imagine and my face hard to picture. Half of you already had trouble with my name so that one’s just a given! At first, I was scared of that. I wanted to be more.
But I have peace now. Because I will never forget you, the sound of your laughter, your sweet voices singing ever morning, the scent of coconut chai or chapatti, the way you would imitate the apparently ridiculous way I walk, the look on your face when I told you I had to leave in a few week. I will never forget taking 25 matatus and some other sketchy modes of transportation only to get in SO much trouble for doing what we never stopped thinking was the right (but definitely dumb) to do. I will never forget how much it deeply hurt when you ran away. And how peace washed over me when the skies opened up and it rained and a shooting star blazed through the sky that night, telling me you’re in God’s hands. I will never forget forcing you out of your dorms to squish around in the ankle-swallowing mud with me.
I will never forget when you said, “Safeena, thank you. I never would have noticed how beautiful the sky was if you didn’t tell me to look up.” And we agreed to look up more because that’s where God is. I will never forget how you brought me “leftover” (the best) food when I was sick at home ALL the time. I will never forget you starting a (questionably violent) maize war with me in the kitchen on my first day as an American alone. I will never forget you trusting me with your children, even after the end up at the hospital with stitches and a concussion (can I still blame Jack?). I will never forget how joyfully you sang and danced together in praise when the power went out.
I will never forget the sass with which you did your little Beyonce dance in Sunday School. I will never forget you beaming with professionalism and pride after I let you stab a hole through my cartilage. I will never forget you staying up all night so that you wouldn’t risk sleeping through taking me to the airport at 5 AM. I will never forget how I simultaneously loved and screamed at you for actually feeling like my brothers and sisters.
I will never forget you, and I think that’s enough for me.
And if all you remember about me is the smallest impact, that’s a million times better. And if that sliver of impact gets passed on to someone else, that’s a billion times better.
I came to serve, and no matter how much I did, I’d have always felt like I could have done 100 times more while I was there with you. So I have one small request. If I did make any positive impact on you, please do your best to make that impact multiply. Never, ever, ever forget the dreams you shared with me, about taking care of your unborn children, about giving back and serving street children the way you were served, about forgiving your past, about seeing the world. Multiply by passing on any love we shared to those who could use it. If nothing else, remember this from my last chapel talk– pour into each other as you have been poured into. Not because I poured into you perfectly– I didn’t– but because your Creator has.
You have been dipped in blessings. You have overcome some of the worst the world has to offer. You still laugh and play with more joy than I’ve ever been capable of. I have been so lucky to have shared a piece of life with you, and I will be back. I have learned far more from you than you may ever know. Thank you for helping me come out of Kamulu better than I came in– a goal I strived for after learning it from you. You have brought me closer to knowing abundant life– maisha tele– and I’ll be speaking of you for a long time.