Friday, November 21, 2008

Count your many blessings

I made it to the west coast of the Indian Ocean yesterday. It looked a lot like the east coast to me, although that may have more to do with the latitude than the ocean itself. Probably if I ever make it to the Atlantic or Pacific oceans near the equator, it will look fairly similar- white sand, clear, clear water, and oh, so warm. In fact, considering just how hot and sticky it is in Mombasa, it might have been nice to step into a cool ocean, not something the temperature of a warm bath.

I'm on the coast for the weekend with Jo and Emily, two other IVHQ volunteers. We took a sleeper train from Nairobi to Mombasa on Wednesday night and we'll take an overnight bus back on Saturday. I've been excited to see more of Kenya away from the Nairobi area, but I can't say that the trip has been unqualified fun so far.

I slept pretty well on the train until I woke up in a drenching sweat at about 4 AM. Then I couldn't get back to sleep because my ears kept feeling pressurized to the point where it was pretty painful. It persisted in the morning and Emily said she was having a little trouble with her ears, too. The only thing we could think of was the change in altitude- Nairobi is at 5,000 feet and Mombasa is, of course, sea level. But, having been a mountain dweller essentially my whole life, I've driven from mountains to coast a number of times and never had a problem like this. It's very frustrating. My right ear cleared up pretty quickly but my left ear still feels like it needs to pop, thirty-six hours later.

I'm tolerating it pretty well, in general. This morning, Jo, Emily and I caught a matatu to the Swahili ruins at Gedi.The ruins themselves were fascinating; I enjoyed wandering around and seeing the old walls overrun by plants (knowing me, it's just possible that I found some of the plants more interesting than the ruins). There was one massive baobab tree that had a series of steps and a platform at the top, a good fifty feet in the air. My imagination is just active enough to make me a little leery of heights, especially when climbing wooden ladders is involved, but it turned out to be quite steady and provided a great view from the top (anyone who's read "A Little Prince" ought to recognize the baobab tree by name at least).

In fact, it was so nice and quiet and peaceful at the top of the platform that I lay down and closed my eyes. Emily and Jo climbed back down and I could hear them talking below me. Then after a while I couldn't hear anything and I decided I should get up before I fell asleep. So I did. I couldn't see them anywhere. I climbed down and still couldn't see anyone. We were there pretty early in the morning and not very many people were there, and the ruins are set into a forest. I suppose it's impossible to really get lost because I knew where the gate was and everything, but I suddenly felt completely alone. I assumed that the other girls had thought I was asleep and just walked away to see more of the ruins while I dozed, but I didn't really want to sit there and wait for them.

So I started walking. And then the strap on my flip flop broke. I might have considered going barefoot if I hadn't seen several humongous dead millipedes on the road on our walk there (not that flip flops are such great foot protection, anyway). And then my poor clogged ear started shooting a sharp pain into my head. And I felt like I'd love to be curled up on the bed in my hotel room with my ipod and maybe some passion fruit juice or possibly some chocolate and some tylenol so I could wallow in my misery appropriately and not be lost in some Swahili ruins with a broken sandal and a nasty earache and slightly impaired hearing.

As I was wandering around feeling sorry for myself and simultaneously trying to pray to know what the best thing to do to met up with my friends again would be (as a note, it's pretty hard to get answers to prayers while feeling sorry for oneself), suddenly a song popped into my mind unbidden. It was so unexpected that I almost started laughing.

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings! Name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

And I realized with a sharp jerk that my circumstances really weren't that bad at all. I decided to go back to the tree platform and wait there for half an hour before deciding what to do next. And I did so, and fifteen minutes later, Jo and Emily reappeared, having assumed I was asleep that whole time (I'm still just a little confused about why they didn't let me know they were going, but all's well that ends well, right?). And I was able to fix my sandal enough to walk for at least fifteen minutes at a time before it needed to be fixed, and Jo had some pain medication on her that she gave me that made my poor head feel much better, and we had a fascinating matatu ride back to our hotel, along some of the prettiest rural African scenery I have set my eyes on yet.

I don't know what I'd do without the gospel and the hymns of the church. They save me from doing so many foolish things and keep me from turning into a self pity-laden excuse of a person. One thing I've come to realize more than ever from this experience of being, as far as I know, the only LDS person for miles and miles around, is that the gospel really is for all aspects of our life. The Lord cares about everything we do and think and are, and His gospel affects every aspect of our lives, because every aspect of our lives affect our spirituality and our ability to return to Him.

Consequently, wearing my one-piece bathing suit to the beach affects my spirituality by showing the Lord and myself that I am grateful for and respect this gift of a body that He has given me. Keeping myself sexually clean does the same thing, only more so. Choosing not to swear shows respect for the Lord and also that I have enough intelligence to express myself without resorting to gutter language. Choosing to refrain from drinking alcohol shows the Lord that I appreciate my gift of agency and I'm not willing to give it up just to get a high off of ethanol. Reading my scriptures shows the Lord that I recognize the need to actively fill my mind with goodness, since I am passively absorbing so much junk from my surroundings constantly just by living in a fallen world.

It's taught me a lot. And I can say unequivocally that the biggest thing I've missed the last three weeks is the fellowship of the Church, the privilege of taking the sacrament, and feeling the strength that comes from congregating with others intent on worshiping the Lord. I can't wait to go home to that.


Ross & Amanda Goodman said...

Maria, you are amazing!

Danielle said...

I loved your whole post, but I have to say that I had a little laugh out loud over the thought of you being more interested in the plants than the ruins! Ha.

laura marie said...

awwww. Maria, you're so cute. I think I'm in love with you. Have fun, but come back to me soon.

Rebecca said...

The ear pressure thing sounds like no fun at all. Do they have gum over there?

Maria said...

Heh. Yes, they have gum, and it's disgusting. I brought some with me, and I've chewed a lot of it, actually. I'm starting to think I may have some kind of infection or something- the first thing I'm going to do when I get home is visit a doctor!