6 am, Thika, Kenya. The dim light spreading over the concrete floor of my dusty dorm room slowly melts into quiet wakefulness. The background noise of the river and jungle birds coaxes me awake almost as convincingly as it holds me in the last moments of sleep, just listening.
The growing light and warmth of the day push me from a tangle of sandy sheets and scratchy mosquito netting. Washing my face from a water bottle and draping the washcloth over the window bars to dry, the simultaneous weight of humidity and the coolness of morning settle around me, a second layer of clothes. With the help of the window sunlight I clumsily manage to get in my contacts. Blinking out through the window the jungle morning comes into a peaceful focus.
6:30 am. A small blue airplane blanket, a notebook, my iPod and a shady rock by the river. Even seeing it before my eyes it’s hard to take in the lush, crashing picture of birds and trees dipping in and out of the rivers cold, tumbling water. It’s even harder to connect the river with the muddy, trash filled streets it flows through in Nairobi before wending its way down to the jungle retreat center. I sit hugging my knees and forgo the noise of my iPod for the music of water and rocks having early morning conversations.
7am. Breakfast with everyone gathered around tables we pushed together on the patio of the kitchen building. I’ve learned to ignore the tiny ants in the bread, instead smothering them with grainy peanut butter and mounds of jelly. We fill our plastic cups with hot chocolate, tea and instant coffee, sipping while we chatter about whether the shadowy mountain in the distant is close enough to walk to in a day. “No, no, no” our Kenyan teacher tells us, “you must have a special guide to keep you safe. There are deadly buffalo.” We all laugh, although he is very serious.
The day moves earnestly on, class time, tea time, more class time. In the afternoon we explore along the river. Down stream there is no trail only the thick tangles of vines and underbrush filled with lizards and mosquitos. I should have worn shoes, but we’re too far now and my sandaled feet have seen enough barefoot summers to brush off the rough twigs and rocks. The river opens up now and then and stretches into shallow rocky lakes with small islands of palm trees. Several people turn back, tired and ready to trade the spirit of adventure for a cool shower and a nap in the sleepy warmth of late afternoon. I scramble on with the remaining expedition, not willing to let these extraordinary moments go unsavored.
We spend the rest of the afternoon at a shallow waterfall, diving under the bubbling rapids to collect handfuls of smooth rock. Sprawled out across the rocks I soak up every heady moment of heat and the heaviness of tropical air, feeling my skin stretch tight with sunshine and drying water.
6am, Ohio, United States. Rolling over still half asleep I look out into the darkness of a damp, cold February morning. The glass of my window is cold to the touch and I snuggle deeper into my blankets. Closing my eyes I still hear the sounds of jungle birds and a rushing river in my memories as I drift through the last moments of sleep, just remembering.
About the Author: My name is Lara, an excitable 20-something from the MidWest of the United States. Traveling and writing are two of my greatest joys.
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