I woke up on my first day in Nairobi, Kenya feeling both excited and bewildered to begin our first journey, after having spent nearly a fifth of my pocket money calling my mom from the hotel to tell her I was safe the night before. A long and confusing few hours at the bank were a good way to introduce us to "African time," the unhurried, content pace of a people simultaneously only one continent but also several worlds away.
Next stop, a trip to a local park. Mind reeling from the jet lag and the grasshopper weed a few of us *legally* indulged in during our quick stop in Amsterdam, I plopped myself on a rock on the edge of the park. Maybe calling it jet lag was my way of avoiding chitchat with my fellow American students; I eschew small talk like the plague, hence why it takes me a year and a half to make friends in a new city. Meanwhile, my comrades happily took pictures of each other enthusiastically feeding the resident park monkeys some peanuts, while Kenyans casually snuck glances of the wazungu making spectacles of themselves. Imagine a group of Africans joyfully feeding rats some popcorn in Central Park, and you'll probably have a good idea of what those Kenyans must have been thinking of us feeding their pesty "vermin." It became even more peculiar when I noticed shoeless, dirty children were apprehensively following behind the gluttonous monkeys, picking up and eating the peanuts they dropped. Stunned doesn't come close to how I felt at that moment.
Upon piling back into the matatu, I asked my professor about the scene I had just witnessed. "Street children," he returned, with a sad and knowing look, "sometimes called 'urchins' by locals. They are orphans who wander the streets in search of food and donations." Like every other American with a television, I had grown up seeing the Christian Children's Fund commercials, so I knew there were needy children in the world. It's hard to remember exactly what I comprehended about them prior to this experience, but my images likely involved orphanages ala Little Orphan Annie and Great Expectations. I was amazed to learn that children as young as Vivi lived on the street with no one to care for them. While I can't recall the thoughts I had before I knew these kids existed, I will never forget the one thought that occupied my mind for a long time afterward: I will adopt a child.
Ten years and eons of life experiences later, I would still love to adopt a child, but the concept has taken on some baggage on the con side of the equation. Family have understandably asked many hard questions, like whether we recognize that we are potentially subjecting our children to being raised alongside a child with special needs, how we will afford to pay the adoption fees, and why we would consider adopting when we know we can create such beautiful children ourselves, i.e. why not let people who can't have children of their own be the ones to adopt. I chatted recently about these questions with my lifelong friend AnnaLysa, and she reminded me that fostering a child is always an option, which could eventually lead to adoption in the right circumstances. I appreciate her letting me continue the dream in my mind, whether or not it becomes a reality some day.