We are Back from Africa!
We have been home three weeks and are excited to share more with you about our trip! We are grateful to be home and back at the studio to share the impact this trip has had on all of our lives. Thank you to each one of you in this community for supporting us through this entire trip. We can honestly say we felt peace and ease on our trip knowing this community was in good hands and felt the love and support that was sent our way. There were 16 of us total from the US, 12 from Nashville, two from NYC, one from California, and one from Indiana. The group traveled well together and we became a support system for each other. We returned home healthy with new life long friendships. Community, Gratitude, and Hope were the themes that were present the whole week together. Each new experience we encountered offered us a new perspective in these areas of our life. In Kenya there is a word Ubuntu and it means “I am what I am because of who WE are”. It means to us we can’t do life alone, and we are grateful to do life with all of you. We are definitely going back to Africa, and we want all of you to join us!
This trip was extremely impactful and we are still processing each day at a time. Often it is hard to put into words what actually happened, and working to share more than “It was amazing!”. During these 10 days, we ran through every emotion and experienced life changing moments we could not have previously imagine. Here is a glimpse of what happened:
We were welcomed from the moment we landed late Wednesday when Millie, an AYP teacher that visited us at Shakti, greeted us with a huge hug and squeals of excitement. We stayed in the heart of Nairobi in the Diamond Plaza, right by the Shine Center, the AYP Home that OMs:) The Africa Yoga Project community is one of the most joyful and enthusiastic communities we have experienced. The Shine Center has a full yoga schedule, averaging 40 a week. Every Saturday they host a donation community class that over 300 people attend and then serve a free vegetarian lunch to all who show up. Yogis from all around come to the class and students even bring their kids to play during practice. The Saturday class was powerful, sweaty and probably the most vocal class we have been in, lots of moans, groans, and AHHHS. We flowed, laughed, and connected with all the yogis around us and then got to serve food to 300+ shining yogis and their families. It was amazing to be able to see the impact of practicing together and then connecting over a meal.
We got to see firsthand the beauty of Kenya and what AYP is doing in the communities — it’s BIG. For example, on Sunday we went to church where one of the teachers goes, then went to a favorite brunch spot with the group and Paige Elenson, AYP Founder. After that, one of our hosts Patrick, one of the first AYP teachers, took us to visit the biggest slum in Nairobi, Korogocho, where over 300,000 people live. We can honestly say that the living conditions in the slum are worse than anything we imagined. And, amongst leaky roofs, dirt floors, garbage and stagnant waste water, we were greeted with love and excitement. Patrick shared that he actually used to live in a slum and still has many friends that do, and overall the people are happy.
AYP teaches yoga to the kids in this slum and partners with a non-profit called Ghetto Classics that teaches kids how to play classical music and instruments. You should definitely look Ghetto Classics up. We got to experience a concert performed by the orchestra of the kids that lived right there in the slum. It was mind blowing. If you closed your eyes and just listened you could be right back at the Schermerhorn, forgetting that there were 30 acres of trash and poverty right behind you. We were surrounded by the most adorable and loving children that just wanted to be near us as we all listened to the music. The place was filled with joy and hope, it was beautiful. In the evenings we always gathered to have dinner together and had a check in from the day. This was always a special, and sometimes uncomfortable, time for the group. This was an opportunity to share with the group about our personal experiences from the day— we would go over how we felt emotionally, what we have opened up to, and also what we could we give up right now in the moment. It was an important time to process what we were feeling and allow feelings of sadness and "let me fix everything” turn into compassion and contentment. Each day you could see the group grow closer and more connected with each special moment we shared.
On Monday our big service project started. Samson, an Alumni AYP teacher was our team Kongo leader on this project and he got us pumped for the hard work ahead. We started our day with 6am Yoga at Shine Center and then off to Kongo Primary School. The school is located in a rural part of Nairobi, which was nice to be in the open fresh air and surrounded by corn and coffee fields. We were greeted by all the students singing their welcome to Kongo song! The kids instantly stole our hearts on our arrival. It was powerful to see what our actual fundraising money went to. The money we raised went to installing windows, a veranda/walkway, 53 new desks, chairs, and painting the inside and outside of the building. Our job when we arrived was to build desks, sand and varnish them. We painted and cleaned out all the classrooms in the new building, and our most important task was to love on and play with the amazing children! The school had over 500 kids ranging from 3-17. At times we were surrounded by them wanting to help us sand the desk, paint but mostly tug on us to play. They were the best distraction we could ever ask for. When we had breaks we played soccer, frisbee, duck duck goose, and ran around singing and dancing with the kids. It was so special to put down the tools and go play like a kid with no care in the world accept to have fun with each other. These two days were some of the most satisfying hard work we had done, knowing that we were helping to create a sustainable impact for this school and the incredible kids.
At the end of our project we all gathered on the lawn and they presented us with a gift, it was a SHEEP! We were shocked and amazed. We named him Gotye the Sheep. Patrick told us to accept it and then graciously return Gotye to the staff to enjoy, but not until we got lots of photos with the school teachers, directors and our beautiful gift. I am not sure how we could have got him back to Nashville, but he would be here if we could have. We got one more special goodbye from the school’s choir. They sang us songs of thanks and love. It was a moment that we did not want to end.
We had so many special moments right from the beginning like watching baby elephants play with each other, feeding and kissing giraffes (kissing was optional), and seeing the impact yoga has on so many people anywhere in the world. Five of us mentor an AYP teacher over Skype, FB, and emails and on this trip we all got to spend time with them. It was one of the most extraordinary moments to see the person face to face you have been connecting with for almost 3 years. It felt surreal and also absolutely perfect. We had a huge surprise on our trip that we found out the day before we got there…BARON BAPTISTE was going to be there! Baron is the founder of Baptiste yoga, our teacher and the co-founder of AYP. We were all so excited and completely shocked! He was in Nairobi doing a two day training for the AYP teachers and we got to join in for the master class with him on Monday night at the Shine Center. It was a full circle moment for us to be all together with our group, Baron, Paige, and at the Shine Center in Nairobi. It was a moment of complete joy and contentment. And to top it off we all got to hangout at a lake house on the 4th of July together for a potluck/cookout- very American:)
Now it was time to head for our Safari! We journeyed to Amboseli National Park about 5 hours away from Nairobi. Mary, Stuart, and Vicki were our AYP hosts for this trip and Vicki’s adorable 13 month old, Zahari. It was like being on vacation! We stayed at resort that over looked Mount Kilimanjaro and the National Park. We were warmly welcomed and when we arrived there were elephants walking right behind our rooms. Our time was absolutely magical. We went on two game drives. We rode around in our safari vans with our heads popped out the top taking in the beauty of the land and all the animals. At one time we saw hundreds of zebras and wildebeest grazing together while a lion was lounging in the distance, antelope galloping along and a group of elephants were peacefully passing by. They were all living harmoniously together, I think we were all in awe and waiting to wake up from a dream.
We ended the trip back in Nairobi at the Shine Center for the famous 2hr Saturday community class. Kelly, Liz and I were honored to be able to lead the class. The practice was a big celebration of community and connection. It was a time for us to give back to the AYP community that took care of us all week. It felt like a big party with 350 of your closest yogi friends. Saying our goodbyes to our new friends and family was especially hard on Saturday. So we decided to not say goodbye but say see you later. Nashville is closer than you think.
There are no words to explain the feelings this trip has left in all of our hearts and the impact it has made in our lives. Kenya will always hold a special place in our hearts and leaves a desire to go back sooner than later. Thank you to each person from AYP, especially Chichi, Patrick, Stuart, Mary, Vicki, Zablon, Joy, Samson, Millie, Paige, and Baron for welcoming us to Kenya. And thank you to each one of you for supporting us along the way.
With gratitude and Shakti Love
L & K