The day I thought I might never read another book

Two months now, we’ve been back from Kenya. It’s October, and late July/early August seem so far in the past. I can hardly remember what was happening B.K. (Before Kenya) and life after Kenya has certainly been a shock. Life has changed in some ways and in other ways not at all. I’m over the initial feelings of not knowing what to say, though I still find it hard to express all the experiences and feelings into words that make sense if you’ve never been to Africa. If you have been to Africa, I find it easier to talk to you. (Or if you ask really good questions beyond, “So how was Africa?”)

Short of selling everything we own and moving to Kenya (that’s not our path; not yet), I’m trying to find a way to hold on to something that is slipping away. And maybe the truth is that it’s not slipping away, not exactly, but burrowing deeper into my soul. You can hold a seed in your hand and admire its unique beauty, but unless you put it in the ground and cover it with dirt, you’ll never see its fruit or flower.

This is how it is with Kenya.

Our experience is like a seed that is buried now, but I’m watering it and giving it light. The only way I know to do this is with books and television.

In the weeks that followed our return from Kenya, Phil and I watched the documentary “Long Way Down,” the journey Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took from the top of Scotland to the tip of South Africa on their motorcycles.  They spent two entire episodes in Kenya, and we watched the whole series. We fell in love with Africa all over again, and not just the pretty parts. The series showed Ewan and Charley visiting humanitarian aid projects and war memorials. It was not a vacation, though they stayed in some beautiful areas.

We also watched an animated movie about zebras, called “Khumba,” with the kids. It was a little bit scary for our sensitive child, but it’s fun to see them take an interest in Kenya now, too. When we go to the library or a book sale, they will often pick out books that have an Africa theme. (And I checked out three books about Kenya and Swahili from the kids’ section of the library on our first visit after we got home.)

I tried to read books during this time. In fact, I had packed my suitcase full of books for all the travel and “down time” (har har–we had almost none). I’m not sure I finished more than one book. And when we returned, I couldn’t bring myself to read. I often read for distraction and I was either a) too tired or b) unwilling to be distracted, and I worried that maybe I would never read another book again.

Even now, fiction has been difficult for me. I’ve read six novels in the past two months, and three of them were set in Kenya. I’ve been more choosy than normal about the stories I read, which is a bit of a curse when you have a stack of books to review on your desk. I’m suspecting that when the new year hits, I’m going to have to scale back on the books I say “yes” to.

If you’re interested in the three novels I read that were set in Kenya, they were:

  • A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve. (It was okay. Mostly about a newlywed couple who decide to climb Mt. Kenya and whose relationship changes after a tragedy. I’ve never read Shreve, and I’m not sure I will again.)
  • Angel of Mercy by Lurlene McDaniel. (Horrible. A young adult pick when I was in a pinch at a library and needed something to read in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. No offense to any McDaniel fans out there, but I found this totally unrealistic.) circling the sun
  • Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. (Excellent. A fictional look at the life of Beryl Markham, whose name I would not even have known if I hadn’t taken an obsessive interest in Kenya. I will read anything McLain writes.)

I love novels, but lately I’m finding that I need to read non-fiction. The first book I picked at the library after we returned was Out of Africa by Karen Blixen. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the movie, but I was moved by her descriptions of Africa and the surrounding land. It dragged on a bit toward the end.out of africa

And I finished reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. I started this book months ago but didn’t think I could finish it. Hard stories of what life is like for women in some of the poorest areas of the world, but when we got back from Kenya, I needed to read it and discover how women are finding opportunities to change their circumstances and the lives of women around them. It was more inspiring than depressing.

I also read Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. I’m late to this party, but I loved reading about she was called to Uganda as a young woman and began adopting girls who needed a home. Her story was a picture of what amazing things God can do when someone says “yes” wholeheartedly.

And I’ve barely scratched the surface of the list of Africa/poverty-related reading I want to do. Maybe I’ll post some updates like this one occasionally. I never knew there was so much to read and watch about Africa.

What books would you recommend? You can leave them in the comments or meet me over on Goodreads and send your thoughts my way.