Sunday, August 26, 2012

A letter from Corporal Bernie Flapjack Jr.

Hello there, Corporal Bernie Flapjack Jr. here (call me Bernie), world traveller and hitchhiker extraordinaire.  A few days ago I arrived back in Canada after going on a trip to Africa with a group of 23 scouts on a humanitarian effort.  A month previous, I had managed to get onboard their trip by posing as an item in an airport shop, and one (Jenn I think her name was) actually PAID to have me hitchhike along with them.  Together we saw many incredible things, and did some great volunteer work.  Of course, when I say we worked, I refer mainly to them, as I sneakily kept up my pretense of being a stuffed animal throughout the trip.  While this allowed me to escape the work (and get free travel and accommodations), it was quite disappointing when they would forget about me and I would sit for hours or days stuck in a bag.  Nevertheless, I got to visit the streets of Amsterdam, hang out with some giraffes and see my poor friends in the Nairobi National Prison err, Museum.  I sunbathed on the Indian Ocean, nearly got kidnapped by some monkeys, and did my best to haggle with the vendors (despite their best efforts, I didn’t give in to them and bought nothing!).  While the sightseeing was nice, I never expected to enjoy the volunteer work so much.  All the happy children and laughing was incredible, and the kids I was on the trip with turned out to be pretty cool.  After all we went through together, I figured I owed them something for taking me along, so I snuck through their paperwork and got all their e-mail addresses.  Then I sent them all a nice thank you and asked them for their thoughts on the trip.  I would like to share with you what they responded with.

First: Give a quick outline of your experiences and reactions since you arrived in Toronto.

Brandon Scott
"It was different this time in comparison with the countless times I have arrived home from trips.  The differences between Kenyan and Canadian culture are much more subtle in nature, which may be due to our shared connection to the British Commonwealth. In any case, the biggest difference that struck me is our oblivious use here in Canada of the question “How are you?” in place of “Hello”.  In Kenya, an individual will usually begin with “Hello, how are you?” and expect to hear how you are.
Another great defining character between these two countries is the difference in food available. Not exactly one of my usual ingredients, but our meals in Kenya often lacked cheese. In fact, most meals are limited to that of what can be cooked fresh, because refrigerators cannot be relied upon due to the inconsistency electricity (which was the case for us while in Shiru).
To this day, even as I am writing this, I still feel the urge to get up and go share my thoughts with another member of the contingent.  However, I quickly come to the realization that they are nowhere in sight. Through all the positive and negative emotions associated with being home, one can always reflect upon that moment in time when amazing people surrounded them."

Michael Nash
Canada is a pretty weird place...We should have stayed in Africa.

Eric Kyle
Well... I slept a lot, organized/edited pictures and drank real milk. I enjoyed returning to Canadian culture, as it means a considerably larger variety of food. My family and friends have been marginally excited to have me back.

Caitlind Matthews
"As soon as I was off the plane I was overwhelmed with happiness and sadness at the same time, I was glad to be home and so happy that the trip happened but I was sad that it was over. So many of the people on the trip live fairly far away And the thought that I will probably never see any of them again is highly upsetting. Saying goodbye to everyone was terrible. I hate goodbyes. Before we even left the airport I missed everyone. And when we got to Bryson I missed everyone even more.
Getting home was so nice. Seeing my moms and my neighbor bob was the greatest. I swear I didn't stop talking for like 2 hours. Oh gosh hot showers are fantastic. My best friend and I had a screaming/crying fit when we finally saw each other!
My stomach is still adjusting back to Canadian food.. That's not fun and I might be a little bit jet lagged.... I will never forget the experience it has changed my life. And so has everyone from the contingent. "

Andrea Loughlean - Medical Advisor
"It has been wonderful seeing my family again. Being away from your family for a month gives you the opportunity to miss them and realize just how valuable their love and support is.
Returning to Canada has been somewhat surreal. Everything that was so common and comfortable to me only a month ago, now seems a little foreign and a slightly uncomfortable. I am now very aware of all the excess that we have in our lives and how happy a people can be living with so much less; the essentials only and sometimes not even that.
Being Canadian inherently offers us a ""better life"" with more wealth, more conveniences, and quite simply more stuff than our Kenyan friends. However, during this month, in no way have I seen evidence that any of these things make Canadians a happier people. I envy my Kenyan friends for their life lessons already learned."

Kayla Powell
When I tried to explain certain things it was like I couldn't find the English word to use, so then I would say words in Swahili which they didn't know what it meant.  It was funny to see their expressions.

Kristin Ransome
Lack of cows and goats crossing the street, nobody using Matatu-style to get somewhere, seatbelts!, and Mzungus!!

Eric Post
"After finally making my way through customs (Yes, lady, you DO have to declare a massive collection of designer leather purses, and thanks for splitting them up amongst all 10 of your bags!), I emerged to find my parents snapping away with their cameras and very happy to see me.  The drive home passed as I told stories of my adventures, and found out about my family's own summer adventures. 
Having been through this all once before, I was prepared for what would come next: the sudden thrust back into ""normal"" life, the expectations of preparing for school and the readjusting to Canadian time and food.  This time was different though, for two reasons.  First, my mom and brother had been in Costa Rica for a bit, so they were undergoing some of the same reactions, which made it much easier for me.  Second, preping for school this time means moving for first-year university.  I arrived home to discover my dad had found an apartment for me, and began the long task of figuring out everything I need to do to get ready for a new chapter of my life.
The usual jet-lag and reverse cuisine shock still plague me, but they are a minor bother.  Everyone is still buzzing with the excitement of the trip, and much story and photo sharing is occurring.  From experience I know this will die down eventually (though never fade entirely), but I intend to preserve our current euphoria for years to come, with plans for several film projects based on my experiences.  While I would rather be back in Kenya, things are pretty good here too.”

Ryan Pepper
My arrival back was, in one way, actually pretty disappointing, because I was thinking "Finally, Canadian food!" but alas, food just made me feel sick for a few days. However, I was the center of a conspiracy theory to drag me down to Iron Horse Festival because my friends had arranged some surprise "Look he's back" thing, so I got to see some of my friends for a while and bask in Western festival consumerism, which smells quite a bit better than markets in Kenya. Plus my mom bought me pajamas and Big Bang Theory bobble heads, so, all in all, it's been pretty spectacular to be back in Canada.

Jamie Schaffler - Patrol Advisor
When I first returned home, I was really excited to see my family,  my friends and my boyfriend. They were all really excited to see me as well and greeted me with hugs and many questions about my trip. After settling in to the fact of being back in Canada with friends and family, I began to miss the contingent members, the traveling and Kenya itself. Kenyan life is full of simplicity and being back in Canada brings you back to reality: figuring out school courses; work and responsibilities. Although being back in Canada has it perks, warm showers, forks, roadway regulations, and your own bed, it is difficult to go on the same way as before our trip.
After seeing everything we saw and experiencing all that we did, it is hard not to be thankful for our lives in Canada. It is difficult not to compare your life to that of a Kenyan. It is impossible to forget the poverty and disease that affects so many people in Kenya. Its weird to walk down the street without children yelling "Mzungu" at you. And most of all, its weird not waking up to 23 people who have been your family over the past month.

Aaron Rollins
I just remember driving down the roads and thinking we are lucky we have such great infrastructure because there weren't any potholes.

Ashley Wong
"After getting off the airplane in Toronto, I was a step closer to being home. While the majority had a 2-3 hour bus ride to London or their parents picking them up in Toronto, I had a 5hr flight back to Vancouver, BC. After many hugs and tearful goodbyes, Krysta and I left to check in. I regret not taking a final photo of everyone waving goodbye as I left...grrrr. The 5hr flight was slow and boring. Krysta was sitting 2 rows ahead of me and she was taking a nap. I was on an adrenaline rush and was not able to sleep so I read the comments left in my sketchbook, some photos on my camera and the journal I kept from day 1.
As soon as I got to the airport, my parents were already waiting at the luggage pick-up area. I gave them a long hug and told them it was an amazing experience and thanks for letting me go. We picked up my bags and I said good-bye to Krysta. When my brothers came back home, they didn't have much of a reaction besides ""oh, you're back.""
The first thing I did when I got back was open up my laptop to put all ~4200 photos in! It was an accomplishment to be able to take that many photos in a month and I didn't want to risk something happening to it. After all my photos were transferred, I took a shower and then a quick dinner with rice, steak and veggies. Unfortunately, it wasn't really asian (besides the rice)...but my breakfast the next morning was! Then, headed to a long and much-needed rest.
Now my final days before heading to University consists of running around getting back to school supplies, organizing my photos, fighting jet-lag and meeting with friends and family to share my time in Kenya and make them as jealous as possible ;) "

Rachel Thorburn
Arriving in Toronto, things seemed almost unreal- the buildings were straight and symmetrical, there were no goats on the road, etc. I felt almost out of place- things didn't quite seem as I had remembered them, somehow. But it was good to be home. After tearful goodbyes at the airport, we headed home. On the bus ride back, Kevin turned back to me and yelled "Hey Rachel, your parents won't be at Bryson right away, they went to the beach." "Very funny" I replied, rolling my eyes. "No seriously," he said. "They thought you were getting home at 6".
This was about the last thing I expected, and I left a message on my mom's cell phone letting her know exactly what I thought about the ordeal. Luckily, Kevin let them know just in time, and they arrived just minutes late. It was great to see my family again- I hadn't realized how much I missed them until I finally saw them again. After saying my goodbyes to the contingent, I headed home.
Inside, my brothers had laid out cutlery to form the words "WELCOME HOME" on the living room floor- it was absolutely adorable. After some visiting, I showered (which was a fantastic experience) and went to bed, only to wake up at 5am feeling like it was mid afternoon, and wondering where I was and where my 20 contingent members were, before remembering they were all in their respective homes- we were back in Canada. It was over.
Overall, my homecoming was bittersweet. As much as I missed hot showers and forks, I will miss everyone, too.”

Eric Davison
“The food was refreshing and the sheer size of everything suddenly seemed a lot more impressive, that and roads...roads are nice.”

Daniel Wassmansdorf
I’m amazed at the difference in prosperity and wastefulness of North American culture compared to Kenyan culture. The whole experience of being back in Canada has involved a lot of culture shock. The amount of questions I have gotten has been as surprising as some of the questions themselves.  I’m quite surprised at the lack of knowledge of life in other parts of the world, though I was guilty of the same thing before going on this trip. The difference in culture has been massive and it has been an interesting transition between lifestyles.

Hannes Filler
Since I arrived home, I've hit the ground running; getting back up to date with news, university, friends and family. I found that most of all I missed the people rather than the things; eating at Subway was nice, but I'd trade it for chapati with what we pretended was bruschetta any day. Seeing my parents again was undeniably the best thing that happened that day, closely followed to everyone else (and my cat). I'll miss Kenya, but I'm glad to be back. :D

Alanna Cunningham Rogers
"The trip was long, the plane flights arduous - but the most difficult part yet still awaited us, and that was leaving behind 23 of the best friends we'd ever made. Backbreaking work in the equatorial sun and 10 hour drives in cramped quarters on kenyan roads were nothing compared to walking away from the airport, knowing what I left behind. On our return to Canada, I was sick and tired and I didn't care because those were the last few days I would get to spend with my contingent. Right now, sitting in my backyard with a cold drink and book in hand, I would give anything to go back to the porch swing in Shiru one last time.
Sitting on the bus to London wasn't so bad; I still had most of my friends and it was easy to pretend another adventure was just starting. We had our first taste of Canadian cuisine in a month together (we went to Timmies) and we all watched as our friends reunited with their families. To say it was bittersweet would be an understatement.
Personally, I went home, had a 45 minute shower, and promptly fell asleep. It was 5pm. When I woke up two hours later (or so I thought) I was a little confused as to where my family had gone, since we always stay up late. It was actually 7am; I'd been asleep for more than ten hours and hadn't realized it.
I've spent the last two days sleeping, organizing pictures and talking to my contingent buddies. My family has taken my reappearance in stride; it's been quiet here. My scars and bruises from brick-tossing are fading and so is my sunburn from Mombasa. Slowly, the physical evidence of my month in Kenya is disappearing, but I know that for me and for 23 others, the mental and emotional effects will never fade."

Second: What are your final thoughts looking back on the entire trip?

Michael Nash
It was pretty chill.

Eric Kyle
Totally worth it.

Caitlind Matthews
"I wish it wasn't over.
I want to go back and finish building the clinic.
It was the most amazing experience of my life and I am so happy I got to share it with the people I did.
I want to go back.
It changed my life. It changed who I am and how I look at life."

Andrea Loughlean - Medical Advisor
I learned a lot of life changing lessons and met a lot of lifelong friends during my time in Kenya. I wouldn’t change a thing even if I had the chance and I would do it all again tomorrow if given the opportunity. This trip was an eye opener in so many ways and was nothing short of amazing to say the least.

Kayla Powell
It was an amazing and life changing experience.

Kristin Ransome
Absolutely amazing, with fantastic and outgoing people and leadership and I can't wait to share the next trip with some of these people!

Eric Davison
The trip was incredibly eye opening and it was interesting witnessing the contrast between the two cultures.The group was amazing and I hope to see you all at some future event (just hurt yourself and I might be there).

Ryan Pepper
Now that the trip is over, I really, really miss it. Looking at all the pictures of the trip, I realize just how amazing it was. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime  experience. I'm going to miss Kenya, but I'm especially going to miss all the people who really made the trip so fantastic.

Alanna Cunningham Rogers
"Oh. My. Lord.
Where can I even begin? Words are paltry, jaded things that can not begin to capture the magnitude of what they describe. Ink on paper and pixels on a computer screen are poor substitutes for the real thing, and the real thing is what we had. Life-changing is such an easy thing to say, but it is another thing to truly experience it. Shiru will never be the same. WE will never be the same.
We built the foundations of a clinic in a small town in Africa. Our sweat and blood and grime were the last push the project needed to change lives in that community for years to come.
We touched and fed and kissed giraffes. How many people get to say that? And get to say oh, yeah, we also rode ostriches? And went snorkeling in the Indian Ocean? We bargained with the best of them and (mostly) held our own. We made friends with Kenyan scouts. We were proposed to. We learned how many cows we were worth.  We learned just how far we could push ourselves in a day, and then pushed harder. We threw bricks at each other. We survived Kenyan driving and learned to laugh in the face of 18-wheeler trucks.
I'd like to say that we'll stick together, but I know that's not the truth. While I'll be friends with everyone for life, I know we'll grow apart, and that's what upsets me the most about the trip ending. Time and school and work will make it hard, but I know I'll always be able to look at the bracelet on my wrist and remember every single person who has an identical one.

Jamie Schaffler - Patrol Advisor
It was a fabulous experience. There are so many memories, laughs and tears that were shared amongst the contingent that will never be forgotten. I am so thankful that I had this experience and am counting down the days until I can return once more to Africa.

Daniel Wassmansdorf
It was an amazing experience. The team was incredible. Everyone connected extremely well which made the whole experience so much better. Seeing what life is really like in other parts of the world was mind blowing and it really helped to put things in perspective. The leadership team was outstanding and handled the ever changing situations extremely well. Communication was certainly something that could have improved between the Kenyan and the Canadian leadership teams but that didn't take away from the overall experience. This trip was definitely something that changed my life and my perspective. It was so much fun and I will never forget it.

Aaron Rollins
"The people were awesome, energetic and always happy.  The food was good but had no variety.  The landscape was beautiful."

Ashley Wong
"Although, it was challenging trying to adjust to a new environment it was an amazing and unforgettable experience. At first I had troubles trying to fit in and just took photos, but as time progressed and with being stuck in vehicles for so long, I slowly warmed up to the group and got to know everyone a bit better. I wouldn't have survived the trip without the guidance of the leaders and the support from everyone else in the contingent. I'm thankful to have been given the chance of coming along and I’m glad I didn't back out even when some others did due to civil unrest in the country (which did linger in my mind for awhile). I fulfilled my ""goal"" of this trip to be able to record the laughter and the memories of this trip and be able to share the stories with my friends and family about the month I spent in Kenya with 22 other mzungus.
Final thought? I'm going back to sleep...stupid jet lag.
Just kidding...VISIT ME WHEN YOU'RE IN BC. or else..... :) "

Hannes Filler
This was a wonderful experience. I have learned things I could never have learned in a classroom or from any book. It has been incredibly rewarding to make my own experiences and see with my own eyes. I have learned hard work, the value of a dollar, the value of helping and the value of friends. I know that sounds cliche but sometimes cliches are the best ways of putting things. I had fun, and I learned a lot and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Eric Post
"12 years ago I was a little kid staring fascinated at the screen as the Lion King played over and over again.  2 years ago I would have never expected to travel to Kenya within the year (but I did with Me to We).  1 year ago I would have never expected to be back in Kenya for the second summer in a row.  10 years from now I know I will look back at this year's experience and say: "That was the defining trip of my life."" 
I have known for most of my life that I wanted to humanitarian work, most likely medical in nature.  The past 5 years of my life I have been working towards that goal, and this summer I achieved it.  There was nothing more incredible than standing there in that small church in Kenya, watching hundreds line up to be treated by a team that I was a part of.  Every single dose of medication I handed out was another life who might have been potentially saved as a result.  Every single brick we moved was one step closer to a higher level of healthcare for the community of Shiru.  Every single second that passed was another lesson learned for everyone present.
Scouting is a way of bringing together people to work towards a common cause.  Never before in my life has this been more true, and never again will I ever doubt the power of youth brought together to stand for what they believe is right."

Brandon Scott
Throughout the entirety of this project we were reminded how it would change our lives. Looking back on this project, it has been an incredible journey. One could truly describe this as a life changing experience. Would I do this again? The simple answer is yes – in a heartbeat.

Overall, I think they had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that affected not only them, but the people they met, and me as well.  Personally, I am quite tired from all this travelling and writing, so I think I am just going to grab a few fresh branches to nibble on and curl up next to a tree in my den to sleep a while.  Maybe next year I’ll find another group of scouts and head out on another adventure.

This Corporal Bernie Flapjack Jr., signing off.

“Most importantly, besides the friends you made and the stories you can tell, besides the scratches and sunburns, besides all your souvenirs, if there's one thing that you hang onto from this summer, let it be this: you made a difference.
Whether you're a teen struggling to find your identity, or an adult with rules and routines, never get too depressed. While everyone else worries about if they'll be remembered when they're gone, you don't need to worry because you already will be. Maybe they won't remember your name, maybe they'll forget what you looked like, but you have changed the world and that is not something to take lightly. It was a change for the better and it came in the shape of money, dirt, bricks and rocks and you got to be a part of it, to see it happen.
So if you're feeling powerless, or bored, or depressed, think back to the month you spent in Africa bettering lives. Never, ever forget that you have changed the world."
- Alanna Cunningham Rogers

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