I have had the joy of spending part of two summers in a small town in Kenya. A place where they grow their own food, walk to work, invite neighbors over for dinner, and live in mud houses. It turns out that they really do say hakuna matata! People say this well-known quote from The Lion King all the time, and most people there have never seen The Lion King. In case some of you missed this epic Disney flick, hakuna matata is a Swahili phrase that literally means “no worries”. You might wonder why I am writing about a Disney movie when I am supposed to be offering insight into authenticity, don’t worry there’s a point!
How can a country filled with so much disease, death, rape, murder, poverty and hunger say “no worries” all the time? No one has ever told me that here in the USA – instead, people are filled with road rage, addicted to entertainment and building up personal wealth. I have been on a mission for the past two years trying to solve the mystery and I am not sure I will ever fully understand the hakuna matata phenomenon in Africa, but I have a few ideas. I think part of it is because these people have nothing. Literally. They are considered wealthy if they have one pair of shoes to wear. Meanwhile, here I am wishing for a new pair of shoes even though I probably have fifty already in my closet. They face the loss of a loved one due to AIDS or another illness nearly every week. The government recently legislated that school is “free,” but in reality, there is not a school in Kenya that does not cost to attend. Today, as I complain about my car because it is ugly, I think about the 91% of the world that does not even have a car.
But for these Kenyans, it means no worries. They keep living. And they don’t live to survive, they live to thrive! I have never been surrounded by so much joy as I was during my time there. Did you hear me?! JOY. They are filled with it. They have nothing and yet they are spilling joy from their lives. They do not have the option to acquire material possessions or to find their satisfaction in wealth. Instead, they live for people. They live to help their neighbor in need. They live to laugh. To spend time with those that matter most and express their love for each other. They could care less what their shoes look like, or the fact that their house is made out of mud and trash and has no doors or windows. They are happy to be alive and they strive to make the most out of each day they are given.
As I prepared to come back to home this summer, I was desperately trying to figure out a way to avoid culture shock. I was trying to avoid becoming upset by the things I saw in my own home. I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable with the amount of clothes in my closet, the square footage of my house, or how much food I have to throw out every week because it got lost in the refrigerator. I wanted to go back to ‘normal life’ and pretend the people in Africa are just as well off as I am. I then realized that living in this tension is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. This tension is what makes us move, act, and believe that things can be different.
So this is my challenge to anyone that knows this tension. The tension where the life you are living and the life you are imagining are not the same. The tension that keeps whispering “you don’t need all of this stuff,” or the kind that makes you change the channel when you see the “adopt an orphan” commercials.
Well, let’s do something about it! Buy a homeless man/woman a meal and ask to hear his/her story. Wear the same ten articles of clothing for a month. Volunteer your time somewhere that matters to you. Adopt an orphan, there’s plenty out there. Call an old friend. Tell your family you love them. Cook food for others. Be happy with what you have. Want less. Don’t buy anything except necessities for a month. Choose to be different. Eat rice and beans for a week. Practice thankfulness. Smile at the next person that cuts you off and tell yourself, hakuna matata. Fast from Starbucks for a month and donate your extra money. Visit a homeless shelter. Interact with a population that makes you uncomfortable. Look at the mountains. Live to thrive. Don’t be afraid of this tension, but rather find joy in the midst of it. And remember, Hakuna Matata.
Guest Contributor: Kira Wecks, Kira is the Medical Case Manager for the Southern Colorado AIDS Project .