This entry in as essay written by my daughter Sarah Alvarez as part of a submission to one of her college classes.
In 2005, my parents uprooted my family to Kenya, Africa. Living in a third world country proved to be an experience that changed my life forever. At the time, I did not realize how much of a significant part of my journey it would become, shaping me into the woman that I am today.
Needless to say, as you can imagine, living in a third world country was a humbling experience. From the moment you step off the airplane you are taken back by the poverty that the people of Kenya live in. Kids roam the streets without shoes, families live in small shacks, and clean water is a luxury. On a day-to-day basis, food is no guarantee. Health is an afterthought, and survival is the priority. Many people watch the news and hear the stories of a third world country from their own home, and have the comfort of being able to change the channel and forget about it all. However, it is another thing to immerse yourself in that environment and face the true reality of what it is to walk in the shoes of the less fortunate in Kenya. People cleanse themselves with unsanitized water contaminated with bugs and bacteria. It is a rare luxury to have a shower, and an even rarer luxury to take a hot shower. The toilets consist of a deep hole in the dirt, and if you asked a local from Kitengela if they had ever heard of a refrigerator, their answer would most likely be no. Even living there, I cannot say that I fully endured the poverty that so many around me did, but in my year and a half in Kenya I experienced just a small dose of what life is and always will be for millions of people.
Initially, moving to Kenya, I don’t think that any of us anticipated it to be as difficult as it was. Leaving the United States with just your parents, three siblings, two Chihuahua’s , and just a few bags is no easy task. We were leaving a whole life behind us. A life that we were all so accustomed to knowing. A life where we had our friends, family, and even small comforts that I soon learned to never take for granted. As time passed, we adjusted bit by bit through the culture shock, but I would be lying if I said that there weren’t any days where I stayed in my bed crying. I was home sick. I longed to see familiar faces, and to go about with my normal routine which I had in America. I wanted to eat the food that I usually ate, and watch the television that I usually watched. Adjustment was the most difficult task of them all, and I don’t think that I would have been able to do it without my family’s love and support. We helped each other through it all. Whether that being my hilarious brother trying to go out of his way to make his sisters laugh instead of cry, or even just being homesick together, it helped tremendously.
Finally, the impacting realization that I took away from this experience, was that I came to see how grateful I am to be an American. So many of us take for granted the little things that I have already described. Whether that is food, clean water, shelter, or other basic needs. But more so, we take for granted the very country we live in. We often do not realize that compared to so many others out there, we have it amazingly well. We need to be proud of where we have come from, and most of all, be thankful for everything we have been blessed with.
All in all, the experience of living in a third world country shaped me into who I am today for a number of reasons. First, my year and a half in Kenya humbled me greatly. It reminded me more than ever how important my family is to me. Also, it has taught me to never take for granted being an American, our rights and the freedom that so many others would do anything for. It is important to give thanks every day for what we have, big and small. There is so much to be grateful for in the world, whether that is family, health, or maybe even just hot water and food. But it is our job to never, even for one second, take what we have in life for granted.
Sarah Alvarez in Central Park, NYC, NY.