Love at first sight: Kenya and Anna Glasgow a perfect match

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Maggie Blackwell
“Jambo again from Kenya,” the letters start. “It’s been about three weeks since my last e-mail …”
The letters from Salisbury native Anna Glasgow paint a vivid and passionate account of her recent travels to Kenya. Glasgow recently shared her story and photos with the congregation at Salisbury’s First Presbyterian Church.
Glasgow graduated from Salisbury High School in 2004 and went on to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
She traveled to Kenya her junior year for her study abroad program. Because of her major in biology and minor in environmental studies, she participated in a wild game management program through the School of Field Studies.
It was love at first sight. When it was time to leave Kenya that first time, she knew she must return.
After graduation, she arranged to travel to Kenya once more under an arrangement with Staff of Hope, a nonprofit organization that serves East Africa. Her task was to serve as a tenth-grade biology teacher at Oloile School in Kimana.
“I headed towards Kimana and met my new Kenyan family. We live in a cute little house nestled between their fields of tomatoes, onions and corn. It is never quiet because there are so many animals, workers and babies around all the time. There are cows, goats, and chickens, ducks, cats. … Apparently, the chickens come into my room often. I know this because on several occasions I have found an egg on my bed.”
The home she lived in was posh by African standards. Her Kenyan kitchen consisted of a wooden cabinet with two hot plates. Glasgow had somewhat anticipated she could live in a dung hut ó there are plenty of them, she said ó and was fortunate to live in a real house.
“I learned how to milk a cow but am so bad at it. We use a pit choo (outhouse) and an open-air shower, bucket-style. It is a very beautiful and refreshing lifestyle, all with the backdrop of acacia trees and Kilimanjaro.”
Many of her college friends have gone on to assume 8-to-5 jobs. Glasgow was determined to return to the land she fell in love with, and the people she loves, as well.
It’s easy in Africa to become irritated with the lifestyle. No one has a sense of urgency. Appointments might be met, and they might not. Cars might break down. A scooter might be loaded with an 8-foot tower of freight, making it unsafe and unwieldy.
After some initial frustration, Glasgow integrated into the culture. She used downtime to analyze her situation. She read every day. Not typically someone who writes in a journal, she kept volumes of diaries, recounting her experience.
“I’ve gotten into a bit of a routine of reading in the morning in front of Kilimanjaro, visiting the river to relax … going to church with the family, buying fresh fruits each Tuesday in the market, helping with laundry when possible …
“I brush my teeth in the a.m. as ducks scamper over my toes, and brush again at night to a perfect breeze and bright moon. It is good because I can still easily notice and appreciate all this beauty, but it does not daze and distract me as it did the first time I was in Kenya. I see the Masai every day, loaded with colorful beads, blue and red clothes, and drooping earlobes, but I do not think or look twice. I do not think about how different their life and past must be from mine. Rather, I am just here, living with them, learning from them, and every day realizing how alike we are.”
They have “contentment beyond circumstances,” she says. “It is taking what you have and where you are, and making the best of it. I feel extremely blessed to be able to travel in order to see and discover this firsthand.”
In addition, she dealt with the challenge of being a recognizable American. It seems Africans perceive all Americans as wealthy, and they didn’t hesitate to ask Anna for money, clothing, even the shoes she wore. At one point, she felt everyone she saw asked her for money.
The here and now
Feeling frustrated, she turned to a mission family for guidance. Through talking with them, journaling and reading, Glasgow finally gained an insight into the Kenyan culture. She observed a husband might lend a neighbor his last dime to resolve an emergency, even if he will be unable to feed his family the next day.
Glasgow realized the uncertainty of times in Kenya has led its people to focus on the here and now. Tomorrow comes tomorrow. Today we cope with today’s struggles. They are generous, even to a fault, and believe everyone else is the same way.
It seems everywhere she turned, Glasgow made meaningful relationships.
Eric and Sam
Glasgow was captivated by two of her students, Eric and Sam, two orphans whose paths crossed in their life of crime on the streets.
“These boys are now 20 and 17 and in the 10th grade. They both spent a good portion of their childhood on the streets of Nairobi as homeless and parentless street boys. They began this life as early as 6 years old! Sometimes begging for money would work, eating leftovers at hotels, stealing at night in gangs, pick-pocketing, or even finding small store jobs one day at a time. Drug trafficking and drug use became a major part of life for one of the boys as well.
“The two boys were in different street groups, but they met one night when both of their gangs were trying to steal from the same place.”
Later, street boys were pulled from the streets and placed in rehab centers. The two boys met again and struck up a friendship. When times got tough, they would revert back to stealing at night or selling drugs. Once they were caught and beaten to the point of hospitalization.
They realized that something needed to change drastically.
They tested to re-enter school. Despite having missed years of school, they both did well enough to place them at the ninth-grade level.
In Africa, high school is not offered free of charge. At Oloile, the tuition is $300 a term. The boys decided to write their stories and raise funds to attend school.
“They traveled from friend to friend and church to church, and eventually collected enough to begin ninth grade. Their determination, intelligence, and brotherhood helped them both get started with high school.
“Now they are both scholarship students at Oloile. The two of them live together in Kimana; they take care of themselves by cooking, cleaning, paying rent. They struggle to make ends meet…they struggle to buy kerosene for the lamp to study at night.
“The most amazing part is they are probably the two most mature, bright, and devoted students at the school. They are both among the top in their class and one is even head boy of Oloile (a position of great responsibility, similar to class president). They eat one meal a day ó the one at school…”
While in Kimana, Glasgow and new friends developed an organization to protect the environment. Named ATEP, Amboseli Tsavo Environmental Project, the group has broad vision. Its first goal is to develop a youth environmental movement. Glasgow serves as coordinator for the group.
Glasgow’s tenure at Oloile came to an end in November, but she could not leave the land she had come to love. She searched for another organization in need of her talents and arranged to stay on another term.
Her new agency, Global Connections, works to “make sustainable changes in the lives of people.” Glasgow signed on to work at the Limuru Children’s Centre, where about 100 kids come daily to study and have a meal.
Limuru, 30 minutes from Nairobi, is a green and lush town where electricity is plentiful and English is spoken more frequently.
Here, Glasgow slept at the orphanage, cooked meals and nurtured the children. They loved her games.
The stories are too numerous to share: Two sisters, 4 and 6 years old, were found locked in a house after a week in subhuman conditions. Subsequently they walked five miles a day to the orphanage, all smiles.
There is Leah, a small girl in a blue sweater with big ears and an even bigger smile. Glasgow remembers another Leah, the unpopular child who hit Glasgow every time she saw her. When Glasgow realized how much Leah needed her, she reached out to her and became her dear friend.
There was the visit to Lucy, a woman dying of AIDS.
Another day, Glasgow was asked to paint the Baby House, an orphanage for children younger than 4 years old. She chose to paint it Carolina blue.
Glasgow says part of her job was instilling confidence and a sense of belonging in children who arrived at the Centre too afraid to speak, look her in the eye, or laugh out loud. Many are HIV-positive.
“Needless to say, these are some of the most amazing children I have known. They are so happy, lively, smart, warm, and resilient despite their horrifying pasts.”
On to Americorps
Glasgow’s time at Limuru came to an end December. She has returned to Salisbury for a short time. After a church mission trip to Mississippi, she will leave on a 10-month Americorps trip. During this trip, Glasgow will contemplate her future. She feels certain the service here in the States will reveal to her whether or not she belongs in Kenya once again.
“I have learned so much, seen so much, and been challenged in so many ways. It has been frustrating and rewarding, ugly yet entirely beautiful. I have met people from all over the world and followed their ways of thinking, as well as voiced my own. Surely, I feel more open-minded and curious about the way all people go about life and make sense of the situations and challenges they face.
“I have found homes and families and friends. I can tell I will always return to Kenya because I am connected. It is a part of me. I can only hope I have affected the people in Kenya as much as they have affected me.”
To learn more about the work in Kenya, visit or