Heavy Bag, Light Heart


Dear Diary,

I’m sitting on a chair in the blazing hot sun in Nairobi. My feet are propped up on a bench and I am at home. I am at peace. I don’t even know what time it is. I left my watch back in Riyadh and I left my phone and tablet in my tent.

I love the beauty of moving by the rhythms of my heart when I’m away on holiday. No distractions. No demands. No schedules. Just the wealth of living in the moment. There is an orchestra of birds and beasts playing ever so skillfully all around me. I’ve never heard such synchronized and masterful music.

I just arrived at this oasis yesterday. The Wildebeest Eco Camp is tucked away on the outskirts of Nairobi. There aren’t any city sounds, except a plane that might fly by here and there. It is beyond lovely. I booked a tent to share with five other people, but last night, I was the only one. The bed was so comfortable. I felt like I was sleeping on clouds, and the sounds from the orchestra put me right to sleep. My sleep was so sweet.

I slept like a rock last night because of my power-packed day yesterday. I flew out of Riyadh yesterday morning at 4:10 am. I left my apartment around 1 am to make sure I was checked in with plenty of time to get my ticket, exchange money, and take a breather. While I was in the car on the way, I called my mom to let her know I was heading off to Nairobi. She wished me well and spoke in her motherly tone, reminding me to be wise and cautious. I quickly got off the phone, handed some cash to my driver and told him I’d see him next month. I whisked through security, exchanged my SAR (Saudi Arabian Riyals) for USD and went to my gate.


While waiting to board my flight, I called my dad. He’d already been to Kenya and I couldn’t wait to hear his last minute tips before I took off. He told me to make sure I tasted the pineapple. He said it was the best he ever tasted. My mouth is watering right now simply from the memory of how it tasted yesterday. He was right! Before we got off the phone, he prayed for me and my journey. I was so grateful to be able to chat with both of my parents before hitting the road. There’s nothing like traveling with the support and prayers of my parents.

Soon after getting off the phone with my pops, I stood in line to board the plane. I packed my backpacker’s backpack, so I didn’t need to check a bag–or so I thought. I was hoping it would be fine to take it on board, but I was pretty sure it was overweight. I eased up the line and finally it was my turn. I handed over my passport, ticket, and exit visa and then the attendant nodded at me to board. Whew! I let out a big breath. Safe and sound, I thought. Just as I let out that breath, another member of the flight team walked by me and said, “That looks a little heavy. Is your final destination Kenya?” I gave off a nervous laugh and said, “Oh, it’s not so bad. Yes, Ethiopia first and then Nairobi.” He quickly replied back, “How much does it weigh? Fifteen kilos?” Knowing that I was probably overweight, but hadn’t weighed it, I said, “Yes–I mean, no! No, I’m sure it’s much less.” I knew I was probably overweight, but not that much overweight. He laughed and responded back with, “Have a good flight.”

I exhaled heavily again and slid through first class, scooted back to coach, and stuffed my bag in one of the overhead compartments. I closed my eyes for what I thought was five minutes and I woke up in Ethiopia.

I have to stop writing now because I think it’s almost time for my Swahili lesson. I’ll write when I get back and let you know about the indelible mark that Kenya has already left on my heart.

Much love,

Karissa from Nairobi

Karissa Johnson is a licensed evangelist, certified educator, and a daring explorer. In the last three years she taught English at two universities in Saudi Arabia and at one English language school in China. When she’s home in Nebraska, this military brat and preacher’s kid loves singing with her three sisters, mentoring youth, and prison ministry. Karissa is a graduate of Oral Roberts University where she received her BA in International Community Development. This stroke survivor started traveling abroad in 2011 and has since traveled to over 20 countries on all seven continents. She accomplished her goal of seeing all seven continents by 30. Karissa is currently writing a book about her adventures around the globe. Visit sevenby30.com to connect with Karissa through social media.