From tragedy to triumph

Roberto Campos

Jason Martin grew up fascinated with a television show about Africa called “Wild Kingdom” and told himself that one day he would visit the place that captured his imagination.

In 2009 Martin almost lost the opportunity to experience Africa for himself when he almost died while scuba diving in Cancun, Mexico. The incident was caused by equipment issues.

“Like most people, I said one day I’m going to do this and that,” Martin said. “Life doesn’t always plan those days out for you. Life goes by and one day you wake up and all this time has passed, and I haven’t done this or that for whatever reason. The day where I woke up and realized that was when I almost died.”

It was an experience that motivated him to actively pursue the goals he had in life.

It rekindled his drive to go beyond the television screen and step into the world that “Wild Kingdom” vividly portrayed.

“When I came up out of the water I told myself then that if there was something I wanted to do I was going to do it, and I was going to start right away,” Martin said.

Since that day, the junior has traveled to Kenya six times and has relocated to Evansville from Detroit to pursue a degree in public relations and advertising.

In May 2010, Martin traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, for the first time, a trip where he would spend a month in the country. His first reaction to being in the place he had dreamt about was “overwhelming.

“I got to Nairobi at 6 a.m. and when I entered the city the sheer amount of activity that was happening was astonishing,” Martin said.

On the way to his apartment in the city he slipped into a ditch and cut his leg. Not able to bandage his leg, he cleaned it up the best he could and ventured back out to get supplies.

With his leg noticeably cut, he made a four-minute walk to the bus stop and in those four minutes Martin experienced hospitality from 10 strangers that brought him to a realization about Kenya.

“All of those complete strangers saw the cut on my leg and said ‘pole sana’ to me, which is the compassionate way to say ‘I’m sorry’ in Swahili,” Martin said. “All of those people showing that much compassion to a complete stranger – I decided then that this is where I will live.”

During the course of his travels to Kenya, Martin has formed many connections and bonds in the community. One of his strongest relationships is with Rubin Kariuki.

Martin met Kariuki through Kariuki’s son, who lives in the United States. Over time Martin has been assimilated into Kariuiki’s family. Because of their close relationship, Kariuki has given Martin a piece of land to help build his life in Africa.

“The most important possession to any African is land, and he gave me a piece of land,” Martin said. “The nature of people in Africa is one that is genuine and compassionate. Their willingness to help people they don’t even know is what made me love Africa and made me realize that is where I want to be.”

After all of his travels to Kenya, Martin now has a fuller realization of who he is – something that never would have happened if he didn’t travel to the “distant land” portrayed in “Wild Kingdom.”

“Everyone should leave the country and see how the rest of the world lives,” Martin said. “Pick a place that is of some interest to you but isn’t a place that you already know and go. Go with an open mind. If nothing else, it will give you a greater appreciation for what you have here.

“The place I choose was Africa and when I went, I fell in love with it. For me, it’s home now.”