I have been home just shy of a month now. I’m not gonna lie: it’s been pretty fantastic (despite plenty of late nights working). So many people have asked me about my adjustment back home- and while in the past it’s been tough, I think living in Nairobi for five months with a string of bad luck just really wore me down. And it’s also not just the typical things, like missing Mexican food and missing people that really made it an easy adjustment. It was also not feeling discomfort at having so much hired help and being called Madame, not having to sit in five hours of traffic just to do my job. Not having to cross the street to avoid the beggars that would send a two year child chasing after me… oh yeah, and not having to avoid the construction worker next door that constantly told my business manager about his beautiful mzungu he had. I would really love to dedicate a post, or two, to certain things that I really never adjusted to in Nairobi. My closest friends were housekeepers, security guards, and slum dwellers. Nothing wrong with that but definitely not your typical ‘expat’ experience. (I should mention here that I hate the word ‘expat’… maybe it’s just a personal hangup, but I think it has an air of superiority). I was caught in this strange in-between where I didn’t really fit in with the Westerners I was among, but culturally could not always relate to the people I felt most connected to.
Living in Nairobi for five months made it easier for me to see a life for myself back in the States. Sure, it’s not perfect. I get disgusted by ignorance and hate, but quite frankly it exists everywhere to some degree. I also realized that if I were to move back to Africa, I could be happy, I just need to live outside of the city. It brought me peace. While I have felt so much love for Kenya, I was always an ambassador for Nairobi- telling people that the city is dirty, overcrowded, and chaotic, but that I loved it. I no longer feel that attachment to the city, but once I got back to the village life, I reconnected with Kenya. It also doesn’t change the relationships I have there, the family I’ve made, and the love that I have for so many wonderful people.
Now that I have been gone from Kenya for six weeks, I know that in a few months, I’d be ready to get back. I still have bad dreams about getting pickpocketed, but I don’t wake up panicked. I get anxiety when I can’t physically see my purse when I’m out and about and have already thought that my phone or my purse have been stolen on multiple occasions. My experiences have created a hyperawareness in me that is slowly easing- it’s just not a way to live as it created a LOT of anxiety for me in Kenya. I walked down the street fearing when I had to pass people while walking, or worse, if someone was trying to overtake me (Have you seen how chaotic Nairobi is? Yep, it was pretty much like every other second.) I felt the most at ease when I was in the slum. I have no idea why, but I did.
The city has some really great perks despite being so rough, but you really need to have the income to enjoy it. I didn’t have a salaried job (okay so I didn’t have a paying job at all)- I couldn’t afford to take taxis on a whim and go out and socialize a lot. Quite frankly, I didn’t have much time for it, but still it would have been nice on occasion. My closest friend in Nairobi was my business manager and he had to get back to the slum by a certain time or it wasn’t safe to return; so it left little time to hang out after work.
But like I said, now that I am home, I am at peace with Nairobi. I was really sick my final week in Kenya and had to delay my flight because of it. I got a terrible bacterial infection and was in pain unless I was lying down or not moving. I worked up until the night before I left since it had put me behind. I didn’t get in all of the proper goodbyes I had hoped for, including a few that were really important to me. But that’s another story for another blog. I left Kenya for Rwanda, where I was also working with artisans, and because of my late start I was running around like a madwoman while I was there. But it was the perfect transition between Kenya and the US. I healed my body and rejuvenated my soul. My work there was so enriching, and I made connections with such beautiful people.
After arriving home, I had a whirlwind couple of days in Columbia to see my nephew and family, replace my driver’s license and bank cards, square up some business paperwork, get a haircut, and get my life back in order. I struggled to eliminate Swahili from my vocabulary. For the past five months there were certain words and phrases that I always said in Swahili- the words for ‘okay,’ ‘tomorrow,’ ‘you,’ ‘of course,’ ‘thank you’… and the list goes on. It was surprising how engrained those words had become in my head and how often I needed to bite my tongue once home so I wasn’t given the crazy look. I then drove up to my parents’ house to sort through my storage there. I’m making a big move mid-summer and needed to get stuff packed.
On my eight-hour drive there, as I drove past beautiful pastures on a back country road with a warm breeze and the sun setting, my phone rang. It was a Kenyan number. Normally, it is one of the boys or a friend, and I call them back, but it was a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered, I heard that warm, radiant voice on the other end, and it brought a big smile to my face. It was my housekeeper from Kenya. One of those kindred spirits that I love so much, she called to make sure I got home okay and to tell me that she missed me. Sometimes healing is a process, but this phone call was the nail in the coffin- I found forgiveness. I forgave Nairobi for all of its nastiness. For pickpocketing me, for breaking into my apartment, for robbing me at gunpoint, for stealing money, my computer, my bank cards, my phone, for giving me a terrible infection, for the mice in the slums, for the crazy people, for the child labor, for trying to run me over, and of course for all those horrible bus fumes! Because under that dirty, scruffy, rather scary exterior, the sun shines bright in the darkest of places. There are amazing people in Nairobi who opened up their modest homes and their lives to me, and for that I am grateful.
More Kenya and Rwanda stories, as well as my upcoming plans, are all on the way! I am sorry for the quietness but I have been working tirelessly on Amsha… we were to have our launch this past Thursday but it was rained out. Life never goes as planned though, so we are having some alternative sales and hoping for a new launch in July :) Thanks for sticking around.