Note: I have made it to Kenya now, and my internet use will be pretty sporadic. Please be patient with comments and contacting me… it may take a minute :)
It’s April 13th, and I am approximately halfway through my five-hour flight from Doha to Nairobi. Looking out the window there are clear skies with a smattering of clouds in the distance. I feel refreshed from my complimentary hotel stay last night, and am headed for a long anticipated return visit to Kenya. But as of yesterday, I’m actually kind of nervous about it.
I first went to Kenya in July 2008 for a six-week volunteer post at an orphanage north of Nairobi. I loved every single second of it (well, all but the bad B.O. that hangs in the air on public transport). I love the landscape, the lush green rolling hills. I love the genuine people in Kenya who are a breath of fresh air and embrace you with such warmth, as one of their own. When I left Kenya 20 months ago, I knew I would be back. I didn’t know if it would be one year or ten years, but the country was a wonderful experience for me, and the children were such a delight. I made lasting friendships with other volunteers and locals. Many people in the States have an apprehension to travel in Africa in general, so I get asked about my trip quite a lot. I’m free publicity for Kenya tourism, speaking fondly of the time I spent there with a deep appreciation. Sure, there were tough times: getting accustomed to bathing with a bucket of water I had pulled out of the well myself, mastering the squat toilets, and seeing some pretty horrifying poverty. However, travel in any foreign country means getting accustomed to other cultural norms and living conditions.
So, what’s the problem? I have spent the past 20 months longing to go back to Kenya and speaking so highly of the place, that I wonder if I will feel the same way when I return? Has my perspective been skewed by talking Kenya up so much that I believe it’s a different place than reality? I’ve been thinking about this only for the past 24 hours, as I was busy enjoying my time in Jordan and hadn’t given it much thought. My seat buddy on my Qatar Airways flight is a New Zealander working for the U.N. in Nairobi. After the 5 minute get-to-know-you chitchat, I come to find out that there have been 7 abductions in the past 6 weeks in Nairobi. And the U.S. Ambassador’s wife was carjacked. What?? I’ve read crime statistics on Kenya but I rave about how safe I felt in Nairobi. Luckily, I’m not rich and I don’t have a car in Kenya, so chances are good that I’ll be just fine. I also stay in a small village away from Nairobi where there aren’t any cars and life is calm.
But the second time around is bound to be different. Better, worse, or just different? I’m not sure. The orphanage has new buildings and more kids. They have a proper dining area, and I believe it has a kitchen now so meals are no longer cooked solely outside over a fire. I will have a sense of familiarity and comfort that I did not have when I arrived the first time. But I can’t help but wonder if being away for 20 months has skewed my perspective at all. What are you experiences visiting a place twice that you were fond of the first time around?