It’s incredible that I’ve been in Kenya for almost two months. The day I arrived seems like a long, long time ago. Fortunately the days between have passed by quickly. As I prepare to leave on my East African adventure to Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Ethiopia for over two months, I want to reflect a little on my life in Kenya.
Sometimes I convince myself that I don’t get culture shock anymore. I start believing that traveling extensively and growing up overseas has given me immunity. Not true. Everyone gets culture shock. Leaving a familiar place to meet new people and adjust to different norms is inevitably uncomfortable. However, a new place is what you make of it so you can’t stay at home and mope because you miss America. It’s the extent to which people let culture shock affect them that varies and I try to minimize the damage.
In Kenya I’ve been through the culture-shock stages of mild fascination, hatred and eventually acceptance. Mild fascination happened when I first arrived. Ambitiously, I wanted to meet as many Africans as I could and learn Swahili in 6 months. I didn’t paint an idealistic picture in my head because I knew Kenya had problems like anywhere else. However, dealing with discomforts immediately after arrival was easy because you can dismiss them as “all part of the adventure”. Inevitably you move into the hatred phase. This was relatively short for me but definitely happened. It started when I got food poisoning my third day here and visited a Kenyan hospital in the middle of the night. You probably know the feeling of not caring if you live or die. Then, after sitting in traffic for 3-4 hours the next Saturday and breathing in diesel fumes the whole time I was ready to leave. Obviously I didn’t, things got better and life here has become normal. I’ve gotten into a routine, made friends, and come to love it. I’m actually sad to leave, even though I know that many more adventures lie ahead. That’s the dilemma of travel though isn’t it? In finding new people and places you have to leave old ones behind. But it’s life and it’s no excuse to stay disconnected where you are here and now. Besides, I always plan to revisit the people and places that have been integral to who I am today.