This post is a little late due to my recent lack of internet connectivity…
I arrived in Kenya yesterday. As I descend from the steps of the airplane, cool Nairobi air and the smell of exhaust greet me. “Ah, I’m back”. A bus to the temporary international arrivals terminal comes – the permanent one burned down last year and reconstruction hasn’t even begun yet. Although I am worried the most about immigration and customs, the former because I have been to Kenya on tourist visas now at least 6 times and the latter because I’m carrying live plant material (vegetable seeds), I breeze through both. I go outside to the passenger pick up area expecting to see the family I am staying with. They are nowhere in sight.
I look again and wait a few minutes, worrying slightly then letting my mind go into Jason Bourne mode. “I could hire a taxi since I know the way home… but I don’t have any Kenya shillings. I could pay someone to call Josephine for me… except I forgot to write down her number.” And so on. In the end, I ask the customer service booth to charge my Kenyan phone for me, buy credit, and hope that my SIM card still works. It does and I call Josephine, who says her husband, Pastor Brown, is on his way.
Halfway home, the road turns from nice tarmac to potholes. This is one of Nairobi’s many notoriously jammed roads and is not good for much besides an “African massage”. Dust rises into our open windows as dirt used to temporarily fill the potholes gets trampled again and again. It’s still better than when it rains and the streets turn to mud. We turn onto a smaller street that’s completely dark – the power has been going on and off all day. Dark figures dart in and out of our headlights – it’s a miracle more pedestrians don’t die crossing the road. Finally, we turn into an alley that will lead us to Pastor Brown’s home. The “road” looks more like a cross between an urban mountain biking trail and a war zone, rocks jetting out, trash littered everywhere and dogs roaming in packs.
The house where I’m staying temporarily houses 3 teenage boys (Along with a younger boy, a university girl, and a mom with her bay). When I arrive, one of them is playing games on his ipad, another practicing the electric guitar, yet another giggling to YouTube videos and showing the other two his favorite. Josephine makes them carry my bags upstairs and we chat politely, but like any teenager, they are more interested in their gadgets. As I eat my late dinner, Josephine and I chat about our families, our project and what we are going to do the next day.
These are the sights and smells that let me know I’m really back. There are great things about Africa and there are difficult things. Will live here again? – It’s possible – but after being in Japan I realized that I feel more at home there. Is this place still really important to me? – Absolutely. What I have learned is that I can learn something from wherever I go, each time I go, especially when I go with open eyes and an open mind.
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