A Sense of Place and Purpose

Fernweh (German) – Wanderlust, a craving to travel, being homesick for a place you’ve never been

I am what you would call a Third Culture Kid (TCK), someone who sort of belongs, but can never completely belong in either the country they grew up in or the country they are “from”. As a member of this tribe of misfits, my childhood consisted of getting to travel the world, being stared at, pretending to know who The Spice Girls were, and feigning excitement when someone wanted to hear the exotic white boy speak Japanese. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate the value of living between two worlds enough.

As an adult, the symptoms of my incurable condition include compulsive travel, speaking 3.5 languages and having 4 different jobs at once because I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. My stories usually start with “when I lived in Kenya” or “that time when I was studying abroad in Egypt” and end with something I probably shouldn’t have done but I’m glad I did anyway. Now I love the perspective I’ve gained from my experiences and wouldn’t trade them for anything.

However, I do often think about how nice it would be to have a place called home. I could easily answer the question, “where are you from?” without any caveats, explanations or long stories. I wouldn’t feel like the grass was greener somewhere else. I wouldn’t miss people on the other side of the world that I can’t spend time with for the forseeable future. I guess people always want what they can’t have though.

I just watched a Netflix documentary on Laura Dekker who at 16 became the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone. She has an interesting quote in the film when someone asks her where she is from. It goes something like this. Shopkeeper: “So you’re Dutch?” Laura: “Yeah… well no. I don’t really have a home. Home to me is Guppy” (her sailboat).

I think Guppy was home to her because it signified purpose, a goal, a plan: In her case sailing around the world. I’m finding that it doesn’t matter as much where I live; it’s more important to have a compelling reason to live. That is what provides contentment and joy and a fulfilling life. In Kenya, people would often ask me if I were homesick. I would say yes, but more for Japan than America. You can imagine their perplexed looks. While that was true, I also have to be intentional to live wherever I am. Because I have lived in other places, when things get tough my temptation is to imagine myself somewhere else. Somehow I always leave out the messy stuff. No place can solve people’s problems or magically make us happier, there is no place that will fulfill all your desires and dreams. Instead, building community and living purposefully make life worth living – wherever it is.

Those are just some of the things I’m working through and learning about myself right now. Feeling nostalgic, I posted some pictures of my family I have all over the world.

Great Friends all over the World

My Japanese family

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A Throwback from Kenya

Great Friends from College!

These people were my college family

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100 Posts

It’s been 3 years since I started this blog. When I began, I had never visited Sub-Sahara Africa. I had never even worked in a real job. This is now my 100th post and so much has happened since. I want to make sure I reflect on these experiences so that I learn from them and I pass them on.

I was supposed to come to Kenya for just 6 months. Working for The Paradigm Project, I researched energy-efficient cookstoves around East Africa. After writing about infrastructure development in the Congo for my senior thesis project, I had to put my money where my mouth was and get involved. In reality though, I saw my experience as an extended working holiday, something adventurous I could do before getting on with the rest of my life. I didn’t imagine I would get committed.

This reminds me of my parents’ approach towards Japan: for the 16 years we lived there, we were always supposedly leaving in 2 years. You could use this as an excuse to remain uninvolved (they did not), but at some point, I think they woke up and realized that this far away land had become home – leaving was harder than returning “home”. It certainly was for my siblings and I, who knew no other home. Although my African experience is far from 16 years, I see how it happens. People in the States say they can’t imagine living here, but I’ve learned that life becomes normal wherever you live.

After working for another company in Kenya that sold energy-efficient household goods such as solar lights, water filters, and cookstoves, I decided it was time to return to the US. I had no idea what awaited me, but wanted to entertain any possibility. Somehow that opportunity again came in the form of Kenya, (among coaching high school tennis and becoming a Japanese-speaking tour guide) this time starting an aquaponics pilot project in Nairobi. If you’re interested, read more about our project at The Food Source. A year after leaving “forever”, here I am again. Life in Africa is a constant concoction of loving and hating the place, yet it’s also true that somehow it gets under your skin.

Besides work, there were so many personal life experiences that I will never forget. I got into a riot in downtown Nairobi, rocks and teargas from mobs and police flying in every direction as I sat helpless in traffic. One time I had a bathroom emergency and used the toilet paper-less ladies room, only to have a crowd waiting outside by the time I finished. I got conned and robbed at least once each. I took buses from Nairobi to Johannesburg, stopping to volunteer along the way and see incredible places like Victoria Falls. I was denied entry into a particular country and subsequently interrogated thoroughly every time I returned to the United States.

I’ve done a lot over this time, and although I often wanted to leave, I’m thankful I stuck it out. I am a different person as a result. Earlier I talked about being involved vs. being committed. As Martina Navratilova says, “The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved: the ham is committed.” Likewise, changing a place like Kenya – even a little bit – takes sweat equity, blood and tears, a living sacrifice. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s challenging and it’s long. Sadly, I’m not sure I lived in Kenya long enough or worked hard enough to change anything significant. Just like short-term mission trips, this experience was probably more about me than the people I came to help. Although Kenya will probably never be my “home”, I now know what it takes to make a difference, wherever that may be. Here’s to always being committed to enact positive change through our lives. And another 100 blog posts…

Bridging the Gap: An Influential Professor from my days at Azusa Pacific

Bridging the Gap: An Influential Professor of mine, Matthew Browning, from my days at Azusa Pacific when I knew absolutely nothing!

1 Year Anniversary

Wow it has been a long time since I’ve blogged. My apologies for disappearing for a couple months, I’ve been busy and haven’t kept up with blogging as well as I should have.

It’s been 1 year since I first arrived in Nairobi. Coincidentally this is my 52nd blog post 🙂 I’m trying to look back on my hopes, expectations and ideas about this place and compare them to where I am today. Some expectations have been met, some have been completely different, some things have been frustrating, but overall it’s been an experience of a lifetime. Since I arrived, I’ve held 2 different jobs, been unemployed and started or helped start 2 different companies. I’ve traveled to 3 other countries in East Africa (Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania) not to mention all over Kenya, learned some Swahili, and met many great people who are doing innovative and exciting work. I’m looking forward to at least 1 more year here as I work to bring clean technology products to impoverished households. I’m not sure I will ever call this place home, but I can definitely look back on my experience with fond memories and would like to stay connected.

Over the last 2 months that I haven’t been blogging, much of my time was spent traveling around Kenya with my new job at Affirm Kenya. We had 3 trainers come in from the US to help our salespeople with things like budgeting, writing a business plan, ethical business practices, etc. It was great to receive the training myself (4 times) and interact with people who are selling our products. It was also fun taking a road-trip across the entire country and getting to drive most of the way. The roads were bad but the company was good and that’s the most important thing.

After concluding our training sessions, I spent about a week recovering in Nairobi and headed back out of the big city, this time to Northern Kenya. I worked on the chili farm for about a week and just returned last week. It’s always great to leave Nairobi and see how the real Kenya lives. It was a chance to slow down, spend time outside without traffic and relax. That’s all for now, I promise to blog again more frequently than this!

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My co-workers and I receiving our certificates at the end of the trainings