It’s incredibly hard to pick blogging back up after finally coming back to the states. There’s so much more to distract here… life is so much faster than it was in Kenya. I want to keep up with it, but as I don’t have my illustrious travel insights to rely on for post-fodder, I’m going to have to shift the direction of this blog a bit. As you know, this blog is entitled “Confusion’s Confessions” — which really describes what my observations are on the more intriguing, confusing, and interesting points that I encounter in daily life. As I move to a new city and a new job, this will continue. I’m almost positive that Washington, DC will provide me with plenty of things to remark on, even if they aren’t as tasty as ugali. Besides, the shift in topics comes naturally with this blog – life is supposed to change, grow, and progress on to new things, and so as I embark on a new journey, so will my writing.
The process of reverse culture shock was in some ways better than I expected, and in some ways, worse. Beds and showers were even better than I expected; going out to party less than a week after being back was a painful and very hard experience. I think about Kenya everyday, but I’m losing the sharpness of the memories that I have quicker than I want to. It’s hard to describe, but I feel somewhat like I’ve been watching a really great movie called “Life in Kenya” for a while… and now the movie is over and reality is back. I’m not sure how to reconcile the two. The closest I’ve come was my Welcome Back From Kenya Party… where I got to make Kenyan food, go through my pictures, and tell my stories. I don’t want to lose all that I gained from this experience, but I can’t stay stuck in the past… so here comes the future.
After spending 3 amazing months in Kenya, I have about 3 weeks at home to recuperate, visit friends, go to weddings, throw parties, unpack… and repack! I start my new job as Marketing Communications Assistant for the Institute for Humane Studies in Washington, DC on June 7th. I know – what am I doing in marketing?! I have no formal marketing training…and my degree is in economics, math and government. Thankfully, economics is the best major in the world, and trained me to do whatever would make me money. So! I have about a week and a half left before getting to work with some of the most awesome people I’ve ever had phone interviews with from Kenya! You know it’s got to be a good job when you have 5 new facebook friends a day after accepting the offer (even before you’ve met them!)
I am very excited to be moving back to the District, although I’ll technically be living and working in NOVA (Northern Virginia). I even managed to find a cool roommate and an apartment… all within 18 hours of starting the search! First “real” job, first “real” apartment… I feel like I’m growing up years in about 3 weeks. Not only that, but this summer holds the weddings of three of my best friends and I’m throwing/hosting a bachelorette party tonight for my high school friend Jessica. It’s amazing how living with a 6, 9, and 16 year old for three months made me feel like a kid again… now it’s a giant thrust back into “adult” life.
It’s been an emotional week to say the least. On this, my last full day in Kenya, I woke up and the only thing I could do was cry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about coming back and seeing my family and friends again. It’s just the thought that I may never see my Kenyan family again that absolutely tears me up. It’s hard to even walk down the street, thinking of the “lasts” – the last time I’ll eat dinner with my family in Kenya, the last time I’ll get up splattered up to my back from the rain, the last time I’ll get to tickle Garry, the last… everything of this part of my life. It’s hard not knowing the future of when I could possibly make it back to Kakamega. I’ve never quite experienced this before. With my “real” family in the States, I always know I’ll get to see them again – it may be a while, but they’ll still be there – still reachable. With my Kenyan family, I don’t know those things. Even if I did know that I’d be able to come back in 10 years, it would still be too long. To come back in 2 years would be too long without them.
It’s funny – two weeks ago all I could think about was everything that I missed from home. Now, it seems like all I can think about is everything I’m going to miss about Kenya. I love my home, I love so much about life in America… but it doesn’t really make leaving this life any easier. I know I’m going to want to come back almost as soon as I leave.
Before I finish up my last post from Kenya, I thought I’d include some of my final observations and maybe even a few witty remarks in the style of my previous weekly wrap ups.
- There’s a product called “Nice and Lovely — for men”. Looks something like a hair recolorant… but instead! It’s a make-your-skin whiter! Why anyone in Kenya would want to look more like a mzungu is beyond me
- My coworker Ephantus randomly busted out with “who let the dogs out” at one point this week.
- The informal sector in Kenya – like running a yard sale every day .. and living off of the profits.
- The post office branch in Milimani (my neighborhood area) = a table on the side of the road with a small sign and 2 guys sitting at it all day
- They make keys by hand here…I’m impressed…
- I found out on Thursday that suicide is illegal in Kenya — so trying (and failing) to kill yourself constitutes attempted murder by the current kenyan constitution. Having no legal right to what you do with your body is… just a scary thought to my Western mind.
- I wore pants into town for the first time during the week on Tuesday because I was FREEZING ( thanks, malaria). I never before realized how much wearing pants makes people think that you are that much more of a mzungu.
- There are few, if any, institutions for housing and caring for the mentally insane in Kenya, so a lot of them end up on the streets. There’s one in particular I see frequently around town… who wears burlap sacks and plastic bags.
- I’m having a lot of difficulty reconciling how relatively cheap everything is here with the amount of room in my luggage. Tonight’s packing session is going to be interesting.
How do I even begin to describe what my time in Kenya has been like? What I’ve learned can’t be taught, what I’ve seen can’t be captured in pictures, what I’ve experience can’t be read in books or heard in speeches. The indescribability of this whole experience is completely overwhelming. What do I say when I get back home and someone asks me how Kenya was? When I tear up, how do I explain that it’s with a feeling of immense thankfulness that I’ve gotten to have this experience — to meet these people. How am I going to be able to walk down a street again and only see white people?! My mind can’t even begin to fathom what it’s going to be like to not be ‘mzungu’ anymore.
And yet – here comes the future! By tomorrow afternoon I will have left Kakamega for Kisumu, where I’ll catch a flight to Nairobi, and then another red eye to Paris. A way-too-long layover in Paris, then another flight back to Atlanta… then the 4 hour drive back to home. If I have my way, I’ll sleep most of the time from Nairobi to Atlanta. And on to the future, with Kenya behind me… and always with me.
To Mama, Betty, Garry and Alvin: I love you all like crazy, I’m coming back to visit, and I’m gonna miss you tons!
I read the last of my the 12 letters that my sister sent me to Kenya with today. There was one for each week, duly noted on the envelope, and although she wrote them months before I’d read some of them, they each had an a note of what would be happening that week (for instance -Easter week’s letter had a Happy Easter note in it!) This week’s was just as it should be – all about goodbyes and coming home. My awesome sister even included a $5 bill and a note that said to buy something for myself! So, in true girl fashion, I went shoe shopping. (My favorite pair of Kenyan shoes have finally bitten the dust after 3 months of rock and mud roads so I wanted to replace them). As I was walking around town on my shoe mission, I couldn’t help but think about all those things that I wanted to spend hours writing about on my blog, and never managed to find the time for, so as a last hurrah, I’m going to touch on a couple of things that I’ve missed noting before.
There are subtle differences about living in Kenya that I’ve only really picked up on over time. For instance, it’s much more acceptable to stand close to people here – even strangers, and not uncommon to brush past 10 or 15 people on the way to work in the morning – no excuses provided. It’s also not uncommon for mothers to ask you to hold their babies – the communal rearing of children is quite ordinary. And while we’re on the subject of children – most kids here (Garry excepted) whine and cry a whole lot less than they do in the states. Probably because they have more legitimate things to cry about, they don’t cry nearly as often about the silly things like not getting a piece of candy at the supermarket.
I’ve also learned a lot more patience living in East Africa than I ever thought possible. Everything moves slower here – people walking on the street, businesses, the internet, waiting for the doctor, waiting for things to happen. I realized last night as I was helping Betty with her math homework how much more frustration I can take – and how much more I can put up with ‘wasting’ time than I could three months ago. Down time here is like an open invitation to think – to observe – to experience that which we in America often don’t have the time, patience or awareness to notice. While it can sometimes be aggravating to not have anything productive happen in a day – that’s just how life is sometimes (and in Kenya, most of the time). I guess I can see how this “pole pole” has allowed me to tackle those previously hair-tearing-out experiences with a sense of calm.
One of the things that’s struck me about Kenya is the presence of handicaps in ordinary society. Let me try to explain this – in the US it’s not uncommon to see someone on crutches or in a wheelchair, but usually they are only temporarily incapacitated, elderly, or a rare congenital defect. Here, I can’t go a day without seeing someone missing limbs or with some abnormality. There’s the bicycle repair man who works on the street that I pass everyday who doesn’t have legs below the knees and the guy who runs the cyber with one arm that’s too small and doesn’t work properly. There was a baby I saw on a matatu who literally had a forehead twice the size of the rest of his face. I guess what’s really different is that these people, problems or not, still work – everyday. They aren’t sitting at home on their couches watching “The Price Is Right” every morning and living off welfare. You don’t have an arm in Kenya – you’re still able to work… and if you decide not to work, then you decide, in essence, to die.
These are a strong people – in almost any contest they make Westerners look like pansies. Women walk everywhere, with their babies strapped to their backs, carrying bags in their arms and giant platters of bananas and fruit on their heads. You have a problem – pick up the pieces, keep moving, keep living, survive. In a place where there is so much death – there is even more surviving going on. I think that’s what a lot of Westerners miss when they think about Africa – they miss the strength of the people, the will to survive, their incredible resourcefulness, their undeniable passion for life. Those TV ads with pictures of starving black children certainly do pull at the heart-strings of the average Westerner, but they completely miss the spirit of a people who despite disease, destruction, war, violence, and poverty have survived for thousands of years. These aren’t people who need charity. These are people who deserve respect.
If I retain nothing else, Kenya has taught me that when you face the prospect of death everyday, you begin to appreciate what life truly means.
It’s amazing how much sleep your body craves when you aren’t feeling well. I want to be able to feel, to taste, to touch, to experience life in Kenya like I did in those first few weeks – to soak up as much as possible so that I’ll never forget what it’s like. It’s not as easy as it sounds of course; I have to consciously force my self to observe now that Kakamega life has become somewhat of the norm. It’s even harder given whatever illness I have as it seems that my mind is constantly focusing on what my body is doing wrong. With only 5 days left in Kenya, I don’t have time to be worried about myself – I have to live.
I want to remember everything… from the way the air smells in the morning, to the feeling of gritty, blood-red dirt caked on the back of my legs, to the taste of hot chapati on a hungry stomach. I want to remember the sound of Garry’s laugh when he’s being tickled, the look in Betty’s eyes that says “oh brother”, the smell of Mum’s cooking in a sufuria late at night. I know I’ll never be able to duplicate the simple experience of walking down the street in Kakamega once I return to the US. To go from being so different, to being… well, pretty much the same as millions of other people… I think it’s going to shock me for a bit.
I think about home a lot these days, not in the way of being homesick, but more in wonderment of what it will be like to be surrounded by white, and clean, and mechanized. I guess one could say that I’m consciously trying to prepare myself for a phenomenon known as “reverse culture shock”, the theory of which goes something like this: when you leave home and matriculate into another society, especially if you are able to adjust and accustom yourself to those changes easily, when you return to your home society, you are changed but the world that you’re entering back into has not adjusted as you have. Thus, there’s a discrepancy between expectations (of you and by you) and what reality presents things as.
Honestly, there’s no good way to tell whether or not I’ll experience reverse culture shock. When I came back from living in England, I didn’t have that problem (of course I never really matriculated into English society on my first trip). However, after living in DC for a summer and then being thrust back into the world of Tennessee for 3 days before college began again, I felt disconnected and disoriented. I think the basis for determining reverse culture shock (or culture shock in the first place) has to do with how much an individual has adjusted, how aware they are of that adjustment, and the level of expectations they have of their surroundings. I knew coming into Kakamega that it was going to be a different world – and I forced myself not to imagine what it would be like before I left, knowing full well that I would never be able to imagine the reality of life in a third world country. Not imagining what home will be like is much harder for me. It seems like I can almost taste the late May air, feel the softness of the pillows under my head, and the joy of seeing my family again. I’m not sure how much my expectations of home line up with what it actually is like there, but I also don’t think that I’ll be able to turn off my expectations entirely.
So, it seems like the next step is to determine how much I’ve adjusted. I think it’s practically impossible to quantitatively measure the changes in a person after an experience like living in Kenya for three months. Truthfully, I probably won’t even begin to notice the real changes in the way I think and perceive things until I return to the states and begin the reintegration process. So far, all I can say is that I can walk down the street in Kakamega and not question why everything is different. Life works here, not as it does in the US, but I’ve adjusted to it and found my own sources of happiness. I guess that’s a pretty clear indicator that I’ve changed. I see things differently – the beauty in a marketplace without prices that operates only on barter. The organization of a society that revolves around the community and word of mouth is ‘primitive’, by American standards but functions remarkably well.
Am I an entirely different person? No, of course not. I just see poverty and wealth differently now. I understand what it means to be constantly ill in a society where missing a day of work means missing a day of food.
In order to save my energy (of which I have very little these days), this post will be mostly an excerpt from an email that I sent my sister today. I had another post written to upload today, but this day’s events warrant noting first. Here’s the story….
so here’s the story behind the text. i was feeling craptastic (which you know cuz i called you yesterday) and so i decided to go to the dr. this morning once i realized that my freezing chills were gone and i was feeling feverish again. so i went, he said, get tested for malaria. test comes back – lo and behold i still have malaria. evidently, the malaria in western kenya has been building resistance to drugs, so it wasn’t fully cured last time. so dr. recommends giving me a ‘jab’ — which in Kenyan speak means a shot. this is evidently way more effective against the malaria which is great. the catch is that it’s not just a single shot— it’s three of them given on 3 consecutive days. ok fine. so i roll up my sleeve… and doc’s like – you want it in your arm? i’m like.. that’s where i usually get shots…. so he gives it to me in my arm – 4 cc’s (which is a hell of a lot of liquid) into my left arm – hurts like hell, but i expected that since it’s a shot. within 5 minutes, i’m about to pass out. world getting fuzzy doc has to practically carry me to the bench to lay down. 10 minutes later – i feel okay and haven’t completely lost consciousness yet. so i wait for a couple more minutes, go to pay (the equivalent of $20) and i start to pass out again so have to sit. i make it back to my office…which is thankfully right across the hall from the drs and have to lay on the concrete floor for another 10 minutes before i can stand up again. so i try to eat… and all i want to do is puke. the upside of this is that after 3 days i shouldn’t have any malaria left!! i’m feeling better now – not faint any more, and i managed to eat some crackers that helped my tummy. argh. oh yea, my left arm – twice as large as my right….. might explain why it hurts so much!! hopefully i’ll be able to sleep and recuperate before round 2 of shots tomorrow…. ugh. i can’t wait to come home.
This week brought a lot of laughter and some tears. As with all good things, this time in Kenya must too end, and this week I had to say goodbye to my older host brother, Alvin, and my good friend and fellow intern, Nick as well as our IPC, Kirsten. I think there’s a passage in one of the Harry Potter books that says it best: “There are just some things that you can’t go through without ending up good friends” and moving halfway across the world seems to have been one of those things. I will greatly miss laughing with Alvin, our intellectual conversations, and answering all of his questions about the states. To Nick, I will greatly miss your sense of humor, whining and complaining about stuff in Kenya, and our endless discussions on food. I hope that the 50 piece bucket of chicken McNuggets is as good as you imagined. To Kirsten, I’ll be sending you that email about the veggie Subway sub very shortly after I get back! And, despite your age 😉 you were an awesome leader and friend.
General Observations and Witty Remarks:
- Soap operas, especially English-dubbed telanovelas from Latin America are incredibly popular here. Most of the afternoon and evening TV slots are filled with these types of programs. Only one has managed to catch my interest – Marimar. But now that the kids are back in school, it’s work work work all the time!
- Vacuum cleaners are strange here. There’s evidently one that’s been sitting in the living room of my home for the last 3 months and I only realized what it was yesterday. More like a round metal canister on wheels
- If I ever get lung cancer, I’m sure it will be from all the smoke I inhale in Kenya. If it’s not burning trash along the road, it’s the jiko (cooker) burning charcoal inside
- I need to go to the doctor early next week for a malaria check up – make sure there still aren’t any little buggies living in my blood
- Every morning, I eat margarine and red plum jam on brown bread. I can’t WAIT for cereal!
- Unfortunately, one common thing in Kenya is death-by-matatu. It seems like I can’t go a day without hearing about some matatu crash in the country that claimed x- number of lives. According to the paper, the month of April alone claimed 170 lives due to road accidents. Gives being thankful for American traffic laws a whole new meaning.
- Work has been incredibly boring in the last couple of weeks (see the post on inefficiency). Makes me want to run a half-marathon every day, just to be able to accomplish something.
- The male role in the family is strange in Kenya. I know there’s a “dad” in my family – he was here for my first few days in the house. But, I have seen no sign of his presence since then – no mention of him over dinner, no visits, no phone calls, no pictures. I’m not even sure if my host mom is actually married to him or not. (And unfortunately, this appears to be a pretty common type of occurrence in Kenya).
- On Tuesday night, my mama tricked me! She (and the kids) told me she’d be out of town over night so I was responsible for the kids and such. This didn’t really worry me, until I heard that I was going to have to be up at 5 am to make sure Garry and Betty were ready for school in time. Yuck. The next morning, she laughed and said she wasn’t staying over night. Morning grumpiness averted!
- Despite the immense number of things you can find on a street in Kenya (trash, car parts, bottle caps, sleeping children), the one thing that I have never spotted is money. Even 50 cent coins (worth 1/2 a shilling or about 1/2 an American penny) are vacant from the streets. I dropped a shilling coin on the sidewalk in front of my office yesterday and it rolled into a murky puddle so I left it, but I guarantee that if I go back today, it won’t be there – puddle or not.
- I discovered this week that along with malaria, I also contracted a nasty case of amebiasis… or ameobic dysentery. (I believe that this one was caused by a nasty pathogen called Giardia lamblia). Needless to say, it was less than a fun week. Thankfully, the medicine has FINALLY kicked in and I am feeling better. Here’s to hoping that I don’t get sick again in the next 7 days!!
Favorite Quotes/Words of this week:
- “Supergetti” — actually, means “spaghetti” but I like the super part better!
- “Hot Mint” — Garry’s term for mouthwash… and it surprisingly fits really well!
- “Lala Salami!” — it’s technically “lala salama” which means “sleep well” but salami just sounds more funny – “sleep like a roll of spicy meat!!”