Nimefika salama – I have arrived safely – the message my host mother wanted me to text her every morning when I arrived at work. I insisted on taking the short cut path beside tall maize fields and through the homesteads, where her daughter had once been bitten by a dog. The risk was worth it though – these 14 minutes every morning were the closest thing I had to “freedom” every day – something I have too little of in Kakamega and too much of in Portland. Though there may be were bigger security risks than a stray dog when I flew out of Nairobi during Obama’s weekend visit there which prompted a travel warning, this was still the message I texted my host mother upon my arrival in the states.
Overview: What I missed most this time abroad: sarcasm, ice, and long runs. The most resounding lesson I’m taking home: Talk with the trust that your listener cares. The foods I most enjoyed: chapati (tortilla/naan hybrid), fresh mangos, and roasted maize. The most unfamiliar thing I tasted: fried flying ants. Whether I fell in love with an African: I had to turn down only three proposals. If this was a missions trip: No. The best Kenyan custom I experienced: always shake hands in greeting, not just meeting. What I was doing there: great question! Whether I will be going back: I certainly hope so.
For now, I am back in the country where my president – “the world’s most powerful man” – has provided uninterrupted Wi-Fi across the entire land so that the lazy rich white people don’t have to worry about the megabytes it takes to use Instagram while driving their Lamborghinis. Stereotypes at least serve some instructive purpose, as a prerequisite for revelation and amazement.
I’ve heard many people travel to “Africa” and return saying that people there are much happier and will always say hello to each other in passing. Are you sure they always say hello to each other or just to you – the foreigner – who kind of stands out – a lot – with your inevitably failed attempt to walk and talk like the locals? For myself anyway, by my fifth week at work, my coworkers were telling me that my skirts were very ugly. I took it as a good sign they felt comfortable enough with me to say so…it only took more than half of my time being there.
Being an outsider is definitely an experience in itself. The preschoolers at the organization I was working enjoyed shaking my hand and then staring at my hand while still holding on to me, verifying that the uncanny see-through whiteness which cloaked by body was just some version of the skin that they too possessed. Adults do the same thing in a different way. Instead of grasping me as I walk (actually they’ve done that too), they stare as I pass, or keep talking with me while I’m in the room. Travelling and meeting different people is unique in its ability to bring you closer to discovering what it is that everyone shares. Or at least speculating about it.