Different times. A different focus.
The last time I returned to Nairobi I was coming back after having been away only two weeks, and that after having been in Kenya for only a brief introductory two-weeks of living here. So that re-entry was not at all like this one. On 11 December 2009, I was returning to Nairobi after having been here for a very short time, and I was very unsettled about my life in Kenya.
Not so on Easter Night. Now, having lived in Nairobi for four months, sharing a house with a beautiful and very kind couple, embraced by splendid friends, enthusiastically received by professional colleagues in an important assignment, volunteering with a new NGO that is going to have a serious and life-changing impact on the lives of many young Africans, I came back to Nairobi comfortable, relaxed about being here, and anxious to continue on with what I had been doing (and, sadly, well aware that this next phase of my time in Kenya is going to be limited).
Not unexpectedly, the impressions are different this time. For one thing, I’ve learned to relax about the Kenyan – muzungu relationship. Being an American (or Westerner, for that matter) I was originally concerned about how I – as a white man – was to act and, especially, about how I would be perceived.
I shouldn’t have worried. This re-entry made it very clear that I’m now just another one of the people in Kenya. Yes, there are probably some folks (individuals, not ethnic groups or races) who might try to take advantage of or exploit differences. But for most of the people I’ve met in Kenya, there is already such a mix of races, tribes, ethnic groups, economic and professional classes, religions, and such that it would be a real effort to pursue any sort of prejudice based on that sort of thing. We’re all just people – a mixed bag of people – and we all have our prejudices based on our up-bringing and our life experiences but we generally don’t pre-judge simply because some looks different or is from a different community. So I no longer worried about being welcome back into my life in Kenya.
And of course there is much I was anxious to get back to.
Let’s start with the food. I couldn’t wait to start beginning my day again with my coffee, a banana, and a chapati, the wonderful flatbread I like so much. Such a simple breakfast and oh, so nutrituous! Eating a different cuisine, I had missed all the boiled vegetables, so fresh and so good (and probably the reason I lost so much weight over those four months – eating healthy fresh fruit and vegetables and walking between four and five miles a day back and forth to work). And I was really looking forward to having ugali, githeri, Kenyan-fried cabbage, and irio again. Even the nyama choma – the marinated grilled meat (which I don’t eat often but when I do I really like it) was thought about from time to time in places like Geneva and San Francisco.
Finally, as I think is pretty clear here, I was anxious to get back to the people I’ve come to care so much about. The Kenyans, and in particular the ones who have befriended me and make me feel so much at home, are extremely welcoming people and I am very comfortable with them. Whatever the next assignment is and wherever it takes me, I’m going to remember with much pleasure my friends in Kenya.