So, here I am in Nairobi. Ever since college, I have dreamed of living in Sub-Saharan Africa, but that’s just it – I had been dreaming. Therefore, my expectations consisted of a romantic notion of adventures, finding myself, and changing the world. I think I missed the part about reality, chaos, uncertainty, and the fact that life is a lot more difficult living in a foreign country – then add in the part about everyone you know and love living on the other side of the world. It’s not easy to explain, and as I write this I am sitting in my apartment that is nicer than any apartment I have ever lived in and looking down from my balcony at people washing their clothes in the muddy stream. I promised a blog, but I haven’t written until now because I honestly didn’t know how to put – what has thus far been an emotional roller coaster – into words. Here goes my attempt.
When I finally arrived at my apartment in Nairobi (24 hours after scheduled) it was around 11pm. It was dark, I was finally alone, and it was quite unsettling. The anticipation had worn off somewhere between the hours of waiting in the visa line and trying to find my luggage at the airport. I thought I was prepared for this. Small-town girl ready to take on the world; I am strong, independent, and…I am starting to panic. I am in Kenya. My family, friends, and partner are all living in time zones 8-11 hours behind mine. What was I thinking?! Suddenly, all of the doubts became the loudest thing in my head. I immediately needed consoling from a trusted person, but I couldn’t call my parents – they would freak out if they knew that I was freaking out. So, I called my partner. He knew how to calm me down – he has had loads of practice. He said, “What did you expect? You are alone on the other side of the world for the first time in your life, it’s natural to feel a bit scared and overwhelmed.” He reminded me that this is what I wanted more than anything. I had been waiting for the right opportunity and I jumped on the first one I got. It was going to be a long 6-months, but it was all a part of the process. After tossing and turning for hours, I finally fell asleep.
The first couple of days were pretty tough. Now that I can look back and appreciate my feelings during that time, I can be honest about it. I cried at work, I wasn’t sure if it was safe to run (or even walk) outside, and at times I resented everyone around me who had family to go home to each night. It was bad, but it didn’t last long. Luckily, the world that we live in is ever-globalizing and the internet saved me. I joined several Nairobi Facebook groups and found out about a ton of events happening in Nairobi. I found a ladies’ book club, and it has been (mostly) uphill from there. I met a group of amazing, intelligent, strong women. We bonded over wine, veggie lasagna, and a little bit of book discussion. I finally felt at ease, I wasn’t the only one with fears and doubts, but the key is embracing the chaos that is Nairobi.
There are definitely good days and there are bad days. There are still times when I get the overwhelming urge to cry and reminisce on memories of “American” life. It seems silly, because when I was living in America – I was daydreaming of something more exciting, challenging, and humanizing. Like I said, it’s hard to explain. Those bad days are slowly becoming less and less thanks to my supportive friends, family, and partner who remind me that I can do this, and that they will be there when I get home (which reminds me of how lucky I am to have a safe, supportive home to return to at any time – I am super privileged, but that’s another topic entirely). As well as my new friends who inspire me daily; my Kenyan driver / friend, Alex, who never fails to make me laugh every day; and the amazing possibilities: in three weeks I have already participated in an African dance class, visited the elephant orphanage, found a running club, met the Eritrean ambassador to Kenya, started taking Kiswahili lessons, survived a camping trip to Mt. Suswa (which included a summit descent during a hailstorm), and submitted a pretty decent quarterly report to USAID after being thrown in head first and having almost no idea what I was doing.
You really learn to love the craziness and how alive it makes you feel. Can I go out for a morning run before sunrise alone like I did daily in Seattle? No, but it has taught me to appreciate running and the friends it leads me to. Can I cuddle up on the couch with my partner at night to talk about our day? Or call my mom at any moment when I am about to have a breakdown? No, but it makes me stronger, more independent, and more appreciative of my family and friends and comforts of home. I am not quite completely used to the craziness that is Kenya; including piki-pikis / boda-bodas (motorbikes) and matatus (minibuses) running you off the road. Overall, it is a whirlwind of emotions that cannot even begin to be understood until experienced for yourself. There is something humbling about being the minority for the first time in your life, or realizing that you are not as invincible as you thought, and that the world is often chaotic, but you just have to embrace it.