Living in Kenya and Feeling the Distance from Home

April 16, 2013
culture, kenya, working abroad
Living in Kenya

Yesterday I woke up sluggish and heartsick.

I was dreaming of home, of biking through the Garden District on my way to spending a leisurely day in the French Quarter, when my alarm sounded.  My bike toppled over and my eyes snapped open.   Instead of cobble-stoned pavement I saw white sheets and a beige wall and I remembered: I am in Kenya.

I got up and made breakfast, going through the motions of chopping and eating while I felt a pit widening between my heart and my stomach.

As I made my first turn, I took a deep breath.  The scent of dirt and chickens filled my nose and I raised my head, meeting the eyes of a woman passing by with a jerry can on her head.

I was homesick.

Stepping out of the house into the already warm African air, I sighed and started my walk to OLPS, avoiding eye contact with the boda-bodas that sit outside of my gate.  The swishing sound of brooms sweeping the evening’s dust out the door filled my ears, but I missed the sound of the street car and the lone saxophonist that wanders up and down St Charles.

As I made my first turn, I took a deep breath.  The scent of dirt and chickens filled my nose and I raised my head, meeting the eyes of a woman passing by with a jerry can on her head.  I gathered my courage, opened my mouth and greeted her.

“Habari?” How are you?

Her stoic face melted away and a smile lit her face.

“Mzuri!” I am fine!

And I smiled back.

Before I could even get to my desk, I met many people with wide smiles and inquiries about my health and how I slept.

Slowly I started greeting the people staring at me, the odd mzungo walking through their neighborhood.  The men sitting in the shade of a Jacaranda tree with their motobikes waved enthusiastically, shouting words I have not yet learned in Swahili and Luo, bringing yet another smile to my face as my homesickness eased.

Twenty minutes later I reached the office. Before I could even get to my desk, I met many people with wide smiles and inquiries about my health and how I slept. Jael, pictured here, is always effusive, kissing my cheeks and giving me a tight hug like we haven’t seen each other in months instead of hours.

I was greeted by a dozen people before I finally sat in my chair and flicked on the fan.  I felt the last of my homesickness sift away, replaced by the pure joy in every person’s smile.

 

Living in Kenya and Feeling the Distance from Home Related Reading

Kenya Travel: 6 Misconceptions I had before I Went 
Tips for Women Travelers in Kenya
Following Strangers in Kenya
A Day in Nairobi’s Kibera Slums: Seeing Immense Poverty Up Close
On the Fried Deliciousness that is Kenyan Food

Have you traveled to Kenya? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com to share your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

About Sydney Gray

AvatarAfter graduating from UC Berkeley, Sydney Gray volunteered in Kenya.

2 thoughts on “Living in Kenya and Feeling the Distance from Home

  1. Anna
    Anna
    June 29, 2014
    Reply

    Your writing style is very lovely and I found this article wonderful. It was very honest and captured the highs and lows of living abroad and out of your comfort zone in such a short piece. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Avatar
    Kim Moss
    April 17, 2013
    Reply

    Sydney,
    You write in such a manner that I can easily picture what you experienced and felt. You are amazing. I look forward to greeting you when you get back. Surely you must know the tremendous impact that you have made (and will continue even after you are gone) on these people’s lives.
    Kim

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