Leaving

August 7th 2008

The funny thing about going places is that you also have to leave places. Sometimes people tell me that I’m “going places.” It’s an interesting phrase, meant to be a compliment as if there was something inherently bad about staying in one place for too long. I love going places but sometimes I wonder if I miss out on some of the benefits of staying places…But don’t worry Mom, I’m coming back home, for now anyways…

I leave Kakamega tomorrow morning. I don’t think it has really hit me yet. My mind cannot comprehend that very soon I will wake up without first removing my mosquito net, eat cereal instead of white bread, drink juice instead of chai, drive my car to go places instead of walking down a dirt road with cows and say “hello” to everyone instead of “jambo”. I’ll miss my celebrity status, I can’t imagine a life where I won’t have little children chanting my name every time I walk by them or young men constantly asking me to marry them.

It’s strange re-reading what I just wrote because 2 months ago my Kenyan lifestyle would sound totally bizarre. But I never went through culture shock here, somehow I always felt right at home. I never got “homesick”, I love my home and I did miss a lot of my family and friends but there was never a moment where I missed home itself.

Kakamega has become a second home. Literally. I feel like I have two families now, an American one and an African one. Leaving my Kenyan family is going to be the hardest part. My Mama is one the most free-spirited, fun, hilarious people I know, she is always making up games for me and the kids to play with her. My Baba is so smart, he knows so much about politics and rural development and is always teaching me new things. And Jackie…Oh wow…I am going to miss that little girl. She is amazing, I absolutely adore her and it makes me so sad that I’m not going to be able to see her grow up. Allan and Marc I haven’t gotten to know as well as they are both a bit quieter but they are fun to play soccer with and very, very nice boys. Allan is Mr.Fix-It, he wants to be a space engineer, I really hope his dream comes true. Marc is the smartest in his class and my god, the kid is always doing homework. I really hope it pays off, I worry for both of them that it won’t because of Kenya’s job market.

Kenya has made me realize that my absolute favorite pastime is making friends. I’ve made so many really great ones in Kenya, many of whom I know simply from talking to everyone I meet. I felt a little like Belle from Beauty in the Beast when she walks down the village street and everyone sings her name. It was a pretty cool feeling…

On my last day in Kenya I walked slowly to work and made a point to tell everyone goodbye. I took pictures with many of them, promising to send them copies of the pictures once I get to America.

There’s the boda (bicycle) drivers who have decided that I must be a white Kenyan since I refuse to reply in English and so have taken to yelling at me in Swahili. Further down the dirt road is Florence, who sells used handbags and always notices when I running late to work. Then there’s Taylor, a guy who always seems to be walking to work at the same time as me and often will talk to me in mixed Swahili/English about the differences between the U.S. and Kenya. At the bottom of the hill is a man wearing a bright blue coat reading “The Nation” who always asks me “Newspaper madam?”

Then there’s the small cyber café located inside the SomKen gas station where I spend entirely too much of my time but enjoy every second, joking and laughing with Ken, Ash, Nelly, Vincent and all of the other guys that work there. Across the street from the SomKen is Midland, the commodity supply store that Divyesh owns. I’ve spent a good portion of my time there as well, sitting behind the iron bars that separate the employees from the customers, waiting for Div to finish talking on the phone so I can get his help on the biogas project. Divyesh is someone who I immediately wrote off as arrogant and annoying but who has become one of my best friends in Kenya and has been absolutely invaluable to the project.

Down the street from Midland is Mary, the woman who always tells me I need to come and look at these beautiful new shoes she’s just gotten. I’ve resisted temptation for the majority of my trip but Mary has talked me into buying a few (really cute!) new pairs. After Mary’s shop are my random street friends who always talk Sheng (slang) to me and who unfailingly laugh at my reply.

Around the corner is Jessica, a woman who sells fruit and who is constantly telling me I’m crazy for walking around in the rain. Then there’s the cd store that is always blasting music and where I once danced briefly with a boda driver, much to the amusement of all the other bodas. Then there’s the guys who stand in a circle playing some sort of game and who are always trying to get me to come closer. Then off course there’s Susan, the tailor who made me a dress and a true “Kenyan” shirt.

Of course there’s my children, the ones that chant my name. I wonder if they’ll notice that I’m not there tomorrow. I gave them candy today as a sort of farewell present and was subsequently mobbed by children who appeared out of nowhere. One of the children grabbed the bag of candy and ran away, causing me to run after her and chastise her in broken Swahili for “bad manners.” I bought more candy and was once again surrounded. I wonder if they’ll remember me when they get older. If they do they’ll know me as “Eliza,” I never could get them to pronounce my real name…

I’ll miss all the dirty jokes, excited conversations about biogas and general fun at CARD. I’m really going to miss Alfred, the guy who helped spearhead the biogas project with me and who I really, really admire. I’ll miss Felix’s unwavering enthusiasm about life and I even think I’ll miss George’s crude pick-up lines.

I’ll miss the guys at the bakery that give me yummy cheese rolls and the guy on the street who sells me grilled corn and loves to speak to me in rapid Kiswahili that I pretend to understand.

Then there’s Peter, the FSD Program Director who talks too fast and is always in a hurry. And Angie, oh god I’ll miss Angie. Angie’s been the one who has comforted me when I broke down, whose taught me so much about Kenyan politics and sustainable development in general and who I respect and love hanging out with. And the other interns. Well…them I’ll see maybe…I mean America’s not that big…

Maybe I’ll come back to Kenya. Actually that’s not a maybe. I will come back. How or how soon I have no idea but there are too many people in Kenya I love for me to stay away for too long. If the really cheesy line “home is where the heart is” is true, then I have a feeling my heart is going to look like chopped up little pieces of liver, spread all around the globe. Now how’s that for a metaphor?