Times, They Are Changing...

I have a lot on my mind and in my heart right now.  Nick is about to move to Texas to start working as an intern with the Mission Point church of Christ.  Kati is in South Africa, re-exploring her childhood home, making new friends and re-connecting with old ones. She'll be back in Philadelphia in the fall.  How can all this be?  Surely it was just a few months ago that we were bouncing them on our knees, playing horsey? 

There is a saying that time flies when you are having fun.  Raising these two has been a blast!  And I am so thankful that we are close and enjoy each other's company.  Right now I have so many different emotions.  A year from now it will be fun to look back and reminisce about all the grand adventures the year has held for each of us.  And while right now that seems a long way off, it will pass quicker than we thought possible.

I came across this article I wrote after we had lived in Nairobi for a year.  It is a reminder of what a year can hold...

One year.  If you are 10 years old, it seems like an eternity.  If you are 40, a year passes much too quickly!  So often the events of a year run together in our minds so we cannot quite recall exactly what happened when.

It is amazing to me that Tom and I have lived in Kenya for one year now.  It seems like yesterday that the shower overflowed upon our arrival at the Boulevard Hotel.  Driving on the left side of the  road has become quite natural.  Shopping at City Market has become quite comfortable.  And walking into a kitchen with a refrigerator and oven seems like a novelty!

I have not written much the past few months.  Things here in Nairobi have been very busy.  Tom and I are expecting our first child next March!  We have moved to another apartment (very close to Nairobi Hospital!)  Tom has feelers out on three different business proposals.  Two are related to his experience in pharmacy, the third is just a bit different.  We are now attempting to enter the fish exporting business!  Fresh Nile Perch fillets at, would you believe, only $1.00 U.S. per pound?  If you are in Nairobi, of course.  Shipping costs bring up the price just a bit.

We have learned so much in one year.  Adapting to a new culture has been a real adventure.  I think I am just now learning how Kenyans think and feel.  And to be quite honest, in ten years I think I will be saying the same thing.  Kenyans have lived through so many things that are hard for an American to relate to.  America was founded on the principles of freedom.  Kenya was occupied and developed by another country and Kenyans had to fight fiercely to gain their freedom.  Now they are governed by a man who has no plans to leave his position.  America is the premier first world country to live in, according to many people.  One the other hand, most Americans probably don't know exactly where Kenya is located.  I have discovered that many Americans classify Africa as one country.

Someone living at poverty level income in the United States still makes more money than most Kenya families.  And inflation rates here are unbelievable.  Today's newspaper announced a 28% increase in the price of a kilo (2.2 lbs.) of sugar.  Bread went up last week and milk prices increased two weeks ago.

Americans and Kenyans both speak English but very differently, I have learned.  It is hard to even describe all the differences, but one thing that stands out is that most people I speak with do not understand my clear Midwestern accent.  Their pronunciation of words is similar to the British, but Kenyans have added new twists to some sounds.  Since everyone here speaks Kiswahili before they learn English, many people pronounce English vowels like Kiswahili vowels.  If you have ever studied French or Spanish, you will understand how different that makes words sound.

Some terminology is different, as I have written before, but it is the differing thought patterns that make conversation very tricky at times.  What is logical to me is not logical to a Kenyan and vice versa.  In spite of, or perhaps because of the differences in culture, I love the Kenyans I have gotten to know.  They are warm and friendly.  They are generous and very hospitable.  No one can leave a home in Kenya without having a cup of tea - it would be very rude.  That is true even in the poorest of homes.

And if is wasn't enough that the people are great, the country itself is gorgeous!  The area around Nairobi is beautiful.  Lush.  Green. With waterfalls of colorful flowers splashed all over the canvas.  The trees are a mixture of what is familiar to me and others that are tropical and exotic.  It isn't uncommon to have a mango tree or a papaya tree or even a banana tree growing in your back yard.  Nairobi is about 5,000 feet above sea level, so the hills around the city make for great landscapes.

On the coast, Mombasa is a virtual paradise.  The Indian Ocean is a vibrant blue.  The sand is white as snow.   Shells are softly painted in shades of peach and lavender.  The horizon goes on forever, it seems.  Looking out at the point where the sky meets the water, you could be forgiven for believing the earth is so big it must fill the entire universe.  My blood pressure drops just thinking about this wonderful place!

Kenya would not be Kenya without shopping in the market.  Going to get vegetables and fruits has become as common to my schedule as getting dressed every morning.  Thomas, Julius, John and George have become old friends.  Especially now that I am expecting the baby, they love to see Tom and I come by to discover how things are progressing.  Their advice (and everyone has advice when you are pregnant!) is to eat lots of fruit.  "It helps in the production of blood, you know," according to my friends.  If I do not eat a banana or tangerine while they pack my purchases, they look a bit disappointed.

(Thomas was one of the vendors who sold me fruit.)

(Julius.  Julius and Thomas were convinced I was having a boy because of the way I carried the baby.)

African men are not known to be very expressive, but some how I seem to have broken a barrier with the men at the market.  Julius even asked me if I feel the baby kick yet, then laughingly proceeded to tell me how he could "hear" the baby kick his wife when she was six months along.  In the whole year we have shopped, I have never seen Julius look so happy and excited!

My friend Jospot, who sold us the chairs and table last October, still claims weekly (or should I say weakly) that business is not so good.  Despite his claims, his belly has stayed the same size all year.  Meanwhile, Tom and I have both trimmed down noticeably!  Someone must keep taking pity on him and purchasing his wares.

(My "friend" Jospot - such a salesman!)

Matatus still amaze me and I know they always will.  It is very good for business that most Kenyans are on the thin side.  That way more people can squeeze in.  I have to laugh every time I ride.  The music blares so loudly no one can hear themselves think.  Although the aisles are very narrow, two or even three people squeeze through at any given point.  It is crazy.  But you have to love it!

I know there is more to tell.  A whole year cannot fit into one article.  Each day could fill a page.  The sum of it all, I guess, is that we are happy.  We love Kenya.  We do not exactly fit in.  We may never really fit in.  In spite of that, Nairobi has become our home.  Maybe not forever - who knows.  But for now it really is home. 

And it has been a great year!
Lori ZieglerComment