Karibu Kenya!

So guess where I am.

Okay, the title kind of gave it away. Yes, I am in Kenya. To be precise, I’m in Nairobi. I got here three days ago and frankly, I haven’t really processed anything yet. My first impressions are a blur of friendly people, adorable children, mostly cloudy skies but a nice temperate climate, modern high-rise buildings and little, colorful kiosks, a lot of “chai” (tea) and a mixture of very dramatic Mexican soaps and even more dramatic Nigerian movies on TV. Oh, and shopping malls. Big shopping malls. They have huge supermarkets (my favorite so far is Nakumatt, it has a wide range of imported products, I even saw German shampoo and conditioner) and great coffee shops… I like Java Coffee House a lot, which is also where I am right now, typing this blog entry.

My host family is amazing beyond words. I am staying with a friend’s family, which consists of her mother and 14-year-old sister – well, those are the people who live in the house, anyways. But then there aunts and uncles and cousins, whose names I still forget or get mixed up. I remember by now at least the name of the aunt that lives just around the corner, and I have also seen some of the cousins enough to recall their names. I spent an entire afternoon with my teenage host sister and the two youngest cousins, a four-year-old who was fascinated by the “brown spots on my skin” (i.e. birthmarks) and his six-year-old cousin, who lived in the UK for a while and came back quite the lady, and with traces of a British accent, too. If I understood the family relations right, both kids have older siblings and one of them is the kid of the aunt that lives around the block, but I forgot which one…

Everyone is incredibly welcoming and warm. I could really not have found a better place to stay. Without these people, I don’t know if I would feel half as comfortable as I do, because to be honest, Nairobi is a bit scary. I guess it takes some time to adjust to… it’s just that it is much bigger than any city I have ever lived in, the traffic is insane, and there is also always the issue of my very obviously not Kenyan origin… blending in will not exactly be possible. It might be possible to give the impression that I know my way around if I can at least learn to behave like a local, even if I’ll never look like one. That’s what I’ll be working towards. For now I’ll finish my coffee and walk back home… the house I live in does already feel kind of like home. I think I am off to a good start. Stay tuned for updates!

Que Sera, Sera?

Some days I’m perfectly fine with that. Whatever will be, will be. I’ll use a quote here again, which is this genius thing that Dan Zadra said (and no, I haven’t read the books he wrote, maybe I should), anways, he said this really smart thing which is that “worry is a misuse of imagination.”

I mean, I have a lot of imagination, and usually it’s much more vivid and much quicker to provide a mental picture than I might want it to. You can imagine that also means that when I start worrying, I worry A LOT. My imagination seems to be able to come up with endless possibilities of everything that could possibly go wrong in my future, some of them surprisingly creative. I mean, I guess it is theoretically possible that I will be an old lady eating cat food because she cannot afford proper meals, or that I’ll live in my brother’s basement and watch TV shows all day while he has a family and becomes a billionaire. It’s just really not very likely.

My problem is not that I’m stupid, or that I’m not interested in anything. I’m interested in a lot of things, and not to boast or anything, but I am also good at a lot of things. The thing is that being good at something is not the same thing as enjoying it. Yeah, I could probably be a pretty efficient HR manager, or project coordinator. I could make good money with that, too. And HR people are needed even if you’re struggling. You can’t really fire the HR coordinator. I mean, the HR manager, at least in the last firm I worked in, is the one writing out the letter that tells you you’re being fired. So in a way, if you fire the HR manager, that’s really that person firing him- or herself… but I digress. What I meant to say was, I could be good at a job like that. I wouldn’t exactly be miserable, either, assuming that the colleagues are tolerable… but I don’t think I would have fun. I want to enjoy myself… I want to be excited about the future, and about my work. So this is where my swirling, rambling, shattered and confused thoughts got me at some point in the early morning hours yesterday.

I want to live my creativity. I want to be able to express myself in my work. And yet a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management doesn’t exactly scream “creative mind” at potential employers, does it? Don’t get me wrong, I like my major. I like the management courses, especially Marketing, and I also really liked everything to do with development, social innovation and social entrepreneurship. So the solution may be in Marketing design. Maybe for a nonprofit organization. Maybe for a social business. It may be this master’s program I discovered just today that’s called “Design for Development”. The bottom line seems to be that I need some form of design background, so I have spent all day researching design courses, online design schools and certificate programs.

Does this burst of activity come at a weird time, considering I’m flying out to Nairobi in a little less than three days? Maybe. Maybe that’s exactly why I’m thinking about it now – to avoid thinking about the fact that I’ll very soon be living thousands of miles away from my friends for an entire semester, and that I am, frankly, terrified. Don’t get me wrong, I want to go. Nevertheless it is a scary endeavour. Those of you that have previously gone abroad alone for extended periods of time will be familiar with this conflict of feelings. It’s been like this for a while… remember my last post?

As I finish up this one, I am thinking why would you guys even care what goes through my head when I contemplate my future career options. But then that thought was just followed by, “And why would they care about any of the other stuff you’ve written?”… undoubtedly, my mind has a point here, but you know what… if you’ve read this far, you must have cared for some reason. Or just very bored. Either way, comments, feedback… bring it on.

PS: Did anyone notice how I went from “living for the moment” to “what will the future bring?”… Oops. I’ll work on this “being present in the present” thing. Promise.

Roadtrippin through the US of A

“I never make a trip to the United States without visiting a supermarket. To me they are more fascinating than any fashion salon.”                 – Wallis Simpson.

Well, that is pretty much the conclusion I jumped to. Within the last month, Jess and I have done quite a bit of traveling together. We went to D.C. for a weekend, to Indiana for five days and to Albany for a night. Also, despite Jessi’s argument that you can’t count state you haven’t actually set foot on, I will also list Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Indiana as states I have been to disregarding the fact that I merely drove through some of them… I need to get my 50 states together somehow 😛 Needless to say that I loved every single trip that I made, despite or maybe because of the big differences between my destinations.

Lets start with D.C….Da Capital! A great city. Historical. Impressive buildings, monuments, and museums. Nice embassies, broad sidewalks, clean streets (especially if you are only used to uptown new york streets), suffocating heat… yes, thats right. 100°F and intense humidity made it hard for Jess and me to stick to our so well planned out schedule. With heavy backpacks and really bad footgear, we almost collapsed at the end of day one. We still managed to enjoy a great bunch of sights, starting at Union Station, walking to the Capitol and from there along The Mall, passing the White House, all the memorials and the Washington Monument on our way to the Lincoln Memorial. From there, we walked right back to the capitol searching for our hotel. Everybody who has been to DC before knows exactly, how long of a walk that is for one day. Well, and if you now smile and think “Pfff, thats nothing!”, please don’t forget about above mentioned backpacks and shoe wear… 

The next trip on our list led us to Terra-Haute, Indiana because I was invited to Jessi’s sisters wedding. Not only has that been the first wedding I ever attended but also has this been the first time that I’ve seen more of the US than just one of their big cities. What can I say? Indiana has…space. A lot of space. Thats lovely. Really is. And all the flags outside of people’s doors. Really lovely. And the old toilets now used as flower pots in the backyards. Really lovely! No, but all kidding aside…I liked Indiana. Probably because my state of origin is not that much different. I appreciated the new insights ESPECIALLY the insights into Walmart and Superwalmart. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! That thing was an airport terminal. They have NUTELLA there for almost the same cheap price as in Germany. And they have so many more Oreos than in the supermarket around the corner. And, and….so MUCH of EVERYTHING. You could totally move in and just live in Walmart. If all else fails and, despite my university’s insurance that all of the students are gonna be the “Global Leaders of Tomorrow” , I will stand alone unemployed, I will become a greeter at Walmart. I honestly think I could do an amazing job there because I believe in them. I wouldn’t have trouble coming up with different greetings every day. Stuff like: “Oh my GOD, HIIIIII…did you see the super awesome discount on cookies we have today? Yes, ALL cookies and there are so many!!! That is so awesome, isn’t it? I know, I can’t believe it myself!” or: “Ha, did you know that they have Starbucks Icecream? That is so super awesome!”…
The wedding itself was beautiful…and did something to me I can’t really describe and feel almost too ashamed of to tell you… It made me want to get married. Before this wedding, I didn’t really see a reason for marriage. More and more people get divorced. And divorcements suck. How high are the chances that you’d actually stay together with this person that you meet in your early twenties? “Till death parts us” nowadays can easily last till you’re hundred! When this oath was created, 45 was the average life expectancy…see the catch?! But then I was at this wedding and boy was that romantic. There I was, watching this couple swearing to spend the rest of their lives with each other and being happy about it. It made me realize that, hopefully, at one point in time, I will meet someone who is willing to be that certain someone for me. Someone who laughs about my lame jokes and subtly lets me know when they are too much. Someone who gives me a huge hug whom I can offer support knowing that, if I need it, he’ll be there for me too. Having the significant other half. I am fine being single. I don’t feel like anything is missing. But I also know that not being single makes you feel even stronger, even more secure in life and, of course, less alone. If this is what I can hope for, if this is what life holds for me, I am fine waiting for it. If this is the best possible outcome, I am excited to search for that because I can’t imagine the amazing feeling of having found the one. Look at me. This cheesy romance coming from me is a little awkward, because I used to be one of the people that would answer “Yeah, maybe in movies and books but in reality you fight and get divorced, you get bored with each other or you don’t find each other at all.” But also getting to know Jessi’s grandparents who tell the story of how they first met whenever possible, who are still showing their love and affection for each other is an amazing thing in my opinion. So yeah, that is basically the lesson that Indiana taught me, thanks for that.

Our last travel destination led us to a little town close to Albany, NY. I personally loved that part of the state. Its hilly and green, very very green. We went hiking, drove through areas with nothing but a house every now and then bordering at a Walmart (of course) and I couldn’t help but keep thinking of horror movie scenes. You know, the ones where a bunch of youngsters go camping in the nature and either a) get lost in the woods and killed by weirdos or b)have a car accident and look for help at this random shady house in the middle of nowhere and get killed by weirdos or c)camp in the middle of nowhere and get killed by weirdos. You have forests and then two houses, a meadow and a house, a hill and three houses. Having a vivid imagination and a special relation to horror movies, that freaked me out a little. But fast food culture and nature are absolute amazing in Upstate New York:

Lessons I learned overall during my travels:

1.) Go to Walmart for whatever you need. They’ll have it. Cheaper than anyone else.
2.) Flag production must be a major business in the US. These thing are EVERYWHERE.
3.) “OJ” is the official abbreviation for Orange Juice but “AJ” does not stand for Apple Juice
4.) D.C. is supposed to be the city you couldn’t possibly get lost in…well, within 48 hours there I got lost more often than I ever did within three months in NYC.
5.) Ice-Cream is freaking delicious but they put some unknown ingredient into the cream that makes one scoop have 850 calories
6.) People don’t exaggerate when they say that the Midwest countries grow a lot of corn
7.) Root Beer has to be something that every other country EXCEPT FROM the USA uses as cough sirup. In the US its a popular soft drink.
8.) Soft drink is a local dialect. In other parts of the country you call it “Coke” or “Pop”…or something like that.
9.) There are hundreds of channels but never something on TV.
10.) FOX News is a joke, is it? Please tell me it is!
11.) I love the USA.

I have much more to talk and write about but for now, this post is just to sum up my previous travel experiences. Otherwise this whole thing would become waaaaay too long!

Kiswahili changu si kizuri sana. … What?

“My Swahili is not very good.”

About time that changes, seeing as I will be boarding a plane in two weeks’ time. Kenya believe it? Okay, silly word play. But just to tell you again for those who haven’t read all the posts, I’ll be studying at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, for a semester from September onwards.
Obviously once I’m there I’ll be flooding this blog with pictures and stories and hopefully you’ll all be jealous of all the fun I’m having in Africa. I’m hoping to see elephants, giraffes, lions, rhinos, hippos, to go shopping, try awesome foods, go to a “real gospel church” even though religion and I have our differences, hopefully sing my heart out in a choir somewhere, go clubbing in what is supposed to an amazing nightlife scene, dance, celebrate, learn, make friends… just get the most out of this time. And you can tell I am excited.

However, at the moment, it’s like… do you know Goethe’s “Faust”? Two souls alas! are dwelling in my breast.
I am excited. I really can’t wait. At the same time, I don’t want to leave.

I don’t want to stand out, I don’t want to be stared at,  judged or put in a box because of the color of my skin, I don’t want to be scared to carry anything valuable or walk alone at night. I don’t want to be in a place where I don’t know anyone and nobody knows me, where I can’t go to see my best friends, where my roommate is still a continent away, where people will always recognize me as a stranger.

I don’t want to leave behind what I have here. There’s my family who I’m currently spending some valuable time with. My friends, my university, someone I just met but have grown extremely close with. All of this will be thousands of miles away two weeks from now.

And yet… everything I said in the first paragraph still stands… I can’t wait to go and throw myself into yet another adventure. I’ve seen Europe, Australia, North America, South America… I’ve never been to Africa. I’m excited. As for the two souls dilemma, time will just have to sort this out. At least I can’t complain that my life is boring at the moment.

And while I prepare for Nairobi, let’s all be giant pains in Ari’s butt so she finally tells us about her adventures in D.C., Upstate New York, Indiana and whereever else she’s been since her last entry. Arianeeeeeeee!!