Going home from another home

They say when you move abroad you are either running from or running to something. In my case, moving to San Francisco meant I was sprinting towards the life that I thought I should have had all along and I couldn’t wait to prove myself in this new world that I had chosen for myself. And life has been treating me well, better than I had hoped it would and better than I sometimes felt I deserved.  Now, I will be going home for Christmas. By the time my plane touches down in Hamburg, Germany, by the time I grab my luggage and fall into the arms of my (probably bawling) mother, I will have been gone an accumulated total of 483 days. And my God, am I ridiculously excited to go back. I have been watching Love Actually on repeat because both the first and the final scene remind me of how I will feel at the airport. I have been humming Christmas songs in my head since my boss approved my vacation request two months ago. I have moments of jumping up and down in my room when I’m alone, because that’s just how excited I am to see my parents, my brothers and my closest friends, to sleep in my old room, to eat my parents’ home-cooked meals, to wander across Christmas Markets and tour the cities I love.

CHRISTMAS EXODUS GETS UNDERWAY AT HEATHROW HEATHROW READIES FOR

And then there is a growing worry. Because, by going back, it might just hit me how long exactly I had been gone. I mean, of course there are the obvious measurements of time. I was 21 when I left and 23 when I come home. I missed my brother’s High School graduation and my other brother’s Confirmation. They missed my grad school commencement. I missed my brother moving out and I couldn’t visit him in the hospital on any of the multiple occasions he was brought in with an epileptic attack. They couldn’t help me when I lost my wallet with all my cards in it or when I hurt my foot so badly in the Grand Canyon that I couldn’t walk for two weeks. And while we were there for each other through phone and Internet, I’ve come to learn that distance is a good buffer. It is a hella good painkiller, too. And you grow comfortable being away.

Because, eventually, the distance gets easier to manage. No, I take that back. The distance is something we start to accept as the inevitable, as something we opted in on when we chose to live the life we want. The time zones and phone calls and missing one another are things to which we can adjust and be okay with, which we sometimes complain about but, at the end of the day, look past it.

So, I have become comfortable with being that one family member living at the other end of the world. Because, without this level of detachment, I would constantly feel bad for choosing here over there. For deciding that my hometown is simply too small for all the dreams I have in my head. For not following in my parents footsteps. At. All. Being the “gone one” has started to feel like not such a bad price to pay. But now that my flights are booked, it keeps hitting me exactly how much I’ve been missing all these people that have known me for more than just 483 days and I want to go back to what I’m used to and give them what they expect to get. Pre-San Francisco Me.

But how do we come home to a place that must inevitably have changed while we were gone? Going home from another home is a weird feeling, because people expect you to be the person you were when you left, and that’s impossible. And, vice versa, you expect things to be exactly the same as when you left, and that’s impossible, too.

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be” (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Most of all though, I just really want Christmas to come!

Cheers,

Ari

Everyone Else’s Story

The following are aimless philosophical ramblings. No actual point is being made.

That being said: do you ever wonder about everyone else’s story?

I’m writing this on a semi-crowded train taking me from a Bavarian town straight to my new home in the North of Germany. Six and a half hours between the place where I taught a seminar and the place I will call home, forty square meters in beautiful Hamburg, shared with the man I love and (for the time being) quite a lot of cardboard boxes.

I’m twenty-four and I’m in love – with this guy, with a city I’ve only ever visited for weekends, with the steady movement of the train and with this moment in my life.

I can’t help but wonder: what’s everyone else’s story? If you could measure the emotion in this train car, what would you find? At first glance, most of the people surrounding me look bored. But would boredom really be the prevailing feeling you’d find? I doubt it. I’m sure I look bored to those around me, sitting cross-legged in a reclined window seat, typing away on my laptop. Maybe I am a little, intermittently. But much more than that, I am excited, ecstatic, happy, nervous, joyful and a little baffled at how amazing this sequence of events has been.

passengers on train by OTFO on Flickr

passengers on a train (by OFTO on Flickr)

So what about the guy across the aisle with the band-aid on this right thumb, swiping backwards, forwards, up and down on his cell phone? He’s dressed casually, has a small suitcase with him, slight frown on his face. Looks like he’s reading something – sometimes he’ll use two fingers to zoom in on the screen. He looks bored, too. But what if he’s just distracting himself? It’s a Monday evening, so maybe he’s heading home from a long weekend that he spent in the city his long-distance girlfriend lives in. Or boyfriend, actually, maybe. No, probably girlfriend. In that case, would he be a bit sad, maybe, to have to leave? They might have had a fight and he’s somewhere between relief and frustration. They might have gotten engaged, and he’s still trying to process the fact that she said yes. It might have been a Monday work trip, though, too. He might just be tired. Nothing much may be happening in his life right now – or everything.

I won’t know – and I won’t know what brought that couple sharing a newspaper, or the woman with the bright yellow book, on this particular train. Neither will they ever know just how excited I am. That I’m moving, right now, and for the first time in years, moving somewhere I plan on staying indefinitely. I don’t know if they’d care, either. I’d find it interesting, right now, to know what they’re up to – but it wouldn’t touch my life beyond tonight, so in the end, it will not matter to me.

And still, sitting here and letting my eyes wander around the train car, I can’t help but marvel at the unknown stories, the biographies, the tragedies and comedies around me that I will never know. The stories behind these random faces. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around just how MUCH is going on in a single train car, let alone the whole world, at any given point in time. Isn’t that just the most amazing thing to think about?

The Art of Being Nice…

Maybe I should have called this post “The art of being nice while using Berlin public transportation at rush hour”, but that would have just been a very long name for a post, don’t you think?

Maybe I should have called it something deeper, like “the art of being conscious and thinking before I act”, because that is kind of more what I want to say, but it’s also quite long.

My point is, the subject of this post is very deep. With this in mind, it’s a rather short post, because it was just something I thought about on my way home without having reached a satisfying conclusion. A thought in progress, so to speak.

I was on the tram on my way home from work, and it was much more crowded than usual. I’m guessing the tram before didn’t come, so twice the amount of people had to fit into this one. I was standing pressed against the back of a girl a few years younger than me, who was with her friend. The two of them had only one subject of conversation – how annoying it was that the tram was so crowded. At one stop, when people started getting off, the girl closest to me started actually pushing away in my direction to try to give herself some space. It caused me to almost fall and push a kid of approximately 11 years out the door… and it made me pretty angry. I told her, in the nicest tone I could muster, that I’d fall out of the tram along with the kid if she kept leaning backwards. Her response was aggressive, mine irritated, it went back and forth like that twice more and then I just decided it wasn’t worth responding anymore, seeing as she’d at least stopped pushing so much. My mood was ruined at this point though, and I did feel like following up the argument and trying to “win”… because of course, by shutting up I was essentially letting her have the last word. To refrain from restarting the argument, I checked with the kid to make sure he was okay, managed to joke with a woman standing close by, and smiled, even though I didn’t really feel like it. It actually helped and three stops down the line, when I got off, I wasn’t mad anymore, just thinking what a waste of lifetime it was to let your evening be ruined by a few too many people on your tram. I wanted to say this to the girl who had lashed out at me, but I thought she’d take it as further provocation, so I shut up and just turned that thought over in my head as I walked home.

I mean, I like being nice, and I didn’t like the person I was on that tram when the girl started pushing me. I don’t like myself when I snap at people, and God knows (actually, Ari knows), I tend to do it when I’m upset, angry or just frustrated with something, which can be fairly often. A stressful day or even heartbreak is not an excuse to lash out at your best friend, and a crowded tram is not an excuse to snap at a stranger. Especially since doing it does not even make me feel better, it makes me feel worse.

So the thought processing in my head is: How does one get to the stage of awareness I was at by the end of the tram ride? Calm, knowing that none of this is big enough to have the power to ruin my day unless I let it… and then actively deciding to smile and not let it. How do I get to this point before I say something less than friendly? How can I be in this state of centered-ness consistently? And is the answer really that I have to start getting up at 5:40 like Ari to meditate myself into a more relaxed state of mind?

I have no idea – but I’m trying to find out!

Long Distance

So here we are, and the blog title applies once again… Ari and I are no longer “real” roommates.

I mean, we’re no longer any kind of roommates , at least not officially. But I’m telling you, living with your best friend for two years (and NOT killing each other) creates a bond for life. At least that what it feels like to me. I can’t imagine my life without my roommate, and that’s still true even when we’re on different continents.

Also, it’s not like we’re strangers to long distance. We’ve been long distance roommates before (hence the blog), and we’ve also been in other kinds of long distance relationships before. In fact my boyfriend of now almost a year (wow) lives on a different continent as well. Conveniently, it’s the same one Ari will be moving to… and there are plans that I might move there as well in the not so distant future. So while we’d still be in different countries, at least we might end up on the same continent again.

This, then, is really the essence of what I take away from college: The bonds we forged, the ones that I hope will last a lifetime.

The people I love will be all over the world, in fact, they already are. Some of my best friends are currently in the U.S., in Venezuela, Germany, Australia, the U.K., Chile, Finland, Norway, Kenya… honestly, you name the country, chances are I’ll know someone either from there or currently living there. Some of them I don’t see every year or even every other year. Some I haven’t seen in years, some I might not see until our 10-year-reunion. And yet, I don’t think it’ll matter too much. We have Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, heck, even Pinterest to share those things that made us think of each other. The fact that we have Internet means we’re never really very far away from each other (except those moments when you really want to give the other person a hug).

So what’s next?

For me, it’s a six-month internship starting in August, and then… dare I say it… I might make my next move after that dependent on my boyfriend… because a year and a half of long distance is really quite enough. So one of us will be moving. Holy shit. That’s how serious we’ve become. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s the most amazing thing that ever happened to me, but… sometimes I get really freaked out.

For Ari… well if you’ve been following, you know about San Francisco. If not, GO BACK AND READ, seriously. And she’ll keep you posted of course. We plan on continuing this blog not just as a means to stay in touch but I guess also to sort out our “post college confusions”  – credits for the quote to Tabi, thanks 😉

So stick around… we can only get more confused (and therefore entertaining) from here on out… real life is waiting. (Yay?)

On Life: Insecurities vs. Passion

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

This one is especially for Ariane, inspired by a recent conversation. I feel a bit awkward, to be honest, in trying to sell anything like a life philosophy – I really don’t know if I should be that bold at the age of twenty-two. Then again, I am young enough to vividly remember my teenage years… that time when everything that matters is what everyone else thinks of you. When judgements like “too fat”, “not pretty enough”, “teacher’s pet”, “loser”, “bad at sports”, “too tall”, “weird hair”, “not part of the cool kids”, are what seems to define a person. And trust me, my teenage years, particularly the early ones, were full of those. Later I sort of found my “niche”, but even though the judgements were no longer made to my face, my brain had already learned them and repeated them, endlessly, without my conscious attention. It was only recently that I became aware of just how damaging those little voices in my head had been, and how insecure they had rendered me.

I’m not going to tell you I have no more insecurities. Everybody does. Inside everyone is that awkward teenager that felt somehow they just did not fit in, or the child who felt that she was not loved enough, or the schoolboy who was made fun of because he was the teacher’s favourite.

In the process of reaching that state of adulthood, I believe it’s crucial to begin replacing the judgements that formed our identity in our teenage years with a new concept of the self. Now, a few years ago, my definition of myself might have been something like, “I’m a student… I like books… and travelling… and… uhmmm… I have a cat…” See my point? I wouldn’t have known how to define my identity, other than what I do, and what I like. The unspoken judgements that formed an enormous (albeit largely subconscious) part of who I was and how I behaved, were something like “too fat… guys don’t like me… my hair is too frizzy… I’m too smart, nobody likes a know-it-all… I’m not one of the cool kids… I don’t fit in”. The process of learning to answer the question “Who are you?” starts by identifying what we think we are, subconsciously. These damaging words that are so ingrained in us after our teenage years are what causes us to be insecure. So what makes us more secure? What can give us confidence? How do we arrive at a new self-concept, one that is not based on negative judgements that usually do not even have any kind of objective truth in them?

The obvious answer is, by finding what really is true about us. Ask yourself, what makes me tick? What am I passionate about? What is it that I love? Which are the activities that I enjoy so much that I don’t feel time passing anymore? What makes me unique? What are my talents? What have others noticed in me that they appreciate? What am I often complimented on? Whether that is your style or the way you do your hair, the way you kick a soccer ball, your ability to listen or to make people laugh, it does not matter. I could say what others think of you doesn’t matter anyways, and to an extent that is exactly what I am saying. But of course, mtu ni watu (a person is people, i.e. no man is an island), so our self-concept will naturally be influenced by our interactions with others. My point is that often we take from those interactions any criticism and judgement, real or imagined, and internalize it, but we dismiss compliments. Don’t. It’s not “nothing”.

Don’t dismiss compliments. Don’t dismiss yourself and your talents. Don’t say, “Well yeah, but that’s nothing extraordinary”, or, “Well, everybody can do that”. Your skills and talents are worth something. If someone asks who you are, tell them what inspires you. Tell them what you dream of. Don’t be afraid to share what you love. Of course you are not just your skills and talents. I’m talking about what makes you passionate, what makes you come alive. Have you ever had a conversation with someone about their greatest passion? Have you noticed how their eyes are bright, their whole body is alive, they’re almost beaming with excitement… and suddenly the most boring subject seems interesting, because they are speaking of it in such a passionate way? It’s happened to me with a biology teacher speaking about amoebae, and a scientist who builds little robots that scan the ground of the ocean and bring up dirt samples. I also had the great privilege of being taught Calculus by a man who was a mathematician not just by profession, but with every fiber of his being. I always preferred languages and social sciences, but that year, math was my favourite class.

It’s amazing what passion can do, and how much it can change our lives if we find what we are passionate about. If you already know, great. Think about how you feel when you’re doing whatever it is you love doing. I bet you don’t feel inadequate, or insecure. I bet you’re not thinking you should really lose a few pounds or wishing your hair was longer, or less unruly. When you’re in the zone, there is just no room for such thoughts. THAT is who you are. Share that part of your life. It’s the most genuine you can be – and that’s how connection happens.

If you’ve read this far and you’re shaking your head and saying, nice, but I’m really not that excited about anything… I hear you. I said the same thing a while ago. It can take time to figure out what you’re really passionate about. If you have an inkling… you always took art classes as a kid but stopped because it wasn’t considered cool, or you didn’t want to spend the money, or life got in the way… but you really enjoyed those classes… that’s a good starting point. If you keep getting compliments for something, that’s another good starting point. Like I said – don’t dismiss compliments. Listen.

If you have no idea, you get to try something new. Try a sport you feel drawn to. Join a choir. Get a library card. Learn chess. Plant a few herbs or flowers and be a gardener. Take a class in sewing, or Russian, or anything else that sounds like fun. If you don’t love it, try something else. Think about what you consider yourself to be talented in – but don’t limit yourself to that. It’s entirely possible to be good at something and not enjoy it at all. It’s equally possible that you’ll be good at something you didn’t think you could do.

And when you’ve found that thing that you love, that makes you forget the passing of time… share it. Let that be what others see in you. Not your self-doubts and your insecurities. Those aren’t ever going to go away.. but if you can recognise them for what they are, instead of calling them truths, you’ll be able to handle them much easier. And the first step to that, I believe, is to find something that is actually true about you – so true that when you share it, others can see it in your eyes and your body language and hear it in the way you speak. Call it your passion, your favourite hobby, your talent, your calling, whatever you like. Just promise me that you’ll take away from the time that you spend doubting yourself and worrying about yourself and your shortcomings, and invest that time into finding what makes you tick. It’s more than worth it – and you owe it to yourself to find out what makes you come alive.

PS:

Of course, there is much more to a self-concept than your passions. Something else I’ve been pondering a lot is the question of values. Where are my boundaries? What is acceptable behaviour? How do I treat others, and how do I wish to be treated? Are those two in accord? … etc. … Another is the question of personality – part of that, of course, is what I wrote about above, but there is more to that too – being honest about your character traits, identifying where there is a need for improvement… but also realise that your shortcomings are not you, they are just aspects of your personality that you can observe and change. I might write a second part to this in the not too distant future, if I feel like it… I mean, if I find the time, considering my other commitments.

I’d also like to say that this is just what my young, idealistic and sometimes over-analytical self came up with when I thought about insecurity versus confidence. It’s obviously not the gospel truth. Take what you like from it, leave the rest. Also leave comments if you like. Cheers!

“Is that your real hair?”

Wow, I have never felt more like some sort of exotic circus animal than in the last few hours. It was one of the funniest things that have ever happened to me.

I spent an afternoon in a small village not far from Lake Nakuru (I’ll tell you about the national park next time… with pictures, promise!) at an aunt’s place (my hostdad’s eldest sister, if you really care) while the hostdad went to do some politics in the area. I hadn’t been there ten minutes when two girls came in, saw me, started giggling incessantly and sat down on the couch opposite me, whispering to each other in rapid Kikuyu. For a while, we sat in amused and somewhat awkward silence… I was reading something and everytime I looked up at them, they turned their heads away really fast and started laughing again. I smiled encouragingly each time and eventually the younger one dared to smile back at me. With the ice broken, I started asking their names and how old they were – Faith is twelve and the younger one, who I understood was called Meri, is eight. I’m phrasing it this way because her name could have just as well been either Miri or Mary, with their English it was hard to tell. I told them my name and we lapsed back into silence, until after a lot more giggling  and staring, eventually the older one asked: “Is that your hair?”I blinked, not sure what she was asking. “I mean, your real hair?” When I told her it was, more giggling and whispering ensued, and eventually they ventured off their couch over to where I was sitting, so that they could touch my hair.

I’m not sure if they’ve met a “mzungu”, a white person, before, but it seems they definitely haven’t had a chance to touch one, and my hair and skin were utterly fascinating to them. They examined my hands in great detail (I assured them the green nails weren’t natural but a nailpolish, which seemed to reassure them a little bit), all the while chattering in Kikuyu and sometimes Swahili. I understood a word here and there, usually “mzungu”, but I have no idea what exactly their conclusions on my skin and hair were. I’d never before thought of my birthmarks as something extraordinary, but when they found the first one, they were almost unstoppable in looking for as many as they could find. Besides that, the fact that you can see the veins of a white person through their skin seemed to be exciting and scary at the same time.

At some point, I made the “mistake” of getting my camera out to show them the pictures of the park I had just been in, and the few pictures of my family that I had on it. The moment they saw the camera, everything else was forgotten. I spent most of the afternoon taking their pictures, posing so they could take pictures of me, explaining how the camera worked, showing every single picture I took to both of them, giving them the camera so they could take pictures of every poor unsuspecting visitor that walked into the room (and there was quite a steady flow of them!), and, although I tried not to panic, running after them to make sure they didn’t break my beloved camera. I’m not sure whether my mzungu-ness or my camera was the bigger sensation, but I have a feeling that my sudden appearance made their day. I’m also not sure whether I enjoy being the object of constant attention (and a lot of touching!), but those two were so adorable, I couldn’t help but be glad that I entertained them for an afternoon.

Here’s one of the many, many pictures we took:

Meri and Faith

For those of you that are on Facebook, there will be an album soon with a lot more pictures, but I just wanted to give you a little impression of my first real “mzungu” experience… eye-opening, thought-provoking, and definitely funny… I like those kids. I hope they grow up to decent jobs and their own place to live… the younger one doesn’t know how to read yet, and the older one doesn’t read very quickly, but at least it seems that they do go to school, and that’s really the most important thing. I wonder if I’ll see them again…

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

[Special warning: Long post ahead. Feel free to read part and come back later to finish, but do come back and finish reading cause I’d hate for you to read the Bad and the Ugly and miss the Good! That being said, enjoy.]

I’ve been in Nairobi for ten days now, and while that is obviously not enough time to form a coherent picture of the place or to make any kind of judgment, it might be a good time to sum up some of my first impressions. A good friend told me before I left that I’d experience the good, the bad, and the ugly, and as usual (don’t tell him I said that), he was right. I am in no way saying that the points below are an accurate description of Nairobi, or that a local would agree with me, or even that I am not going to change my mind about things as I get used to the place – but that’s why it’s called first impressions, right?

So, saving the good for last (bring your most weighty arguments towards the end to create the best impact, as every middle and high school teacher I ever had never tired of reminding me)… let’s start with

The Bad.

  • Public transport is confusing as heck, and also somewhat dangerous – both because of high risk of pickpockets and of the way these guys drive. I have yet to experience a matatu (minibuses that are chronically overloaded, sometimes blasting loud music, but are also cheaper and run with a higher frequency than buses) from the inside, but I’ve been almost run over by them several times, because they often, and without warning, drive onto the sidewalk to let someone alight or board the “mat”. A somewhat more adventurous part of me has to admit they do look like they might be fun, so I’ll give them a try sometime soon.
  • While the harassment is nowhere near as bad as it was in South America, a white girl does stand out and receive a certain amount of (mostly) unwanted attention and “tourist treatment”. The best so far was a guy at the market who asked for 4000 Ksh (that’s about 40 Euros!) for  a pair of (admittedly very pretty) earrings that should have cost about a tenth of that price.
  • The air… big city, as far as I’m aware no “clean air” regulations, a lot of cars (and trucks and buses) with rather old engines, and a LOT of traffic means it is hard to breathe any air that doesn’t smell like gasoline and dust. My eyes are often red and itchy just from being outside in the city center.
  • The university is… well… somewhat less efficient and supportive than my university back home. I’ve heard this from every exchange student I spoke to before leaving… once you go abroad, you’ll appreciate how this university works, and it’s true. I have been going back and forth from the university to my house to a copy-shop to a place that takes passport pictures, back to the university, back home, to the bank, back to the university, etc., even though at the time I asked via email, I had been told they had all the documents they needed. There’s no orientation for new students and as of now, no timetables, even though classes are supposed to start on Monday. I asked a student about it and she said my best source of information would be other students, since most of the time, the university won’t really be helpful. So… we’ll see how that goes.

The Ugly.

  • There’s really only one item on this part of the list, but it is ugly. Very ugly. It’s poverty. I’ve travelled before I came here. In South America, I stayed in houses that had walls made of clay and sugarcane trunks with a tin roof that only covered half the kitchen. I stayed in villages that didn’t have electricity or running water, and where the toilet for all villagers consisted of three holes in the ground, a ten-minute walk from the village. So I’m aware that the standard of living I’ve grown up with can’t be taken for granted. I’m aware of how very, very lucky I am to have spent my childhood in a house with a garden, with a road that was safe to play and walk on even after dark, in a place where you can leave the front door unlocked because the chances of burglary are virtually nonexistent. I had running, hot water whenever I wanted and electricity that only ever went out if there was a big storm, maybe. I know how lucky I am to have grown up like this and I’ve seen how different it can be.
    But here, poverty has touched me in a new way. Maybe it’s because the poor and the rich are so very close together. You drive to certain parts of Nairobi, like Karen, and you see huge mansions with elaborate security and armed guards, but on the way, you pass little kiosks on the road side, buildings made of some wood and some tin, that never look quite finished, or like they would really offer any kind of protection. My hostdad says that an estimated one million people in Nairobi live in a slum called Kibera (not far from where my house is but I’ve never been there), and it’s not a very long drive from the mansions of Karen, or the skyscrapers of the central business district. The poor and the wealthy live so close to each other that it’s impossible to ignore the poverty, and it’s also impossible to get used to it because it is so close to so much wealth that you cannot help but compare and wonder how it must feel. When I walk to the mall, little kids run after me begging for coins, often all the way from the intersection right to the entrance of the mall – they wouldn’t get past the guards at the entrance, and they know, but they are persistent. I know that if I start giving them money, I’ll probably have dozens of kids following me, and I’ll never be able to help them all. I also know a few coins won’t make a big difference and certainly do nothing to touch on the root of the problem, but when you have a maybe eight-year-old child telling you “Miss, I’m so hungry”, it’s really hard not to let it break your heart. I act like I’ve seen the people with me, I shake my head, I tell them “kesho”, “tomorrow”, and that I don’t have anything for them right now, and I feel like a really heartless and cruel human being, because I do have money, and maybe more in my bank account right now than these kids will see in their entire life, and it makes me want to cry to shake them off every time. How do you live amongst this kind of poverty, and not feel guilty for being so blessed yourself? It’s something I will have to arrange with myself in the months to come.

The Good.

  • I am so happy we have arrived at this part of the list. The last part of this entry has left me feeling quite glum, to be honest. It’s time to turn my focus (and that of my readers… please bear with me, the depressing part is over now, I promise) to the good things about Nairobi. Let’s start with the weather. It’s very nice. Sometimes (like today) it’s rather chilly, but in true Nairobi fashion I wrap a shawl around my shoulders and ignore the cold. Mostly it’s beautiful and sunny and quite warm, sometimes even hot. It rains occasionally, but not the annoying drizzling kind of rain that drags on for days without stopping. More the sudden downpour kind, Wolkenbruch, aguacero, I haven’t found out if there is a Swahili word as well, but pick your language. It’s the cool kind of rain that starts as suddenly as it stops, is deafeningly loud while it lasts, and leaves the air smelling fresh and drenches you within a fraction of a second, if it happens to catch you while you’re outside (luckily, it hasn’t yet). It’s awesome. I am also told that the weather at the coast is even nicer and I should go there sometime. I’m hoping to make it in December after my exams, hopefully with my Kenyan friend and partner in crime, Van Hoodie, who will be home for the winter break. (For the sake of privacy, I won’t be using any real names except mine and Ari’s, but it should be obvious that her name is not actually Van Hoodie).
  • The food. I haven’t tried nearly enough new things, of course, but I got a first taste, literally, of the food culture. I have fallen in love with samosas (sort of like a minced meat triangular pastry) and also chapos (chapatti). Our house help makes them with a bit of carrot in the dough, which is an awesome idea in my opinion. The most common meal for both lunch and dinner would be rice and stew, usually consisting of vegetables and some sort of meat. Ours almost always has carrots and peas in it, and the one with minced meat is my favorite kind so far. Then there is tea, served before and/or after a meal, or just in between, or when you have guests, or while you’re watching TV, or pretty much any time of the day. Kenyan tea is made in a big pot with a lot of milk, and most people add a lot of sugar to it – they find it funny that I reject the idea of sugar in both coffee and tea, but well, “if you prefer it that way…”
    Of course, as anywhere in the world, the German in me misses her dark bread and cheese, but cheap avocados and delicious fruit almost completely make up for it. (Side note: I am constantly entreated to eat more, have seconds, have a fruit, have more tea, etc. – I am convinced my host mother is determined to make me go home nice and round so that nobody will be able to say she didn’t feed me enough.) Oh, and I almost forgot… THERE IS CADBURY’S. In every supermarket. I am in paradise. Oh, and my favorite instant coffee in the world, Africafé. So the foodie in me is happy – if slightly concerned that she won’t fit into the plane seat on the way back!
  • Wildlife. I haven’t seen much of it yet, of course, lions, giraffes and elephants don’t exactly live in the CBD (although close by, more on that some other time)… but I have seen some really pretty birds that don’t look anything like any bird I’ve ever seen – and, what’s way cooler, there are monkeys. I saw two of them just chilling in a tree the other day and another one on the street really close to where I live. They’re grey, medium size (more on the small side of medium), and apparently they like to steal bananas, which is why the kitchen window should be closed if there is nobody in the kitchen. To the people here, there more a nuisance than anything else, but hey, I’ve grown up in Germany… monkeys stealing bananas through the kitchen window are like the coolest thing EVER.
  • The schedule. I don’t have it in full yet, but it looks like  I will mostly have class from 2-5 or maybe 11-5 some days. Meaning I get to actually sleep in the mornings, and those who know me know how important that is to me! Also, it will give me plenty of time in the evenings to do homework and readings – compared to days at university back home that sometimes went from 5:30 am (rowing practice) to 10 pm (elective), this is awesome.
  • The language. Have you ever heard someone speaking Swahili? It’s freaking CUTE. I can’t wait until I understand enough to haggle at the market in Swa. That should also make prices drop quite a bit… 🙂
  • The people. I left this point for last because it is really the best one (argument with most substance at the very end for greatest impact, remember?). Van Hoodie’s family, who I am living with, is amazing. I wrote about this already in my last post, but I must repeat it here because the list of good things would not be complete without them on it. Yesterday I found a bag in my room with a brand new towel and some hangers for my clothes, and when I wanted to thank “Mum”, she only apologized that she hadn’t gotten them earlier and she was going to buy more hangers, etc. She blows me away time and again by saying or doing something that I would have never expected or asked her to do, and then acting like it was the most normal thing in the world and she only wishes she’d been able to do it sooner, or help out more, etc. She has started introducing me as her daughter wherever we go, which draws confused looks from people but makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. My favorite cousin is the six-year-old with the adorable traces of a British accent in her English. Yesterday she questioned me at length about why I was here and what I was doing… “Are you learning Kiswahili? And Kikuyu? Do you go to the university so you can make new friends? Do you have Sprite in Germany?”… and sometimes she mixes a bit of Kiswahili into her English without realizing, and then she gets very impatient with me when I don’t understand. She likes questions, that one. Of course I still haven’t met even half the family, and I still mix up uncles, aunts and cousins, forget whose kids the ones currently visiting are, and the other day I accidentally introduced myself to somebody I had already met twice. (I hold that it wasn’t my fault because he was wearing a suit on both occasions and looked very different in casual clothes, but I was embarrassed nonetheless.) However, everyone I met and remember has been really nice to me and done everything possible to make me feel at home. My host mum and sister have welcomed me home like I’d always lived here, and my host dad made sure I got some cheese and semi-dark bread in the supermarket so I wouldn’t miss those things too much. The list could go on for ages, and I’ve only been here ten days. I’m sure of one thing already… whatever else happens, however things work out with the university, with the city itself, with my fellow students… I’ll always have this house as a refuge and a place where I feel at home and welcome. And trust me, if you’re in the middle of a strange country, you’ve crossed half a continent to come here and won’t see your family and friends for months, it is really a blessing if in the midst of all your confusion and insecurity, you have a place to come home to.