What i learned from 10 years away
Something i discovered returning to the Kenya after 10 years is that wether we are aware of it or not, we choose which memories we keep. Every observation is subject to our personal bias and our unique perspective. As time passes certain aspects of our memories are selectively redesigned. Visiting an old home can be both nastalgic and startlingly unfamiliar. With enough honesty maybe its possible to hold onto the reality of the things i experienced returning to my birthplace. It is dirty. Plumes of hot black exhaust bombard pedestrians as they navigate the rough single-track trail twisting its way along every roadside. At places it is little more then a ditch which becomes a river when it rains. The trees next to the road are stained by layers of red dust. Between the sounds of buses and car horns are birds chirping, the swishing of stick brooms, and the boistrous swahili chatter of locals. The smell of smoke from roasting sweet maize or a trash fire nearby permeate the cool dry air. While unfinished buildings stand empty and slowly rotting like dead old-growth trees, shiny modern new ones spring up in every direction competing for air, blocking out the sun. The sky is a primordial luminescent blue. It is larger than the earth beneath your feet. And yet it feels as though you can reach out and grab the stars clustered like cotton above your head as they envelop you from horizon to horizon. The trees, bushes and grasses are deep green with blossoms so vivid they are difficult to look at. The iron rich soil is a deep blood red. The sun rises and sets quickly. The passing gesture of a hand means yes, means no, means stop, means go, means sometimes, thankyou, sorry, later, always -- means this one, that one, mint choc, gluten free, danger, masala, hakuna matata, maybe, sawa, enough. It is a constant battle of cultures, educations, and backgrounds. All scampering in a furious stew of desperation and survival. It is a labored movement. Stubbornly casual in the proximity of certain danger. An inch to the left and a matatu smashes your head into a concrete wall. No rush. An hour late and we'll still be the first ones there. No need to sweat. After this problem is solved three more are waiting. Dont spend all your energy yet. The relentless pressure allows for every manner of short-term solution. Outlandishly overloaded vehicles careen at breakneck speeds side by side down roads dotted with monolithic pavement gaps threatening to tip over at the slightest sudden swerve while sharing the narrow road with mopeds, cyclists, and pedestrians barely moving at what might be called a glorified crawl. Shower curtains that dont reach the floor and poorly engineered drains flood even the most elegant bathrooms with luke warm water as if this is the purpose of their existence. Broken machines are rebuilt with rubber and plastic bags without ever being fixed. Lines are faded to nonexistent, boundaries debatable, definitions subjective; 'whatever it takes' written somewhere in the captions. In such a high, low-stakes environment accidents are an inevitable part of daily existence. One's mistake is another's opportunity. No one trusts anyone. Not even themselves. Market developments such as mpesa(mobile banking) stand as world class innovations in a country where the police at the airport will ask for a bribe because the commissioner kept half the budget he recieved to pay for their gas. The new six lane highway has speedbumps every couple of miles where pedestrians attempt to time their precarious crossings. Trucks spewing black clouds of desiel fumes have 'fresh cut flowers' written on the side revealing their hidden cargo. Flushing toilets in nature camps have no toilet seats. Land cruisers and pajeros supply tourists to opulent luxury lodges that stand awkwardly next to villages where people get water by loading large plastic containers onto carts pulled by donkeys. With a backdrop where the suns golden rays meet giant exotic geological formations, unimaginable swarms of mosquitos test the patience of any onlooker reveling in the splendor. The beautiful thing about a country of such contrasts where almost nothing goes according to plan and you can be absolutely sure something will go wrong, is the magic it allows you to witness when every success is by no small feat a complete miracle. If by chance you find the unmarked road on your journey and somehow make it to your desired destination, when you unexpectedly come upon an exotic species which completely takes your breath away, and you feel that perfect breeze on a warm sunny afternoon which makes your skin tingle... you smile as if god himself had delivered your mail. Its this inability to take even the minutest bits of life for granted that is so valuable and so difficult to maintain for a well provisioned demographic. Having traveled for two weeks in this country which i was born and raised in, im narrowly optimistic but exhausted and overwhelmed by its slow progress. Im ready for easy. Im ready for boring and clean. To return to the trivial persuit of perfection and mindless self improvement. I want to struggle to be exceptional rather then by default. To eat clean, to expect honesty, and to foster purity through repitition. I want clarity and order and accountability. I want 1230 to be 1230. And hello to be good ol' down to earth hello. I want to be intolerant of the illogical inefficient, and mediocre. Most of all i want to go freely and safely about my duties.