There is at least one question I can't come up with a satisfactory answer to no matter how many times I get asked it: "what was it like growing up in Nairobi/Kenya/Africa?" I usually launch into a little speech about how Nairobi is a modern city of nearly 5 million people (to dispel the myth that Africa is all villages and huts) in the Kenyan highlands (to explain that not everywhere in Africa is unbearably hot) with some infrastructure and crime issues (so yes, my experience growing up was still a wee bit different than yours'...water shortages and carjackings, anyone?). At that point I usually trail off and want to turn the question around - what was it like growing up in your hometown? It was home. It just sort of...was.
I don't think being back four and a half years after I stopped living here is going to make me any better at answering that question, but the last week has at least reminded me of one thing - this place is home.
A few of the things I didn't even know I missed that I've gotten to re-connect with...
1. the food mangoes, bananas, pineapples, perfect honeydew melons, mandazis, Fanta orange, Weetabix (always better here than in the US), Ethiopian food, and of course, the universal appeal of fried potatoes (featured here in bhajia form)
(note to aspiring artsy photographers with no actual skill...just rest the camera on some flat surface and shoot in the general direction of your subject)
2. the football
(particularly evenings like this one, when ManU loses 3-0 while Arsenal wins by the same margin!)
3. my family here
By far the most poignant reunion was with this woman, Jocinta, who was our househelper for fourteen years She told me she was so happy to have "her girl" home, and how pleased she was that I had gotten so tall and so fat. I was holding back tears the whole time and I think she was too.
4. the sickening feeling of approaching a riot. Not something I was hoping to relive, but such is life in Nairobi. Also wasn't looking to reconnect with equatorial sunburn, power outages, mosquitoes, or upset stomachs, but have failed on all counts.
5. the wildlife
Our dog, Snoopy, who has been with two other families since we left and more or less didn't remember us. Oh well. At least we were able to tell her new owners that she howls when she hears scales played on the piano and that she'll doggy paddle in the air if you pour water on her head.
6. for lack of a better descriptor...street culture
We went to buy an internet modem and ended up hanging out with Father Christmas and this colonial character who makes an appearance in many Kenyan comedy sketches
Most of their routine was dancing
Hopefully this explains some things for those who have wondered where I learned my dance moves.
At some point in the last few years I convinced myself that I had not real home and was doomed to be a rootless wanderer, at least until the magical age of 30. While the latter part of that is probably still true, every time I laugh out loud at something that hasn't changed in Nairobi, I suspect the former just might be false.