I’m struggling hard to find my balance in Mtwapa. Real hard. Daily panics, where I jump from being OK, to near tantrum mode. Culture shock is very hard to explain. Because it is not actually that the culture is shocking, it is the realization that you do not fit into this culture, and that you don’t know how. That you don’t even know how to ask about simple things, or about how to fit in, because you are not sure what sort of boundaries you cross just by doing that. The language barrier and cultural barrier is actually exhausting. I almost never feel comfortable here, and constantly feel like I am doing something wrong. I am sure it will get better, but for now I can not help but count down the weeks. (I keep tempting myself with days, but I think if I saw the number it would be daunting). I should be amazed by my experiences, but I keep being overwhelmed instead. It’s not something you are supposed to admit, but since there is no way to change the course of events I can say things like this: I am ready to go home. It will pass. But I feel sort of trapped and unsure and tired and mostly I just want to see a familiar face, and feel that little punch of relief. Jama comes to visit me next week or the week after, I am so excited to see him.
Work is good, but there is this strange dichotomy of having all of these people taking me under their wing, but these same people being the ones who make me feel sort of inadequate. No one in Mombasa believes I know Swahili and they have no reason to. They talk too fast, they use perfect grammar, they have different accents, they all talk at once. I can’t understand what they are saying, and I get daily head spins trying to. I’m trying to embrace it but it’s frustrating. I don’t even try speaking, for the most part, because my swahili is so limited and slow-paced it seems useless half the time. My little brothers and sisters are the only people who speak to me in Swahili, because they don’t know english, and I think through them I’m improving.
I get this creeping sense that everyone here wants something from me, and it’s not my friendship. I’m American, and it is assumed I have money. And a swimming pool. Someone told me the other day that all American’s have swimming pools. That Americans don’t know how to cook. That there is no sense of community. The same exact generalizations I accuse America of all the time when I am home, but here I find myself defending. It makes me realize that despite how materialistic our culture is we still have some sort of heart in the US. Particularly the circles I run in. When little kids see me they yell “JAMBO” and then everyone in the work van says “they’re saying hi to you, you know”. On my worst day of panic, this happened, and apparently my response sounded negative. A co-worker asked “it annoys you?” not meanly, just sort of a passing comment. Of course I can’t say YES because that would make me heartless. But when I already feel like I am sticking out, all alone, this little thing emphasizes all of the fears and discomforts I am already having.
I’ve been trying to explain how their assumptions are wrong. But it’s hard to prove. When I’m nervous and not sure what my role is I am flighty and useless. I seem clumsy and lost ALL the time here, and not in a charming way.
5 weeks til the ‘rents start arriving. 8 until I am home. I feel like I am slipping through the cracks of everyone’s minds while I’m here, mostly because I feel so much more disconnected. It feels like a long time. Some of this is not Mtwapa culture shock but just straight up home-sickness. Maybe the heat is making me more delusional than usual. Kenya, if anything, has taught me perhaps what I already knew. How much I depend on the people around me at home and how much I love everyone there. Wisco, I have a feeling that as soon as I cross the Illinois border and enter your beautiful farmland my shoulders will slump in relief. Even if I love Kenya, which I think I do (not quite confirmed yet), my loyalty to the people I normally surround myself with makes it really hard to be away from them. I always say I will always follow people I love, rather than places and Kenya seems to be confirming that. I don’t know what this says about me, and for the time-being I don’t care. So please, take me with you.
Feel better already after writing that. I think I just needed a little time to decompress. To sum it up using some wise words my brother wrote: “It’s gettin better all the time. I’m moving forward most the time. Nothing can come between us, living parallel lives.”