"In the second chamber, of my fourth heart, down to the left of the third valve, is a room, I keep for you. For me, just to think of you. "- Lisa Olstein/ Jeffrey "Jeffy" Foucault (had to give them credit for stealing some lyrics for a blog title)
Oi vay, so much to write and yet I’m feeling sleepy due to prolonged sun-exposure etc.
Kenya isn’t what I expected. Or rather, it is what I expected, but my feelings towards it aren’t what I expected. While my views on politics and on life are being reinforced, I am not finding the heart I expected. I don’t know if this has anything to do with Kenya though, and more with myself. Everyone else came to Kenya to find themselves, I came to Kenya to get lost and I think I’m doing a marvelous job.
I’m the type of gal who suffers/enjoys heart string tugs daily, who gets overwhelmed with the beauty and joy of everything, weak kneed and weak hearted almost always. I’m not like that here. Or I haven’t felt like that. Maybe I’m thinking of this as such an un-permanent thing that I am having trouble making relationships strong enough for this. Or cultural boundaries prevent me from properly expressing myself, though I am trying harder to do so with my host mom and sister and the results have been positive. I’m sure you could tell though, look at my writing, it isn’t fluffy and so full of love that it is almost overboard. I think this is partly because I am just having this experience and not spending all of my time trying to figure out how to describe it.
We went to Kibera today. This and our trip to Simon’s are my two favorite experiences so far in Kenya, though technically they are the most subtle and most short. Kibera is amazing. You’re supposed to be heart-broken when you look at it. You’re supposed to be heart-broken when you come to Africa and witness poverty. I’m not. Like I said, communal culture is popular around here. Despite the strange attachment to television, people are the most important thing here. Here is the strongest sign of love I’ve seen in Kenya so far: We started talking with this little girl, who was cute (they all are) but asking us for money. Simon starting talking to her and asking her why she wasn’t in school and where her mother was etc. The little girl was 4, about the same age as Simon’s daughter. The rest of us had ignored her request for money (not because we are heartless but because everyone is asking for money and it is dangerous to hand it out, they will keep asking you, some people will follow you or look for you each day). After talking to her for a long time, Simon walked over to this small stand and bought her a bag of mangos and sent her back home. It’s a tiny thing. I can’t explain it’s importance, I’m not even sure if it IS important in the great scheme of things, but it gave me a heart-string tug, so it’s important to me.
Kibera is amazing. The houses are made of mud and dirt and rusted tin roofs, which sounds like such a terrible stereotypical description. It’s sad because they are citizens of this city and their needs are not being met. But it’s so full of life, and I’ve never really lived in true poverty, but part of me thinks that this is more important. No. All of me thinks that this is more important. It’s a bold statement, it’s probably wrong because I live a life of privilege. I am still having trouble believing that a country can become modernized without losing it’s heart. Kibera is like a mini city. It’s sad and tattered, but it’s functional. They’ve found way to illegally get water and electricity to the area. It’s not ideal and it’s probably not pleasant to live there, but the fact that people have created this on their own amazes me. Kenyans can’t depend on their government systems for anything really, and they’ve found ways to come up with their own systems as a replacement. They are flawed, they don’t address the core problems, but damn, at least they did something about it. Without complaint. Not that they should be silent, but the fact that they aren’t “whiny” amazes me. There are rows and rows of houses, all so close to each other and they still manage to find ways to plant some small amount of vegetables (sukuma wiki, which is like spinach and kale). I want to be resourceful. America doesn’t offer the opportunities for that, though my mother has successfully instilled this desire to be practical in me. We don’t learn how to be resourceful because it isn’t economically viable. We do the jobs we know how to do and we pay someone else to do the rest for us. I have no skills. I hope I gain a few here.
I am slowly slowly (pole pole) finding my Kenyan heart. I can’t properly explain this without sounding like I am missing something important from the experience, but I am so excited to come home. My heart should be going through so many more jolts here than it does at home, but it’s not, and these heart jolts are what keep me excited. I’m looking for them in Kenya, and I’m sure I will find them. It is strange and disheartening to find that a place I have so much love and admiration for is not a place I feel like I can stay. I thought this would feel like home. It doesn’t feel unwelcoming at all, but I just don’t find myself having the same love for it I have for Madison and El Cafe. Maybe my roots aren’t deep enough here. I mostly love places because they people I know loved them first. This was supposed to be my place, and I don’t get the sense that it is. I feel like I’m always loving it from a distance. Maybe at my internship it will be different, maybe I’ll be more a part of the experience rather than feeling like I’m just sort of looking in.
I’ve made my own sort of communal life in the states, and I’m not awesome at being away from it. The little things are most important. And I am not finding lots of little things here. Maybe I’m being too distracted by the big things. I feel like I am constantly defending myself when I write things like this by saying “DON’T WORRY, I’M STILL ENJOYING THE EXPERIENCE”. In the same way people don’t really seem to want me to feel anything negative here, and whenever I mention it they seem to tell me “but you’re in Kenya” as though that is a cure-all.
I feel like this experience should FEEL more important than it does, and I wonder if it will when I get home. I just miss the feeling of my heart wanting to explode from love. And I’m not sure why it isn’t. And I’m worried I’m doing something wrong. Maybe it’s my struggle for independence. For having an experience and not having it justified or analyzed by anyone but myself. That’s not how I do things, normally. I hope I figure it out. I feel so stagnant when I want and expect myself to be almost in tears. And I can’t shake the thought that I am somehow disappointing everyone. Or maybe just disappointing myself because I thought something about being here would make me seem more impressive, and I’m realizing that I am as impressive as I’m ever going to be, which is plenty for me, but maybe not enough for everyone else. This is not a cry for a confidence booster or for a pile of compliments or even a passive-aggressive way of saying I’m not given enough credit (because I don’t think that’s true). But just a sort of final realization that you simply can not make everyone love you, you can not impress everyone, no matter what you do (including going to Africa. Seems pretty obvious right? You’d think I would have figured this out a long time ago.)
Lots of love to everyone, don’t let this confuse you into thinking I am not having a good time, or not learning anything, because that is definitely not the case.