For me, traveling to Kenya usually happens on a whim. Rarely do I plan months in advance (or think it through very much). I just wake up with this longing for that warm sun, the sound of insects, a wider range of banana choices, the obituaries in The Nation, my friends, my family and just this sense of relaxation that comes over me as soon as the plane starts taxiing down the runway. I have been having this feeling for a few weeks and after my sister announced that she was traveling to Kenya for a break over Easter, I felt this intense urge to go too.
It doesn’t help that right now my heart is not really in it at my paying job; I sit at my desk feeling bound and chained. Thank goodness I don’t hate the work, just this feeling of being ‘expected’ each morning up to a particular time each day. I imagine how good it would be if I could just come in for a few hours each day to do what needs to be done. For example, if I’m done at two pm, why must I still be here till four-thirty? Can’t I just go home? Sigh. That feeling of disgruntlement is what sends me online searching for tickets. Imagine how nice it was to find that KLM could get me to Nairobi for a steal?
Next, I realized I had more vacation days than I’d estimated before. But it was like a huge sign saying ‘go to Kenya’ when our building manager came by my office to tell me how he had such a good time in Kenya (he’d gone there for his honeymoon), he had a couple Ksh left over which he figured he’d give me since I’d probably be going there before him. I decided then and there that I was going to do it! It didn’t take long to change my existing vacation plans, to get my outstanding tasks farmed out to others, get the money together and I was ready! I can’t lie- I feel so much better already. Like a weight has been lifted from my heart.
Of course those who know me are aware of my personal situation, E. being in Kenya, me being here, so it goes without saying that I would head to where E is at the drop of a hat. But the weird thing is that while I missed E terribly, this time around I had this craving to I-don’t-know, ‘touch the ground’ in Kenya? It would not be enough for E. to come over for a few weeks; I needed to be with him and touch the ground in Kenya. It’s almost like I have a deficiency in my blood that can only be cured by exposure to the direct, golden, Kenyan sun preferably while lying in some sweet smelling grass. I need to see my grandfather; he has so much to say to me. I want to see my friends; there are many conversations that cannot be carried out over the phone or email…sometimes you need to be looking someone in the eye when you speak. Basically, I am Kenya-sick. This is a new one for me.
Right now I am in the gift buying phase of travel home. I have my lists. Nothing extravagant, after all I do not believe that you have to buy a ton of gifts for people to feel ‘special’. It’s the thought that goes into giving gifts that counts. So this weekend I will be hitting the mall looking for deals on clothes, shoes, fragrance, books, magazines, bath products, music, movies. I don’t really care for shopping just for shopping’s sake (said the impulse shopping queen), but when you go shopping and find interesting items (like a pair of beautiful red shoes) at a great price (marked down from $140 to $50 but you pay $25 thanks to a coupon) or discover a new store that carries quirky items (I have a love of all things stationery), or even better, when you find the perfect item for that certain someone who will appreciate it. I look forward to this part of planning.
E. and I are also engrossed in planning some mini travels together. The idea of cruising along in the sunshine with him, exploring new places, building our memories is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most. We have Kilifi and Malindi pegged (I have this strong, unexplained urge drawing me there) for now, but our plan is to remain fluid with our travels- if something sounds interesting, we shall stop to see it. I have read (twice in the past two months) about the Sikh Temple at Makindu. I am fascinated. The new Nairobi Museum is on my list- in 2005 and 2008 I wanted to go there but it was still under renovation. I would like to see what I can of the fossils…after all, they are in a way my ancestors…sometimes I think we (Kenyans) do not appreciate how grounding this is…to actually find these reminders from hundreds of years ago on our beautiful little patch of Earth. Ours! I find that very comforting- that whatever happens, humans will continue to live in Kenya- not even our MPs can ruin that. Talk of hope eh?
I look forward to finding some artists’ work to bring back with me, the RaMoMa is on my list. One lady at work has cut out an image from a fashion magazine of a large chunky necklace and she has said ninataka kama hio! So, I’ll be hunting for a chunky necklace. Kazuri beads as always will be on my list too. I went there years ago as part of an Art class field trip. When they opened retail outlets I was really happy that their products were more widely available (at very decent prices). I think they could do a bit more with their designs, be a bit more fashion forward…maybe incorporate other materials in the jewelry…but I love them still.
Food is an integral part of my memories and relationships. There are many places to eat in Nairobi and I intend to sample as many of them that I can…EGM has promised to take me to Park Place where Chicken is king! (I am also looking forward to seeing his photography)…there is nyama choma to be eaten (I was once in Kenya for months and did not eat any nyama choma…somehow the opportunity never arose- don’t know how!), tilapia to be cooked 5 different ways, fresh seafood to be sautéed, maize to be roasted, passion fruit juice to be drank, friends to be fed (I’m hosting at least two dinner parties)…bliss. It’s the aroma of fresh garlic, the bite of fresh ginger, the sting of chilies that make your eyes water as soon as you slice into them, the sizzle of tender, fresh beef (the joys of growing up on a farm), the crisping of fat on lamb roasting on the grill to be savoured (look, don’t eat), banana-sweetened Njahis (did you know the English name for Njahi is ‘Lablab beans?) from my aunt’s kitchen to be eaten, fermented uji (porridge) to be slurped, and my favourite- dhania (cilantro) sitting freshly chopped, waiting to meet a pan of plump chicken pieces slow-cooked and finished with some cream before being served over a bed of basmati rice. Bring it on! This girl has some meal ideas cookin!
The reconnection with my friends is major, major, major! I can’t wait- we’ve made plans, the dates have been circulated, I am just so excited! Most of my friends are from my high school days- the things we went through, we are like survivors- of what? Am not sure:
…some days high school was hellish: when there were ice cold showers to be taken, when pocket money was scarce at end of term, when we were ‘lectured’ by senior prefects for hours, the punishments at the school farm…just for being our exuberant, young selves…other days high school was awesome: the first night back from home when stories rang around the House as we reconnected, the club activities, the thrill of no parents- in a way we were really free to just ‘be’…
Our school song started with the line ‘Friends are Precious’ and how true that line has turned out to be. I am so grateful for their friendship. The opportunity for us to just hang out on a verandah and enjoy a good meal, good times, some good reminisces, conversation about the future, in non-judgmental, accepting company is priceless. With these friends we don’t have to all share the same viewpoints or beliefs, it’s give and take, it’s respect, it’s acceptance, it’s honesty. The thought of this made it easy for me to deal with Ms. Busy over the past week when I felt like telling her to just Shut Up!
My parents will be celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary on the day I arrive. This will surely be interesting to see…they will gather around them my maternal, paternal relatives, their friends, their original wedding party and celebrate! We are marking this milestone as a family for the first time in a long time- my siblings and I went away to school and we haven’t all been home for an anniversary since the ’90s so this one’s a biggie…my dad was very excited that all the children can be there, and so am I. Their marriage (in my opinion) is proof of how good it can be to be married. I never realized how fortunate I was to grow up in a family where the parents loved each other. Now that I am grown up I know this- there are some messed up families/marriages out there! Ours was the house-that-love-built. Really.
Firstly, and most importantly, my parents are friends- they genuinely like each other and each other’s company. My parents never were the type to have big drag-down, punch someone in the face, tear out their hair kind of fights…they debated, argued, discussed, but they were never, ever cruel or unkind to each other. There was no gender distinction when it came to labour division- both our parents did whatever they could when it came to household chores. My father was just as likely to make breakfast (he makes really good grilled tomato to go with eggs), supervise & check homework, as my mum was took care of going to the mechanic, banking, supervising construction of our home. They co-parented too: there was no “go ask your mother/father” kind of talk, they were this ‘team’. I grew up knowing that my gender did not have any bearing on what I could or could not do, rather my abilities/skills did. I grew up knowing that it is possible for men to treat women well, it is possible to trust men, it is possible for men to be respectful of their wives and children…I also grew up knowing that being someone’s wife did not mean becoming his domestic slave, did not mean giving up your own happiness for him, that being someone’s wife did not erase you as a personality, basically I learned that love rocks!
I am grateful for the family I got-even my extended family is generally drama free and happy. I like them. You know, with African families, loving each other is a given, it is hard coded in your personality; it is drilled into you that family is family is family, and that’s that! You may not like your uncle so-and-so’s drunken, philandering ways, but if he needs a kidney you will be expected to get tested, and if you are a match, you will be expected to give him a kidney.
So to me, liking your family is the one ‘extra’ that comes with being part of a good one. I have more happy memories and interactions with my extended family than unhappy ones. I like 99% of my bloodline…isn’t that something? Even the 1% I don’t particularly care for is not terrible, just too opinionated for my liking. I am sooo grateful for that.
OK, this is a long (meandering) post. So, Kenya, here I come! I am so ready for this.