Monday, May 7, 2012

I Remember

Things that remind me I live in Nairobi:

1. Kai speaking Swahili – he does this semi-regularly, and rarely spontaneously. But when that little voice responds to my direction with a “ati – what?” – I remember I live in Nairobi

2. I notice nice toilet paper – the cheapest toilet paper here, which we get, feels like something between a piece of graph paper and cotton – not terrible, but not great either. When I’m at someone’s house who spends more money on toilet paper – I notice the nice toilet paper. And when I have to refrain from taking some home in my pocket for use when the amoebas get the best of me – I remember I live in Nairobi

3. I get emails from people alerting me to new traffic laws,  and they look something like this: “Overlapping, driving on pavement or through a petrol station to avoid traffic- You risk a fine of Ksh 30,000  or 3 months imprisonment or BOTH” And when I realize I do this all the time, and then realize I thought I was supposed to drive on the pavement, and then realize pavement actually means sidewalk – I remember I live in Nairobi

4. The local US Embassy sends out a warning just before Easter “Remember – it’s a holiday weekend, people might want to kill you more than usual – make sure not to go anywhere fun or religiously affiliated. Happy Easter!” (paraphrase mine) And when I still go to church, and out for lunch with friends, because we resist fear by living – I remember I live in Nairobi

5. I need my 4 wheel drive vehicle to take a friend home (5 min away from my house) if it’s raining; and sometimes, even if it’s not.  And when I pull up literally as close as I can to my pregnant friend’s door, and can’t get out because I’d be knee deep in water (she was only ankle deep) – I remember I live in Nairobi

6. Every movie I rent starts with the screen “This video is not for sale or rental outside the United States of America.” And when I still rent them, because their quality is better than the boot-leg copies sold on the street, and because I need a taste of ‘home’ – I remember I live in Nairobi

7. Some, though not all, complete strangers stare at me, sometimes with what seems to be intense anger. I can only guess why – and none of those reasons are actually my doing…but guilt by association is de facto, and subsequently, I am guilty of my wealth, my vehicle, and my skin color.  And when I look back at them, my mind and heart completely unsure how to respond to the inequalities and prejudices I see around me – I remember I live in Nairobi

8. I see animals walking down the side of the road each day – cows, donkeys, camels, baboons, tortoises, the occasional monkey.  I stop politely behind the Lexus and Mercedes in front of me, while we all wait for the animals to move.  And when my passenger window holds a view of a Maasai herdsman with his cattle, and my driver side window holds a view of a 5 story ritzy mall containing shops like Armani and Apple – I remember I live in Nairobi

9. If I go to the right place, it is cheaper, healthier, and more filling to eat out than to eat in. So we do…and when I pay less than $10 for a meal that will feed us at least 3x that week – I remember I live in Nairobi; and I remember all the starving people who live here, too.

10. Restaurant ambiance is unparalleled – everywhere we go to eat has either nice outdoor seating, beautiful balconies, couches for lounging, or something similar. Going out here is absolutely lovely – and the food is incredible.  And when I get a chance to relax with my friends, and momentarily close our minds to the harsh realities around us – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when the grocery store employee tells me he spends 16hrs a day on his feet, and he still lives in a slum – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when I watch perfect strangers stop what they are doing to help push a car out of the mud, because the town car and the road during rainy season are entirely incompatible– I remember I live in Nairobi

And when people rob my friend on Easter, dislocating her shoulder, and I speak to those people on the phone because they answered when I called – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when those same people return her documents because they saw her Bible and “didn’t mean to rob a Christian” – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when I need more than one hand to count the number of our friends who are permanently moving away this year, and everyone asks us when we're going to leave this new home we've barely established – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when the Rice Chex I find at the grocery store in May costs $8 a box, and is decorated with snowflakes – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when I postpone my trip to a government building, due to heightened security threats, because my husband is traveling and I want my children to have a back-up parent in town should something go terribly wrong – I remember I live in Nairobi

Life just continues in a lot of places, and I have had periods of my life where it is possible to go for weeks without really thinking about where I live and what is happening around me. But in Nairobi, it’s just not possible. Every day, in small or large ways, in humorous or sad, I am reminded – I live in Nairobi.  And if after 6 months, these every day occurrences still stand out to me, I wonder if they always will. In a way, I hope they do, because these are the things that remind me how full life is – these are the things that force my soul to breathe deeply, and savor the fullness of life. When life’s fleeting nature, and fate’s apparent disregard for the individual, are daily in front of my eyes – my life is filled, and my soul breathes deeply, because I have the eyes to see it. Life with eyes wide open is a  lived life.


  1. Beautifully and thoughtfully written--thank you for taking time help me see your world and the things you experience living in Nairobi.

  2. Wow i just saw your Blog and read it and am just very thankful for it. Feeling very thankful for all those things in Life that i dont treassure. Sending greetings from Germany


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