Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Then & Now

A lot of my blog readers have commented on how much they enjoy reading my blog because it's written about living in Nairobi as an adult when I also grew up here through my prepubescent and teenage years.

I thought I'd give you a snippet of Then & Now's - sort of a skim over Nairobi life through the ideas of a kid, and now through the eyes of an adult. Granted - these are my eyes. Yours would probably see this differently :) I'm also going to toss in an Interpretation - of either the external or internal catalyst behind my constantly changing eyesight.

Then: Everything in Nairobi is alive! Nothing is ever the same, people are always doing something interesting, and the probability I will see something hilarious (ie 50 live chickens strapped to the top of a car) or shocking (a dead person on the side of the road) is quite high. This makes my life awesome, and equally alive.

Now: Nairobi is full of the realities of life - life and death dance a delicate dance. Success and tragedy do the same. And now that I'm here, I'm part of this dance. And I affect other people's dance - if I actually look this reality square on, I must absorb a certain level of responsibility.

Interpretation: Part of this is just growing up. Part of this is because I know enough now to see causes behind results, not just results as definitive ends.

Then: My life is pretty great - I'm so lucky to be exposed to so many cultures, so many perspectives, so many ways of life. I'm so glad I don't live in a suburb with a white picket fence.

Now: I meet amazing people on a daily basis - who are doing amazing things for causes I whole heartedly support. I love how much I learn about culture, how many perspectives I hear a day, and how I am a piece of this intricate puzzle. However - I feel like I'm always looking for further self-definition, and recognize that due to the nature of expat life - most of these amazing people are leaving. Soon. The white picket fence doesn't sound so bad...some sort of stability doesn't sound so bad...but leaving some of this behind does.

Interpretation: Again, part of just growing up. I think it's also a difference between the missionary community versus the secular expat community. In general, it seems the missionary community attracts more longevity-inclined individuals. While I know 3-5 years isn't what "long-term missionary" used to mean, it sure beats the 6months-2years within the NGO/expat community. I also think the highly transient nature of Nairobi is increasingly the nature of the educated work force - whether it be because of the increasingly global economy, the rapid spread of information, the increased universality of certain skills, or something else. Ultimately, the educated work force doesn't stay put as long as it used to.

Then: There are so many products I wish were here from the US - shampoo, food, recent movies in movie theaters, etc.

Now: They are here! And many things in Nairobi now outdo aspects of life in places I would move back to in the US. Restaurant ambiance? Awesome. Thin crust pizza? Delicious. Cheap movie date nights? Way better here. Honey bunches of oats? Yup, it's is herbed goat cheese.

Interpretation: Nairobi is growing in so many positive ways. Each one of these little, seemingly superficial changes is evidence of a broader social change, of new jobs created, of more efficient systems in place. (I know, I know...efficiency and positive can't always be put in the same paragraph. I'm doing it anyway for this one.) There are now dozens of places that feel nothing like the Nairobi I grew up in, but more like the Western world I thought I was missing - you still have to drive through a gate, and have your car checked for explosives to get in, but the niceties are here. And they are enjoyed by some segment of every culture represented in this country. Which is also significant.

Then: The only way to get around in Nairobi is by landmarks....don't try to know names of roads or cardinal directions. Just landmarks.

Now: Google maps is relatively correct for getting directions in Nairobi. Amazing. AND - lots of roads have obvious names, and more and more roads go in a straight direction. Amazing.

Interpretation: This is good. It does leave behind a segment of society - the dukas where we used to get lunch are now replaced by bulldozers, backhoes, and construction hats. A recent article in the Daily Nation discussed how the new highways did not consider cart drivers who pull their immensely heavy loads between point A and B - and how now the very people who make their living by the literal sweat of their back are forced to pull their carts along some of the fastest and most dangerous roads in Nairobi. This is the reality of progress: thousands of hours saved for driving commuters a week, and undocumented numbers of lives lost among the poorest.

Then: kids who grow up overseas have it really hard.

Now: all kids have it really hard. Are my kids ok?

Interpretation: I'm a mom.

Then: Teacher strike? Wish our teachers would strike - I'd love to have a day off.

Now: When will fairer systems be implemented for the backbones of this country?

Interpretation: I don't claim to be an expert on the Kenyan political system - but I would comment on the significance of a situation where thousands of educated individuals risk receiving no pay until their requests of raises of between 100%-300% are met. In a country with an increasingly educated population (university degrees) and 51% unemployment something has gone massively wrong for this current scenario to occur...either the pay is SO low, or the effectiveness of strikes has resulted in too much power for the worker. I'm not advocating for either, and it may be something different. Nevertheless-there's my interpretation.

Then: it's 8:30pm? Can I go to bed? I love sleep.

Now: It's 8:30 pm? Is Kai asleep yet? Has my time finally arrived to do what I want?

Interpretation: See #5

Then: There's nothing to do in Nairobi - no good places to hang out...just the same old, same old every weekend.

Now: There is SO much to do in Nairobi - great restaurants, good bars, good theaters, bowling, casinos, blankets & wine events in outdoor spaces, reggae festivals, friends to go see PLUS all the stuff outside of Nairobi. No way we can fit it all in.

Interpretation: Nairobi has grown, I am no longer a disgruntled/non-mobile teenager, and the internet happened/is happening. Makes the spread of information possible, and subsequently, I am more aware of what is actually going on around me. All good things, I think.

Then: Nairobi is divided into pockets by culture - certain cultures live here, certain cultures live there...some people are so discriminatory.

Now: Oh, every major city is like that. Nairobi is actually a lot less divided on cultural lines than LA was.

Interpretation: We are creatures of habit. Culture breeds habit. Habits lend to familiarity, and familiarity to comfort. There is nothing wrong with seeking comfort in our places of residence. Only when they become walls of exclusion rather than patterns of familiarity do they become dangerous.

Then: Nairobi is changing, but I can keep up - it's still familiar.

Now: Nairobi is changing, and I don't know if I can keep up. The pace of change, and the size of the city make it almost impossible.

Interpretation: Nairobi is in a critical stage of launching from being a 'developing city' to a 'developed city'. This rate of growth will slow down in 10-15 years - but for now, it is a wild, wild ride. Think New York City circa 1910. (I think).

There you go - a little glimpse into the then and now. Remember, these are just my interpretations, and I'm open for discussion. As I continue to open my eyes to my daily life in Nairobi, I see many beautiful parts of the city that I haven't seen for the past several months. I see the current successes, and the promises of more to come. That's not to say there isn't massive disparity, poverty, injustice and struggle - but Nairobi is evolving, and it is exciting to see. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Favorites