Well, if that wasn’t an appallingly long gap between entries, I don’t know what would be. While I’m sure the amount of thoughts I’ve pondered, emotions I’ve felt, and experiences we’ve had over the past 8 weeks could fill dozens of pages – I’ll keep it somewhat simple. I’ll have some more contemplative entries later, and this one may turn into one, but for the immediate moment – here is our brief update.
We moved back to the US. The end.
Ok – there’s more to it, but sometimes it seems like that’s all that happened. Like the past year of my life never actually occurred. When I meet new people, and introduce myself, I simply say, “we’re new to the area. We just moved here from Nairobi.” The standard response, “Oh, wow. That’s interesting. Where do you live now?” I answer “West Seattle”, and then we begin talking about West Seattle (I’m quickly becoming an expert – where’s the toddler open gym on Tuesday? Just ask me. I know).
Even some people who are familiar with us, and know our story, have yet to ask a single question about the past year of our life – conversation has instead just hopped right into holidays, babies, and new jobs.
It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to look forward and forget we stand on our past – good or bad, easy or hard, chosen by us or forced on us. It’s especially easy when the past was hard, and the future seems bright.
But I don’t want to forget – and I don’t want to regret. I don’t want to forget what I learned, what I saw, who I became. And I don’t want to regret – that I left, that I ‘couldn’t’ do it (more on that later), that I can ‘no longer make a real difference’.
So I look at this past year respectfully; eager now, more than anytime in the past year, to learn what I was meant to know, to see what I was meant to acknowledge, to absorb what I was meant to soak in. I look at the past year with new eyes - separated by time and distance, I can begin to look at the past year as it really was – a firm, but good, teacher.
I don’t want to regret that I left; there is a huge part of me that mourns my childhood home is not my adult home, that acknowledges a part of me will always be out of place. But I never want to regret I left, instead I want to be glad I went back at all.
I don’t want to regret I ‘couldn’t’ do it – I look back at Kenya, at our friends still living there, my parents still living there and acknowledge I couldn’t do it. Not because I couldn’t handle the lack of amenities (Nairobi is riddled with amenities). Not because I hated the traffic, not because I was too overwhelmed by the poverty, not because I missed the US or friends & family back here too much. I couldn’t do it because I wasn’t supposed to do it.
I’m not sure exactly how I arrived at this conclusion – my faith plays largely into it, and I see it in my day to day now versus my day to day a year ago. Seattle should be more overwhelming than Nairobi – I know virtually no one, have never been here in my life before this move, my husband has a longer commute which means he’s gone longer each day, I don’t have any help with the kids or the cooking & cleaning during the week, our house is riddled with mold and we’ve had repairmen here almost every day since we’ve moved in, and it is climate hell (it is still dark at 7:45 in the morning, and dark again by 4:30 – and the daytime is tepidly bright at best). But despite all of these obstacles, I am so much more content, so much more at peace than I ever was in Nairobi. So, I don’t want to regret I couldn’t do it, I want to be glad I found myself and where I’m supposed to be.
I don’t want to regret I can no longer make a ‘real difference’ – that I'm no longer living in a place 'that really needs me'. There is a romanticism or awe associated with living in Africa. I don’t think it’s as acute as it was in the 90s when I was missionary kid returning to the Midwest for my parent’s sabbatical, but it still exists. And it would be easy to feel like I’ve failed, like I missed an opportunity to do something grand.
But instead,I want to know, to really know and live, the simple truth great need is everywhere if I am willing to see it. And, furthermore, the needs of one segment of the world’s population don’t discredit the needs of another. Maybe there are less starving people in Seattle than there are in Nairobi (almost definitely) but the people starving in Seattle are still hungry. And they are here. And so am I.
It would be easy to forget this simple truth. As I settle into the rhythm of my weeks, find the mommy groups and library times, learn the way to the grocery store and the farmer’s market schedule - I could forget. And the two people I’ve seen in the past week begging on the side of the street hardly compete with my still fresh memories of the edges of Kibera or the dozens of unemployed women sitting on our street in Nairobi. I could excuse myself for driving past, it was just two people after all.
When Westerners visit Kenya, they are often impacted by the poverty and are humbled by the stark reality of their own possessions/safety nets/guarantees. It even happened to me, almost every day – even though I grew up in Kenya and saw the poverty every day. But when I see the poverty here, I don’t have that same response. Instead, I’m uncomfortable, almost embarrassed…and if I could, I’d like to pretend it didn’t exist. Why is that? Why does the poverty of a place where I am ultimately a foreigner strike me and change me, while the poverty of my country leaves me uncomfortable?
This is just my current musing, and quite an undeveloped thought, but maybe it is because I am the one who perpetuates the poverty here. Ok, not me exactly, not me only…but in essence, it’s me. In Kenya, it wasn’t me. In Kenya, it sill isn’t me. I mean, sure we could get into international aid/global poverty and excess/market dominance/consumerism/etc. Yes – it all plays into it. But ultimately, it is up to the population of a country (from the commoner to the president) to bring about change, and to care for those in need.
And so here, in America – it’s me. Poverty here makes me uncomfortable because as a citizen of this country, I have a responsibility to it. Because if my core belief is true – that the world would be a much better place if people would just take care of those around them instead of stretching arms too far to reach hands they can’t even quite see – then it is unacceptable for me to do nothing.
So – I don't want to regret I can no longer 'make a difference'. Instead - I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget the humanity I felt when I lived in Kenya, how aware I was of the fine dance between tragedy and triumph, between life and death, between wealth and poverty. Because I need that humanity here. More than ever I need that humanity. The dance is still here, it is just less striking. My soul can continue to breathe deeply here – and it will smell different smells, savor different beauties, and be overwhelmed by different pains; but it can still breathe. And out of that place, my humanity can truly see others and theirs.