Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Return Home

Hey Folks!

Happy New Year to you and I hope you had joyous celebrations wherever you were!

I apologize for the dearth of posts, but you know, life got in the way. I had a hectic last few months at school, of which I have a half-formed post that will follow this one shortly, and then I returned to the States for my December break (I dare not call it Winter Break as it certainly is not winter in Mombasa, but the heart of summer). I had quite a magnificent time back home and I will detail it below in (most) of it’s glory, if you care to listen. Lots of friends, family and snow in the lines to follow.

Overall, flights and driving included, I covered 19,392 miles, only 5,000 shy of circumnavigating the globe. I spent time in or drove through New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. I’ll hit the highlights.

On my flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam I sat next to a Dutch man whose profession I couldn’t quite tease out from him. It seemed he was involved in some sort of high tech geological/ hydrological science field, fitting for the sodden Dutch landscape. But, most interestingly, he spent about six months a year in Sub-Saharan Africa working pro-bono on worker training programs to train laborers in drilling, for water it seemed, among other mechanical tasks. He bemoaned the standard European/ Western mindset surrounding the supposed inability of uneducated African laborers and their difficulties learning in a strictly Western sense. I quote him, as close to verbatim as possible, as I cannot explain his point as well as he can.

“It’s not that they aren’t intelligent, it’s just that they don’t fall into our preconceived category of intelligence. We consider that to involve 16 years of schooling. We approach problems and interactions in a certain way because of this. These guys are brilliant, but instead of schooling, they have 16 more years of work experience and that is how they understand the world. When interacting with people like this, you must realize you aren’t in a position of superiority, but rather you must tailor your interaction with the understanding of where they are coming from and how their formative years shaped their understanding of the world and how it works and how they learn.”

Well said.

My time back in the states was simply perfect. It reminded me how much I love my family, my friends, snow, New England, road trips, and home cooking. It is amazing how much can be accomplished over three weeks. I won’t go into too much detail but I will compile a brief semi-nonsensical, incomplete, grammatically atrocious list of events and facts about my time home. It’ll be arranged chronologically and by geographical location. I’ll flesh out a few events and then call it a day. Because as much as I loved being home and among family and friends, the average reader will probably find it far less exciting and interesting than I did. Bear with me. Here we go.

New York: Spent time with my wonderful grandmother. Enjoyed my first spaghetti and meatballs for five months. And my first American Burger. First hot shower too. Satiated my starved art history minor with a visit to the Morgan Library and the Frick.

Boston: Caught up with my brilliant, driven, talented aunt. She is making moves in Boston, check it out! Took further steps to revive the Art History nerd within me at the Museum of Fine Arts’ new American Wing (fantastic if you get the chance to go, take it!). Visited my friend Dan in his Somerville residence and got a peek into the life of a young, bachelor consultant. Dined with another friend, Annie, and discovered the joy of bacon wrapped dates at a Tapas bar. Check out Annie’s first real life radio bit from NPR. Making moves!

Maine: Attended “A Christmas Carol” in Portland with my friend Kaitlin and finally got into the Christmas Spirit. Stayed with Craig, another Bowdoin friend, in his family's beautiful Harpswell home for a little dose of the Maine life. Counseled Craig on the purchase of a proper Christmas tree from the Fat Boy parking lot, had said advice refused. Revisited Bowdoin for three days of planned and unplanned reunions, visits with beloved professors and staff, and a taste of the finest campus dining in the land.

Connecticut: Accompanied my other wonderful grandmother down to Nashville for Christmas. Was told that I could start a company escorting elderly women. Cringed when I realized the implications that phrase has.

Nashville: Indulged in Mexican food, and rediscovered the joys of the aftermath of such a decision. Ran with my brother and had my spirits crushed as he disappeared into the distance within five minutes. Reunited with old friends. Went to the 5 pm Christmas service at church at 4:15 and still were forced to sit in the lobby. On a related note, remembered I live in the South. Celebrated an ideal Christmas with my parents, brother and grandmother.

Nashville à New Hampshire: Packed and got ready to go for an 11 am pick up by my friend Samir. Got picked up at 1:30 pm. Ran out of gas two hours into the trip. Remembered how non-chalant Samir is about most things in life. Discovered, to my dismay, my AAA membership had expired. Enjoyed the comfort of a fake fireplace at an unusually picturesque rest stop amongst the wooded vales of East Tennessee. Personally drove ten hours straight from Tennessee to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania until four am. Appreciated that it takes a certain type of friend and a certain type of friendship to be able to go five months with limited communication and then go for twenty-four hours straight in a Subaru and have it seem like I’ve only been gone for five days. Stayed at the luxurious, aromatic Motel 6. Listened to Pitbull’s “I’m at that hotel, motel, Holiday Inn” song. Picked up my car in Connecticut. Drove five hours alone in heavy snow. Missed Samir’s company. Greeted my family in NH.

New Hampshire: Celebrated with Secret Santa with a great group of friends, visited family in Maine for a family Christmas (we gathered folks from California, Washington, Virginia, Tennessee, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Kenya, pretty impressive), visited the restaurant/ bar I worked at over the summer, the Woodshed, and caught up the with incredible group of folks that work there, rang in the new year with Cuban cigars, whiskey and fireworks. America. God bless it.

New York: Reunited with a friend from my first real eye-opening, life changing experience abroad seven years ago, ate my last good old American pizza, answered questions from my cab driver about warlords, Islam, and “real sexy African women.” Sat next to a girl headed to Uganda for a semester abroad (not to dissimilar from me) to train as a missionary (quite different from me). Departed the states with a final stunning sunset during takeoff.

Accomplishments: Visited with fifteen of my eighteen cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents and brother. Covered 2,300 miles in a car, saw countless friends, exercised very little and ate quite a lot, hit up eleven states, and made it back to Kenya in one piece.

I know my time at home was a success because of one of my first interactions upon my return. I was returning to campus after dinner and I ran into one of the guys who works in the accounts office, Mehboob. He greeted me, and before even asking how my break was, said, “well… you gained a lot of weight.” Nothing like a little bit of Mom’s cooking.

-Muzungu back home in Kenya still riding the high of being home in the States

P.s. If you want some good reading about the upcoming Kenyan election and what could happen, check out this article from Foreign Affairs.