“Be late, but get there”
This sticker, prominently displayed on the dashboard of the Mombasa bus, did not inspire much confidence that we would reach our destination in a timely manner, but it at least reassured my safety a bit more than another common sticker – “drive it like you stole it.”
Occasional Frequent maniacal driving aside, you are also most likely already aware of the fact that things in East Africa rarely operate in a way that someone from the United States (my home country) might call prompt. This has proven to be a way of life that is right up my alley.
While consistently late to most things in the U.S., here I have been “right on time”, and dare I say even “early” to many events. As someone who was once told by a professor that time doesn’t apply to me, African polepole time (slowly slowly) is something I can get down with.
So, in the “be late but get there” spirit, here I am, much belatedly, writing a blog post to say goodbye to K-MET and my first Kiva placement.
I write this now from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, my second Kiva placement, but I am transported by my thoughts back to Kisumu, Kenya to the K-MET office, to the farewell lunch where some weeks ago I said goodbye to my friends and coworkers.
It is awkward to know that an event is in your honor, when really you feel as though it should be the other way around, that you should be the one treating your hosts who were so kind for four months. This awkward feeling intensifies when you realize that after lunch your co-workers will go around in a circle and each one will say something about/to you, while everyone else stares directly at you.
My cheeks were pink, yes, but as each friend said goodbye to me, I tucked their words away in my memory, needing to save them, to keep their smiles and the long days we spent together with me always. It is hard to explain how touched I was by some of the things said to me that day, how much the friendship of everyone at K-MET has meant to me.
When I stood up to say a few words, my mind drifted over the last few months.
There were, of course, small moments of difficulty and discomfort, illness and confusion, grapples with identity and development work, as well as much larger moments of grief and mourning – the sudden death of friend and co-worker Alice Otieno, (the office is lacking your bright laughter, Alice) and the deaths of my two grandparents (your cactus, planted 38 years ago in Nakuru, is huge now, I wish I could have told you) – that made my heart clench tight on a number of days.
As these darkened clouds of memory billowed in my mind, other, brighter, memories joined them, crowding, jostling, calling out for recognition.
Memories of the comfort, care, and love given and received in time of sadness and grief, scalding morning chai, field visits to spirited borrowers, bumpy dirt roads, music and more music, squabbling roosters in the yard, Indian food with friends, stone faced babies, nights spent looking at the stars, dirty garbage everywhere, bright bougainvillea flowers, the smell of burning trash, hot nyama choma and cold Tusker beer, silhouettes of women carrying water up winding burnt orange paths as dusk falls over Kenyan hills, layers of dust and sweat covering skin, kind helpful strangers, haggling for mangos, stories of humor and strength in difficult situations, wind rushing on the back of a motorcycle, elaborate handshakes and fist pounds, laughter, tenacious grips on life, love, and family, Obama calls in the streets, the hum of sewing machines, real hugs, the intimate glimpses into people’s businesses and lives, their hopes and challenges, and small moments of complete bliss – the feeling of being in the exact place I was meant to be in for that moment.
Together, all these moments have woven themselves together to make an indelible impression on me. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of people’s lives in Kisumu and to have them become a part of mine.
I like to think that I will be back in Kisumu some day, to breathe in that dusty lake breeze and have some fried tilapia and ugali with my friends, catching up on all the stories I have missed.
So oriti ahenya for now, Kisumu and K-MET. Thank you for all that you have given me; I hope that I have been able to give something back.