One glance at this picture, and you know Kenya is full of miracles. In particular, papayas, mangoes, and plants with extremely large leaves (the latter makes me nervous and excited at once). I flew into Nairobi almost 24 hours ago, simple as can be. That’s it – a day on some planes, a body slightly kinked from inertia, and like magic: Africa is underfoot. I collected my baggage in a few short minutes, and walked through the gate that read, “Smile, you are in Kenya.” Kenneth was there to meet me, a driver sent by The Advocacy Project, and he asked me about my safari. “Your journey, your journey” he rephrased, after my long pause. He drove me to Rosa’s house, a friend of a friend who works for the Mexican Embassy here; she came out with her arms wide open like we were sisters. Her house is airy and spacious, decorated with welcomed austerity and, at night, standing in the small courtyard outside felt like a clearing in a tidy jungle. The deep purple of the elephant plant’s stems were visible even in the darkness. In the morning light, I saw the electric fence for the first time – delicately lining the top of her surrounding wall, 16 wires tall. It could almost be mistaken for clothing lines.
- Some breakfast in my backyard
Kenneth drove me to the mall this morning (me squirming in anticipation of consumption Western-style), and on the way we saw newspaper vendors standing in between the moving cars – a headline flashed “found dead” but I couldn’t catch the rest. “Very safe, Nairobi”, Kenneth said several times last night and again this morning, usually without my prompting. And I believe him, to some degree. I believe him less at night, when there is not a soul outside of a moving vehicle. This is very odd to me, having spent most of my time abroad in India – where EVERYone is seen at all hours of the day, walking. During the day, I’m told it’s fine to go out – in safe neighborhoods – but no one dares go out at night. I said something in the car about this as we were driving from the airport – just “strange that no one is outside” and Kenneth waited, then said “everyone is going home now.”
The phone card and the computer modem that I bought today have yet to actually connect me to the rest of the world; such a small thing and yet because of it, less than 24 hours after my arrival, I feel caged and impatient. Usually I am roaming the streets as soon as I hit the ground, learning by exploring. The illusions of control that accompany Western amenities – such as the telephone and internet – are powerful, and so clearly not the source of control once they’ve been removed. I cannot leave this verdant compound alone, and I cannot call my worried family (who by now assume I’ve been swallowed by the heart of darkness that America’s media calls Africa), so here I am – with myself. How immediately I want to do more than what is possible – and this is exactly why Africa and I are a good pair. I’ve still got this nagging idea that I have control, over anything, and this country has all kinds of tools (the gentlest here at first) for showing me that I don’t.
The evening is coming fast now – there is only a brief window where the sky is rosy with the sun leaving. I’ve got the door to the kitchen open behind me, chancing a visit from the wandering lizards; the smell of approaching rain and the birdcalls are too much to shut out. Just before the sun left, many more birds came into the backyard, and some perched lithely on the electric fence. I guess they are just the right weight to sit undetected. There is balance in most everything.
Posted By Kate Cummings
Posted Jun 9th, 2009