So this is my last 36 hours in Nairobi, and probably my last blog post before I'm back in America! It's been a crazy, wonderful, difficult, eye-opening four months. It's crazy to look back and think about all the things I've done here.
Our first week here, the program directors eased us into Kenyan life. We stayed the first two nights in a retreat center in the "posh" part of Nairobi, then moved into a hostel closer to the SIT building. I was so nervous about meeting my homestay family, because so much of your experience hinges on the homestay. Fortunately, my family was pretty great. My house was one of the nicer ones, with running water, a shower, and a toilet with a seat. I consider myself pretty lucky! My homestay mom was great (although passive-aggressive) and my homestay sister was sweet (although she was a kleptomaniac with ADHD.)
The first month was spent getting a hang of the Africa thing. It all seems so normal to me now, but the very idea of shoving myself into a crammed 14-seater van with 24 Kenyans was pretty terrifying. The SIT students stuck together, traveling in packs of 8 and 9. Now, I walk around by myself most of the time because a group of 8 wazungu totally makes a huge scene. I definitely still make a scene, but a smaller one.
After about a month, we headed to the coast for our village living experience. This was definitely the most intense 10 days of my stay here. After living in the village, I'm pretty sure I could do almost anything for 10 days. It's an empowering feeling, knowing I can cope with extremely different conditions. I also learned that I prefer toilets to holes, sinks to buckets, and non-buggy environments to jigger-filled environments.
After returning to Nairobi, we started to work on preparing for our ISPs, the crux of our program. My month in Kisumu, where I did my research, was the best month I had here. We made local friends, who showed us the best parts of the town. Kisumu lacked the awful traffic, pollution and crowding of Nairobi. If I ever come back to Kenya, Kisumu will definitely be at the top of my list of places to see. And who knows -- my friends at the CDC in Kisumu have offered me an internship any time I'd like. Right now, I'm missing home too much to think about coming back to Africa. That's one thing that'll take some time to think about.
After completing our research, we headed to the coast again, but this time for a true vacation. We stayed at a fantastic resort, with an American-style buffet -- such a treat. We spent two days presenting our research to our peers, and then two days we spent laying out on the beach and by the pool. Not gonna lie -- I'm pretty damn freckly right now. It'll fade quickly in the Utah winter, I'm sure.
And now! I'm back in Nairobi, chilling at my favorite coffeehouse. Well, the only coffeehouse. It's hard to believe I'm leaving tomorrow, because living here has become my new normal. I was so, so achingly homesick right around Thanksgiving. It seemed like the time would never pass. But now, home is so close that I'm not homesick at all. I can't wait for the moment when I come down the escalators in Salt Lake City, and see my family standing there, waiting for me... I can't wait for those first hugs, and I'm pretty sure a few tears will be shed too. (It's okay, Dad. Real men cry.) And then I'll drive home, and my dogs will jump all over me and pee all over my shoes. But I'll forgive those little fluffballs. This time.
I have not fallen in love with Africa. It is a wonderful, lively place, and I have loved the opportunity to live here for a short period of time. But I am not the NGO worker who belongs in the Kibera slum. I am not the ex-pat who feels more comfortable abroad. I am not the clinic worker who scorns America and its ways. What this experience has given me is the appreciation for my life at home, for the conveniences afforded by my lifestyle. I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, or whether it can be qualified at all. It's just a part of who I am. But when I return to my classes in America, learning about infectious disease, I'll remember the excrement-filled paths of the Muthare slum. When thinking about a career, I won't forget the urgent need for health services in Africa. My experiences have shaped my worldview, but have not altered my path.
And I'm still in Africa. I'm sure, over the next few weeks, I'll realize how much I've changed. I'll resume my own life, but not as the same person. I'm excited to see where it all takes me, and a little nervous for the extreme culture shock. But there are so many things about America I didn't know I loved. I think that knowledge is an incredibly valuable thing.
Here ends the greatest journey of my young life. Or does any journey ever really end? Do the journeys you begin stay with you long after you return home? I'll keep you updated on that one.