Seeking the Extraordinary: Kenya as Home
Read as we go through the journey of Nidhi seeking Kenya as a home.
The skies were overcast, the wind was slowly picking up speed and the rising dust was making it harder to see. I had just gotten back on my bicycle after two days of rest from my knee injury and I was being extremely careful not to fall again. I was sixteen and on one of the best trips of my life. Along with a bunch of other people my own age, I had opted for a five day biking trip for my intercultural experience from school. We were going to bike from the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi to Amboseli National Park on the Tanzanian border, covering almost 200km on the way. I had just moved to Kenya five months ago and when this opportunity came along, I jumped at it. It was nothing like I had heard before and I was ready to experience something extraordinary — obviously it helped my sixteen year old mind that my closest friends also chose this trip over the others, at least I knew I wouldn’t be alone.
The picture that I created in the first two sentences was from the fourth day of the trip. We had been biking for more than half the day and were almost done, our goal was to reach our campsite before it got dark so that we could put up our tents and rest before the final biking day. However, the skies above had a different plan — it was going to rain. We had to get to the campsite before the downpour otherwise our tents would be full of water and we wouldn’t be able to cook or do anything. This realization slowly picked up across faces and in an almost simultaneous wave, we all started biking faster. The adrenaline was on an all-time high as we went over dirt hills, cut across curved paths and laughed with each other at the insanity of the situation — we were racing against the weather?! Just as expected (but hopelessly wished against), it started raining before we reached. As we reached the site, we kept our bikes on the side, and ran inside the school bus that followed us with our bags, tents, and food. Somehow, drenched from the rain and covered in mud, we were still ecstatic. As I reflect on this moment, I am reminded of the first night of the same trip when we had biked over 40km and were so tired and exhausted that most of us just wanted to give up and go home. And it hadn’t even rained that day. Makes one reflect on travelling as a whole, doesn’t it? It’s uncomfortable, it’s exhausting, it takes getting used to but when you do, you learn to find joy in the simple things; you learn to go with the flow.
However, the most remarkable part of the story isn’t even here yet. The moment that shifted my perception of Kenya was the morning after the weather racing adventure. I came out of my tent to be greeted by the sight of a young Maasai boy running around the campsite. Everyone that was awake seemed to have gotten to know him and I was more than just confused. He wasn’t the only one, there were more children and their mothers sitting by the rocks on the rear edge of the campsite, looking out at all of us going by our morning routines. When I finally figured out what was going on, I was told that they had seen us arrive (and struggle) the night before. In the morning, they had brought us milk and offered their help with anything that we needed. It was heartwarming to see that even though nobody but the chief of the village spoke English, the others made an effort to be present and understood. We tried to speak with them in our broken Swahili and they laughed with warmth, the women let us hold their babies and the older children played with us. The entire morning was spent eating, fixing punctures, laughing, and trying to learn new words in Swahili. Ofcourse they were different, but so were we for them. The line between “us and them” blurred with every shared moment and I realized how at its core, we’re all so similar.
To this day, when someone asks me about my favorite experience from my time in Kenya, I quote the same incident. Unfortunately, we’re conditioned to be comfortable with what we know, and that includes people and communities. I was admittedly the same before I moved to this country where I met people who were different than me, cultures that were different than those I was used to, and minds that saw the world through a whole new perspective. Sooner than later I caught myself calling Kenya home, and defending it every time someone brought up yet another negative news story. Yes, there was crime, and yes, there was poverty; but there was also compassion, and community. It is easy to stereotype places and people when we don’t interact with them. My friends back in India often joked of many such stereotypes about Kenya, but every time they did I had a story that offered a fresh perspective. Unfortunately, the dominant narrative that surrounds Kenya is that of crime, violence and poverty. But, nobody tells you about the mornings that you can wake up and spontaneously drive down to a national park, or the local markets where communities come together to bargain, sing and dance. Nobody tells you about the kids that invite you to play football whenever you pass by, or the laughter you hear from matatus (small buses that are a means of public transport) even though people are hanging by the doors. Nobody tells you about the ice-cream man that excitedly calls you sister or that you get to eat mangoes all-year-round. Places, and people are always more than what they are portrayed to be and nothing justifies a place like your own encounter with it. My experiences in Kenya were nothing short of extraordinary and it will always be my favorite home.
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