In 25 days, I’ll be back on American soil.
Gone will be the days of cars driving on the left-hand side of the road, mandatory teatime and pirated DVDs. I have been in a glass case of emotion on a rollercoaster of bittersweet excitement since I realized that I have less than a month left of my YAV year in Nairobi. As much as I love my life here, I know that it cannot go on forever and I have to go home (even for just a little while).
As cliché and trite as it may sound, it truly is remarkable that a year has gone by. I think God is the only one who knew how amazing, even during troubled times, this year has been. I will not dwell on how I will be sad to leave Nairobi—I think it’s too soon for me to have those feelings. However, I am becoming more and more excited to come home and all of the idiosyncrasies that come with it.
Many of you know how much I love sports, especially college basketball. Checking the Associated Press Top 25 poll is a Tuesday morning ritual at breakfast. I decided that I would do an “Amelia’s Picks,” a.k.a. Top 25 of what I can’t wait to get back to in the USA. Enjoy a heaping helping of what I have missed most about ‘Merica.
- Friends, family and fearless fun
I would seem like a total jerk if I didn’t put family and friends as the number one thing I miss most about home. I love my new friends and Kenyan family, but sometimes you yearn for the familiarity of the close relationships from home. I’m glad I’ll be back soon to see everyone and get the scoop from the past year.
I added “fearless fun” because in the US, depending on where you are (however it’s mostly everywhere), you don’t have to worry when it is getting dark and you are walking home. Although Westlands is a very nice and safe part of Nairobi, when the sun goes down, the deviants come out. And even though muggings occur everywhere in the world, including in our beloved USA, I do not like living in a place where (unfortunately) muggings and armed robberies are much more of a daily occurrence.
You would think that I would have included dogs under family and friends. While I obviously consider my dog, Charlie, a member of the family, I miss seeing people walking their dogs through the neighborhood or seeing a dog poke its head out of a moving car. Dogs in Kenya serve two purposes: Security and status. The majority of dogs I see and hear are guard dogs, but when I do see dogs out and about, they are almost always small, yappy dogs being walked by the house help. Neither of these kinds of dogs fulfills my lack of dog time in my life here. And those are just the city dogs; the country dogs are often very skittish, emaciated and mangy. It saddens me, yet they are the most resilient creatures. These dogs fit Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest.”
- Fast cars and freedom
Relying on sometimes-unreliable public transport, taxis and even your own two feet can take its toll. But as much as I’ve used this year to prepare myself for life in a bustling metropolis sans-car (I’m looking at y’all, New York & DC), sometimes it is so much more convenient to tote home groceries in your own car.
As extroverted I may be, there is a kind of comfort in being able to blend in and not feel obligated to talk to every single person I pass. Hardly a day goes by without someone catcalling or being overly creepy. It is most prominent with Kenyan men; just because I am white, they feel the need to go out of their way to say hello or ask how I am. Most of the time it is very disingenuous and I am certainly glad to be leaving this unpleasant social aspect.
I enjoy being able to walk somewhere, deep in my own thoughts, without worrying if I’m acting like a pretentious jerk just because I don’t go out of my way to greet a total stranger. I greet those whom have a relationship with me, but that does not warrant a greeting for every catcalling, creepy stranger. They should not enjoy that privilege simply because of the color of my skin.
- Chick-fil-A & Cook Out
It pains me to hear that one of my favorite fast-food indulgences, Chick-fil-A, continues to fund anti-gay organizations. Despite the politics, I still dream of a number one with extra pickles, Chick-fil-A sauce and a nice, big, sweet tea—my mouth is watering as I type this.
Cook Out is also haunting my foodie daydreams. The ice cream used in milkshakes here does not suffice. Also, I have not found any establishment where you can get hushpuppies and onion rings with a delicious cheeseburger. #fatgirlproblems
- Clothing options
Old Navy and Target should combine forces to make an NGO-friendly clothing line. I could be its premier model. I knew that coming to Kenya would involve some stylish sacrifices. My kneecaps rarely see the light of day, and when they do, it elicits unwanted attention. I think the next time I wear heels, I’ll end up with a broken ankle because they will be so foreign to me.
I haven’t had properly fitting clothes my whole time here; now that’s a good thing because the African diet certainly has worked, but it limits my ability to feel confident because my clothes are so unflattering.
- Cheap, efficient travel
Though matatus and long-distance coach buses are easy enough to maneuver, Africa would benefit immensely with low-cost airlines to facilitate easy, intra-continental travel. Even better railroads (Amtrak would work wonders here where it falls apart in the US) and companies like MegaBus and Bolt Bus could employ their business models here. When Ben and I had the great southern Africa adventure, we spent the majority of our funds on the flight home to Nairobi, roughly $500 US…one-way. There are obvious reasons why there is no RyanAir in Africa yet, but that will soon change and it will revolutionize travel throughout the continent.
I have been spoiled by Virginia weather. Although I’ve heard that there has been oppressive heat so far this summer, at least it is evident that there is a summer. The Kenyan “winter” is finicky and confusing, as is the long dry season, the short dry season, the long rainy season and the short rainy season. Climate change is real, and the most marginalized people in the world are witnessing it firsthand. I have no answers or even attempts at answers as how to combat this, but something needs to happen.
- Clean tap water
I cannot wait to land in the USA and drink from a water fountain, without worrying if I just swallowed 17 million different parasites. I have been brushing my teeth with the water here simply because I refuse to use water that we could drink for something that I’m just going to swish around my mouth and spit into the drain. There are more reasons on why the bottle water craze is ridiculous in the US, which I outlined in one of my first blog postings and as a guest column in the University of Richmond “Collegian.”
- Constant electricity
I realize that with summer time thunderstorms often cause nasty power outages, but riddle me this: When it’s an absolutely lovely day, birds singing, sun shining and then, all of a sudden, the power just cuts out for hours on end. You then realize it is Sunday, a day when the Kenya power authority often flips the switch, for no apparent reason. When your entertainment is limited because of your lack of private transportation, you can go a bit stir crazy sometimes.
This seems a bit trivial, but I love watching the evening news, specifically NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. If I really wanted to watch the evening news here, it would be one of the Kenyan stations but sometimes their broadcasts are in Swahili; I like to think my skills are relatively proficient, but I cannot follow along as intently as I would wish. Aside from the news, I long for the day when I can record several shows on the TV, fast-forward through the commercials and then switch to a “live” show of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Trivial, yes, but when you’re particular about your viewing choices, it doesn’t seem so trivial.
Hand washing and hang-drying T-shirts isn’t so hard. But have you ever had to hand wash linens or denim? One word describes this process: Tedious. Laundry here is by no exaggeration an all-day affair. Once the wash is dry, you have to iron everything, and I mean everything. I wish that we had a dryer, so I could pop towels or socks into there for a quick warm-up, especially during this chilly time.
- Sweet iced tea
I mentioned sweet tea earlier in my post about Chick-fil-A, but a nice, cold glass of sweet tea would be heavenly here, especially during those very hot days. I wish iced tea was more popular here, seeing as the sugar and tea leaves are in their most pure state.
- Magazines and newspapers
This kind of goes along with how I miss my NBC Nightly News; “Time” and “Newsweek” are readily available in Nairobi, however, it is not the American edition of either. I’ve come to appreciate the Kenyan newspapers, but I often don’t know the back-story of lots of the headline news. And the prices for magazines are steep, especially for “Cosmopolitan” and “Glamour,” magazines, which are usually the cheapest form of entertainment in the US. How is it that one of my favorite little indulgences can often cost more than eggs, bread, milk and a few beers?
- Mexican food
If someone could make me a true Mexican feast, complete with jumbo margaritas and chips and queso, in Kenya, then I may reconsider leaving. However, I do not know of any Mexicans residing in Nairobi who have opened a restaurant, so it seems as though I’m ready for some Dollar Taco Mondays at Mexico’s.
- Verizon Wireless family plan for cell phones
In the pilot episode of my new favorite show, “Girls” on HBO, the main character’s mom says that they are still paying for her cell phone; but Hannah (main character) replies that the mom said it was cheaper for the mom and dad for Hannah to be on the family plan.
I would like to have a phone that works properly and I don’t have to top up airtime every week (or more frequently depending on how many people I’m calling and texting). Unlimited data plan and perhaps a new phone would be appreciated very much so. It’s hard for me to decide if I should keep up with the Nokia go-phone when I come back because I’m pretty sure I’m one of the last few standing with the Crackberry.
- Outdoor recreational spaces
Despite Kenya’s push for “going green” and the late Wangari Maathai’s crusade with the Greenbelt Movement, public parks and gardens are not very common here. Everywhere is fenced off and looks menacing from the outside. The open outdoor spaces that are available often harbor dodgy situations and people. I cannot wait until I can walk around Pony Pasture or the Westhampton Lake, free from shady situations, except for those damn geese on the Richmond campus (side note: RIP Triceragoose).
- The art of sales
I have grown accustomed to the art of bargaining in the market place, so it will be a bit of a shock when there is no room for negotiation when I get to the cashier’s till. But one thing that Kenyans don’t quite seem to understand is the value of a discount or sale. Maybe it’s because I come from a society where “Extreme Couponing” is the next Olympic sport of housewives, but the sales incentives at most stores in Nairobi are laughable. You’d end up saving only 50 Kenyan shillings (~50 cents) on something that costs about $5 US…not really worth clipping the few and far between coupons.
The best deal we’ve found in Nairobi has been at our favorite watering hole, The Brew Bistro & Lounge; their happy hour special at this microbrewery is buy one, get one on all of their beers (which are awesome) and BOGO on mojitos if beer is not your fancy. Kenyan proprietors, take note—Brew Bistro understands the value and the art of sales, specials and discounts.
- Ukrop’s, Sally Bell’s, Buz & Ned’s
For my Richmonders and Richmond transplants, y’all know there’s nothing left to say. I would sell my pinky toe for Buz & Ned’s ribs, Sally Bell’s potato salad and a Ukrop’s cupcake or rainbow cookie.
- Pedestrian safety
Probably the first and tantamount rule from drivers’ ed. was pedestrians always have the right of way, no matter what. I wish that was the number one rule for Kenyan drivers. I’ve been clipped several times by reckless matatus, run off the road by unruly Indians in Westlands (it’s as if the cast of “Jersey Shore” taught them how to drive) and have had to sprint across the street to avoid speeding cars. I’ll be very thankful for leisurely strolls where I know I have the right of way and where I know cars will slow down and stop, however begrudgingly they may be, I’ll be happy.
- Pop culture and technology
Let’s face it: Even though Kenya is very much online, there are so many aspects of the ever-changing social media and technology landscapes, which mold and spread the various facets of pop culture, I’ve missed out on. Everything from Pintrest to Instagram, Siri on the iPhone to “50 Shades of Grey,” the raves and rants about “Girls” to movie premieres on time (I had to wait almost two months to see “The Hunger Games”), I will be glad to be on the right time zone for current fads. This may sound shallow and materialistic, but isn’t that what our society has formed our perceptions to revolve around, always being current and hip, never in the dark and unknown.
Proximity incorporates several different things I miss about the US, but it is certainly relevant. Since we have no car, we are very aware of how far away things are and how long it takes to get to point B from point A, etc.
When I’m in Richmond, I can get basically anywhere I need to be in 15 minutes by car; the only place I can get to in 15 minutes by foot is my office, maybe the nearest mall if I’m walking at a quick pace. Convenience is something that you take for granted until you don’t have it anymore.
I’ve grown to love watching the Barclay’s Premier League and the UEFA 2012; football/soccer definitely has risen into my top three sports to watch, but I also miss the opportunity to play with my friends or just join in on a friendly match. I missed out on March Madness, probably one of the hardest times for me…I didn’t even fill out a bracket!
I’m glad I’ll be home to enjoy my alma mater compete in football in the fall and basketball in the winter. I’m especially excited to catch an Atlanta Braves game with a new Kenyan friend who lives in Atlanta. I loved going to the matches here, football and rugby, but I need a live-action basketball game to get me back into my sports journalist groove. The Olympics will be great to watch here, but I know I already miss the patriotic camaraderie.
- Mountain House
My family’s mountain house in western North Carolina is my favorite place on the planet. It’s quiet, beautiful, peaceful and serene, with nostalgia bursting through every nook and cranny. I can’t do it justice in a few paragraphs, but I know that I will be spending the majority of my self-care, re-entry time here, and that is something that makes me feel very at ease with life.
- Not having to miss things in the US because I’m back in the US, doing everything that I couldn’t for the past year.