So, what do you think of Kenya?
Despite the fact that I have been in the country for over a year now, I still struggle to answer this question.
Not because it’s never asked – because it is normally one of the first questions asked by a Kenyan or expat after ‘What is your name?’ and ‘Where are you from?’ (assuming that the follow-up was not ‘But where are you REALLY from?’)
And it’s not because I have nothing positive to say – because while I have no ties to this country, I still love it.
No, the reason this is my most dreaded question is because a torrent of answers bubbles up and I can’t even begin to say it all.
I want to tell them how much I love the energy of Nairobi. That the city extends its arms to strangers and draws them into a close (if sometimes uncomfortable) embrace. That this is a city that will keep dreaming, keep hustling, keep flowing on no matter what. If something doesn’t exist, you can be sure that some entrepreneur will be trying to make money from it before the day is out.
I want to tell them how it taught me to laugh at small daily misfortunes and contradictions. Herds of goats can roam the streets without fear of being goatnapped, but you can have your car wing mirrors stolen as you sit, powerless, in a traffic jam. And yet everyone stays positive – the first action they will take after getting into a car crash is to get out, shake hands and introduce themselves (before the yelling and mob jury starts). Life is full of drama, why not laugh at it?
I want to tell them how glad I am that it hasn’t yet been taken over by global consumerism. That despite the drama of dealing with fundis (craftsmen), I love being able to enjoy something that is custom-made and supports small business. So there’s no IKEA? You can bring a design and have it made in quality hardwood for as little as $60USD. No fast fashion? Choose your own cloth and have it made-to-measure: a piece you can treasure instead of throwing it away after a season.
These people that ask are constantly expecting me to say the worst. Before I open my mouth, they are already hearing complaints about traffic or security. I wouldn’t claim that life here is perfect – it isn’t, anywhere that you go. But i’s challenged me to look at the world from a different perspective and open my eyes – now that I have, I can’t imagine closing them again.