People tend to believe one of two things about my life in Africa: (1) that is one big, exciting adventure or (2) that is a huge, life-giving sacrifice. The reality is that it’s somewhere in between the two. I find that life abroad includes both gains and losses.
Really, life in Nairobi, Kenya is good, especially with all the creature comforts that the city can offer. But there are sacrifices that one makes to live half-way across the world from family and “home”.
- I’ve missed the funeral of two of my grandparents.
- I’ve missed weddings of cousins and at least two couples who are dear friends.
- I’ve missed innumerable birthday, mother/father’s day, Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations.
- I’ve missed the once-in-a-lifetime open house celebrating one of my brother’s book releases.
- I miss being able to drive a few hours and see family, or just drop in and have a long chat with a friend who’s known me a long time.
- I miss seeing my nephews and niece grow up.
Izayah, Stephen and Jania. I miss these crazy kids!
- I miss all the picnics, movies in the park and fireworks of summer.
- I miss being able to help family when needed.
- I miss spring time, riding my bike and hiking/backpacking in forests without paying park fees or being accompanied gun-toting guides.
I get fed up here with inefficiency of systems and the ruinous effects of corruption.
- I resent the hours I spend in traffic jams and wonder where all the dust in my house comes from.
- And plenty of tears are shed in frustration of trying to learn a new way of life or feeling alone in a new city.
But when I am tempted to throw in the towel, I have to take a step back and look at all the good, yes even amazing, aspects of life in Kenya. After all, could I really do the following things in Pennsylvania?
- Play ultimate frisbee year-round in shorts and a t-shirt. We don’t even have to worry about it getting dark at 5pm at any time of the year.
- Be greeted by sunshine and blue skies most days of the year. (Don’t mean to rub that in for my Pittsburgh friends.)
- Sit in outdoor cafes and walk to church in perfect temperatures.
- Consistently meet amazing people from all over the world.
- Eat some kind of fruit (mangoes, pineapple, bananas, pears, plums, watermelon, tangerines) at an affordable price year round, which is not shipped from Chile in the winter.
- Share Christmas with people I love. Complete with lots of food, cut-out cookies, a fruit salad (Bean tradition), and after-dinner walk.
- Buy lunch at school for $0.60. (Though in upscale neighborhoods food is priced about the same as the US.)
- Network with practitioners of agricultural development around Africa.
- Play in sports tournaments on the white-sand beaches of the Indian Ocean.
Consistently be learning new things about myself and the place I live and expanding my perspective.
- Learn the practical realities of agriculture in eastern Africa.
- See zebras by the roadside on the way to my field research.
Look closely! The zebras are there.
- Have the satisfaction that at least I’m attempting the things I’ve always dreamed about doing. (Warning: following dreams is not always fun and can be very costly!)
Life here is not one big, happy adventure. The mundane follows a person anywhere in the world, and normal worries of life are not far behind. But neither is life one horrible sacrifice that I’m making. Rather, the exciting and tedious, the happy and heart-wrenching are swirled together in an unpredictable mix called “life abroad”, which just like life at “home” is an attempt to live faithfully in whatever situation I find myself.