Last Days, Only Days, and First Days

About a week ago today was my last night in Boston. I spent most of it walking around the North End and eating Italian desserts with my friend CJ, a fellow world traveler who will be spending this year in Jordan. As we walked through the winding streets and in between bites of cannoli, we talked about your hopes and fears for this next year in our respective countries. Our fears stemmed from the logistical (how would we do such and such task that was mundane in America in a foreign country?) to the sentimental (how would be make friends and meaningful connections in a place where we were cultural outsiders?).

There was one point where we stood at the start of the North End and faced the Boston nighttime skyline. We reminisced about our last four years and how close were were to Boston given that we went to Harvard and questioned whether or nowt we really took advantage of being in such an amazing city, which led to a minor freakout about choosing to leave such an amazing city for Jordan and Kenya. Despite the uncertainties we both know we’ll face, we knew that leaving for a year was the right decision. We have the rare opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in other cultures of the world.

The next day was D-Day (Departure Day). After having a last Border dinner with my best friend and saying my final Boston goodbyes, it was time to head to the airport. After an immense amount of pleading, the Swiss Air attendant had pity (read: made me repack my bags) on me and let me check my two grossly overweight suitcases.  As I watched my year’s worth of possessions be carried away on the conveyor belt, I took in some last wisdom and hugs from my friend Dakota.

After a relatively painless security check, I was now in the international terminal of Logan Airport. There was no turning back–in a few hours I would board a flight into the next year of my life. The first stop on my journey was Zurich, Switzerland. I had a 22 hour layover that allowed me to explore the city.  With my ZurichCard ( a pass that allows tourists free train fare and discounts to various attractions) I got to take a ferry ride across Lake Zurich and see beautiful mountains in the distance. I also walked along the winding cobblestone streets and popped into a few dessert  shops.

Zurich was an important transition point for me. Not only did it help me overcome the jet lag (Zurich is one hour behind Nairobi), but it gave me time to process some of the fear and excitement I had before I jumped in. Zurich was also a less chaotic test run of what it would be like to navigate around Nairobi–figuring out how to get around an unfamiliar city where English isn’t the default.

Now on the plane minutes before landing in Nairobi, I tried to get as close to the winIMG_0462dow as possible to see the landscape of my new home. As politely as I could, I reached over the lady next to me to get a few pictures using the excuse, “Oh sorry, my mom would love to see this view.” All I saw were rolling green landscapes occasionally dotted with buildings.

Once I landed and stepped onto the tarmac, the weight of this next year hit me. “Wow, I finally here.” None of the months of planning or advice could have prepared me for the anxiousness I was feeling. By this time, it’s about 8pm and I was exhausted. I told myself that all my other worries could wait until Thursday. Yellow Fever card, E-Visa, and Passport in hand, I made my way through immigration.

Once I passed immigration, I immediately went to purchase a local SIM card. Forgetting the conversion rate is on average 100 Kenyan shillings (ksh) to $1USD, I had a minor freakout that I hadn’t withdrawn enough cash when the attendant told me the price of my monthly plan and SIM was 600ksh. Yup, that’s right. I paid about $6  for a monthly smartphone plan.

After that minor fiasco, I met up with my driver, and we zipped through the bustling streets of Nairobi to my guesthouse (I never knew so many cars could move so fast all at once!).  The next day, I woke up mostly ready (I hadn’t 100% beaten the jet lag) to take on my first day of orientation.

Driving up to the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)’s campus was simply stunning. The Runda and Gigiri neighborhoods are so lushly green. Various guarded mansions and embassies lined UN Avenue. Turning down the road towards ICRAF was literally like entering a forest. Yes, it seems obvious considering that ‘Agroforestry’ is in the name, but I still wasn’t expecting so many large tropical trees and gorgeous wild flowers.

Upon entering the AWARD (African Women in Agricultural Research and Development) office, my co-workers greeted me and helped me get set up. I’m so excited to work with everyone on my team–each person is so dedicated to  AWARD’s mission through their various specialities: assessment, communications, programming, agricultural science, etc.

My first afternoon, I had a meeting with Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the director of AWARD. She is a tall, stately woman who has many accomplishments under her belt. However, despite her numerous titles, she insisted that I stopped calling her “ma’am.” She welcomed me to the team with a task–do a summary of AWARD’s phase three proposal. While the task at first seemed daunting, it gave me the opportunity to delve into AWARD and learn about it’s programming and the future of the organization.

Thursday and Friday zoomed by at work and it was time for my first weekend in Nairobi. My officemates took me to the Village Market, a large shopping mall in Gigiri, where I got to witness my first Masai Market. Though they both normally avoid the hectic and tightly packed stalls of goods from across Kenya, they led me through so I could see all the beautiful fabrics, jewelry, and wood carvings. I hope to learn enough Swahili in order to effectively bargain for some of these gorgeous items.

Two other Princeton in Africa fellows met up with me Friday night to welcome me to the city. We went to this lounge called “Juniper Kitchen” that was having its farewell event. While there, I met so many expats working for so many different organizations. It was comforting knowing how many people were in a similar situation to me–moving to a new country not knowing much of anything or anyone.

So far, this past Saturday has been my favorite day in Nairobi. Harriet, my friend from college is is Kenyan, and I met up near the University of Nairobi for luch so she could give me an authentic Kenyan experience. First she took me to a local cluster of restaurants and shops. All of the units were small stands or huts made of wood and tin. Harriet gave me a rundown of traditional Kenyan dishes. Under her guidance, I selected beef stew with kale, potatoes, and chapati (a tortilla-like bread that accompanies meals). Never in my life had I enjoyed kale until I discovered the way Kenyans make it–steeped in a meat and veggie stew. The massive plate of food I was served cost me 90ksh.

Harriet then showed me around the area around the University of Nairobi and the Central Business District. She pointed out various customs, taught me a couple Swahili greetings (which I still need to memorize), and made me cross the street. While crossing the street may seem pretty mundane back in the States, crossing the streets of bustling Nairobi is an art. Cars have absolutely no chill in Nairobi–even at crosswalks or when the light has the pedestrian signal. Cars do not care. Every time Harriet and I would cross, I’d basically sprint across the road and all the locals would calmly walk through traffic. I was in constant awe that Kenyans, even small children, would cross as cars glossed their fronts and backs. Maybe Harriet’s “Kenyan confidence” will rub off on me and I can stop sprinting across streets.

Later on Saturday, I attended the Nairobi Food and Music Festival with a few other Princeton in Africa fellows. My favorite part of the concert was being front in center of a local Nairobi R&B singer. Sadly, I didn’t catch her name, but she was WONDERFUL. Her last song was an ode to the city and was perfect welcome to this year.

I hope that by the end of this year I can  sort of “do it like [they] do it in the 254.”

Random Thoughts:

  • I will never ride a motorcycle while here
  • I saw FOUR MONKEYS while getting lunch from the outdoor cafe at work
  • I still confuse the conversion rate and divide units of money by 10
  • Apartment hunting is hard but the prices are SO much better than they are in Boston (a fully furnished 3 bedroom apartment with security and utilities…$750 in some places)
  • I need to learn swahili ASAP so I can get in on all the work jokes
  • Every time I communicate with friends and family with both my American phone and my Kenyan phone, I think about the song “Two Phones” by Kevin Gates
  • I currently have four bug bites on my face, but life is still good here in Kenya
  • You have to remember to flip on the hot water switch if you don’t want an ice-cold shower
  • Cetaphil isn’t sold in Kenya, must find an alternative
  • Junction Center Mall has a movie special of ticket, popcorn, hotdog or nachos, and a drink all for the grand price of 600ksh. Yup. Used it to watch War Dogs.

(Note: The main image is a picture of the Masai Market I).




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