Away From Africa And Still Dreaming

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills….” These are the first lines of the Isak Dinesen’s (Karen Blixen) great book OUT OF AFRICA; and it is strange because with only a slight change it is now a sentence I can say about myself.

I spent a summer on a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. I spent a summer walking the magnificent landscape of red dirt and flat topped acacia trees. I breathed in the high altitude air so close to the equator and felt the heat of the day dissolve into cold nights. One night upon this farm in Africa I even watched the movie OUT OF AFRICA with my Kenyan family and my roommate. My French roommate and I were giddy and excited when the film began and we understood the first word spoken in dialogue “kuja hapa” – “come here” in Kiswahili. Our family on the other hand was excited moments later when they started singing a Kikuyu song, and our family started to sing along with the familiar lyrics. My roommate and I were swept away by the romantic tale and always thrilled to recognize a place or moment in the film, while our family was moved by a story based so close to their home.

OUT OF AFRICA goes on to describe life so beautifully, and it is hard to believe I lived such a life, “…The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility…in the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.” And for more than a month that is how I felt, this is where I ought to be, this is where I am, and this is where I have dreamt someday of being. It was not luxurious, I need not say that here but it was real, it was authentic, it was open and willing to share itself with me.

I saw in a country so many people fantasize about a truth and a depth beyond romantic ideals. I had conversations with cab drivers about the troubles afflicting the country I was visiting and the one I come from. I sang songs in English, Kiswahili, and my favorite deserving a post to itself, in Kikuyu for our President; I danced a lot; I ate more carbs in a month than I do in most of the rest of the year; I sadly fought and struggled with some of the heartbreaking circumstances I saw. I, in the most honest use of the word, LIVED. My last day in Nairobi I had breakfast at one of my favorite cafés with a friend and as we parted on Kenyatta Ave along Moi, I said to her “I don’t feel like I have visited Kenya, I feel like I have lived here.” And I do, I feel I was welcomed with such wide and expansive arms by a country, more than one family, and a kaleidoscope of cultures.

I came face to face with the magnificence of nature; I slept with the whooping howls of hyenas outside my tent (not to worry, when we checked into the camp they told us never to leave our tent should we hear animals past when the generators were turned off; we were also told to always find an askaris/soldier to escort us to our tent after dark). I had my first kiss from a giraffe.

I have been back from Kenya for just over a week and yet the distance that separates the life I lived there and the one I live here is more extensive than the 7,360 miles (11845km) or the ocean and continent that span the physical distance. I have found it as hard to return as I did to arrive in Kenya, but in a very different way. To experience life in the developing world is to see a world that is at once apart and yet more entwined with the daily life in the developed world. I imagined the shock I felt at missing a toilet would be met upon returning with relief at the amenities I have on a daily basis. But I have found upon being back in this life that is so comfortable, and truthfully it is COMFORTABLE, that there is something missing. Once I saw past the comforts I was living without on this farm in Kenya I started to see the endless bounties of gifts this life had to offer – people who were willing to share whatever (however small or large) they had; an openness and honest exchange of thoughts, concepts, and dreams; and a genuine world view of different cultures collaborating and trying to understand one another. It happened in the simple way the family would ask as I very poorly washed my clothes by hand, if I had a machine to do this at home, why yes I do; or it could have been the day I was invited to a dowry party and I very innocently asked the family what kind of gift one should bring…a goat? I was glad they didn’t understand the question and answered with the appropriate gift, dishes if you were wondering from Nakumatt, the Kenyan version of Wal-Mart.

To travel in the developing world is to see how much we have in the developed world, perhaps too much, I counted over 63 different kinds of cereal in the store. I have found difficulty in seeing how lucky and fortunate I am not only to visit the developing world, but more to be able to leave it just as easily. To travel through parts of the world that are still finding ways to pave their roads, this was a debate in the village I lived in; and carrying water in plastic buckets and wood to burn on their backs, makes one realize how much we have at our fingertips and do not realize. But there is also so much gained from spending time in this part of the world, passed gratitude there is a broader experience that tells stories and carries deep emotion.

Without the questions of which of the 63 cereals or equally abundant breads, dish soaps, and other goods we have so easily available there is space; there is time; and there is an unfiltered interest in connection, in people, in trying to bridge the if not physical then mental distance between the worlds. The last night I spent with my Kenyan family, I sat with the two children and the house keeper/caregiver in the front yard. We sat on the multi-colored buckets used for a myriad of chores and we delicately sucked on long blades of grass in the late afternoon amber light. We sat and talked about our time together, we lamented my departure, we sang our song about Barack Obama; and Naomi the 5 year old completely serious turned to me with a long green blade of grass between her teeth and said “I will remember your name always.” And I told her I would do the same.

I am still dreaming of the farm I lived on in Africa, of the uneven path to the house, of the trees that dotted the view from the front door, of the family that took me in as a new member, of the children in the orphanage. I am endlessly enriched for having spent time there.

I have added some pictures to all of the posts from the time I was away; if you haven’t already you can go back and take a visual tour from this remarkable journey. And if you are interested in the music that is playing in my mind whenever I think back on Kenya, here are a few songs to use as a soundtrack to the photos – 15 This Little Light Of Mine by Elizabeth Mitchell in both English and Kiswahili, 13 Africa Dream Again by Youssou N’Dour, any Bob Marley, 01 Is This Love, and my favorite the #1 song in Kenya right now kigeugeu-jaguar!

Asante Sana,

Ramona

 

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07 2011

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  1. Sarah Machuel ( aka Wambui) #
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    Ramona… I cannot read those lines without feeling like crying. The way you describe Kenya and the life there is excatly the way i remember it. I know how you felt there, i spent 4 months there and believe me I miss it every second since I’ve been back home which wasn’t easy. I think that this is the kind of experience that changes the way people see life. I see the world differently. I cannot wait to step a foot on the red dirt again and bargain the price of matatus rides. That’s what life is about ( according to me) being happy just because you are sharing strong feelings and emotions or jsut a smile with someone coming from a totally different culture, we dont need Iphones, washing machines and delicious french food and all that crap. I am so grateful we met and shared this experience together with good times and hard times. You are more than welcolme in Kenya as soon as I have my own place i will make chapati for you and we will sing Kigeugeu and Barack Obama with the girls ! Take extra good care of you beautiful lady !



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