Friday, April 23

Nine and a half months in Kenya: Departure

This time last year I had only known for a few weeks I was going to Kenya with the International Humanity Foundation instead of Micronesia with World Teach. Nine months ago I wasn't sure whether I would stay in Nakuru for a year or for two. At the beginning of the year I was planning on leaving Kenya after ten months to spend a month in Thailand and another in Indonesia to spend time at those centers, too. Three weeks ago Demetra left Nakuru to train new directors in Chiang Rai. Now I am in Bali to train incoming directors.

Things change.

The Meeting Place, the restaurant with the best ndengu in Nakuru, painted over their red stripes with purple. The city stopped locking the gates to its sole public park. The matatu owners started using white signs with blue lettering, replacing the blue signs with white letters, on the main stage. Sponsorship from SuperSport allowed all teams in the Kenya Premier League, even bottom-dwelling Red Berets, to buy kits with their names on them. Ticket prices for football matches doubled. Some construction projects were completed, and others were started, and others still were left neither here nor there.

There are things I am disappointed in, things that I never did or saw in my nine months. I'm annoyed that we didn't go to Aberdare because our alien cards didn't really give us resident prices. I'm disappointed that we never made it to Lake Victoria or the mountain rainforests of Mount Elgon or Lamu Island. I'm disappointed I never saw an elephant or lion or cheetah or any of the other big cats. I wish I had taken more pictures. I'm sorry I never wrote a blog post about Chemolingot, strong contender for my favorite town in all of Kenya, a little piece of the Old West in Pokot. I'm disappointed that I never saw registration completed despite our first final check by the Children's Office being in October. I'm sorry I never punched in the nose all the people that screwed me and the center. I'm disappointed that I never got around to teaching the kids please or fixing the computers for regular classes. I'm disappointed I didn't realize there would a half-marathon through town and train for it or run much at all after coming back from Egypt.

There are things I am proud of, too. It wasn't all disappointment and regret. I'm glad that I visited as much of Kenya as I did and that I saw Pokot especially. I'm glad that I ate at least once at one of Nakuru's representatives of Ethiopian, Indian and Chinese cuisine. I'm happy that I made it to live soccer and rugby matches. I'm happy that the kids learned to say thank you. I'm happy that we welded a solid steel plate plate in front of the TV. I'm glad that we bought a DVD player and that I was able to introduce the kids to Star Wars, even if Revenge of the Sith was their favorite. I'm very happy that the kids didn't cheer when I told them I was leaving. I'm happy that I never heard anyone laugher harder or longer then when I let them watch a half-hour slideshow I put together as a going away gift to them. More than anything else, I'm simply happy that the center didn't burn down and the kids all stayed alive.

It was never easy. It was the hardest thing I had ever done most of the time. I can think of three discrete occasions where I was seriously considering quitting. There were other times I wished I would catch malaria so I would have a break from work or something worse that would have to send me back to the States for treatment. But I stuck it through. That's something to be proud of too, I think, I hope.

For the last week or so I had the urge to tell everyone I met, everyone I had any form of a relationship with that I was leaving. I wanted to tell the center's pro bono lawyer. I wanted to tell the teachers at the children's schools. I wanted to tell the people who fried my morning mandazi and the guys that sold us the kids' school uniforms. I didn't. It probably would have been uncomfortable as they tried to think of something appropriate to say to someone whom they hardly ever spoke with otherwise.

We'll see what the next two and a half months have in store for me in Bali where no children live at the center and where the Pacific Ocean is not more than one hundred meters from the center. No point in wishing me the best now because I think I found it.

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