As the end of March nears, anxiety is the emotion I feel the most. No stranger to worry, this anxiety makes no more sense than most of my paranoia. As always, there are reasons to worry, but in many ways my life is easier here in Nairobi than at home. Of course, different and sometimes complicated challenges obstruct even normal tasks. Indeed, my host University Professors were striking for better wages, and the University has threatened to cancel the semester. Because I am neither a member of their union, nor paid by the Kenyan government, there was no appropriate way for me to participate in the strike. Thus, I have been clandestinely teaching, holding classes with my students, who have no way of knowing whether they will be issued a grade for their work. Yet we persevere, being careful on days when union members “check” classrooms for rogue professors like me.
Despite the uncertainty, teaching remains a pleasure. My Kenyan students provide different insights into the culture than my colleagues, the professional health care workers I interview, or service workers encountered in restaurants. They bring smart insights and laughter to the classroom, and they help me with my Kiswahili.
The nervousness manifests even more about my research. Collecting interview data is outside my graduate training, and though research agendas can certainly shift, I wonder if I haven’t tried to go too far afield. My partner tries to remind me that the project has been vetted by a peer review process and two governments (US and Kenya), but the weight of the Fulbright responsibility merely makes me more nervous. My potential participant pool is large, but my N thus far is not. Convincing Kenyan doctors, nurses, and lab technicians to spend fifteen precious minutes talking with me, is not too difficult; they are actually quite open. But getting access to these people in a country where email does not garner the same priority as westerners expect can be tricky. It often means walking into a health care facility full of busy people – and patients who need care – and just asking around. For an introvert, this process is a nightmare. And the doctors at public hospitals are also on strike, which means health care workers are both extremely busy and understandably reticent about talking with foreigners.
Despite the extra time freed by lack of department and service commitments, I am writing a bit, but not enough. One wonders what enough might look like.
I agonize about the state of politics back home, and the frenzy in the current administration to destroy public education – my livelihood – and the very earth that I and everyone else depend upon for air, food, water. More than a sane amount of my available time is spent reading news stories. Soon – too soon and not soon enough – we will travel back to the United States, and I worry also about scrutiny of my devices upon entry. Will they let us back in if we have spoken negatively about the current administration?
Another site of worry encompasses what comes next. I have spent only six weeks in what will become my home in the US. In contrast, I have lived almost seven months in Nairobi thus far. While I’m not exactly comfortable here because my Kiswahili progresses but slowly, this city feels navigable. New colleagues, a new commute, new students, new surroundings – all await me when I return. It’s overwhelming to start again so soon.
Finally, many dear friends from my previous place of residence are encountering varied and extremely difficult life struggles. While I gallivant around the globe and begin new adventures, they endure bravely and without my direct support. My nervousness reflects the helplessness I feel about them.