As we approach a fortnight left before our return to the United States, I have begun to contemplate what I will miss. Since arriving in Kenya, my nascent birding tendencies have burgeoned into real interest. While my knowledge has increased a bit, and I now know a passerine from a potato, there is still no way I would call myself a legitimate birder. Yet, I have enjoyed watching birds, on walks with Nature Kenya, on Kenyatta University campus, and in gardens all over Nairobi. Despite my relative ignorance, I also enjoy digging into my field guide to identify them. Thus the abundance of birds and bird watching opportunities will be one aspect of this place I will sorely miss. Yet, I have plans to join the local Audubon upon my return, and learn about the birds of my new home.
No longer hearing and almost understanding people around me speaking Kiswahili will be both a relief and a true loss. Some of the Kenyans with whom I interact readily try to coach me, and greet me in their native tongue. Yet, their proficiency with English means they kindly switch when I (quickly) hit my limit. It might have been smart to attend a course in addition to using our book and practicing on colleagues. If I could start again, I think language class would be part of my Fulbright plan.
I will miss my conversations with health care professionals. They have honored me with forthright and astute insights about cancer and cancer care in this country. Further, they have offered their own stories about patients and sometimes their own friends, who suffer from this disease. Because my data collecting behavior -assertive and tenacious- has been completely unlike my normal introverted demeanor, this project has stretched me personally and intellectually. I have even called strangers on the telephone! Trying to make sense of the data and writing about it will push me even further from my comfort zone.
Kenyan humor has been a constant source of succor even when it’s directed at my own behavior. When you first meet them, many Kenyan people can appear almost stern, certainly dignified. Yet they maintain a near steady stream of jokes and ridiculous observations, and will share them once they assess your ability to appreciate. When a matatu driver executes a crazy maneuver -as they often do -our driver Matthew exclaims that you cannot respect his decision, but you must respect what is in his head, playing with the nuance of “respect.” In other words, you keep your distance because this matatu driver is mad. When I asked my students about the local mores of staring, they explained that if you complain to a Kenyan about staring, they will tell you they have no curtains on their eyes.
But I am looking forward to driving my own car again, provided I remember how to drive. And to spicy Mexican food. Yet, there is so much we are leaving behind.