Sunday, September 11, 2011
It’s all coming back to me, Kenyan culture. I’m in a weird situation. I’m not an exchange student anymore, so the country’s not brand new to me. I find myself bored with tourist-geared questions like, “Have you tried ugali yet?” Yes, daily. Just like I did for the 3½ months when I was here before. Even when I tell people it’s my second time here, I get that question. I don’t get it. Anyway, I’m certainly not a tourist, but I’m also not a resident. I’m not here on business, yet I’m searching for a job. I’m just a former exchange student who thought it would be a good idea to pursue international journalism.
My appearance seems to be another favorite conversation topic. Apparently, saying hello to someone entitles him/her to analyze you from head to toe. Most say I’ve lost weight. It’s true, although “30 kilos” is an exaggeration. However, not everyone agrees. When one friend saw me again, he said I was the same. “You’ve not gotten fat, and you’ve not gotten smaller,” he informed me. Another confused friend’s first words were, “Kiya! You look good. You’ve added weight!” No, honey, I haven’t. I’d admit if I had. But, as long as it’s that non-American compliment, thanks.
Kenyans also enjoy deciding whether I look like them or a Mzungu (white person). I wish I’d tallied how many times I’ve gotten each opinion. The totals are nearly equal, which I suppose makes sense because I’m a “half cast.” Well, that’s what they call me after I’ve explained my heritage— that, or a “point five” or “50-50.”
I’m still having problems falling asleep. I’m terribly unfocused at night, thinking mostly of home and what might happen if I came back in December. One of the last few things my mom said to me at the bus stop has stuck in my mind. She said, don’t think you can’t come home early just because you told people you might be gone for 1-3 years. I’m seriously considering staying for three to six months. If I LOVE my job, I’ll stay for one year. I’m just a lot less happy here than I anticipated. Of course, that could change when I get a job. I know it’s only been a week.
Maybe these malaria pills are making me emotional.
Anyway, I’m much more focused and rational during the day (maybe I should’ve written this in the morning). I’m enjoying having just one thing to do per day. In Minnesota, I cram so much into a day. Back-to-back rehearsals after a six-hour shift will never happen here. In fact with the traffic problem, it can’t.
Yet when I reflect on this past week, I realize I’ve accomplished a lot! All thanks to some pre-trip connections. My philosophy is: Say your goals out loud, to everyone, and often. Why? Networking! You never know who you’ll meet. When I was at Wells Fargo a few weeks before I left, I told one of my favorite bankers that I was moving to Kenya. “Ali speaks Swahili,” he said, gesturing to a man standing a few feet away. Turns out Ali would be traveling to Kenya just a few days before me, and he knows several people in the Kenyan media. We agreed to keep in touch and meet in Nairobi. The man is true to his word! We met twice this week. He’s been an excellent resource so far, and has hooked me up with the right people including one particular communications parliamentarian.
I don’t want to say too much in case things don’t pan out, but I can say that I’m in the process of writing cover letters to several stations. Most people I’ve talked to think I should first go for an internship. I guess there’s no shame in that, considering I’m foreign, a recent graduate, and a 22-year-old. I suppose I have my whole life to earn money. They’ve also said it is possible to advance from an internship because if you’re well received, you have a good chance of getting hired.
My main goal is to report on a few stories. I want to come home with something to show. I want to have Kenyan news in my demo reel, and I hope to accomplish that within six months.
I still believe that everything happens for a reason. One of my first news stories was about the U’s Global Studies Student Association’s partnership with The Nafula Foundation. They raised money for vulnerable families and orphaned children in Kenya. I interviewed Nafula co-founder Kathryn Nelson, and she ended up offering me a position on the board. Turns out she’s coming to Kenya this October, and in the mean time, she told me to link up with her friend Jonathan, a photo journalist. Before I knew it, I was eating Ethiopian food (my FAV!) with him and several other journalists, including one who works for the BBC. I’m glad I went because I got to network, but it was also rewarding to meet other foreigners pursuing work here. I met a very warm-hearted artist from Boston and Colombia who talked so eloquently about embracing Kenyan experiences. It inspired me to be more patient and recognize that I’m not alone.
Because believe me, I feel very alone here.
I do have to thank Safari for surprising me with a washing machine! What a nice gesture to make me feel at home. We’re fortunate because water is included in rent, so using the machine won’t be costly (to us).
I’ve already spent three nights at Monica’s place. I LOVE being there because they treat me like family, just like they did as my official host family in 2009. She says I’m welcome back any time, and I’ll take her up on that.
We spent Saturday at her parents’ house in Nairobi preparing food for about 20 relatives. Trust me, it’s not a lot compared to the 100 I helped cook for in Nakuru two years ago. All the women were so sweet to me, and we reminisced about how I’d cut my thumb last time because I tried to work as fast as them. They hold most vegetables in their hand and dice at lightning speed. When I was about to start, they plopped down a cutting board and we all laughed. I also got cabbage duty again! So I know they trusted me, even if I was slow.
I also visited Ruth’s place this week. Last time in Kenya, I interned for Changez, a youth development NGO that used theater as a tool for social change. We went to several high schools including Kisumu Girls boarding school. Ruth was a student there and she had one of the solo verses from the Changez Song. She’s now a university student in Nairobi, and she was very excited to show me around a bit, including her home that’s not too far from my place. Her family was so nice!
Apparently, I live in the hood. Residents call Donholm Doni for short. I’ve enjoyed telling bus drivers that I’ll alight at Do-ni because they understand me. Unlike when I tell them Ambassadeur stop. They don’t get it until I say it like a Kenyan, as in, Ambasada. (By the way, how perfect is it that I, the Zeta known as AmbaZZador, alight at Ambassadeaur bus stop nearly daily?)
Tomorrow I’m going to finish writing cover letters. I’ll take the rest of the week to hand-deliver them along with my updated resume and demo reel. Once I’ve applied everywhere, I’m going to focus on learning Swahili.
Thanks for reading,