11 weeks left, but who’s counting?

Here in Gigiri, it does not rain as heavy, or for nearly as long, as it did in Ghana.  I was expecting the rainy season, even the short one, to be continual downpour for its duration.  Instead, it has only drizzled during the day or poured during the night at some point each day over the past 2 weeks.  I would not mind so much if I did not have a reoccurring low-grade migraine each afternoon rendering me to uselessly await the evening rains in order to relieve the pressure in my head.  …Okay, perhaps I am being a little dramatic, but generally speaking by 14:00hrs these last 2 weeks, this has been the case.  Sometimes I am fortunate enough to have the rains come in the afternoon relieving the pressure early in exchange for an incredibly muddy walk home.  All I can say is thank God for Excedrin – the absolute best migraine medication ever – and Diet Coke.

If you are brave enough to venture outside of Gigiri these days, chances have it that the rain will freeze traffic up and you will be stuck bumper to bumper on a road that resembles a parking lot going nowhere fast.  This is especially the case if you are heading to downtown Nairobi because this is where all the China-sponsored road construction is occurring.  Globe Roundabout is a giant red mud pit.  Fun if you are playing football or field hockey but not so great when you are on a mission and stuck in a car that is stilled.

If you decide to walk to the nearest shopping center (perhaps you are in dire need of toothpaste), you will be lucky if you are agile enough to make your way on solid ground.  Most of us barely get 2 minutes from home wearing shoes newly stained from the red mud.

Believe it or not, the sloped drop-off to the right is actually a road that joins this pothole and puddle infested road.

I probably sound really pessimistic.  It is after all, just rain, and I knew coming here that I would be here during the short rainy season, but I know this is just one of those lows in the grand scheme of culture shock.  I think this is probably just in conjunction with the fact that a lot of my friends here on short-term contracts and are leaving within a month, work has been stressful, and everywhere I go I see holiday decorations reminding me that I will not be home for Christmas. Thankfully I have some sweet plans for the holidays which will keep me more than busy, but in the meantime I will continue to dream about all the fun everyone from home will be having in the snow.  Am I crazy? Most people cannot stand the snow, and I love it.  However I suppose this, of course, is nothing new.

Now I have only about 11 weeks to go before I am home again.  The time seems to have escaped on me.  The days feel long but the weeks pass by before I notice and then they are history.  What my next steps should be is the constant question occupying my mind.  Not that I am worried.  No, that is not it at all.  I am still living in the moment and making the most of my time here, but all the while, as the weeks continue to pass, I am increasingly looking forward, excited for the new opportunities that will come and to see where the next path will take me.

Not long ago I was exactly half-way through my contract.  It has been a really great experience and I have had my eyes opened to so many new things from urban sustainability, training effectiveness, evaluations, managing partner relationships and understanding how advisory committees work, to change management and corporate restructuring.  While I will admit that working at a large bureaucracy has been frustrating at times, my recent trip with a friend to see the organization she supports in Kibera reminded me of how unnecessarily frustrating it can be when working with small local organizations.  I think it was really good for me to go and get refresher of what it is like working in that context.  It can become too easy to judge where you are and romanticize what you miss; forgetting that challenges exist in both.  I still think I would lean towards working in a smaller office, with more direct community engagement.  Perhaps experiencing what it would be like in a small UN country office would be a good opportunity.  I am curious to see how much autonomy they have and how they operate with the challenges of working within the local context and as part of the large bureaucracy.  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. It would also be incredibly interesting to work from a donor point of view, perhaps with a foundation or within the CSR role of a corporation.  Who would you decide to support and in which manner will you support and partner with them?  Or, I can exercise more of the humanitarian response skills and look to employment in relief.  There are so many options!  Oddly enough, I am not scared these endless options and unknowns; rather, I am quite excited.

UN Day was last month.  The day is a celebration of the anniversary of the UN Charter coming into force in 1945.  It has been celebrated on October 24th since 1948. The Nairobi festivities included acknowledging the role the UN plays in addressing gender equality, combating injustice, man-made and natural calamities, and the aversion of climate change.  There were also booths about all of the different UN agencies around for the visiting dignitaries to stop by at and pick up information during their conference breaks.  I of course went to most of these booths as well.  It was perfect!  In a way it was like holding a panel interview; I was able to ask the agencies all my questions and determine which ones I would really like to work for one day.  It still seems surreal to think that I am here.  I wonder if it will ever really sink in.  One thing is for sure: it will all pass quicker than I can imagine, just like Zanzibar did.  I smile when I think of Zanzibar.  Others tell me that I smile more when I speak of being there.  I wonder what they will say when I am home again reflecting on my time here, working in Nairobi.

Before this rainy season I used to wake up with the birds, just like at home.  Some days there where happy birds, cheerfully chirping away.  Other days there were birds that sounded like Canadian Geese.  About 2 or 3 weeks ago I woke up with the feeling I was at home in my bedroom before opening my eyes.  I was surprised to find myself in the German School Boarding House of Nairobi, Kenya instead of back home in Canada.  This has never happened to me before; not in Italy when I was 16 and away from home, or at ballet summer school when I was 12, and definitely not in Ghana just a couple years ago.  The funniest thing was that I fell back into a semi-conscious state and dreamed that I was with the friends I intend to backpack with for Christmas.  For some reason we were in an airport waiting for our backpacks to come on the luggage conveyor belt.  Instead of my backpack coming out towards me on the conveyor belt was the teddy bear I took practically everywhere with me since I was 3 years old.  No, Tippy Bear did not come to Kenya with me.  Dreams are crazy things.  Sometimes I wonder what goes on up in that brain of mine.

I will miss hearing about the monkeys wandering through my office.  I will miss the entire UNEP and UN-Habitat informal 10:00hrs coffee station congregations. I will miss the friendly faces and the tropical flowers and their scents that drift my way as I walk through our work compound.  I will miss funny conversations like the one where I was informed that the ideal world is a mix of China and Norway; both orderly and efficient.  I will miss hearing the practical advice from one expat to another such as how to get around hassle-free downtown: find a big guy and pay him some change to keep everyone else away, aka. choose and hire your own body guard for the day. 

Inside my office, standing by the coffee station.

I will not miss the constant warnings about safety, trying to create in everyone a healthy measure of fear.  In my French class last week we heard gunfire shots go off.  There were only 2 so either it was completely by mistake or the hunter was a good aim.  I do not know which is worse.  Thankfully, we’ve heard nothing more like this and Nairobi is somewhat calm again.

Yesterday morning, on the way to work I could see my breath in the air.  With Christmas music reaching my ears and December 1st tomorrow, you would never know that I am in Africa.  Such a diverse continent this is: mountainous and flat lands, desert sands and thick forests, volcanoes, and great lakes.  Rich in bittersweet complexities; joy and sorrow, famine, faith and inflation.


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