We are back in Kenya and again we experience a different part of Africa: Further developed on the one hand, dingier and more chaotic on the other. Tattered simplicity instead of West African romance. The heat is dry here, the food less spicy and the sky much clearer without the sahara dust.
We swim in everyday kenyan craziness and enjoy a friendliness that is more subtle. We are back to the infinite and fascinating expanse of East Africa. On long bus journeys, we play I-bet-I-can-spot-an-antilope-before-you-spot-a-zebra and ride piki pikis at Nairobi Rush Hour and on the dust roads of the savannah. A chat with a massai warrior in the shade of a tree seems awfully normal, a 700 km train journey takes us 27 hours and giraffes majestically pace along the “highway”. At noon, our shadows are as short as never before.
“There’s more to see than can ever be seen more to do than can ever be done. There’s far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found.” (Tim Rice)
Back in Nairobi, we live with Gabe in his student dorm. The house is pretty filthy, the room is tiny and his hospitality so much the bigger. It is nine square meters of mosquito’s paradise between worn mattresses, backpacks and biology lecture notes. The building itself looks like an occupied skeleton: Crumbly concrete floors are covered with some kind of cerecloth, the windows never fully close and some of the glass windows above the doors have been replaced by card boxes and chip trays. We cook dinner on a dubiously installed heating coil, eat from the pan and again realize: A simple meal like this simply tastes great. It tastes like fresh kale and cheap oil, like brotherhood and friendship and adventure. At night, we watch 12 Years a Slave, a great movie starring the kenyan oscar winner Lupita. It doesn’t get quite comfy, though- not only because of the movie. Martin squishes a bed bug on his leg and in the dim light of the laptop, a cockroach scuttles away.
So we spend some days in Nairobi and also meet my host brothers William an Lawrence and my host Mum Alice. We also visit the school in Mowlem: By now in a new building, the well-known happy pell-mell prevails.
We visit the city and from the tallest building, we look down to its chaotic, vibrant streets. We swim in its bustling stream and enjoy meals of Ugali, Kale and Beans.
Taking the night train with all its breakdowns and delays, we travel to Mombasa. In Voi we meet up with Gabe again, dance to east african dancehall, drink cheap Mnazi on the roof and hike the tallest hill of the surrounding area. Two village boys lead us all the way up to the highest rock. Up here, there are neither entrance fees nor paths, only big snails, spiky bushes, monkeys in the trees and breath-taking views. Around us is nothing but Tsavo East with its savannah trees and elephants. Above us expands the ageless, everlasting sky. It seems like it must have been like this forever, and like it wanted to remain like this for a long time. Always new. The chaos of Nairobi and the idea of typing down these words for you on a computer seem so unreal. Not bad or wrong- just very unreal.
I am still fascinated by the endless vastness here. Little else seems to be so much alive like the savannas with its sap green trees and herds of wild animals. Like giggling children in the village and like the sun, big, flamy and high-angled at the sky from which at nightfall, countless stars rain down on us and on which the moon, brighter than ever seen before, silently watches over us.
In Mombasa, I sit on the beach. Bamburi, Bamburi, Bamburi. The water is hot, dromedaries trot along the shore as if in slow motion. Cool cruising kids kindly carried on a kenyan camel, I smilingly recite. Martin swims in the bright blue water, his shoulders sunburnt, his hair all wet. I am glad we’re here together: What I’ve seen before, I get to experience again and with new eyes and together we get to explore new stuff. These are our last days in Africa, the last days of vacation until we will have to go apartment hunting in Germany. Until I will start teaching again and until Martin will write his bachelor thesis. Until there will be duties and expectations. Until I will come home from a world that centers around very basic necessities yet remains impressively relaxed and happy.
Finally, I will be sitting in a plane. Below me, Africa will be getting smaller and smaller. I will have put on socks and shoes, in Germany it will be cooler than here. I’ll scent familiar smells, the smell of our city and its fields around it, the smell of rain and maybe a slight smell of spring time. It’ll smell less like burnt plastic and less like an open sewage system and maybe a little less like freedom. I will buy me a calendar and I will wear my wrist watch. I will live in a heatable apartment and for fresh water, I will just have to open the tap. Fresh water- colourless, flavorless, germ less. Soon I will be teaching in a classroom with colorful posters on the walls. We’ll have reasonable teaching material for every possible mathematical problem and my students will have writing-cases filled with a dozen of colorful crayons. Sometimes in Ghana and Kenya, I have wistfully thought of well-filled pencil cases and lunch boxes. Maybe anytime soon I will be wistfully thinking of the school bus ride in Ghana: Twenty children singing out (very) loudly, musically and happily and lively, and a bus driver who joyfully shouts: Sing! Shout! Louder! when their voices abate. I am afraid of class rooms in which you better keep your voices down and I am afraid of grown ups who get headaches from the kid’s giggling. Maybe, I am also a little afraid of problems more complex than shortage of material and of demands bigger than improvised taking care of second graders.
The thin paper pages on which I write down these thoughts wave in the warm wind. My lips taste salty. I could not have been any happier during the past months. Well, I admit that living close to the equator during dry season helps a lot: I’ve gotten lots of Vitamin D. And fresh air. Community. I’ve gotten a thousand moments of being fully present and of being fully dependent on God. I am grateful for the time and the experiences here and when thinking of all those moments of happiness while Martin splashes about the Indian ocean I understand: All this does not end when I switch flip flops for shoes, when I walk along the Rhine instead of the ocean, and when I have to give my very best at my new teaching job. I understand that all this will not be over but that it is just much easier around here – sunshine, rastas, savannas. Make happiness, not money, did the drum builder at the beach of Accra say. Who’s gonna say something like this in Germany, did I think and try to go with the rhythm. Poor in pocket, but happy in life, somebody had painted on a fishing boat in Ada Foah, Ghana. But I can learn more from the Africans: How it is important to take time and how it should be normal.
I’ve asked the cashier at the grocery store whether he knew where I could get Mandazi. Let’s go, he said, left his cashpoint and lead me all the way to the bakery. I’d felt bad already: Time is money and you just don’t waste other peoples time. At least that’s what I have learnt. Time is money where I come from and times is money as well in Africa. Time may be money, but not first priority and therefor no big deal for the cashier. Another day in Ghana, I wanted to buy onions at the market. The onion store was empty, I couldn’t see the onion guy. The tomato lady next door pointed in the direction of the mosque: Is prayer, she said. You wait ten minutes. Easy as that: If they call for prayer, you pray. If somebody asks for the way, you lead them.
Before flying back to Germany we spend another night at Gabriel’s. The night with Lupita and the cockroach, remember? My time here has passed so quickly. I am excited for home: Friends, family, Dance Lessons. Living in the same place for some time. We put our heads down in Gabriel’s room. I can hear voices and noise from the corridor. I hear Martin’s calm breathing, soon I also recognize Gabriel’s. So it’ll be time to leave tomorrow. Our bags are packed. Make happiness, not money. Who is gonna say something like this?! I hope its me, I think and turn around on the thin mattress underneath Gabe’s desk.