I know something is usually wrong when morningtimes I drink tea instead of coffee. That’s to say that I got some strange case of, let’s call it “food poisoning,” which is probably what it was, over the weekend that took it out of me a bit, and I’m still convalescing. Do I sound like Scarlett O’Hara yet? That and I also broke my French press while I was washing apples and carrots in soapy water—out of my deep-seated fear of the possibility of food poisoning, part two. (As of this afternoon, I own a much larger french press, to my delight.) True, this new orientation to food and water safety might change over time, and I’m fairly confident that whatever I got came from a restaurant, but it gives me at least a little comfort now.
Sometimes I find it really difficult to address the challenges of moving to a new, especially “developing” country, without sounding totally despairing. Of course it’s not that bad, but the kind of challenges that come up can be so frankly odd that it becomes really hard to convey across the pond. While I don’t want to sound pessimistic, I also really don’t like the fake tones that I hear myself let go at times.
Mostly, I think the cultural loneliness/alienation is what strikes me, and which explaining can feel further alienating from your own culture. Eating pizza or drinking good coffee or eating chocolate/ice cream tends to make such a huge difference on my mood, watching my favorite tv shows (here’s looking at you, Parenthood), or reading a particular blog (mbird, you’re the best), listening to Beyoncé/Claire Bowen/Neko Case, and even making hesitant/probably slightly creepy “I already want to be your friend” eye contact with Westerners or “Western-dressed people” on the street and in cafés. And the cultural alienation is such a mix—I already feel so fed up with the “Where do you want to go? Do you want to go to Nairobi? Do you want to go to Kisumu?” konda guys as soon as I get off the matatu in town—I can’t even look at them or I’ll get too mad, like seriously, back off—but at the same time I feel so glad already for the lovely staff I am working with here and appreciative of the people who will drive me to the bank and randomly show up at my apartment when I have problems with electricity. And of course the caretaker at my apartment complex, who refers to himself as “Brother John,” and asks me constant questions, like, “Do you still have enough cooking gas?” and refers to us as friends, which I’m pretty sure is true. I’m learning similies like “proud as a peacock” in Swahili, as well as my favorite, “short as a hammer” – Purity trying explaining it to a slightly confounded me, saying, “Because a hammer is short, isn’t it?!?”
But overall it can be very difficult, especially doing this alone, and difficult to totally acclimate when a lot of the time I just want to feel like I’m in America, and I know I’m not. Making that adjustment is always something I want to measure, wondering, how long does it really take? It’s better for me at times when I unplug a little, so that I can actually listen to the things around me and take part in them. But there’s always a little lag or denial for me, and this time the move seemed to really sneak up and shock me, even having prepared my packing list, months in advance, and ordering batches of “things” from Amazon to help smooth the transition.
Though strangely sometimes, being sick seems to be a cleansing feeling, and at least the drugs I’m taking are almost definitely “cleansing” whatever was in my body out of it. I can sit down for a minute and realize I’m not really stuck in any particular thing, which might have seemed exhausting a week ago—just the thought of trying to change my mood by listening to a podcast and cooking sukuma—since I know my mood might not immediately change and removing the pressure of that is a little relieving, and I can breathe a bit. Now my house is clean, I’ve opened the windows, and like “Brother John” said, “have you noticed, the weather is changing?” So that seems at least good, and I hope to go upcountry soon.
I feel fairly confident I should probably also read this and this as a companion to West with the Night…even though at times the memoirs/fiction of culturally displaced Africans in the West (Teju Cole/Chimamanda Adichie/I want to read more Thio’ngo and One Day I Will Write About this Place) help too, just in a different way that I know I can’t understand, but still end up relating to, if somewhat horizontally.
Too I feel unsure if any of this really conveys anything; I sometimes want to start an expat blog where we talk about all of the abstract/non-abstract ridiculous things and it won’t be interpreted as “complaining.”
P.S. To this, if anyone wants to send me mail, I would totally welcome it, as I now have two viable p.o. box addresses! Just send me “pieces of America,” since a copy of Women’s Health magazine costs TWELVE DOLLARS here.