Shawn’s parents recently spent 7 weeks with us here in Nairobi. It is always fun to get a fresh perspective of a place you live, because we get use to the quirks a place has. The three months leading up to their arrival we would say several times a time, “Wait until Mom and Dad (Grandma and Grandpa) see this!” We couldn’t wait to see their reactions to some of the things that we remember are so different from life in the US. While they did notice those things, they also commented on some things that I never think about anymore. While they were here we listened to the things they commented on and asked questions to see what their answers would be because we were truly curious what caught their eye. Here are some of the things:
“Traffic. That would be the hardest thing and I would NEVER drive here.” This was no surprise. When we say traffic is bad here people who live in places like DC, NYC, or other big cities comment about how much traffic they have. The thing is, we are not talking about the amount of cars (though there is plenty!) rather we are talking more about the driving. It’s utter chaos. Whether it’s the “Speed bumps” every few feet (on the highways!), public transport bullying you off the road or making their own “lane” on the side of the road, motorcycles swerving in and out with two, three, or four people on them (or a couch on back with a person perched on it!), bicyclists and rollerbladers grabbing on to the back of trucks to ride down the road, or potholes that would swallow your average SUV – Nairobi driving is like a crazy video game. Only we don’t have unlimited lives, so it ups the ante a bit. Then there’s the chance of having a herd of cattle walk through – even in the middle of the city. Or pedestrians crossing without looking. Speaking of pedestrians…
“The amount of people who walk every where! You just don’t see that in the States. Many are carrying heavy loads on the backs or heads.” This was one I didn’t think about before. Having been in quite a few other countries, I know that the most affordable way to get somewhere is by walking. Shawn even does quite a bit of walking because we only have one vehicle and school runs take over our lives here. However, when they mentioned it I started really noticing how true it was – people EVERYWHERE! On the side roads, the highways, the street, the (very few) sidewalks, in the fields as you go out of the city – everywhere you look you will see people walking. Children all dressed in school uniforms will run together to get to class. Mamas selling bananas will sit alongside the road with a baby tied to their back and another child waving down cars. Men – young and old – will try to sell you almost anything you can think of when you are stopped in traffic. It is quite amazing.
“The birds sing loudly even after dark.” Nairobi is pretty much on the equator. That means we have about the same daylight hours as hours of darkness year round. We also have incredible birds! Some of those birds continue their cooing and tweeting and singing even after it has gotten dark. I remember trying to identify one particular bird when we first moved here that made this shrill whistle sound all night long! It is beautiful – I love it!
“How hard people work – everything is done by hand!” I would say that overall the people here in Nairobi are here for jobs and are hard working. It is true that A LOT of the roadwork or construction is done by hand – at least for part of it. There will be crews of men and women sitting the lane in the road that is being fixed pounding out rocks for gravel with hammers. They do most of the cutting of branches and grass with machetes rather than electric tools. I have seen people constructing buildings using a hand cranked pulley system to get cement up to a higher floor. There is a lot of sweat and hard work happening here as the city continues to develop. Though there is more and more big machinery being brought in to help with these things, I find it fascinating to see how there is such a strange mixture of old and new in Nairobi.
“The truly international community here- especially in your church.” You all know I absolutely LOVE our church here. Everyone reached out and included Shawn’s parents in wonderful ways. They went to people’s houses for meals, attended a couple karogas for the men, and Mom was able to go to the ladies retreat with me. It was so great for them to spend this amount of time with our church family, because they are the people that we spend the majority of our time with here. So they really got to understand our world through these experiences.
They also saw the time we put into ministry here. They heard the frustrations that happen from having so many different people groups together in one spot. They ate a lot of different foods, sang in many languages, went on Safari where we saw 2 male lions – a real treat, hung out with our Serge team, visited Rosslyn and RVA, went to Anna’s play, saw RJ’s concert, took pictures of Anna heading out to banquet in the dress that we shopped for with Mom in the States last summer, made friends with every guard we met (a lot!), took a ton of pictures, enjoyed Andrew’s cooking, spoiled us with dinners out, played games, experiences the instability of Nairobi power, shopped at everything from brand new modern malls to roadside markets, bargained for a better price (Mom is GOOD!), searched for monkeys and never saw one (SOOOOOOO strange!), and just did life here with us.
We can’t describe how grateful we are for that because when you live in a place so very different from where all your family does, it sometimes feels as though you can’t really connect well. When we are in the States people ask questions and we show pictures and tell stories, but they really have no clue unless they have been here. Now Mom and Dad have. They “get it.”
So…who’s next? Our guest room is empty!