A new regular contributor to the Village Project Africa blog, Stephanie Lewis Williams reflects on her experiences in Kenya and on what it means to come home again after
I recently read a book by Alexandra Fuller, who grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Malawi, and Zambia. She lives in Wyoming now and occasionally returns to her home in Africa. Her book, Scribbling the Cat, includes a beautiful passage about coming back to America after spending time in Africa:
“It should not be physically possible to get from the banks of the Pepani River [in Zambia] to Wyoming in less than two days, because mentally and emotionally it is impossible. The shock is too much, the contrast too raw. We should sail or swim or walk from Africa, letting bits of her drop out of us, and gradually, in this way, assimilate the excesses of the States in tiny, incremental sips, maybe touring up through South America and Mexico before trying to stomach the land of the Free and the Brave” (p. 72).
I have visited Makutano, Kenya, three times over the past three years. For me, it is easy to go to Makutano yet difficult to return to America. It takes me a couple of weeks or so to get used to life here again, and I have always wondered exactly why—why is the shock too much as Fuller describes? Part of the answer is that life is busy and moves fast here in America, and once you have danced to a different beat, it is hard to speed up again. We also have an overabundance of choices for food and other daily activities compared to a small Kenyan village, and we tend to complain about things that seem meaningless from the perspective of rural Kenya. When you own just one tattered outfit and no shoes, having a perfectly manicured lawn or a newer car is just not significant.
But I believe there is more to the story. In Kenya, I feel closer to the earth – the buildings are made of mud, the roads unpaved, the main course for dinner fresh from the backyard. The “layer” of asphalt and plastic and packaging that covers so much of life in America is diminished or absent in Kenya. There is less to hide behind. Somehow and in some way, Africa seems to touch and connect with a deeper part of me – of all of us. I am reminded too that the earliest humans originated in this part of the world. Perhaps that is why Africa almost feels more like “home.” Letting go of that experience when returning to America is challenging. Next time, I may take Alexandra Fuller’s advice and return in a far more gradual way. Maybe it will help.
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