Dispatches, No. 3
I have just landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya for a three month extended stay in Arusha, Tanzania. As I walk out the airplane doors I am greeted by the familiarity of dense air mingling with the dust that comes just before the rain. I can’t stop the smile that bursts across my face.
As I walk down the steps into the idling bus I am not fazed by the additional thirty minutes we wait as the driver exchanges pleasantries with the airline staff. I am too busy swallowing in big pockets of the sweet smelling air, holding to my chest the precious kernels that have begun to blossom right where my lungs usually sit, my eyes threatening to grow droplets made of early morning dew.
Everything about this feels like home. I know it the second I began to grin, the second I began to feel a softness in my chest that spread across my body. I chatter to the taxi driver sent to retrieve me from the luggage carousel the entire drive across the city. When I told him it had been years since I had set foot on East African soil, he looks over and smiles. “Welcome Home”, he tells me. I am silent for long moments letting the words sink in because this was is close to home as I can get, and the joy of it was agonizingly overwhelming. I am both home and far from it.
In the immigration line the sticky heat coupled with sweaty body odour only cements my homecoming. I did my first independent trip to Kampala when I was twenty years old, the first time I had been in a place where everyone looked like me. The first time everyone I met reminded me of family.
The first thing I learned was the smell just before the rain. The musty grains of soil mingling with the dense air. I learned that the wind warned you about the oncoming rain hours before it came so it was no ones fault if you got caught in its downpour.
I got on local matatus, I ate street food with abandon, got my hair braided by grandmothers that knew the art of plaiting, watched and listened and observed everything around me. I would guard my Somali identity, refusing muzungu prices because all of these transactions took place on land that could have been the places my ancestors walked over, land I had increasing connection too. I made deep relationships. I said real things, I laughed from my belly. I was mostly myself and the parts so closed I couldn’t explore so I came back every year to try again.
And here I am today, eight years later, trying to figure out how to plant roots deep enough that leaving is only temporary.
Dispatches is a regular series of posts from Collective members traveling or living in East Africa.