My time in Kenya would soon be over. After six months of living in Africa, it was time to figure out what to do next with my life. Trouble was, I hadn’t given it a second’s thought, and time was winding down.

I remember feeling the energy of all the volunteers, getting ready for the end of expo party. They were practically jumping up and down at the prospect of pulling an all-nighter with good food, drinks and a heartfelt slideshow of pictures taken from their time in Kenya. But for my friends and me, those of us who had been there so long, copping with the end was no easy task.

Kenya was our home. We spoke Swahili to bus drivers and at grocery stores. We knew how to travel to Mombasa and back. We all had phone numbers on speed-dial of our favorite taxi and motorbike drivers. We ate fish and ugali with our hands and converting dollars to shillings was second nature.

I wore a kikoi (east African cloth tied around the waist) around town and people knew who I was. And my feet bore the telltale signs of dirt and scrapes of one who has lived there long enough to become part of the land, a local. The few of us who had been there the longest weren’t happy or excited. We felt a very deep sadness welling up- a grey, panging emptiness that meant soon we had to leave, back to reality. That week we moped around like our cat had just died. We were a sad bunch.

In addition to missing Kenya terribly, I wasn’t ready to leave because that meant making some sort of decision in my life.

In the whole time I was in Kenya, I never made plans on what to do next after Africa. I didn’t want to think about it. I worked in the oil fields of North Dakota and saved for a whole year to live my dream and the thought of life afterwards was so distant and too uncomfortable, so I ignored it.

I wasn’t alone. My closest friends weren’t ready to face reality either. So with our internship over, our small group checked in at a hostel in Diani, to embrace nostalgia and what was left of the magic.

Some had flights home the following week, others were booking travel plans together because they weren’t ready to say goodbye. But me, I was at a loss for what to do.

I was melancholy, lost with no direction and still suffering from slight vertigo and exhaustion. When we checked into the hostel, I was adamant that I have my own room so I could think and be alone. I spent the whole week soul searching, sitting in my room just thinking about everything I had been through and what to do next.

Part of me knew it was time to go though. Being in and out of the hospital and struggling with finding alone time had left me feeling depleted in every way. What I needed was to escape to some isolated cave somewhere with no people so I could recover. In fact, weeks earlier we watched Cast Away with Tom Hanks and I remember thinking, “He gets his own island with no noise for four years?!?! That must be so nice!” I think I missed the point of the movie.

The stress of having too much fun? #volunteeraborad Click To Tweet

Also, I knew in my heart I needed a break from alcohol and smoking and the late nights. I had come to the conclusion that that is what led to my vertigo. STRESS. Not taking care of myself put so much stress on my mind and body that I kind of snapped, and was still feeling the effects.  I was glad to be taking the time now to relax alone and think.

“I should really go home to rest. That’s what I’ll do.”

However, the thought of flying home to St. Louis to live with my parents, look for a job and pay bills sent me into panic. I couldn’t stand it and I would cry in desperation trying to picture a life back home after Kenya. I couldn’t do it. And that stress outweighed the desire for solitude and healing, so I decided to stay.

I was conflicted. I loved Kenya but felt it was time to move on but definitely did not want to go home to Missouri either. How can I both want to spend time with my friends, but want to be alone too? How can I know I need to move on from Kenya but be heartbroken to leave? When did life get so complex?

I had roughly 3,000 dollars left and two ideas: one, to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or two, book an overland trip of Africa to visit more countries. I vacillated between these two ideas all week, unable to make up my mind.

My friends were leaving me. One by one they each flew off from the airport in Mombasa where we spent our last days in a cheap hotel in the city. Very early one morning, before the break of dawn, I packed my bags and held my dear friends one last time. We had been through so much together.

Outside the hotel was a taxi waiting to take me to the bus station downtown. With my luggage loaded and a queasy, nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, I waved goodbye and rode away, wondering if I would ever see those people again.

I was headed for Lilongwe, Malawi (a small country to the south of Tanzania) taking public transportation the whole way, to meet up with an overland tour group that was setting out on a 30 day trek of Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

My time in Kenya was over. But the journey to come would widen my eyes to a whole new world of adventure! But that’s a story for another time!

KWAHERI KENYA, MA RAFIKI!

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