(circa August 2016)
I’ve seen many people since I got back from the United States. Some of them are alumni from the tier of seniors who graduated just before me, others moved away a few years ago, many are former teachers and current role models, and the majority are still in high school at Rosslyn Academy. With almost all of them, I felt the space of detachment between us, reflecting nothing on their characters or mine, but only on time and distance. With some of them, mostly the adults, I was able to rekindle the coals of connection. But not with all.
I had my first legal drink the week I got back, which was interesting. I planned to see someone who I hadn’t seen in almost year, and hadn’t really been close with for much longer. Donning makeup for the first time in a while, I rode down to Nairobi with my family’s trusted taxi driver, Alfred. We ranted about Donald Trump in the car. In my humble opinion, Alfred is more informed about American politics than most Americans.
The drive to Nairobi looks very different at night. There is no withering sunlight to catch the red dirt, the dukas disappear into the darkness, and the faint blueness of the horizon is just visible behind the silhouettes of thousands of dark trees. Nearing the outskirts of Nairobi, the number of matatus increases. They jet through the currents of dark, unlit road, with their flashing neon lights and reverberations of base pulsing into the night air. Deep sea creatures surfacing in the net of nightlife.
I met the friend at a smoky lounge in Nairobi, where I ordered the classic Kenyan drink: a dawa, or “medicine” in KiSwahili. In my personal vocabulary, it’s now known as “poison.” Needless to say, I’m very lucky to have at least one good friend who takes care of me. The worst event of the night was not being carded by the bartender. I was so excited to whip out my new driver’s license and bask in my legally certified entitlement as an adult. The best part of the night was realizing that I had let a gem of a person go undetected for a few years. She’s one who I reconnected with easily.
Besides drinking in Nairobi, I went to church two weeks in a row. I lie very much in the realm of spirituality ungoverned by the religious hand, but I love the community of my parents’ church. St. Julians is a very small Anglican gathering in the highlands around Limuru. Whenever I go, I am immediately embraced, included, and listened to. The people here have been an enormous part of my recovery process. Many of my former teachers shape the atmosphere of the church, transforming it into a refuge of questioning and a climate of non-judging. I never feel disapproving eyes as I remain seated during Communion. It was lovely to be back with them.
I saw a wonderful teacher who moved away when I was sixteen. During one of my lows of junior year, she offered to let me live with her in the USA. While this never happened, I was overcome with gratitude for her empathy. When I saw her again last week, after two years of separation, we instantly connected on an even deeper level. That same sort of connection reappeared with two friends who graduated before me. And, of course, Favor Ruhiu will always be one of my dearest confidantes.
The real difficulty came in visiting school. It was strangely foreign, overwhelming, and incredibly intimate at the same time. Maybe this is what newborn babies feel like when thinking about the womb. The green lockers, the beautiful pale-stoned walkways, the wide fields. The stone buildings, and open staircases. Faces, going about their regular business, surprised to see me. Apart from a few who beamed to see me, I felt unknown, a grown cub on the outskirts of a new litter. Me, a trinket thought to be gone, randomly appearing around some unexpected corner.
I ran with some of the members from the P.E. class that I used to be a teacher’s assistant to. Honestly, that was the highlight of my time spent back at school. When it was time for me to go, I told them the things I had always wanted to say – that it was the most healing part of my recovery to be with them, to be their role model, to be there for them. I thanked them for letting me be their coach, for taking what little I could offer them. Then I said goodbye, leaving them with my email address. Hopefully it can be a lifeline for them, a girl from the past who will come running alongside them, pushing them to make it to the finish line. I want to always be their coach.
I should have been confident, walking into my old classrooms. But I was overcome with something, touched by some sort of emotion I don’t understand enough to define. It was odd. The people I felt closest to, in the spaces of time between us, were the ones most difficult to reignite. I realized that the river keeps running in my absence, and I’ve been reincarnated into something other than that river. Maybe I was always something other than that river. Maybe the people I felt closest to have always known this, that I’m more rain and not river. Maybe they want me to anchor myself elsewhere now. In a bittersweet way, I’m glad that I got closure.
Here I wander, while wandering out of the past.