January is a hot month. Life trickles through each day like moisture cracking through the sweltering dirt. Kenya is dry; only Tigoni faintly holds onto green.
My month mainly revolves around getting a visa to India, sacrificing hours in a hot taxi, peddling to and from the Indian embassy which rises out of the heart of downtown Nairobi. An old building hidden between the streets of aging skyscrapers, it could not be more different from the US embassy which is more an impenetrable battleship than anything else.
I walk through the doors nervously, grasping all of my papers and my passport with pale knuckles. The embassy is quiet; I see only traces of a few people gathering down hallways or edges of shoes ascending flights of stairs. After some confusion with the wrong signs and too many floors on the elevator, a nice woman in one of the top offices tells me where to go.
I wait, and wait, and wait. I feel tension burning up into my body. I think back to chemistry class when we boiled mysterious substances in Bunsen burners. I try to apply the techniques we learned in the lab to my stifling anxiety. Hotter, hotter, let it boil – stop! Let it cool. Cool it down. There we go. Relax.
It’s finally my turn. I get up, walking over timidly to the visa officer sitting at the front of the room. I’m aware of eyes on me from behind, waiting for their turn to speak to the man behind the desk.
The visa officer is very kind, yet I leave without a visa. He doesn’t know if I should be given a student or a tourist visa. Tourist, I think desperately during the entire conversation. I know I need a tourist visa. I’m dead certain. Yet I am unable to find the words to express my sureness from behind a blanket of fear that, if I fight too hard, I will sever all my chances of scooping up the visa. So I leave, quietly, passively, boiling on the inside.
Through emails and changing online appointments and by receiving special permission, I find myself shortly back at the embassy. This time, I know what I will say. I feel immense relief when I hand over my passport, knowing that the next time I lay eyes on it, a visa will be buried deep in its folds like a pearl.
The weeks tick by, days heavy, minutes with drooping, sleepy eyes. The day comes when the rooster crows thrice, and I finally hold my passport again, Indian visa glued perfectly on one of the back pages. I sit down to make sure that it’s real, and an old Indian man next to me smiles, saying, “Look! There it is! Congratulations.”
Suddenly time lurches forward like a dam bursting free. I go to St. Julian’s with my parents one last time, feeling like Major Tom about to launch off to the unknown. I sit in the quiet church, so many loving faces there that fill the strange, unsynchronized gaps of time January has become.
I think about Christianity a lot as I sit in the back of the church on a hard wooden pew. I feel the usual bitterness rise in me, the blatant, harsh skepticism that I’ve nurtured over the past few years. Yet most painful of all is the longing that counterbalances it, the knowing that there is something more than hypocrisy to this religion I once called home.
The time for Communion approaches, and I feel myself sinking tight and determinedly to the wood below me. Never, I think. Not then, not now. Never.
“Even if you have some sort of relationship with God, you are invited to his table.” The speaker’s voice is powerful in the robes of liturgy. Maybe so powerful and so true that I find myself standing, shuffling forward to the altar. I take a gluten-free cracker, dip it in the rich purple wine, and bite down hard before I have a chance to change my mind.
Don’t think this is over yet, You, I say to whatever part of It I think is out there. This is just a truce. I’ve still got some fight left in me. With that thought I cannot help but think of Abraham wrestling with an angel, one of the few dim Bible stories I can actually remember. I sit down hard.
My last day in Kenya I choose to spend doing taekwondo with Mr. David. As I lace up my tennis shoes, I realize how much I will miss him. I wonder if he will miss me; he seems to be so alive in each moment, so steadfast. I wonder if my departure will simply be like a change in the constellations to him – noticeable, maybe, but nothing that interferes with the stable rhythm of his life.
The unbroken intensity of the January sun has suddenly disappeared behind clouds as we set out on the pavement, running towards the forest. Will it rain? I think, hope in the air. It’s not possible, or is it?
It is. The rain materializes only to dust the baking Earth for a few glorious seconds, and then it is gone in the blink of an eye. And for the second time before leaving on an adventure, I find myself outside, blessed by the rain of my home.
I am nyambura, girl born in the rain.