Back in America – The Home of the Bacon Sundae

8 Jul

343 days and 30 blog posts later, here I am back in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I’ve been home 10 days and have already gotten a heavy dose of America – I’ve attended a baseball game, watched fireworks on the 4th, and….believe it or not…eaten a Bacon Sundae.

It has truly been a privilege to live a year (almost) of my life in Kenya. It has a lot more to offer than safaris and pristine beaches.

Jumping into the deep end, I learned a lot about Kenya’s culture (and the differences within Kenya) and partially assimilated as the months passed by. I’ll miss many things, from the laid back and relational way of living to daily rides on chaotic matatus.

I had an amazing last week in Nairobi. One morning, I went for a final jog and discovered hands down the best view of Nairobi’s skyline, off Cathedral Street.

What a beautiful city. I sure wish that more pictures like this find their way on the internet instead of pictures of only the negative aspects of Nairobi.

My last day at work, I finished the monitoring and evaluation I had been working on and said my goodbyes.

Later that evening, I had a bit of a going away party with the office at Daisy’s home. I went around the room and told everyone what I valued most about them, and then they did the same for me. For dinner, Daisy prepared a perfect Kenyan meal – ugali (solid grits), beef, and sukuma wiki (spinach/kale). We had a great discussion about my time in Kenya. Me volunteering at Maono was mutually beneficial. For example, we all learned about how inaccurate stereotypes are on both the Kenyan and the American end.

On my last weekend, I hung out with my American friends, Tricia and Amelia. We did a few of our favorite things – like eating shawarma and playing mini golf.

And I hung out with Charles and John (Robert is upcountry) one last time. They were my first friends in Nairobi – hard to believe a year had passed since then.

On my last night, Amy and David were in town and had just arrived back from a safari with Amy’s parents, Tom and Lisa, along with sister Laura. They took Amelia, Tricia, and I out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. It was awesome to reconnect with the Wadsworth family…from Shaker Heights and Bellevue all the way to Nairobi…crazy coincidences.

My last day was even more exciting because I happened to get published in the Daily Nation, East Africa’s most-read newspaper. I had been complaining at work about Foreign Policy magazine’s ranking of Kenya as the 16th-most failed state in the world, and a co-worker encouraged me to write an Op/Ed piece. This link may not work, so here’s the text of the article, entitled Kenya a Failed State? On What Evidence? (published June 27, 2012):

“This week, I was surprised to read the 2011 Failed States Index, which was covered extensively in the media. The report, published annually by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, ranks all the world’s countries using 12 indicators of “state vulnerability.” Some of the variables include economic stability, human rights, refugee status, internally displaced persons and security.

One would expect Somalia and DRC to make the top of the list, but surely not Kenya. I was shocked to see Kenya listed as the 16th-most ‘failed’ State in the world. Furthermore, the report claims that all of East Africa is “in danger.”

The kicker is that none of Africa’s 56 countries was considered “stable.” Not even obvious candidates like Ghana, Senegal and South Africa.

Although I am an American citizen, I have lived in Kenya continuously for about a year volunteering with a microfinance organization. While that doesn’t qualify me at all as an expert on Kenyan affairs, I thought the inclusion of Kenya as a failed state is misplaced.

Indeed, I am disappointed by the few who continue to hold a bias towards African countries as poor, unsafe, dirty and incapable of sustainable development.

Of particular note is the “Postcards from Hell” section of the same report, which has posted images of the world’s most failed states. Kenya is represented by a picture of a man lying on the ground covered with blood, his hands clasped. Is this picture a fair and balanced view of life in Kenya? I don’t think so.

Sadly, many people’s views in my country and other places around the world are shaped by what they see in the media and in such over-dramatised reports. Such stereotypes distort far more complex realities and exacerbate insensitive and exploitative relations.

Kenya is quite far from a failed state. On the contrary, it is the shining star of East Africa. It is the economic hub of the region – the telecommunications, transportation, and financial services of East Africa revolve around Kenya.

Definitely, Kenya has its challenges – security needs closer attention, and there is still a lot more to be done to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life. But amplifying these challenges is a real disservice to Kenyans.

True, the sting of the 2007-2008 post-election violence is still with us. Yes, the government has to address corruption and Al-Shabaab has brought fear. But relative to many other countries, Kenya has made impressive strides.”

Since the article has been published, I’ve received roughly 50 e-mails. 85% percent of them are feedback, 10% business solicitations, and 5% request for school fees. It’s been fun interacting with the ones that truly want to have an honest dialogue, but I’ve been surprised at how many people think I can get them a job – I need one myself!

The flight home was smooth enough. As I flew away, I started what has been a long period of processing all I experienced over the past year – and that processing is still a work in progress.

I scheduled an 8-hour layover in London to explore the city. I took the tube into town with the morning commuters. That was my first sense of culture shock – these Brits looked dead, depressed, and mysteriously quiet. Is that the end goal of Western civilization?

I visited the London Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace (and the changing of the guard!), and Big Ben. This Ben is slightly ‘bigger’ than me.

After the Changing of the Guard, I noticed a crowd gathering near Hyde Park. I asked around and found out the Queen would be driving out of the WW2 Bomber Memorial service soon, at half past noon. My flight was scheduled to depart at 2:30PM, a 45-60 minute tube ride away. Sense I’ve never been one to get stressed over time constrictions, I decided to wait. At 12:30, she was nowhere to be seen. 12:40, still nothing. Finally, at 12:50, I said to myself, ‘Ben, this would have been really cool, but it’s just not in the cards today.’ As I walked towards the subway, I heard clapping. I rocketed myself in the other direction and got there just in time to see her waving hand! Here’s a picture of her car in a roundabout (the burgundy one).

In NYC, I stayed with my cousin Tom (Founder of eurocheapo.com and co-host of the podcast Bowery Boys, check both out!) and Guillaume’s place in China Town. They welcomed me warmly and we dined on burritos as big as your head.

The following day, my Dad and Sis picked me up! Soooo great to see them after a whole year.

They picked me up en route to a weekend wedding in Connecticut. Congrats to cousin Tim and Scott. I got to see much of the family from my Dad’s side. It was the perfect homecoming – American food, family, and fun. We even played croquet!

I’ll keep you posted on the next step. I am waiting on a few opportunities to solidify and I plan to go back to Kenya in a few months. Many thanks for following along with my adventure, which will continue!

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5 Responses to “Back in America – The Home of the Bacon Sundae”

  1. macmcnair July 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Well done Ben! Lord bless as you look to the future. Blessings, Mac
    P.S. Did you ever keep count of the Stoneys you drank while in Kenya?

    • Ben August 21, 2012 at 6:22 am #

      Mac, I lost count! Don’t want to have proof of future diabetes, haha!

  2. Tim White July 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    I’m thrilled that you made it all the way to Connecticut for our little event, after a complete year of full-fledged culture jumping! I can hardly imagine the bewildering shock and strange comfort you felt as you catapulted from Africa into a smorgasbord wedding – filled with luxury-like amenities, and all your close family. I hope you had a good time, and Scott & I weren’t kidding about visting you in Kenya. But as for this summer – enjoy Ohio, and enjoy time with your Dad & sis – before she heads to Hawaii, and you head back across the sea.

    • Ben August 21, 2012 at 6:26 am #

      Little event? Your ‘little event’ was the wedding to end all weddings! It was the perfect homecoming for me and so great to celebrate your special day with you & Scott! I’m going back to Kenya in early Sept…and you guys are more than welcome to visit, I’d love it. All the best!

  3. nick September 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    What a wonderful article i have this morning read about my country Kenya, more are going on in the Cities and oi thank you Ben for the wonderful Job, i was asking if you have any rural experience and incase you are currently in Kenya why can we organize and visit with you Rural farmers in Asembo and Homa Bay Nyanza Kenya and share your micro finance skills with rural farmers her, it is quite disheartening to realize that farmers make a lot of money from farming activities and once they get this money they use it to marry more wives and drink alcohol hence remaining poor al hope to hear from you about this endeavor soon. MY e mail address is lewisnick31@yahoo.com

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