The warm night air envelopes my face as I stretch my legs after an 8-hour flight. My mom, brothers, and I wait outside as my dad goes off in search of our driver, Stefan. I smile to myself. The familiar Africa smell is so comforting, so distinct. I love being here, and when our family got the chance to visit a couple weeks before Christmas, we excitedly prepared ourselves for a journey we’d never forget.
The next morning, our adventures begin. I peer out the window of our guest house. Motos, busses, and people scurry throughout the crowded streets of Nairobi, Kenya. Already, I can feel the rush of excitement of being in a different land, a different culture. Little do I know that this place will soon become dear to my heart.
Driving through the streets of Nairobi gives us our first taste of the full African experience. Street vendors come right up to our car windows and offer to sell us overpriced knick-knacks, fruit, and sunglasses (of all things). People gawk at my family, the “mzungus” (white people). Traffic laws are completely ignored, stop signs are merely a suggestion, and the concept of “right of way” is unheard of. Oh, and seatbelts? Highly unnecessary, in the opinion of any and all Kenyans. African traffic is chaotic and (from an American standpoint) dangerous, but there’s something freeing and comforting about being in the middle of a traffic jam in a foreign country, not wearing a seatbelt, totally immersing yourself into a culture that breaks all the norms you’ve ever known. I love it.
The next week our driver, Stephan, takes us to visit our friends who live in a rural part of Kenya. Suddenly, dry season is made evident with a cloud of dust that covers the windows so much we can’t see. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride to say the least, what with potholes, fallen branches, and giant ditches to skirt around. It’s not uncommon to be flung out of your seat onto your neighbor’s lap. I laugh inwardly at the thought of wide, smooth highways in America with enforced traffic laws that scream SAFETY FIRST! While I’m so grateful for that, I relish in the laid-back style of driving on dirt roads with Land Cruisers, always jolting about and having the time of my life. It’s certainly an exhilarating experience.
A few days after arriving in our friends’ town in rural Kenya, they offer to take us to visit some locals. And boy, do these people have big hearts. Families living in one bedroom homes greet us with wide smiles and good food. Compared to our hosts, my family is very wealthy, but nevertheless these kind souls open up their small homes and feed us with delicious goat meat and chapati, which is like an African version of tortillas. Pure generosity overflows from these people and suddenly a bond is formed between two families, two countries, two continents. It’s incredible.
There aren’t many places on earth where I feel a piece of home. But those places that do make my heart feel happy are unique spots, usually consisting of warm people and yummy food (of course). Africa makes the list. With its cultural differences that interestingly enough make me feel as if I fit right in and welcoming individuals that reinforce the old proverb “home is where the heart is,” I can honestly say a piece of my heart is and will forever be resting in Africa.
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