The mosquitoes woke me up at two and five this morning. Our hot water heater exploded a couple of days ago; I haven't washed my hair since Monday. The frozen shrimp I bought for dinner last night were slightly off. My dinner guests and I are on the watch for food poisoning.
My ever-overloaded backpack just exploded all over Yaya Center. The bottle of sunscreen I was carrying popped out and wheeled through the air, leaving sticky white goo all over me and the counter of the coffee shop where I'm sitting. The French ex-pat down the counter from me is drinking his first Tusker of the morning and looking at me like I couldn't be more crass.
It's one of those days. You know, the days when Murphy's long arm is meddling in all your business.
And still, somehow, I am laughing. This is what Kenya has done to me. I am just happy here.
Despite political turmoil. Despite not being able to walk safely on the roads at night. Despite being constantly overcharged for fruit and taxi rides. Despite no access to fresh seafood. Despite an ever-expanding network of fine lines, a product of fair skin and the equatorial sun. Despite horrific traffic on bad roads. Despite a steadily shrinking bank balance and no steady income.
I am just happy here.
I came to Kenya seven months ago. Journalists for Human Rights sent me here to "build the capacity" of Kenyan journalists to report on human rights abuses. I had never been to Africa before. I took a leave of absence from a fun job as a news producer and fill-in host for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
I expected culture shock. I expected professional frustration. I expected sunburns and a lingering sense of groundlessness.
But this happiness, I didn't expect it.
This blog is called 8 Months, but I've decided to extend my time here indefinitely. My work for Journalists for Human Rights and the African Woman and Child Feature Service is over. I have no guaranteed income. I am staying anyhow, and not just for the inexplicable happiness.
I am staying for the myriad professional and personal challenges I face here every day.
It's not only bad shellfish. Every day I find out how little I know: about this country, about reporting, about myself. Every day I have to negotiate unexpected circumstances: attempting to file audio clips when all the Internet connections in Nairobi are slowed to a snail's pace, trying to find an electrician to fix the blown hot water tank, sweet talking security guards who want to confiscate my equipment before a big interview.
I am never bored in Kenya.
Every day there are more juicy stories on my want-to-cover list. Sometimes I wish for more hours in the day. Sometimes I wish I needed less sleep. I have never been so professionally stimulated.
I look at the list of want-to-cover stories taped to the wall above my little desk and my blood pressure spikes. It's not stress. It's excitement. There is so much work to do here. There are countless stories going untold.
As a freelancer, I am free to focus on the stories behind the stories. I am able to spend time on multiple, long interviews with one person who is not a news-maker. I can assign myself a story about local musicians, another about new agricultural technology and a third about international business. I can choose to ride my bicycle around the city for a day because, after seven months here, I know a great story will find me if only I keep my eyes and ears open.
That's why I'm staying in Kenya.
I have so much to learn. My Swahili is elementary. Kenyan political history is a tangled knot of tribe, party and corruption that I am only beginning to understand. But somehow, being an ignorant white woman works for me here. It gives me license to ask elementary questions, to play dumb, to be consciously oblivious.
And now that I am beginning to figure out how to be a reporter here - it requires a different skill set than North American reporting - I can ask those elementary questions of all sorts of people. I trust my intuition, and my naivete. I also trust my ability to bring notes back to my little desk, pump out a decent story and cross one more idea of my want-to-cover list.
As long as that list keeps growing, I will stay here. As long as I continue to be elated at new story ideas, I can't imagine why I would choose to be anywhere else.
Sometimes my joy here does leave me feeling guilty about not feeling guilty. Why should I be so happy in a country where many people are struggling on multiple fronts?
I soothe my conscience by reminding myself that Africa is still a 'dark continent' as far as much of the world is concerned; there are still people who think Africa is one country.
There are countless people in this country and this region whose stories are going untold. In some small way, I can help carry a few of those voices around the world. I can use my pen and microphone to help us understand one another a little better.