No one told me I could catch a bus from Kampala to America. After 14 hours the driver said we had reached Nairobi, but judging by my immediate culture shock, I was clear it wasn't the East Africa I knew. Nice cars, trendy clothes, huge buildings, malls... with elegant christmas decorations... with health food stores. The other thing that convinced me I was home was having Thanksgiving with family. Not my family exactly, but Janna's family! I cannot even put into words the warmth and generosity they welcomed us into their home with. And while the food was the traditional delicious american feast, the group was quite international- many americans, an Egyptian family, a Korean friend, and a Kenyan baby! As the hodge podge of us spent the day together talking, laughing, and telling our stories I could not believe how accepted and comfortable I felt. Finding home in a group of strangers is a precious thing and one I will be thankful for for many years to come.
After several refreshing days, we continued on to the Kenyan coast where we were again surprised. We thought we were going to a nice resort, but it was more like a geriatric ward for skin cancer. Everyone was over the age of 60, and most of them were wearing their swimming suits from high school. If that wasn't creepy enough, so many of them were there with young beautiful Kenyans. It made my heart ache to see what absorbent amounts of wealth and vacations can lead people to do. Since we weren't planning on making many friends with the residents we spent a lot of time talking to the hotel staff and a group of Masai men who sold things on the beach. Most Americans know something about the Masai, they love cows, kill lions, and wear lots of beautiful jewelry, but I was not prepared for actually being friends with them! Besides being some of the most gorgeous unique looking people I have ever met, they were so kind to us and told incredible stories. Our last night at Mombassa our friends and 20 of their cohorts came to the hotel and did their traditional dances. I don't know if I have ever been so captivated by anything in my entire life. In fact I may have caught myself wishing that one of them would come steal me away to be their wife and live in the bush where I could wear red dresses and raise beautiful lion-killer babies. Sadly I did not become a captive, but one of them did give me his business card... so if I never come home you'll know what happened to me.
Finally it was time for the last leg of our trip- Zanzibar. My grandma's half sister has lived there for 4 years, working with the Clinton foundation and has now started her own NGO called Participate Now. She is an amazing networker and was a great hostess. In a letter I wrote to a friend, this is how I described Zanzibar-
this island smells like spices; nutmeg, ginger, cloves... also like inscents, and of course, it smells like the sea. the rainy season has just ended and still the humidity sticks all over your skin and you breath it in with heavy mouthfuls of spicy air. The sun's intensity burns any exposed skin, no matter how tan, so it's best to cover up with a shawl that will be damp and heavy within a few minutes of stepping outside. Everyone is covered up anyway though, because Zanzibar is a Muslim island. The call to prayer sets the cycle of daily life and it's easier to tell time by Arabic then by the sun. But you wouldn't have to know that to know that Zanzibar is a spiritual place. Like the humidity, you feel it to your core. It's a safe spirit however, not oppressive or distressing, and it gives a sense of security and wonder as you wind your way around town. Winding, of course, is the only way to get anywhere there. The streets are so narrow that cars can only pass down a few, causing the innards of the town to feel like alleyways, mysteriously inviting and surprisingly clean. It's almost certain that you will get lost, and just as certain as that if you walk long enough you'll reach the ocean. Wandering, even lost wandering, though the town is comparable to touring an art museum. The buildings, with influence of Portugal, Arabia, Oman, Great Britain, and the local motif, are the most uniquely beautiful I have ever seen. Then, if that weren't enough to keep your attention, the people themselves are equally as modge-podge, blending and contrasting in ways that an artist would be lucky to be able to capture. There are spiraling staircases, old pirate-looking sail boats, deep slave caves, mangoes, mosquitoes, mosques, bikes with baskets on the front, big wooden doors and a million other things that would make anyone fall in love with this strange place.
As you can tell, I had a wonderful vacation. But it is SO good to be home. Back to friends and freedom, back to a schedule and my room, back to work and back to church. And best of all... back to CHRISTMAS! Chelsea and I bought a fake tree and ugly ornaments, so tonight will be the decorating extravaganza! I hope you all are doing well and getting excited for winter holidays.