I just returned from a trip to Kenya. It was beautiful. The weather was warm, my family there was happy and healthy, and I was by myself in the town of my childhood for a while. I visited friends, stayed up late and generally did what I wanted. However, I always come away from these trips a little conflicted. Let me try to explain.
Depending on who I am talking to, trips to Nairobi can be called “a trip home”, “a trip to see my parents”, or simply “a trip to Kenya”. Somehow I am unable to find a label that sticks. It seems to reflect poorly on me to call it “home” in front of my wife, for example. Whereas calling it the same thing in front of an old Kenyan friend seems right. This is strange. The place does not change. Simply my label for it.
Since I went to boarding school overseas (sunny England) aged 15 I have been returning to Kenya, to the exact same house I grew up in. I tend to revert to a sort of adolescence and a role in the Kenya house. This is the case even though I have a very happy home and family of my own in South Africa. I heard the experience described as a “dance” we have with our original family members. A choreographed sequence of interactions and emotions. Over the years I have simultaneously missed the old dance (homesickness) and realised the need to escape from it and create a new dance with my new family (growing up).
Back in boarding school the homesickness was paralysing. I would miss Kenya so much, ticking the days off my calendar. When I eventually got back for a holiday I would wallow and bathe in the place, saturating myself with familiarity like I was in a warm bath. In the worst case scenario, we never leave our childhood homes. Either physically or psychologically. We are never allowed to grow up and create our own “dance”. We fail to launch. Nowadays of course I miss my parents being overseas, but the “dance” and the power of our old home only hits me once I have arrived in Kenya.
I am grateful that the homesickness and the “family dance” of my childhood is getting further away all the time. It means I am happy with my life. At the same time I am so lucky to have such a place to go back to. Trips to Nairobi are now more like a quick holiday rather than an essential recovery or a fix for an ailment. I enjoy them more because of this.
Happy weekend, chimps.