Living in Kenya, there is far less a concept of personal space or personal time as there is in the West. When I am at work, obviously these concepts have no hold, as I am expected, and offer myself, to help with computer problems for anyone in the lab. But even at home it can be a bit difficult to truly get personal time, especially when newly settling in (a year or so ago for me), as there are higher expectations for social interaction with neighbors here than in the West. Finally, even in the city where one might assume the anonymity a crowd provides would allow one to go about unmolested, my white skin makes me a target for the drunks, the street children, the beggars, the safari touts and sometimes even just random people who, for some reason, feel entitled that I give them my email or mobile phone number. Personal space? Personal time? There are few bubbles in Kenya.
However, every day, I have a little bit of time. Four minutes. I have four minutes. It’s a glorious time. It’s in the evenings, after I close the lab. Most people at NYS have already gone home an hour earlier, so there are very few people just walking about. I am not expected at home until I get home (a nice thing about Kenyan culture), and very few people take my path home from the lab anyways, leaving me often alone.
It’s not just that I have four minutes to myself. These four minutes, from door to door, are some of the most vibrant minutes of my day. It is the evening, so the sun is setting, and as my pictures have shown, Kenya consistently pulls through with beautiful sunsets. If the sun is not a soothing, pastel orange and purple, it is a breathtaking deep blue and red. The colors play off the clouds creating depth and texture to the limitless canvas of the sky.
Against this backdrop is the wildlife. Butterflies flit about, from mango to fallen mango, sapping at their nectar and then lifting off again without a care in the world. Watching two butterflies dance is one of the most wonderful sights, your own private performance of Nature’s ballet. Though you are not really alone, as the monkeys scamper about through the grass. Monkey children looking on curiously as their mother shoes them up a tree; the males walking about casually, acting as if they don’t notice you, distracting you, and once the family is safe, bolting off into the undergrowth themselves.
Once in while I find a monitor lizard sunning himself in the last rays of the day before the cool night sets in. Or possibly a green tree snake making its way along a branch avoiding the larger monkeys when possible, lest they knock it out. The ground is the domain of the ants, especially after the rains as they march about the surface excavating their homes flooded by the downpours. I just need to make sure not to step in their path, as disrupting a colony of ants moving house can be quite an unpleasant experience.
These four minutes are rejuvenating. After them, I find myself prepared to tackle whatever social situation my night demands, or perhaps whichever unfortunate circumstance has befallen my domicile, such as losing electricity or water or a bug infestation or power surge that has burned-out everything. Though my walk might not vary; though it may be short, it allows me a deeper understanding of the place, a deeper appreciation of it. For when we are constantly moving around from location to location, we never really appreciate our impact on any one spot, which can be a problem when our impact may in fact be harmful. This is part of why Peace Corps keeps us in our spot for two years while other programs move volunteers in and out in a revolving door: so that our actions might properly impact our ecosystem; so that we might affect change without disrupting the butterflies’ dance, or the monkeys play or the lizards sun-bathing; so that our change is just as natural and permanent as everything that is already here.