On Homesickness and Joy

Yesterday I woke up sluggish and heartsick.

bikingNOLAI was dreaming of home, of biking through the Garden District on my way to spending a leisurely day in the French Quarter, when my alarm sounded.  My bike toppled over and my eyes snapped open.   Instead of cobble-stoned pavement I saw white sheets and a beige wall and I remembered: I am in Kenya.

I got up and made breakfast, going through the motions of chopping and eating while I felt a pit widening between my heart and my stomach.

I was homesick.

Stepping out of the house into the already warm African air I sighed and started my walk to OLPS, avoiding eye contact with the boda-bodas that sit outside of my gate.  The swishing sound of brooms sweeping the evening’s dust out the door filled my ears, but I missed the sound of the street car and the lone saxophonist that wanders up and down St Charles.

As I made my first turn I took a deep breath.  The scent of dirt and chickens filled my nose and I raised my head, meeting the eyes of a woman passing by with a jerry can on her head.  I gathered my courage, opened my mouth and greeted her.

“Habari?”

How are you?

Her stoic face melted away and a smile lit her face.

“Mzuri!”

I am fine!

And I smiled back.

Slowly I started greeting the people staring at me, the odd mzungo walking through their neighborhood.  The men sitting in the shade of a Jacaranda tree with their motobikes waved enthusiastically, shouting words I have not yet learned in Swahili and Luo, bringing yet another smile to my face as my homesickness eased.

Enthusiastic greetings, wherever I go!

Enthusiastic greetings, wherever I go!

Twenty minutes later I reach the office.  Before I can even get to my desk, I meet many people with wide smiles and inquiries about my health and how I slept.  Jael is always effusive, kissing my cheeks and giving me a tight hug like we haven’t seen each other in months instead of hours.

I have been greeted by a dozen people before I finally sit in my chair and flick on the fan.  I feel the last of my homesickness sift away, replaced by the pure joy in every person’s smile.

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