“Absence diminishes commonplace passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and kindles fire.” –Francois, duc de La Rochefoucauld
After one year in Uganda and Kenya, I returned to the States for a two-week holiday. In that short fourteen days I fell back into life in the U.S. so seamlessly that my time there seems to have been much longer. It’s true that on the first couple of days Florida felt a bit foreign. The roads a bit too wide, the parking lots a bit too expansive, the palm trees grew in patterns that seemed a bit too planned and orderly. But one week in, and it was almost as if I had never left. As a result, having returned to Nairobi just a fortnight later, I am going through a very peculiar phase. My mind adjusted so quickly to the U.S., that I am looking at Nairobi with a fresh pair of eyes. I feel like a tourist in the very city where I live and work. The avenues I have walked hundreds of times are suddenly smaller. They’re thickly lined with bougainvillea and hibiscus plants that I did not always used to notice. The parking lot at Junction Mall is startlingly tiny, when just two weeks ago that parking lot seemed vast. My perspective has completely changed and it has caught me off guard.
I awoke this morning with an objective. I would go to the corner of George Padmore and Chaka road and get fruit salad. I had gone there once before and ended up ordering one large fruit salad and then another. My friend Roopa laughed at me, and I told her that I have an insatiable appetite for fruit that I don’t have for anything else on earth. Fruit makes me so very happy, I imagine in a way similar to the satisfaction a carnivore gets from flesh ripped hot and fresh from the loins of its prey. Now there’s an image. So I set out to stalk my prey: melons, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, avocados, papayas! I was moments away from bliss.
Jehoshaphat has the keenest eye for ripened fruit this side of the Milky Way. Business at his fruit stall is booming. I asked him, how many customers do you get in a day, twenty? So many, that he didn’t know the number. I took Jehoshaphat’s phone number so that I could call him ahead of time and pick up fruit salad to go. Jackpot. His fruit is delicious, yes, but more than that Jehoshaphat’s sincerity keeps customers coming back. I enjoy his fruit salads immensely, but it is Jehoshaphat who leaves a smile lingering on my face.
The morning got me thinking about my time in Nairobi and the months that had led to that moment. I realized that Nairobi and I have had a rocky relationship, but that something significant had changed recently. Just yesterday I caught a pickpocket on the bus. Just yesterday I was telling my friend Sharon that my jet-lag induced drowsy stupidity was not a good combination for Nairobi’s public transportation. Just yesterday I remembered how strange and lonely this city had been to me so recently. Still, I finally admitted to myself that I have come to regard this place tenderly.
I walked into Premier Touch Restaurant and ordered a fruit juice cocktail and asked for a fork to eat the fruit salad that Jehoshaphat had given me in a take-away baggie. As I sat down at a table right next to the kitchen, Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know came on Classic 105. A clear favorite of the kitchen staff. Whitney, it seemed, was asking me a provocative question. Am I finally starting to feel something for this city? How will I know?
With Kampala it was love at first sight– passionate, a whirlwind affair! Nairobi and I on the other hand have taken time to warm up to each other. Maybe what it took was time apart to realize that Nairobi and I really do have something special going on.