Moving to Kenya to teach and administrate an ESL school has been quite the adventure. I will start from the beginning, and as I tell you keep in mind, that being apart of this experience has only opened my eyes more. I hope that it will do the same for you.
We work within the inner-city of Nairobi, Kenya. We are here to administrate and teach English to those who are striving to become a part of the Kenyan culture themselves. The people we teach are a people who are, trying to keep their own culture alive while fit into their new reality. We teach English to people who are finding refuge in Nairobi, many of whom are dreaming of success and freedom. We teach primarily to the Somali refugees of Nairobi.
It was December 2012, when my husband and I left our home in California. With all our worthy – worldly possessions crammed into 6 bags and we had tears in our eyes. I knew it would be hard, I had been warned it would be hard. We had tears for the miles that would separate us from our family and friends, tears for moving from our home, our culture, and I am grateful for those tears. Had I not had such tears then I would not be able to relate to those we now teach.
Had I not shed a tear when I boarded that plane, I would not be able to relate in any way to the Somali people, to my neighbors, my friends. Their culture is not mine, and their lives lived thus far are vastly different than my own and yet they know my pain of separation from family and home better than some of my friends and family in America. They know what I mean when I say I miss my brother, my parents and homeland. Of course the reason of separation differs vastly as, my separation is by choice and theirs is due to complex religious and political issues of Somalia.
For the past 5 months I have studied their language, experiencing days filled with accomplishment and anguish. I have been frustrated by my mouth’s inability to form words and sentences that truly express what I want to say, and I have yelped in surprise when I find myself understanding Somali. The past 5 months have given another insight that I could not have learned about in book of travel or anthropology. These past 5 months of learning the language of Somali has, without a doubt allowed me to have yet again, another way to relate to the Somali people in Nairobi. And now as I sit in the ESL school and hear the frustrations of our Somali students, as they try to conjugate confusing English verbs, I smile. For I know their pain, just as they know mine.
My struggles in finding my words and missing home have in a way made it easier to belong.
When I return home one day to America, I want those same tears that filled my eyes, only I want them for the longing of those I am meeting today, those who are tolerating me and encouraging me to teach and learn.