Sunday, September 4, 2011

Home Sweet Home

I used to think the place Africa held in my heart was based in a romanticized notion of an exotic land far from home. But I’m tired of discrediting how I feel about the continent. The truth of the matter is I have felt more at home in Nairobi in my first 24 hours here than I did in the past year and a half in Canada. There’s no reason not to love being in a place where people smile regularly; where your view on the world matters more than what you wear; where you can eat non-processed food and where most foreigners are here out of some desire – well-placed or not – to create positive change.

Everything has been super smooth so far - I taught the official at the visa counter at the airport a few words of Arabic; all four of my bags arrived unscathed; the immigration officer believed me when I assured him that all the contents were destined for Dubai and he need not worry what I was bringing into Kenya; and the guest house envoy was waiting for me with my name scribbled onto a piece of cardbaord in what looked like kid’s writing.

The guest house staff greet me with "Good morning! I am fine" every day, before I sit down to an eggs and beef sausage breakfast, along with the best instant coffee I've ever had. (as you well know, I've drank my fair share of instant coffee).

I walk to work in less than half an hour. The UN Complex is not quite what I expected. Much more human actually, with trees, and green space, and little pools of water with lilypads. (The buildings, though, are as ugly as you might imagine - grey concrete block labelled, creatively, "A", "B", etc... I'm in "Block X"). In the evening -- not that I work long hours or anything -- the place becomes an auditorium of birds and insects who chirp so loud it's overpowering, even from inside the office.

The training has been very informal. More than anything, it's a chance for me to meet with all my bosses and get a sense of direction before heading for the desert - where I will be working in a small office, mostly independently. My bosses (yes, very plural) and colleagues have been very welcoming - to the point, surprise, surprise - that I wish I was posted in Nairobi instead.

I've already run into a bit of UN bureaucracy though. When I asked how I was to be paid – I’ve so far spent hundreds of dollars for which I need to be re-imbursed and am supposed to be receiving a daily stipend to cover my accomodation here - my supervisor looked surprised.

“Didn’t they give you some money?"

“No, I haven’t been given anything.”

The finance officer's response was worse: “I have no idea! Isn’t she supposed to get the money from Geneva? Ask Geneva!”

Otherwise, the first couple days have been really good. People are super nice. The job looks super interesting. (God, Diaz, I keep saying "super this" and "super that" - you're rubbing off!) I've got tons of reading to do to get up to speed on the region, and to understand the ins and outs of humanitarian technicalities (acute malnutrition vs. chronic malnutrition) but I’m excited to get to really throw myself into something. And the people here seem really eager to make me feel like part of a team, and -- equally importantly -- to make me feel needed.

I got to enjoy a bit of Nairobi over the weekend - had some githeri (a stew of beans, maize, carrots and potatos), chapatti and nyama choma (roasted meat); bought some soap-stone plates at the market; watched the Kenya-Guinea Bissau CON qualifer; and spent time with old acquaintances and new colleagues.

It's nice to be home.


Kamal Shaath said...

Keep us posted... and Good Luck :)

Asif said...

I'm glad you are having such an amazing experience in Dubai/Kenya and that you have started up your blog again. It is nice to hear that everyday smiles and over-the-top hospitality still exist!

Let me know when you post your first article for IRIN.


salooly said...

glad to hear you're settling in, Hebs.... keep writing!

April Fong said...

All the best Heba!

Macaca said...

your description of kenya reminds me of india... life is, in some ways, much more liveable in the south, nah?