Today, I've chosen to write about a difficult topic that is close to my heart. I always say that as our hair grows, life goes on. In fact the latter happens with more frequency than the former.
When I say 'life goes on' I'm talking about how we wake up on Monday mornings, chug a cup of coffee and run out the door. Some days are easier than others, but for many students studying away from home or abroad, depression and loneliness are very much a part of this everyday routine. This is a particularly personal topic for me because both these ills still plague me more frequently than I like to admit, even though I have been in and out of the diaspora for almost seven years. But most importantly, this is a topic that moves me (to tears) because I have lost two close friends to depression-related suicide.
Truth is. It's hard to be abroad. Alone. In a new culture. Alone. Alone.
1. You're learning a lot more than what's in your books. You have to learn how to battle the chills of winter by looking at what your peers wear because that koti (coat) that you bought at Toi Market, is not only paper thin, it also is quite tardy. "How do African American's manage to look so clean?" is a statement I've heard severally.
2. You're away. You miss everything - memories made at Ozone and on weekend trips to Naivasha. It's HARD to see your friends thriving in Kenya *insert your home country/town*. You wonder what it is that you have come to chase hapa uzunguni (here in the white man's land). Life is too short after all, and nope, you aren't all that happy here.
3. You're always adjusting. You realize that you know very little about America's social fabric. American's are akward. Why are they so taken up by race issues? You realize that the countless hours you spent watching movies and playing Grand Theft Auto hardly prepared you for this life. Americans are complex people. So complex, that even if you had dinner with one of them last night, the next day they walk right past you. You are left wondering if your brown skin equates you to a tree.
4. And on that note, you miss saying "habari ya leo" (Greetings!) to each passerby. So you just say it in your head when you pass by the-girl-you-thought-was-your-new-friend-because-you-had-dinner-last-night. Greeting people, after all, is a signifier of courtesy that you should not forget as an African.
5. You're reminded that this is not your home. Nope it isn't...especially when everyone leaves campus for winter break and you are stuck with nowhere to go. The dining halls are closed and you have no car to take you to the shopping center. You can't walk there either because you'll freeze in the negative 30 degree celcius weather. So you jikaza (endure) and you spend every dime you earned working $8.75 wiping tables in the dining hall, on ordering in once a day. You might as well have been a construction worker in Nairobi's industrial area. The struggle is the same, isn't it?
But you have to learn to stay afloat. Paddle as hard as you can. Keep your head up.
1. Write your thoughts. Acknowledge what you are feeling. Let the paper soak in your fears and concerns, your longings and desires.
2. Count time and count your blessings one by one. I know I have 104 days till I graduate. I know too that I am beyond blessed to be healthy, to have a roof over my head and to be snuggly sat on my own bed as I type this out.
3. Celebrate daily victories! Oh yes..! I have video journals in which I self-coach and in which I record every kind action that day. "So and so opened the door for me. The sun felt good on my face today. Etc etc."
4. Find an outlet. This could be through joining a dance team or simply exercising daily. Getting your body moving actually makes you feel alive! You might even start a blog. Like Craving Yellow. :-) Find a way to keep the energies - both negative and positive, moving! Also, stay away from alcohol and drug use as much as you can - realize that American and British students drink a lot.
5. Reach out. Call home - Rebtel is a WONDERFUL service that allows you to call home at local phone rates. Go home - as frequently as you can. I have a friend who set up a GoFundMe account and raised enough money to go home for the first time in four years. Call your friends in other universities - we are all in the same boat, we can find humor in the struggle.
Realize that it will take a while to feel mainstream, that's if you ever do.
Embrace your journey. You are a work in progress.
You don't have to apologize for how you've changed. I remember going home and saying "where's the gas station?". My friend looked at me and said "you mean petrol station? Ai Tabitha hata kama!" They don't realize that you've had to tweak your accent to be understood (Americans have the laziest ears) or simply to be less exoticized. You're tired of people asking you if you are the heir to a kingdom or if you have elephants in your backyard. (Coming to America did us illlll!!)
Embrace your change. It's part of your evolution...your growth. Shine. Beam. Radiate.
Realize that this moment in your life is not a waste. You have lots to learn. Embrace the lessons. Being alone abroad is scary - but now that I'm coming out of the other side of the tunnel, I can testify that it has been worth it.
Self Love is a self-portraiture piece that memorializes a day on which I was beyond homesick. To release my anxieties, I decided to play with make-up and take a gazzilion selfies. How many ladies reading this feel me on this one? Haha! Afterwards, I felt relieved.
It's okay to bask in your own sunshine...however dim it may feel at the moment.
May love, hope, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and joy be yours today!