I lived in a stone house, half-dipped in yellow painted concrete,
10 Mulberry Court, Edenville, Kiambu County, Nairobi, Kenya,
Africa, Eastern Hemisphere.
You could call it “Eastern”, I suppose, because, yes,
if you drive downtown you’ll find slender skyscrapers,
funny little dukas, patched into a cityscape backdrop;
if you walk down Kiambu road or catch a bus for 10 bob,
there’s the Quickmart, where we would buy jugs of milk
or olives, cheese, and tomato sauce to make pizza;
there’s rush hour traffic: matatus, buses, toyotas, bodas, bikes, carts, and people
laced together in an intricate system of movement and rhythm:
hooting and flashing, kicking up dust, inching between lorries,
one hand on the steering wheel, conductors hollering in Kiswahili,
Hope FM or Classic 105 riding above the engine’s low, intermittent revs.
When I was six years old, I doddled in the kitchen,
leaning against the pantry door, mom explaining how pregnancy tests work
(sister B was cooking, for sure, like a biscuit, rising in the warm tummy-oven).
That night I asked my mom,
“Are we going to live in a hut?”
In my mind, I had the perfect image:
yellow soil spread for miles, twelve scattered huts with poop-matted walls,
just us, the stray neighbourhood families, the goats, and the goat-herders,
our own perfect village.
Silly, I know. Instead, I grew up in many houses, though for the sake of simplicity,
I’ll say I grew up in 10 Mulberry Court, Edenville, Nairobi, Kenya, Africa, Eastern Hemisphere,
an almost lonesome neighbourhood nestled in stretches of coffee fields,
plopped in the city, an oasis. At 6am we would find our way
through the brambly green and robust, red arabica fruits,
in the mist, our hoodie drawstrings tied,
cloth around our faces and shukas about our shoulders,
from the water tower or the curb watching the horizon ripen:
deep, ultramarine blue, cracking into gold, casting a little heat onto our upturned faces.
My senior year of highschool,
on the last day I saw my friends all together,
before we, like shattered clay, split and scattered to new schools, cities, and countries,
we spent one more morning just like this.
Shukas spread on the red dirt and all our child-bodies
huddled together, trying to turn our backs against the inevitable pull of time,
catching one last glimpse of each other’s smiles, eyes, and the sunrise.
In two months, 31.06.17, I was leaning back into an airplane seat,
watching Kenya slope away like wine being drained from a glass
‘till it’s gone. I wanted to swing against my pantry door,
with all my heights marked on it with pencil,
and ask my mom,
“Are Americans shallow? Are they all caught up in materialism?”
In my mind, I tossed around these stereotypes.
Silly, I know. If anything, I have had to swallow my own shallowness,
pry my fingers from the earth,
from those landscapes, from 10 Mulberry Court, from the old curb.
I’ve swivelled on my heels and found a new address:
501 College Avenue, Wheaton, IL, 60187, United States of America,
North America, Western Hemisphere.
You could call it “Western”, I suppose, because of the quiet suburban life,
or the empty Chicago streets, all right-angles and stop-lights on a Sunday morning,
and because, like any other place, you’ll find all sorts of people,
some who think like you and some who don’t,
all groping along in this shadow land, peppered with light,
hoping to stumble into one another for a little relief, a little home, a little bit of God,
a little ease from the lonely life.