When the plane’s wheels took off of the ground in Omaha I knew that I had made it. The plane was accelerating at the same rate as my heart. I felt like I was a fish back in the water. Maybe because I am in the process of pursuing what The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, would call my Personal Legacy. So even though I had seas to cross, planes to get on, and thousands of miles to travel I knew in that specific moment that I was right where I needed to be. My whole entire life had taken me to that plane seat: 44B.
When I landed in Chicago I met Jacob, a student from Iowa who I will travel with and will occasionally work with at ICIPE in Mbita. He has a background in FFA and I look forward to becoming good friends with my travel partner throughout the next eight weeks. From Chicago, we flew to London where we had a three-hour layover. We tried the coffee and tried to get a better feel for London, even if it was just from walking around the airport.
I have found that if an airport had to fill out a blank that read “Culture:” the airport would have the say “not available.” Culture is how people interact naturally in the place that they call home, and the airport is where people interact while no one is at “home.” It’s hard or even impossible to see what a country or a city is like from the airport in that location. Everything is generalized and has a variety of options. There isn’t a native language proudly placed on signs and screens, but rather five or six. Thre isn’t a clothing “norm,” but rather hundreds.
When we finally landed in Nairobi from London, we stood in line for probably an hour going through customs. I learned that my suitcase was still in London but should be here today or tomorrow. Then we met the very kind Caroline and Peter who took us to ICIPE Guest Center in Nairobi. It was a dark forty-minute drive from the airport. I strained and squinted trying to imagine the city during the day. I think that I was actually experiencing culture shock for the first time in my life. It made me quiet and timid. Between the delayed luggage, the dark city, and not knowing what today would look like, my mind was jumbled with too many questions to sort through, so I let myself drift off to the best night of sleep that I can remember.
For the next eight weeks I have a research assignment with ICIPE, the International Centre of Incent Physiology and Ecology. I will be working with farmers in Kenya and potentially Uganda on pesticides, insecticides, and push-pull methods. We will stay in Nairobi until Tuesday and then travel to Mbita where we will meet our supervisors and work on figuring out the specifics of our projects.
Now I am sitting in the Nairobi ICIPE Guest House lobby looking out of an open screen door. After spending summers in a succulent greenhouse it is incredible seeing aeonium succulents as tall as I am and aloe vera plants that I couldn’t pluck out of a pot and put into an arrangement. The first thing that I did this morning as I was walking back from breakfast was pick up a handful of soil and break it up and feel it run through my hand. I would say it’s a clay-silt mix, but more interesting than what I am used to because the color is a deep red. A giant tree with big yellow buds and blossoms towers over the common areas between the different guest houses.
I looked in the mirror when I got back to my room and noticed I had somehow gotten dirt on my face. I laughed as I realized that was the moment that I knew I would find a home with ICIPE here in Kenya. I can’t wait to get my hands dirty later this week as I get to work with my supervisors in Mbita. I am ready for more. More Kenya, more ICIPE, more experiences, and hopefully more luggage.