Distance. Choice. Lessons. Change. These’ve been stirring in my mind since I left college close to four years ago. After graduating from the safe, paradise-like confines of Pomona College, I decided to move to Nairobi, Kenya. A place I love. A place I loath. A place that has taught me what it really means to live life, in all of its nuances.
This journey started in February 2012, when I decided to leave all I know and move to Nairobi with a half-baked job promise, a dream (or maybe a delusion) to start an exciting music career, and a need to rediscover passion for life. I was still steeped in grief, having lost the cornerstone of my life, my mother, just a month after graduation. The rug of safety, security, love, and hope had been pulled from under me. My life had forever been altered, and I had to deal with it or it would deal with me.
I needed something new, a fresh start. Leaving the US and moving back to my cultural and familial home was my strategy. Never having lived or spent any significant amount of time in Kenya, I thought it best to explore the place that floated in and out of conversations, interactions, and nostalgic dialogues like a ghost, as I grew up in America. Kenya was a familiar stranger, and I wanted to know it, love it. And so, I decided to tackle Nairobi, the city of wonder, excitement, and straight realness.
So much has happened since I took that Turkish Airlines flight to Jomo Kenyatta Airport. I would need a book or a feature film to really illustrate the stories, triumphs and downfalls, loves and losses. But the following are three lessons that embody what I have learned as I have been growing into myself:
- Trust Your Decisions
One month in, I was mugged on the street. I moved houses every six months because I struggled to find housing that was both safe and affordable. I worked jobs making peanuts, whereas my peers back at home were working at consulting and pharmaceutical firms making 4 times more. My first two years here, I felt like a failure. I didn’t have a purpose or plan. I was consistently restless, always wandering. I constantly questioned my decision to move to Nairobi. But I have slowly come to realize that everything that happens in life happens for a reason. Because of the losses, the confusion, the instability, I have learned the importance of perseverance and honestly feel I have grown in character. I doubt I could have found this level of understanding at any school. Through all the pain, I have achieved amazing successes, such as touring as a back-up singer with one of Kenya’s acclaimed songstresses. I reconnected with my family in Kenya and gained pride in my cultural heritage. I’ve even become conversant in a new language, Swahili. It is these moments that make the journey worthwhile, and these moments can only arrive when you trust and remain confident in your decisions.
- Community Will Take You Far
The only reason that I have been able to survive and thrive in Nairobi is because of the support systems I have built and nurtured while living here. When I moved, I began working at an arts hub as a project manager, and that’s where I created my family away from home. Through my colleagues, the people I met at events, and people I grabbed coffee with, I have slowly nurtured a supportive community that has seen me through the heartbreaks, confusion, joys and elations. Being very intentional about finding and keeping good, loving, people around you will provide that safety net for when things are topsy tervy, and also will be a pool of amazing and unforgettable memories.
- You Choose Life
After my mom passed, I really felt like I lost my passion and motivation for life. I started to withdraw from friends and family. I lost interest in the activities that would usually make me happy. I started and quit jobs left and right, unmotivated and frustrated because there seemed to be no point in anything. I was consistently unhappy, isolated, restless; I felt hopeless. I soon learned that I was allowing life to choose my fate instead of me choosing life. Terrible, life-altering, things happen to us every day, and it is up to us to decide if we are going to accept the reality and then begin the journey of creating a new reality – one that may be different, but maybe just as beautiful as the old.
My time in Nairobi is still far from over. My fledging singing career is starting to take off, and I still have so much to learn. But in this new phase of my time here, I no longer doubt that I made the right decision. I am living in the moment, and am thriving. I am coming into adulthood, stronger, healthier, and with conviction.
Miriam Ayoo wrote this piece for Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. Miriam is a global wanderer, who is experiencing the beauty of life one day at a time. An aspiring singer, she spends her days convincing herself that one day she may actually make a living out of it. She loves indie films, D’ Angelo, and Kenyan samosas.