Written on 2nd May 2015
The street lights whizz past me as I stare blankly into the horizon from the car window. The landscape is a haphazard collection of large elegant skyscrapers and old traditional houses. It is a bumpy journey; the road isn’t fully tarmacked and there is dust flying as the car works its way through the potholes.
Some twenty four hours ago, I was sat by the window in a train sprinting through greater London. The context is the same but very different. This time, I was staring at green fields dotted with industrial outfits, homes and whatever else that could be broadly categorised as suburban English architecture.
These two moments are symbolic – one defines my past and the other, my present. Confusing, I know. And that is exactly what the eighteen year old girl who took that one way journey from Nairobi to London experienced a decade ago. Confusion, excitement, apprehension.
The recent focus on Immigration with the upcoming UK elections has forced me think about the series of events that made my life. I moved to London from Nairobi in 2005, in pursuit of higher education and then a career. The nature of globalisation and fate has created the beautiful coincidence that has allowed me to now work with East African clients.
It was in the guise of this career that I returned to Kenya last month after a decade. ‘Why didn’t you go back for so long?’ is a question I’m always asked. Because I was taking time to experience the world. To take in what London had to offer, and travel to places I had only dreamt off that were now within my reach. It may sound ridiculous to say it but I was fairly certain of where I came from, and what my roots are. I just wanted to embrace whatever else was out there… Is that really so wrong? A lot will be quick to judge and say that I can’t have valued my Kenyan upbringing that much if I didn’t bother reconnect in a decade. I beg to differ.
Regardless, a decade later, I found myself back in the buzzing streets of Nairobi. A decade has changed everything. I have now been welcomed to super highways, skyscraper galore and grids of traffic lights that would confuse a very advanced Westerner. While there is still a lot to be done to improve general poverty and infrastructure, I do believe the wheels of it are in motion. What I saw made me very proud of what Kenya had achieved since I bid her adieu. What I saw was not third world. I liked what I saw.
And yet, amongst the crazy buildings, machinery and all the motions that invite development, one thing was exactly the same – the warmth of the people. Now I am not generalising here – I can’t speak for the hearts of the 50 million people that inhabit Kenya. And the proof is the pudding – the last year has seen some awful terrorist atrocities materialise in Kenya…. Awful acts that only the most evil beings could ever plan and execute. However, there is a warmth in Kenya. Of the welcoming smiles of strangers on the streets of Nairobi, of a genuine happiness that I had come back ‘home’ after ten years when I spoke to my taxi driver.
I contrast this to the London I first experienced – that of cold strangers walking through the streets of the busy city centre with a false sense of urgency and a cast iron stiff jaw. This same London that I grew to love very much for exposing me to so much of the world, opening my eyes to cultures and things I had never known. And for allowing the wide eyed, smiley little girl that arrived on its doorstep from Nairobi a decade ago to add to the already confused diversity of Britain’s capital.
And yet it saddens me that parts of society (mainly politics driven) are still stuck in that old school anarchical world where the topic of discussion is still centered around the pros and cons of immigration and diversity as we know it. The same immigration and diversity that has made my life and that of many Londoners much more interesting and much more whole. And, that too, in an era where the world is shrinking, where we come from and how we got here is largely irrelevant. There is already too much conflict in the world based on differences of people due to their religion and origins… Upsetting the balance in a society which works despite of and because of its people’s differences is foolish at its best and catastrophic at its worst.