I was standing in the visa line at Kenyatta National Airport, when I had one of the strangest experiences of my life. Waiting on the threshold of what I’ve really started to feel is my love and my purpose, I had the peculiar experience of feeling like I was leaving and coming home at the same time.
With all its cramped matatus and hectic roads, I missed this crazy place, and at the same moment I missed all those dear to me, who I left in the many homes before this one.
It’s hard to believe, but I made it. I’m officially on the other side of the world, and from the moment I touched down Nairobi has given me one crazy journey.
I came here because I believe my role in peace lies in the overworked hands of the Nairobi people. So apropos then that standing on the threshold of my new home clutching the one thing that stands to decide whether I stay or go, I come face to face with my first difficult peace decision.
After being in the visa line for what felt like hours surrounded by people with clothes of all types and origins from blue jeans to saris, I found a man standing beside me with deep brown eyes and stress lines. The people fidgeted back and forth, sighing just a little as they snuck glances at the man with brown, downcast eyes, who had been sent by a visa attendant to retrieve what was likely a missing document from the immigration office. He’d returned with the paper, and was now hoping to regain the attention of the visa attendant, daring only briefly to glance back at those looking at him.
Off to the right stood an older, white gentleman. Pressing his hands against his nice business suit, he didn’t bother listening before yelling at the brown-eyed man to go back to the end of the line, that he didn’t belong here, wasn’t aloud to be here, and just needed to leave.
We were all exhausted after anywhere from 4 to 24 hours of flying; most of us having undergone long journeys to get to this beautiful country. Nobody said anything. They all looked a little uncomfortable. Perhaps a little annoyed someone would cut them off, but not hostile. Uncomfortable with the man yelling, annoyed the line was taking so long. Nobody seemed to know what to say.
Then, if I’m honest, before what I was doing could really register at all, I had already made the decision to say something. So I looked at the man in the nice suit with tailored pants, and said, “There’s no reason to be an ass. You don’t have to be rude. He was asked to come back to this line.” Only a second later it registered that I had no idea who this man was, who he may be connected to, or what he may be capable of. He looked as flustered that I’d said it, as I probably looked that I’d said anything at all.
But, it wasn’t him that struck me the most. When I turned around to look at the man standing beside me, he said, “Thank you. People like you don’t often understand.”
That broke my heart.
Not that he’d assume I would say nothing, but that he had so often come face to face with those of privilege and wealth, who had either treated him poorly or failed to step in at all, that it surprised him I would even say a word, so much so that he would thank me for it. Thank me for something that should only ever be an act of common decency.
He thanked me, and I entered the visa line, got my visa stamped, and went to find my bags.
I entered Kenya having chosen to speak up; when I can imagine, by the response of my lineless friend, so many before me had chosen to say nothing. To me this doesn’t seem like an exceptional, unique act. It doesn’t seem like it should be special or overly valued that I chose to say something to a man mistreating another just because he had the privilege and power to do so.
But, that’s how I entered Kenya.
I entered that much more aware of the reality that comes with privilege, wealth, and the color of your skin. I entered realizing purpose is as much something you choose as something you find.
Following that, I found my taxi driver, loaded my bags, and took off for my new, yet old, apartment home. Nairobi’s roads were as crazy and hectic as they always are, and because it took about two hours to get through the airport, we entered them during rush hour.
Still, I won’t forget the man in the nice, tailored suit or the middle-aged man with deep brown eyes, who thanked me for saying words so many before me should have said. I’ll remember them as I go into Nairobi communities, coffee shops, teashops, and bars looking for peacemakers, changemakers, and artists – hoping to steal a glance at their incredible stories and share their lives with you.
I look forward to updating you as I continue to learn more and have new revelations about the role I should be playing everyday in creating greater equality, equity, and more sustainable peace. To be a voice and an advocate for those struggling and less fortunate. And, only ever more aware of the ignorance and silence that often accompany privilege.
I hope you’ll follow me as I begin exploring peace, culture, and art in Kenya. Next week, I’ll be posting a piece about art and peace. I want to share with you a bit about my story – where my passion for art and peace comes from – and give you some context on the relationship between art and peace in Kenya. Join me as I walk these beautiful streets looking for untold stories, dirty hands, and unlikely lessons.
Until next time, I hope you have a great week!
The Recovery Poet
For all those without the privilege, resources, and opportunity to be heard, art is the voice. I’ve found the best art often comes from the most broken places. So, what are you willing to hurt for? Because you must first struggle to find your greatest beauty.