Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Crossing the Event Horizon

My taxi driver drove assertively, two wheels whirling on each side of the grey dashed line, commanding the well-paved road with his dirty white minibus. It was night when I arrived in Nairobi. The temperature was a perfect 25° C as it is pretty much year round. I was surprised to see large neon-lit Coke bottles pass me as we zoomed along. They evoked memories of large violently flowing fountains in the Defense district of Karachi, summer of 1996. My father had once commented that the fountains are flowing in Defense while half the city doesn’t have water. I wonder why the skyscrapers in Manhattan have never evoked that memory.

Mentally preparing for Kenya was hard. I have left for “adventures” a few times in my life: going to Stanford for the summer in 2001, leaving for Berkeley ~3000 miles from home, traveling/working throughout EurAsia after I graduated; but each time, my excitement with the path ahead always dwarfed any feelings of longing and loss associated with where I was leaving. This time, however, it was the exact opposite. I was going for a whole year, while my life had previously operated on a four month time horizon. The plethora of horror stories that my close friends and family members felt necessary to share (with the best intentions) depicted a “totally different world” which I had great difficulty imagining. The best description of my new job I could give when asked was “poverty stuff.” For the weeks leading up to my departure, I began to feel like my life after Feb. 18 was a black hole; as much as I tried, I couldn’t seem to shed any light on what it would be like. All the while, I was living in a great city, negotiating a great job offer, and deeply in love with a great girl. This time, leaving was defined by longing and loss.

My hostel ( was only 20 minutes from the airport. Famished from the previous 22 hours of transit, I dropped my bags in my room and immediately ordered some vegetable stew over rice for an expensive 150 Kenyan Shillings (~$2) just minutes before the kitchen closed at 22:30. As I waited for my food, two American girls busily typed away loudly at their laptops, listening to their iPods. Howie Day’s Collide played on the radio in the background. A Canadian scrolled through pictures on his PowerBook. The warm summer breeze meandered in through the wide open windows and out through the front door. There was surely only one place in the world like this: Santa Barbara.