What I find every year is that visiting home has one very large drawback. Home leave always makes me heart sore and never so more than now when 2 of our children will be at school in England, so the family is effectively split. It has been over 17 years in East Africa now and I never expected to be gone so long. Each summer when in England, I look around at the remnants of my old life and feel a little sad. For having grown older and living so far away. All the memories come crashing in. My parents still live in the house where I grew up.
“When will we move home? How many more years will we be away?” I ask my husband more than half a dozen times while we are in England.
“Why do you insist on ruining every summer with these same questions?” He replies (harsh but true). “You know I don’t have an answer.”
“Because for me, this is home and for you, I guess it just isn’t.”
He argues that this is not true and besides,
“You always only ever see the nice bit. The long summer evenings, family who are so happy to see us, it’s all fun. You’ve forgotten about the winter, the housework and all the stuff that is hard.”
“I just can’t wait to go home?” says my 16 year old over the summer holiday as we shuttle from bed to bed in different houses and having spent months at school doing exams. “I just want to relax in my room and be myself.” When I ask if she would ever like us all to live in England, she said most definitely no.
“I like England but I don’t want to live there. In the winter, when it’s dark for so long, every day is the same and you become like a machine. Honestly, it feels like Paper Towns.”
She loves Nairobi. She notices the homemade brooms and ladders and old fashioned shops with stock piled on high shelves just below the ceiling. The fact that everything is ad hoc and negotiable and an adventure of some kind. Nothing definite. She loves the colours. She feels rooted to her house and even though many of her school friends here have now moved away, she just loves being here and to be honest, deep down, I know that I would also miss all these things too.
So where does that leave us? In a bit of a muddle. Now that the children are growing up, having this wonderful life, means living apart which is a sacrifice that I really have to make peace with while guessing what the future holds while bearing in mind that moving away would mean removing our kids from their home.
But putting this in perspective. A Kenyan friend of mine who is married to an English chap just popped in for tea today. They too have teenage kids and lived in Nairobi all of their married life, right up until two years ago. She says she loves England and finds Kenya expensive and a bit of a culture shock to come back to,
“we live in a very small town in England, so in comparison Nairobi is so busy and chaotic”, but when her husband casually says, ‘I really can’t see myself ever moving back to Kenya,’ she says she can’t bear it.
“If it’s just for 4 years or so, then living in England is fine. But forever? Away from all of my family and friends? Not seeing my mum, my sisters? That’s something very different. How can I make those strong friendships and connections there? It’s hard to meet people my age in England. I can’t see myself growing old over there.”
“And I guess I can’t see myself growing old in Kenya.” I replied.
So I guess that’s all it boils down to; where you are ready to grow old?….