I came back to the States two weeks ago. The minute I landed in O’Hare, I knew that I had to go back to Nairobi. I saw, and continue to see, my three weeks in the States as time to tie up loose ends and prep myself for my definite 100% commitment to my startup, g.Maarifa, in Nairobi, Kenya.
A couple of reasons led to my decision. The first is that Nairobi is the ideal location for me personally and professionally. After living in developed countries for the past eleven years, I needed a challenge. I was feeling too comfortable and was taking too many things for granted. I felt spoiled and bloated. I was beginning to not feel like myself- not the grounded person I was when I had to learn English from scratch and catch up to my peers in the sciences and social sciences. I felt that I was floating, an inch above the soil. I was afraid that if I continued to live the American middle class lifestyle, I was going to float even higher and eventually lose touch with my values. Sure, I spent 3-4 years of the 11 living below the poverty line, but it was nothing compared to the lifestyles of my colleagues who continue to live in the slums of Nairobi. I realized that I just needed to go somewhere different that will bring me back to Earth and back to who I really am.
Nairobi is also the perfect market for my startup, and I want to go back and finish the job that I started. I don’t want to let down my employees or the kids that have enrolled in the focus group/pilot testing. I am not going to be another person who disappoints them in life. They have had enough of that already.
Most importantly, I know that my decision to move to Nairobi permanently (still based out of Chicago since the company is American) is right because the minute the plane took off from Kenyetta International Airport, I wanted to go back and once again breath the hot fresh air. I miss Nairobi. I miss the people. I miss how the air smells and feels.
I will still be coming back to the States every few months for meetings and conferences. This is a relief to me. Not because Nairobi may seem like it’s a self-imposed exile- it’s not. But because then I can have the best of the two worlds. I can still be connected with my family and friends here but at the same time be happy and feel grounded.
One more identity to add: American expat.