Polepole “baby steps”
I am feeling slightly more adjusted to the pace and cold temperatures of life in NYC than when I initially arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport the morning of December 4, 2010. For one, I’m not as ill-equipped for the winter weather as I was stepping off the Emirates flight in Rainbow Flip Flops and a jean jacket. In my defense, upon departing on August 2, I was originally scheduled to return mid-October, but then extended my stay. I digress. Anyway, my homesickness for the dusty roads of Karatu comes in waves so I am ever grateful for the patience my friends and family bestow upon my delicate self. So too do I adore the inventor of hand warmers and scarves.
The first days were incredibly difficult…
Exhibit A: Coffee drops forming a giraffe.
(so sorry, wish I had taken a photo of the coffee top…
promise I’m not kichaa! “crazy”)
Within five days of my return, I had a meeting for my full time job as an event planner in Park Slope. As a treat, I went to a bagel place I frequent sometimes (Shout out to La Bagel Delight in Park Slope–they’ve also donated to Journeys of Solutions!) and ordered a cup of coffee. As I sat to enjoy my first few sips, I stopped, cup mid-way between the counter and my lips. I did a double take as I glanced at the white plastic top, for a few drops of my coffee has escaped through the blow-hole like opening to form (what I was convinced looked like) a giraffe. Yes, convinced was I…so much so that I walked to work shaking my head at myself and showing my boss. She wasn’t so convinced though I was grateful for the feigned agreement!
Exhibit B: Kesho…Mambo…Rafiki…
(“tomorrow” “hey” “friend” in kiswahili)
Riding a New York City Subway is always an adventure: from running to catch the sliding doors so you don’t have to wait the extra minute (during rush hour) or thirty (some late nights), to musicians and poets sharing their work, prepare yourself for an exhilarating experience. Something else you can expect, without fail, is to hear at least three different languages on one subway car. Whether revealed from shrill teenage voices, sobs into a cell phone (only for those stops above ground), or tourists with cameras around their necks and a new copy of “Guide to New York” in their back pocket, it is inevitable. Something I did not expect though was that I kept hearing sprinklings of what sounded like Kiswahili. Whether I was engulfed in my book (see bottom for some recent reads) or scribbling down some possible lyrics for songs, I would always jerk my head with alert eyes in search of the person(s) who had uttered “hapana” (no) or “poa” (cool) or “sawa” (okay). Of course though, I just had to look as far as the book or Moleskine journal between my hands to realize the words danced in mid-air between “Annyong haseyo” “gracias” “Ou va-t-on maintenant?” “Ni hao…” and many others. The mind has a funny way of playing tricks on you.
Such traditions as running the annual New Year’s Eve race in Central Park helped to ease my transition back to life here…though the four miles were a lot easier than the constant hustle and bustle of each day.
I didn’t hear a race gun, nor do I see smoke from a fire– why is everyone running?
For those of you who have never been to Penn Station, or upon most streets in New York City for that matter, allow me to set the scene. Simply put: sensory overload. From the many vendors with both sweet and interesting smells lingering in front of their doors to men and women briskly walking (and sometimes bolting in a full out run), to the homeless or picture-happy tourists, you can see just about anything, and everything. The building which spans West 31st-33rd Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues strangely is home to all of these at various times of the day and night. Granted, if you are one of the many commuters who travel to Penn Station via NJ Transit, the Long Island Rail Road or Amtrak, the people all tend to the look the same: a blur, for the minute your train enters the tunnel to Penn Station (about 3-5 minutes from the actual platform), all you have is tunnel vision. You instinctively are aroused from even the deepest of slumber, ready to go! In moments your briefcases and purses are over your shoulders, your blackberry/iPhone/Android (whatever is the latest and greatest) is in your hand and your game face is on and every strand of hair seemingly in place! It’s as if you can hear the race gun go off the instant the train doors are opened.
I must admit, I am instinctively one of these people. Having just spent four months in Tanzania where my morning commute consisted of a bit of a different route: an unpaved dirt road shared with school children, women and men heading to the market or waiting for rides to local villages and towns, bicycles, motorcycles and goats and cattle, I felt a bit unsteady and disoriented. As I looked down at my Michelin man-esque black down coat, a staple for the winter, and my furry hat, another staple, I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths as the train descended into the tunnel. (see below for my winter wear)
My heart raced as the darkness of the tunnel swallowed the train. In stark contrast from the black of my coat, hat and boots, all I could see was the vibrant greens and reds and blues I grew so accustomed to in Tanzania.
I took a few more deep breaths and choked back some tears as I waited for passengers to disembark the NJ Transit train which had brought me back home to the “City That Never Sleeps.” I do not remember climbing the stairs from the platform several flights down, nor can I recall the strides which brought me one level closer to the street at 7th Avenue and west 32nd Street. As I mounted each step of the final flight to street level, my senses attempted to absorb the Christmas music which blared awkwardly out of rhythm with the bells of Salvation Army volunteers.The cold wind was like a whip against my tanned skin, blowing my sun-soaked golden hair about wildly as the tears burned my cheeks. Once out on the street and making my way through the throngs of people, both tourists and residents, I was like a child in Dylan’s Candy Bar (http://www.dylanscandybar.com/): in awe of the sights and smells and energy that surrounded me. I actually stopped and waited for the light to change as my mind raced. The scariest part was that within about three blocks, my step had quickened and I was absorbed back into the pace of Manhattan. Even more, I could not help but wonder, “Had I even left?”
A trip with the Frizz…
Most recently (i.e. last night) I hopped on the ever fun M15 bus up First Avenue to a friend’s apartment only to feel like I was a character from The Magic School Bus Series…you know, with Ms. Frizzle. For those of you out of practice with the MSB, basically the children take adventures, along with their eccentric prof Ms. Frizzle from the inside of the human body to the inside of a storm, among many other super fun places. Quite the educational experience for younger readers. I’ve read many a book both as a child and to the children for whom I nannied. Another digression, if you’ll allow me: come summer time in the humidity, there is a strange resemblance between Ms. Frizzle and me.
Anyway, as the accordion bus raced by the colorful flags flying proudly outside the UN, suddenly I was no longer on First Avenue, but upon the tarmac road between Arusha and Karatu. The flagpoles were a combination of the remnants of stripped tree branches, delicious treats enjoyed by mighty African Elephants, and the long legs of giraffes sauntering between bites of leaves. Lights reflected off of the snow-covered pavement, though not quite as bright as the eternity of stars one sees whilst gazing above on a moonless night in Tanzania.
As the bus gained momentum and speed, complements of the subtle downhill around East 44th Street, I reached down only to realize there were no seat belts like those on the Dar Express. How I treasured them during moments of high speed. The shadows of people outside the windows flashed by my eyes like the goats and cattle herded by small Maasai children, dust kicking up from their every step. The slightest turn of the bus driver’s wheel felt like the windy road right leading up from Lake Manyara. Suddenly the bus jolted to a stop, just past the Kenyan consulate, bringing me back to the snow-covered sidewalks and pavement.
The chill from the opening bus doors brought me back to First Avenue, from this
Thankfully, despite the incredible strength of the throbbing pace, I still manage moments when a few foot steps take me further and further away…
**Recent Good/Interesting Reads**
Dead Aid; Aid and Other Dirty Business; I Dreamed of Africa; Little Bee; Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth; Angels of a Lower Flight: One Woman’s Mission to Save a Country…One Child at a Time; The Shadow of the Sun