I can’t really explain the joy and excitement that comes with meeting someone remotely close to you in a foreign land. It’s like being lost in the desert and finally seeing an oasis. Not like you expect anything from them, it’s just something else. If I meet a Ugandan somewhere in the streets where we are the only two black people, we become friends, instantly. We can argue about who really owns Migingo and whether the marathoner Stephen Kiprotich is Ugandan or a Kenyan who found himself on the wrong side of the border later. Same with Tanzanians, our debate on who really owns Kilimanjaro shall be settled later. With West Africans, in as much as they claim plantain is not bananas and Jollof rice is pilau (this is wrong in so many ways), we shall still have a middle ground and a lot to share. Sometimes the fact that both of you have a common language is enough to become best friends. Meeting people from literary every part of the world is one of the things I consider the best part about my stay Turkey.
The first foreign guy I met in Turkey was Vietnamese. He just walked into my dorm room on my second day in Turkey and said hi. It’s was the first time I ever met a Vietnamese in person. I knew quite a lot about Vietnam. Like every kid, I had grown up watching Chuck Norris and I knew about Vietnam from his movies. I knew about the war and as the tale goes, the Americans lost. So here I was, talking with a guy from Vietnam. I was tempted to ask so many questions. I wanted to know about the war; were the things in movies true, how the Americans loose, how about the jungle, the rivers and their soldiers…damn I had tons of questions.
Then I met a Nigerian. Here is the thing about Nigerians, that accent thing you see in their movies, it’s actually freaking true. That’s exactly how they speak. Not all of them of course, but this guy I met actually said “broda”. In my mind I was like “Holly shit, this is happening”. I didn’t expect him to do some magical stuff though ( juju ) because quite frankly, I don’t believe in that stuff. What I do remember about our conversation is me asking where I could make a call home. Then he started explaining to me about a place called PTT cargo. The thing is he pronounced it the Turkish way (petete) but with a Nigeria accent. Needless to say I never found the place.
Finally I met Haitians. My history classes had taught me that a good number of my ancestors had been shipped to some far land, forever separated from their home continent. I knew Jamaica because I grew up listen to reggae music. It’s still my favorite genre of music. I knew about mulattoes (I am not sure if this is considered racist by some people) because it was a frequent question in my high school history exam. I also knew a country called Haiti existed. What I didn’t know is how the name of the country was pronounced. After asking these folks where they were from, it took me minutes to actually get that they were from Haiti. Apparently the H is silent. Damn Kenyan English, we pronounce everything.
Humans are social in nature and whenever a person meets a new person, the first thing they do is find a connection point. That’s why it’s almost natural to ask someone “where are you from?” the first time you meet them. If the person speaks your language, then that’s already a connection point and you start looking for a deeper connection point, say your country of origin, or even for some people, religion. With black people, it’s usually easy. Any black person you meet is your brother. Doesn’t matter where they come from, they are black, that’s enough. I remember this one time I saw a black guy walking down the street. I was excited and said hi. Turns out the dude couldn’t speak a word of English, he couldn’t speak Swahili either, not even French. The dude spoke Portuguese and Turkish. Portuguese!!! Since I didn’t speak either of the two languages, I walked away, totally disappointed. Sometimes the fact that both of you are foreigners and have no idea about anything is the connection point.
We found a connection in the fact that we were foreigners. There were 5 of us. 2 Kenyans, 2 Haitians and 1 Vietnamese. It was the most interesting combination ever. We would walk in the streets and everyone would be staring at us. I mean, 4 black guys and 1 Vietnamese guy, who wouldn’t stare. None of us could speak Turkish, not even a word. We spoke in 3 different English accents. There is this place we used to go and buy “drinks”, to this day I am sure that shop owner has never really figured out who we were or where we came from. We would just go to the shop, pick whatever we wanted and he would key in the amount into his calculator and we would pay. No talking was done, none was required. We ended up staying in the same dorm room for 5 years.
It’s one thing to learn about a country in history and geography books and another to learn it from the person from that country. In the last 7 years I have met people from literary every corner of the world, from the farthest point west and the farthest point east. This amazing people have been my classmates, my roommates and many best friends. Meeting this people you realize how much you share and how tiny your differences are. How at the end of the day all that really matters is the fact that they are human.
There are few things you can’t forget in life and there are even fewer things you can remember with utmost accuracy. Your first kiss for instance (I know you are now trying to remember it). Or that thorough beating you got from your mum that even today you can prove was completely unjustified. There is also the day you first landed in a foreign country. This are things you just can’t forget.
The day I first landed in Turkey, I remember it all. I remember how I was dressed, I remember the guy at passport control and I remember the guy who came to pick me up. I also remember the very very very long Suha bus ride from Istanbul to Kayseri. I remember it cost exactly 55 TL (when the dollar was 1.40) and it was 12 hours. I remember getting off that bus in Kayseri and instantly freezing and wondering exactly how people lived here. Probably the coldest I have ever felt. That was 7 years ago.
There is so much that can happen in 7 years. A lot. A baby born 7 years ago is in 2nd or 3rd grade today. Obama got reelected, finished his 2nd term and Trump has been president for like forever now. Someone who was 20 years old is now 27 years. A good percentage of my high school classmates are now dads and back at home we have governors instead of District commissioners. My very own brother who was in high school when I left is now a dad. I have 5+ new nephews and nieces, some no idea what their names are but nevertheless love them like crazy.
With me on the hand, nothing much has changed. At least that’s what I think. Growth is a really interesting thing. You can’t feel yourself growing old. You only realize you are growing old when those around you start treating you with some sort of respect you are not used to, when you have to pay your own electric bill and pay the damn rent. Or in my case, when you have lots of kids calling you uncle Njoro.
So much has happened in the last 7 years. Both to me and this country I have called home for the last 7 years. Whose people I have come to call my own, whose interest matter to me as those of my birth country. Whose language I now speak like my own. Where I have met people from all walks of life and nationalities, some good, some bad. It is when I look at those things that I realize I am growing old.
I came here with a crazy thirst for knowledge. Here, they told me, I would learn from the best and become the best. What they didn’t tell me however was exactly what I was supposed to learn or from who. Computer Engineering, I assumed and from my professors I expected. Well, that I learnt, in fact I recently graduated with a Masters in Computer Engineering. But Turkey has taught me more than Engineering. Lessons that as I prepare to leave this country and start life elsewhere I can’t help but reflect. In the next several posts, I will reflect on the life in Turkey as a foreign student, my two years of grad school, travelling around, the people, the politics and the culture. Mostly importantly the lessons learnt.
I have never really been a birthday person. One for the fact that no one is really sure about my exact date of birth and two because where I come from, birthdays are not exactly an achievement (I stole that line for Sheldon but it perfectly describes my situation).To put things into perspective, I have had three different birthdays in my life. For the early part of my childhood, I had 15th May as my birthday. Even my early school records show I was born on 15th. Somewhere between 6th grade and 2nd year of high school, my father insisted that I was actually born on 19th. So I registered in high school as Albert, the son of Kahira, born on 19th in a small town in Lamu district (You can tell how lit my autobiography will be from that line). I figured out what could possibly be my actual birthday when I was 18 years. I needed an ID and because I come from a border district, I need hundreds of documents to prove that I am actually Kenyan. The Kenyan government has completely refused to take care of those of us from that corner of the country and has also refused to officially hand us over to Somalia. Continue Reading →
In the last 12 months I have spent more time here than any other place including my bed (Yes, I am no longer the undisputed sleep champion). If this place had a bed or even a sofa I would probably never go to my room which by the way is begging for attention having been totally neglected. A friend of mine told me he saw ants in my room today. He might be right because it has been raining, and poor ants are looking for shelter. He recommended I kill them or vacuum them, but I am finding it really hard to kill animals. He actually said I should use a lighter and burn them up (damn this guy!!).
This is not a movie review. No, I am not a movie guy. I can easily count the number of movies I have watched in the last one year. Statements like “do you want to catch a movie this Friday” or “do you want to come over for a movie” are not my thing. However statements like “do you want to grab coffee” could easily ascend you to my list of friends, if you have a good taste of coffee you could actually become a best friend. I do watch TV series though. Yes, on Friday nights. I watch everything Shonda Rhimes makes. I am talking Grey’s anatomy, How to get away with Murder (HTGAWM) and Scandal. Of course I watch big bang theory (who doesn’t?) and Silicon Valley which in many cases are the only series that my inner self can connect to. To be honest they stopped making good series after Prison break and Lost. I heard they are remaking prison break just like they are remaking 24. But I am happy at least Kiefer Sutherland is still kicking ass even as Mr president in designated survivor…damn it!!
I don’t know how to get angry in Turkish. Which pisses me of because once in a while I need to get angry in Turkish. I am quite fluent with the language. And by fluent I mean I can comfortably talk with my Doner guy and explain to him exactly how I want my Doner. With ketchup, no mayonnaise and a little bit of sauce of course. I can also bargain with the guys at çarşı even though I don’t go there anymore (story of another day).I hardly get angry but sometimes people piss you off and you need to get angry, in Turkish. I realized a long time ago that in this side of the world, things get done a lot faster if you get angry. Unfortunately for me, my brain has developed this weird habit of shutting down whenever I need to get angry in Turkish. At the very moment I need my A game in Turkish, my brain goes off. I can’t seem to remember even a single word of Turkish. It has happened twice which by the way is a clear indicator of the fact that am not the type that easily gets angry.
This is one of those moments.
I am slowly making my come back to the startup world. I have been away for almost 2 years now. In my defense though, I joined Grad School which by the way is no walk in the park. But perhaps the most important question is why I left in the first place. As I always tell my friends, the startup world slapped me in the face, taught me Kayseri is not Silicon Valley and besides hard work and determination, there are a million factors that affect the success of a startup. That’s of course after failing several times and as my friend Kendo puts it “Gaining experience at starting companies”. As you can tell I haven’t moved to Silicon Valley, I don’t own the latest Tesla model and I don’t have a business card written “I am CEO, bitch!!”
I recently moved from blogger to WordPress and in the process tried to move all the post I had there. Actually I did move them and set things up. The problem is something happened to my hosting and so many links broke but instead of fixing them , I just installed WordPress a fresh. I figured its better to just start a fresh (the new year new me thing) even though I backed up all my previous work. I will publish some of my favorite articles from my previous account some time later. In the meantime this is my new space, I am still adding more features and plugins and other WordPress stuff.