Kenya has my heart in more than one way, but ‘Should I stay or should I go?’

This is an article I wrote to introduce­­­ myself for the Dutch network consisting of women from living abroad called ‘de WereldWijven’. In this article, I explain who I am, why I decided to move back to Kenya and what my goals and hopes are for my time here. Find the Dutch article here:

Kenya has my heart in more than one way, but ‘Should I stay or should I go?

The first time I ended up en Kenya was to finish my Master’s degree. For half a year I researched the connection between pastoralism, wild parks and luxury tourism in Laikipia. During that time I’ve gotten to know the country, I made friends, travelled around, have fallen in love and I’ve discovered how difficult it is to make another country your own.

For me, that discovery came with a lot of highs and lows. One moment I was overjoyed and I pictured myself making Kenya my own country for good, other moments I wanted to be home yesterday. Now I’ve been back in the Netherlands for two months, it’s time to make up the balance: Should I stay, or should I go?.

The start of my wanderings

The desire to travel and to try life for a few years in another country from my birth has been a part of me since the start of my student years. I did not know yet which country, though, as long as it was not the Netherlands. One thing I did know was that I wanted to do humanitarian work. I started the bachelor International Development Studies in Wageningen to find out what kind of humanitarian work and development projects work. My opinion on development aid has changed dramatically multiple times during that bachelor, and during the double master in International Development Studies and Urban Environmental Management that followed. My ideas changed from a naïve idea of helping people out of the goodness of your heart, and the subsequent eternal gratefulness, to the rejection of all kinds of development aid because it leads to a dependency on the aid. And aid with dependency relations doesn’t work.

Learn from the experienced local people

Nowadays my opinion on development aid is nuanced and my time in Kenya has contributed to that. I’ve met many people in Kenya who engage in aid in their own country. They are not only people from the local aid organization I worked with for my thesis, IMPACT-Kenya. There are also individuals who work together in groups of friends to help people in need or who advocate for the needs of their community. People like Rose and Rosemary I wrote about earlier are examples of such people. Those people showed me the importance of community and how important it is to give from the heart. But mostly, they taught me how important it is to consider the dignity, value and wishes of the people. Because one thing is clear: people know very well what they need themselves. Many charity workers don’t want to see that, because sometimes what people need goes against their own opinion about what the people need.

I plan to go back to Kenya to continue my research into pastoralism and to observe to see and learn what Kenyans do for each other. In this way, I will learn useful know-how for development aid in the West because it gives me a different way of looking at things. And of course, I cannot forget about my new love. He is one of the people who fights for his community. I want to give that love a chance as well.

Still, the question remains: why do I go as a Duch woman?

The question remains why me, or any other Westerner person, has to go to Kenya if they can manage on their own? That is the question I struggle with the most. If I am honest with myself, the zeal for adventure plays a big role. Also, I want to separate myself from the Netherlands and all the Dutch ideas and habits I have. Not because I do not like the Netherlands, but because it’s healthy to adopt a different perspective and lifestyle for a while to re-assess your values in life. This adopting and testing of different perspectives will lead to a bigger understanding and acceptance of people who are different from you. And this is vital in a world where we are increasingly in contact with people from different backgrounds who have different perspectives on life!

Despite all of this, where does my doubt come from?

Still, I ask myself whether I want to live abroad or not. It seems to me it also demands a lot of sacrifices. Sacrifices such as spending time with my friends and family, an easy structured and calm life, richness and my Dutch habits and hobbies. Is it worth to make those sacrifices for some adventure and the eagerness to experience something different?

All these doubts are not enough for me to stay in the Netherlands. It is part of my personality to hesitate before making a big step, and that will always remain a part of my personality. I’ve decided to go and give this Kenyan life a chance. Not out of a kind of cowardly indecisiveness, but out of a devotion to see more of the world and to seize the chances I’m getting. And of course, also for love. I know for sure that if I don’t give this Kenyan dream a change I will regret it for the rest of my life. Kenya has captured my heart in more than one way.

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