Arriving Sunday night, mere hours before Kenyans headed to the polls to vote in a new government, our latest visitor had to wait several days to actually see us, as we both left Nairobi to serve as election observers. The last presidential election in 2007 set off a three-months long wave of violence that left more than a thousand Kenyans dead and displaced half a million others. Yet, while international NGOs relocated staff out of Kenya and the State Department put out travel warnings about the potential dangers of coming here, Chris – who is doing a one-month long cardiology rotation in Nairobi to cap off his residency – decided that this was an opportune time for a visit.
By most accounts, we’ve had more than our fair share of visitors. A colleague once told us that no friends or family members had come to visit her during the five years she had spent in Africa (two years in Nigeria and three in Kenya). We, on the other hand, have found ourselves with house guests virtually every month. In addition to the fifteen groups of visitors from back home, we’ve also hosted several friends we had made playing ultimate, who’ve stayed for 2-3 weeks with us before securing more permanent housing in Nairobi.
Growing up, S’s family frequently hosted exchange students, some for just a summer and others for a full year. And even when S no longer lived at home, friends of hers from high school and even a friend from Costa Rica would come to stay at her parents’ house for months at a time for graduate internships or just to visit. In college, S got turned on to couchsurfing – a community of travelers who open their homes to other fellow travelers. S enjoyed several excellent homestays while backpacking in Europe and South America and returned the favor by hosting others in Maine and, from time to time, in Chicago.
Since Nairobi is a transit hub, it has become second nature to host people, particularly as we are fortunate to have two guest rooms in our State Department-issued townhouse. A friend from S’s grad school days who now lives in western Kenya spent a night, as did a friend from D’s training class who had come to Nairobi for a few days from Kigali. On several occasions, we’ve hosted various Seattle-ites working for One by One, where S used to work, who travel through Nairobi on their way to western Kenya. Some are close friends and others we met for the first time when they walked through our front door.
We feel fortunate to have had so many visitors in a country that is half a world away for most of our friends and family. We hope this trend continues when we relocate to Eastern Europe.