Home sick

Fifteen fleeting years of missed family milestones; the growth of nephews and nieces she has not yet kissed; communal ceremonies dashed; big and small moments she would have loved to be a part of and share with her own with friends and family back home but couldn’t.

Last week Thursday marked 15 years since Claire landed in Europe and she cannot believe how fast time flies.

When Claire got to her new country in search of new and better income earning opportunities, it dawned very early on her that she was on her own, and immediately she knew she had to make a choice; fight or flight.  She said, going back was not an option, she had to stay and fight and so she quickly learned to be independent .

Claire came to Europe through the Au pair program which was an easier route of getting a travel visa. The plan was to get to the country and get connected with relatives in Sweden after the program was completed. But as always life has other plans. 

Soon she discovered different ways that foreigners would use to extend their visas and stay in the country longer. Some registered as refugees, others got married, others would do training and some would join schools or volunteer programs. She chose to try her luck through the volunteer program, and used that to join school and eventually start working.

After her volunteer program, she was accepted in a school at a different state but before moving to that state, she found love. A love so strong she was not willing to do long distance. So, she applied for apprenticeship in that state which would allow her to enter the job market and in essence extend her visa until she was accepted as a resident in her adopted country.

Even as she marks fifteen years away from Kenya, she says she still has not gotten over brooding for home. For her the hardest thing all those years has been feeling homesick.  She often found herself holding on to the memories of home that she had left behind. She says sometimes all she needed was to be around people you can understand and who understand you even without saying a word. In a foreign land this is difficult because of the differences in culture.

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Germany whose $4.26 trillion economy dwarfs Kenya’s $110 billion, has enough generational wealth to go around. And while most parents can afford to set aside money for their children’s future, whether it’s for education, businesses or sometimes even homes, this financial independence has isolated them. Even for those out of work, all they need to do is fill some paper work and they will get some funds for assistance. However, this coupled with their independent nature can be a very lonely existence.  

In Africa, where resources are scarce and the larger majority of families can barely afford to cater for their immediate needs, people have to rely on social safety nets that have woven communities closer together.

Africans depend on each other a lot which makes us very social. Whether it’s for a wedding, a funeral, graduation, birthday, we will gather together to show support and in most cases contribute through WhatsApp groups. L says that in her 15 years in Germany she has never heard of a contribution required for anything.

 “Even if it’s a funeral you’ll hear so and so died, and because I was raised with that culture of togetherness or support, I’d ask when and how can I contribute or assist and they’ll say ‘oh he was buried last week’. It’s like so normal for them” she says.

Claire says she loves the African culture of togetherness and support even if it’s shown monetarily because having people come together for you and show you support in whatever you are going through can feel like therapy.

“A problem shared is half solved, and bonds grow when people show support to each other,” she says.

She says being homesick can make you appreciate a little more the little things that left a big impact. Although she misses home, she also loves and enjoys the life she has built and the new experiences that she has. 

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