Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Who am I?

I've started this blog post without a title. By the end of the entry I'm sure it will have one, but currently the monologue you are reading is not sure which route it will take. Only a week ago I got back from an absolutely amazing two week safari with my brother and a friend to the four corners of Kenya, where we traversed rainforest, desert, high mountain peaks and deep coral reefs and everything in between. However, I don't feel particularly inspired to brag about my awesome holiday (even though it was awesome). Tonight I read the blog of a westerner studying Swahili in Dar es Salaam, and their post of African lateness. I presume this person must be quite new to the continent if they are needing to express their observations on lateness and its causes, as after a while it is best just not to think about it and get on with the African rhythm as an ordinary part of life. But the point is this; the person was expressing  something and was using that expression to help with an aspect of their life. I haven't done that in ages! Tonight I'm going to write about my situation and if you want to see safari photos, invite me around for coffee another time ;-).
I am a marine biologist. I am a Christian. I am a PhD student. I am an NGO worker. I am British. I am a foreigner. (Blog title decided here) My life currently seems to be a balance of contrasting and sometimes conflicting roles. Never before have I had to negotiate so many different facets to my life, especially in my work, where I have to balance very carefully where I invest time in PhD work and work for A Rocha. But it stretches to every aspect including social life. Not until I had the lovely, but surprising crash of worlds with my friends and brother visiting here, did I realise how I live with different personalities, one for Kenyans and A Rocha and one for the UK. Not that I'm being un-true to either world, but their almost entirely independent existence in my life means that I express and interact with things in different ways. 
This balancing act is sometimes quite stressful, but for most of the time now, I have figured out how to do it with not too much difficulty. I switch language, mannerisms, jokes without even having to think about it. Sometimes I realise mid-switch and I'm glad that I can dip in and out of different worlds. I don't think that the various strands of one's life necessarily come together and harmonise, but rather that you just learn how to hold all the strings at once. I don't think that much of the Scientific community I interact with and the Christian community I interact with would agree on certain points. Where do I sit? In both camps and in neither. Sometimes I feel pressure from one side or the other to confirm to that view, e.g. views on church, views on alcohol, views on data-sharing, views about the West etc. etc., and sometimes I become a chameleon if I feel too uncomfortable to stand my ground. Other times I don't know what my stance is and I just get on with it, like my ambivalence towards African time. 
A multi-faceted life can feel quite lonely at times. Very few people span the variety of experience and expression that you do, so it is a road you must walk alone. This has certainly been the experience in Kenya, where I have had to learn how balance and nurture my various roles fairly independently. Balancing roles doesn't always need to be difficult; a guy who likes fishing and golf can play golf one day and fish another, but the particularly contrasting and conflicting nature of some of the roles I assume is where the challenge lies. 
I think that currently I am really content in my roles and also quite content that not many other people necessarily understand them. The only puzzle remaining is this; how many other people go through the balancing act? I think it has taught me a lot of resilience and life skills trying to keep all the balls juggling, but is this a normal part of growing up or something unique to unusual situations like living and working abroad? If you're reading this and understand what on earth I am trying express leave a comment.
Anyway I might as well leave one sneaky photo to get you interested in the awesome safari.
Until next time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Winter in the tropics

I saw on BBC weather today that London is basking in a rare spell of 30 degree heat. Here in Kenya it is technically winter. Yes even though we sit on the equator there is definitely a cooler, wetter, windier season, which corresponds to the Southern Hemisphere winter. Currently I am sitting right on the Equator in the lovely town of Nanyuki on the slopes of Mount Kenya, where it is very cold (for me at least) dropping down to 10 at night. However, even at the coast it has had a wintery feel to it, that I am experiencing for the first time, because in other years I went back to the UK during this time.
From May onwards the tourists all vacate Watamu and even many locals go to their home areas, to visit family and relax until the season picks up again. The beach is empty, there's no boats in the bay and the sea is dramatic. Its actually an incredibly beautiful time of the year to experience, with a completely different character to what I'm used to. The diving has been really difficult and has often felt like diving in a washing machine, but it has been worth staying to see the storms rolling in from the sea and explosion of green and flowers on land.