Welcome, they said. The warm smiling faces that greeted me upon arriving in Kenya were so genuine. Welcoming me to their country. I have many friends who have visited different parts of Africa, many of them Black, and hearing stories about their feelings upon arrival gave me a certain expectation about how I would feel touching down in the motherland. And with this expectation came also so nervousness. I had no idea what the feeling was-maybe it was because it’s the farthest I’ve been from America. Maybe it’s because it was such an unfamiliar land. Maybe it was just gas…but I was ready to come HOME. Or at least feel like I was connected to the land by a force stronger than that which connected me to America. So I walked off the plane and set foot onto the African soil, but just like Diana Morales, I felt nothing. But it was just the tarmac, I told myself. So I walked into the airport, stood in the visa line and when my passport was finally stamped…nothing. But it was hot and there was a long wait. So I gathered my things in anticipation of the great powerful feeling that awaited me outside in the warm African sun. I emerged from the airport, and was greeted immediately by a row of drivers waiting to pick up their passengers. Now was the time, I thought. I searched for the man holding the sign with my name. Welcoming me, Cessalee, home to Africa. But he was late, and I went back inside to wait and I have to tell you. I just didn’t feel like home.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely fallen in love with Africa. I started my trip with two days in Nairobi where I kissed a giraffe, got nuzzled by an elephant, held a crocodile, named an ostrich, and got to visit a museum filled with living history and stories of true courage. Then I continued in Zanzibar where I went scuba diving in the Indian Ocean and had fresh fish cooked for me in a park. I sat on a beach and took my first Maaselfie, had tea with a cheetah and got raspberried by a lemur. A zebra gave me a rose and I gave a command to the king of the jungle and he followed. Then came the safari in the Maasai Mara followed by Lake Nakuru where I danced with an African tribe, watched multiple animals mating in the wild, and learned that even the cheetahs aren’t safe when there’s a lion around. I watched a kill, I saw day old babies being taught how to live, I saw elephant skulls that had been there for years. I truly saw and experienced so many wonderful things in Africa, I’ll have to do a separate post just about my itinerary!
But the only thing I didn’t do was feel like I was home.
It’s ironic because I don’t really have a “home.” I last lived in NYC in 2012, right before I left to start tour with The Book of Mormon and since then, I’ve been on the road for work or on the road to travel. I do have a storage unit or two in my hometown and my parents have the key, but a home…well I don’t currently possess one of those. And part of this #Cescapade is elongating the time before I need to drop back down from my wanderlusting cloud and find a job, in a city and make some moves to have a home.
When I talk to people about my trip, everyone thinks it’s pretty cool to be traveling so much and so far and mostly alone. And everyone has a comment or opinion about some place I’m going. It’s dangerous, it’s beautiful, don’t forget to haggle, it’s the best, you’ll love this bar or this hotel, make sure to do this excursion. And I am definitely the kind of person who soaks that up! I always keep a notepad to jot down the suggestions I get and truthfully, I’m the same way when people tell me about their trips. But this time, I think I allowed myself to get too wrapped up in how I expected to feel. I truly thought that whatever my friends experienced in coming to Africa would be my feelings too. Even more than the places on my list, I was most excited about the feeling I would get. This grand feeling of belonging. And that didn’t happen.There are people all over this world and someone has been everywhere. You can take tips and suggestions about where to go, but it’s up to you to decide how you feel. And it’s ok if it doesn’t feel like home, or however you expected it to feel.
So I’ll tell you what I did feel. I felt comfortable, I felt safe. I felt beautiful-in a country where everyone looked like me, the things that make me special stood out. My hair is a HOT MESS most days, but I got more compliments on it here than I ever have in my life. It made me feel like there was value in my skin, in my body, in my being. I loved that. I felt so welcomed by the most kind and warm people I’ve ever met. I can’t tell you how many stories there are of people being kind just because they are kind. And patient. And the scenery…my goodness. The trees, the mountains, the bright colors worn by the people, the buildings, it was just amazing. I’m pretty sure I cried about 10 times just because something was overwhelmingly beautiful. And those are feelings that I couldn’t have expected to have and to me they are more real and valuable than the “missing” feeling of being home.
And just to clarify, when I say it didn’t feel like home, I don’t just mean that they don’t feel like America, although they certainly don’t. But they also don’t feel like my home. The good news is, I have felt “home” before, so I am confident that when it feels right, I’ll decide to stay. But for now, as I say goodbye to Africa, I’m filled with excitement. I can’t wait to visit this beautiful land again and hopefully bring my family back with me. I feel like I have so much more to see and do. But when the next trip is over, I’ll be happy to head back home…wherever that may be.