Bells in Nairobi

Or: How to find a home away from home, and where is this place of belonging at all?

You might know that I am constantly looking for a place of belonging and that I find it really hard to determine it. My generation is the one with the best traveling opportunities ever. Moving around is not only easy, it is actually required and supported and it has become a state of mind, something natural, something unavoidable for many of us.

Up to today I don’t really identify with the place and the people where my parents live now. That was why I studied far away. However, I also don’t quite identify with the place we lived before, during five years of my childhood. It was a short time, and I haven’t been there for very long.

Since traveling and volunteering, backpacking and globetrotting is so easy and so fulfilling, Sweden and Kenya are two of the countries I kept going back to. I am comfortable staying there. The problem is usually, that when I am in Germany, I miss Kenya. Now I am in Kenya, and I miss Sweden. Just wait until I go to Sweden, you know what will happen.

But it’s not just that I miss what I can’t have currently. It’s more than that. I miss the centering atmosphere of a place of true belonging. I already have problems saying where I come from. Germany, of course, but the part where my parents live is the one I identify least with. The village where I spent those five years as a child won’t even recognise me anymore – and neither would I recognise it. And the town where I studied, the place that I like most, is not really my origin.

Place is a factor of identity, a rather necessary one, because it defines so much of a person.

Long time ago I read an article about expat children who grow up “on the road”. The writer said she finds that place for her roots in the online community. That’s a place where she is most comfortable. She knows her buddies there, she can get along blindly, and she gets along well with the rapid change, because she is used to it.

My friend is a well-travelled person like me. She told me recently that now that she settled for her Master, she feels awkward. She has problems to integrate herself, to make connections and relations, to get involved in that very place she is right now.

Several months before going back to university she did a trip through South America. She was ever on the move, staying in places not a very long time – and yet she had tons of friends, got into contact with new and interesting people every day, taught at an institution, got involved with her surroundings.

She said: Maybe I am not made for a life of settlement. She found her “place of belonging” in moving around.

Shortly after talking to her I was walking in town and suddenly heard the bells of the basilica. A very rare sound in Kenya. I think I never heard any church bells anywhere else apart from Nairobi, because many churches don’t have bell towers.

In Germany, most villages have a church with bells, and they ring every fifteen minutes. Walking through Nairobi, hearing the bells, suddenly made me feel comfortable and home. It was not only a nostalgic feeling which made me miss the church bells in Germany, but a deeply rooting experience in a sound.

I had the same feeling some years ago when I lived in Narok and I would always hear the muezzin calling for prayer in the mosque. Those where my church bells during that time.

Maybe I can be rooted in a sound, in a feeling, in an experience. The church bells and the muezzin will always strengthen my connection to myself and my surroundings, regardless where I currently am.

What gives you the feeling of belonging? Is it a place, a sound, an activity, people? Share with us in the comments below!

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