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PORTRAITS

Winston, Kenya.

I was born in 1978 in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. There are four children in our family – my older sister, me, my younger sister who is studying here with me, and the youngest brother. Our older sister has just graduated in Law in England, the younger one studies Medicine, and our brother is a student of Law. Our father is a lawyer and mother is a retired nurse.

Although I was born and grew up in a town we have a strong sense of tradition: we all belong to one of many ethnic groups. Ethnic groups are not just small groups, they have millions of people. My ethnic group is called the Luo, long time ago we used to live by fishing. We feel strongly connected to our “homeland”, so even though I grew up in a city I was visiting my grandmother who lives on the lake very often. Life was very different there - at that time, there was no electricity. I was used to different living conditions, but I would switch to countryside lifestyle quickly. Cooking over an open fire, drawing water from a well…

By tradition families live close to each other. All the sons should build houses next to their parents. Whether they live in towns or in the countryside men should build their houses in their “homeland”. And so they build according to seniority: the oldest one builds a house on the right side to his parents, another son on the left side and other ones alternately. Daughters get married and they move to other houses of other families. I haven’t built a house next to my parents yet, but I will.

After finishing secondary school I stared looking for a place to study. The cost of studies in Poland was affordable and Polish standards of teaching were good. At that time, universities in Kenya were often closed. Students were very active politically and when they didn’t approve of something they would take to the streets. There were riots and fights with the police. Many young people had to wait for a long time before they could start their studies. In Poland I could start right after finishing secondary school.

The first period of my stay in Poland wasn’t very pleasant. I came here in September. It was raining heavily on that day, everything was cold and grey. Customs officer was the first person I talk to, but she didn’t speak English. She looked very aggressively and had a very strict face and tone of voice. They went through all my things and they searched me very carefully. They even searched my friend who came to pick me up at the airport! It was very stressful. Not mentioning the fact that I was travelling alone and it was my first time in this country.

Later it turned out that not many people here could speak English or any other language I knew. But after some time I settled in. The language course was one year long. The first class was very difficult, I managed to note only the date because the lecturer spoke so fast. With time I began to understand more.

When I came to Poland I was very surprised to see women smoking cigarettes. I saw a smoking woman once in Kenya… maybe few times, but it was either a granny smoking home made cigarettes or… a prostitute. When I came here I was shocked by how many women smokes. And apparently they weren’t neither prostitutes nor old grannies.

I wouldn’t want to generalize but there are still many racists in Poland, both active and passive ones. There are those who won’t say it straight to your face but when there is someone who will, they seem to agree with him… there is this look of contentment on their faces. And there are also many verbal abuses and physical attacks. I think that people either don’t see it or don’t want to see it. On the other hand there are many tolerant people here.

I would like to be a surgeon or work in sports medicine. I would also like to come back to Kenya one day, but first I want to get more experience and feel financially safe. In Kenya government doesn’t help people much. Free educational system was introduced only recently. When I was a kid my parents had to pay even for primary school.

When I’ll be back to Kenya I would like to open my own doctor’s office. I think that I will have to get used to Kenya again. I’m in Poland for 10 years now. And I’ll be outside Kenya for a few years more. I left my country when I was a teenager, when my identity was still forming. To some extend I feel like I belong to two countries and at the same time I’m a guest in these two countries. Kenya is my motherland, my culture but there are some things I will have to learn again.


 
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