Thirtytwoyearsago

Two and a half years have passed since my last visit to Africa, a continent that I visited so often and for so long before I moved to Kabul.

I am starting my re-entry with Kenya, a more or less normal place after Afghanistan. I wrote to my old friends, colleagues, students in Kenya who I haven’t been in contact with for years. Not surprisingly many of the emails bounced, but some wrote back right away. I told them that my schedule was tight and my visit short but hoped we could at least talk on the phone, re-acquaint.

Some of the people I hope to see or will see weren’t parents, or not even married when I last saw them. Now they are parents to more than one child. There is much to catch up. Others were AIDS activists. I am not sure they are still alive. Some of those emails bounced.

I am going to do what I like to do: facilitating the conversations between key stakeholders that need to happen to establish buy in, create a shared vision, for an institution that is supposed to teach Kenyan health professionals how to be good managers and leaders in moving the health agenda forward.

I am only part of this during this one step. There have been many steps before and there will be more in the future. Accompanying such a process over time was the attraction of going to Kabul (an attraction few people understood). A structure with a similar mission (improve management and leadership skills of health professionals) now exists within the ministry of public health in Kabul; it is staffed and has a space, two enormous accomplishments that happened after I left. I helped with the planting and the watering, but am not sure I will ever get to see the harvest with my own eyes – of my four planned trips to Kabul not even one has been scheduled.

Arriving in Kenya was full of old and new; the smell of Africa, stepping out of the airplane, the airport (no change), the road into the city (just more businesses, more buildings) and the hotel (upgraded). I remembered my very first trip to Nairobi in 1979. When Axel and I left to return to Dakar, Sita, the size of a pinhead, traveled back with us. Much has changed, in the world, in airline travel, in Kenya and in our family, since then.

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