“Creo que a lo tuyo y lo mío
le está llegando la hora.”
– Esta Vez, Wisin ft. Don Omar
Life in the animal kingdom is all about movement: the wildebeests of Serengeti and Masai Mara migrate annually in search of fresh grazing and water; humpback whales travel thousands of miles for new breeding grounds. Us humans too are nomadic to a certain extent — but the question is, what are we moving towards? Animals call it “sustenance”, but in human terms, we may understand it better as “opportunities”: jobs, education, experience, even relationships. This is why we move.
I’ve always wondered what my life — and myself, as an individual — would be like had I been born and raised and bred and subsequently reproduced, all in the same city. I would not be who I am today, for what makes me the person that I know myself to be is the sum and accummulation of where I’ve been, what I’ve studied, whom I’ve known, and what I’ve done. And a lot of these revolve around moving from one place to another, and picking up lifelong friendships, odd trinkets, and unforgettable memories — both pleasant and unpleasant — along the way.
I do recognize the difference between the voluntary nomadism that I choose for life, and the forced displacement large populations of the world are faced with due to various circumstantial factors that are beyond their power, be it war, poverty, or political and religious oppression and/or persecution in their homes. In their search for refuge, these groups may perhaps find that the world has shrunk considerably in the past few years with bolder state borders, the rise of the far-right, and xenophobia. For where does one turn to in the first instance of emergency, if not to one’s friends and neighbors?
Now that my PhD is complete, my attempt to wander further into academia as an “early career academic” has got me thinking seriously about “mobility”. It does feel safe and comforting to stay on in Cambridge, but after four years here, a new life elsewhere increasingly seems to gather appeal. I have been asked by my fellow colleagues how I managed to get through the last leg of my PhD, particularly in those months immediately leading to submission. I told them I had absolutely no idea, but I do remember spending my evenings in the library intensely editing, thinking that this will all be over soon, and I had my upcoming trip to Kenya to look forward to. That was to be my reward after four years of hard “work” — and I put “work” in inverted commas because I enjoyed writing my PhD too much for it to be considered as “work”.
Kenya, where I captured the photo above, indeed proved to be a most welcome relief from the claustrophobia of academic life. As my colleagues were rushing to get publications out, I felt a little relieved to be doing something completely different, and to be heading in a completely different direction. I feel a little bit like the giraffe in the photo above — while all these variations of beasts seem to be heading west, this giraffe calmly heads east, feeling no pressure at all to conform to the normal patterns of migration.
At times I do wish I had spent the last half of 2017 like a more prolific academic should, but looking back on it, I would not trade those months of living in a rural village in Kisii and riding the back of moto taxis around Kigali and traveling solo in Kabale for anything.
In fact, I would do it all over again.