In Nairobi, the ghosts of all the women I could have been cascaded in and out of my body.
Like half-written poems and tipsy journal entries, make-believe versions of myself kept me up at night, imprinting themselves on my psyche.
After years without travel, my family and I recently returned home to Kenya—the country they grew up in and the place I was born. The first cousin in our extended family was getting married, and if you know anything about Indian weddings, you know we were in for a week of festivities.
My sister and I are the only cousins on my mom’s side of the family who didn’t grow up in Nairobi. My memories of “home” are blurry and mainly evoked when I see pictures of myself as a toddler with curly hair and hand-me-down shirts, the African sun in my eyes.
10 years after our last visit, I was seeing Nairobi in a completely different light. Frozen in time, I saw visions of Kenya Alysha—the version of myself that might have existed if my parents and I never moved to Canada. She looked like old money and new privilege.
It was simultaneously haunting and exciting to imagine what my life would look like in another universe. Parallel to my nostalgic experience of returning home after 10 years was the experience of my parents, whose energies completely shifted when we arrived.
I loved life in Nairobi. I loved it until I had to analyze it.
It took me weeks to realize that the time I spent back home wasn’t reality, nor was it an accurate reflection of how happy and fulfilled I would have been if we’d never immigrated to Canada.
In Canada, I’m acutely aware of my minority status, and conversations about race and discrimination fuel my advocacy and writing. Existing in Kenya was one of the first times I had the privilege I criticize and try to dismantle in my everyday life.
I breezed through life as naturally as the light dancing on the hydrangeas outside. Though there’s a sort of unity between brown communities in Nairobi, there’s an immense disconnect between privileged life and local existence. The interplay between race and class was enough to make me sick. The longer I stayed, the more I realized how I was actively contributing to deeply problematic hierarchies.
I was filled with embarrassment, disappointed in myself that I liked life being easy and laid out for me. I’ve never been handed anything in my life. My work ethic is charged by my need to survive more as much as it is my need to excel. But I didn’t need any of that in Nairobi—in fact, I didn’t even think about it.
I mourned the Kenyan version of myself once I poked holes in her effortless existence, and I appreciated my upbringing in Calgary even more as I moved forward. The discomfort and privilege I felt in Nairobi will undoubtedly inform my advocacy both inside and outside of Canada.
Nairobi wasn’t the only place that catalyzed a little identity crisis in my life.
I felt the same way when I first visited New York, catching glimpses of my almost-lives at intersections, smelling a perfume I know I would be wearing if I grew up in Brooklyn. Between the pure, resounding laughter of my childhood friends around a table in downtown Calgary, I imagined what I would be like if I never accepted my offer to Queen’s.
In these instances, I’m overcome by a longing for a life I’ve never had. I question my decisions and silently weigh whether I’ve made the wrong choices.
This isn’t solely a negative experience—it’s incredible for my creative projects. Characters for short stories come from different facets of who I could be, and I’m able to write poems that scratch the surface of my feelings.
But sometimes, my tendency to criticize decisions I’ve made pushes me into a spiral where my almost-lives look a hundred times more appealing than my current existence. I’m jealous of what could have been and frustrated that my current experience is so complicated.
However, when I’m able to see my almost-lives as idealized fantasies rather than glimpses of possible realities, they became a tool in sharpening my identity formation.
I’ve always struggled to accept my transformations.
Each time I feel I’m outgrowing something, whether it be a phase or friend group, I try and force myself to fit into a picture with no space for me. I drag out breakups, keeping old loves long past their expiration date. I think it’s because I’m scared I’ll lose the parts of myself I found in them once they’re out of my life.
Though mourning and grief are usually reserved for external circumstances, I think they can also apply inwards.
Mourning the almost-lives and almost-relationships I could’ve had actually allows me to move forward, after a period of reflection.
Strangely, by fictionalizing versions of myself that could have existed under different circumstances, I’m able to better understand who I am and what I care about. I take this knowledge into every new phase of my life, using it to inform my next big decision.
Nairobi taught me why intersectionality and critical race theory is so imperative. New York painted a picture of why I work so hard and where I hope to live. Calgary reminded me of the invaluable friendships that make me who I am.
However, I wouldn’t be happier if we had never moved to Canada, and I might be a terrible person if I grew up in New York. I definitely wouldn’t have become independent nor mature if I stayed home for university.
I don’t even think I’d be a writer if I lived in any circumstance other than the unique ones I experienced growing up.
I used to be consumed by visions of how much happier I could have been in different spaces. The process of mourning those versions and letting reality in has been instrumental in my cycles of growth.
The woman I am now is a collision of all my almost-lives. I am because they never could be, and I move forward by stitching my favourite aspects of their identities into my being.
I’ve experienced a million little deaths within my own bones. If loving someone is a vow to love every developing version of them, the same must be true about the relationships we hold with ourselves.
In viewing myself the way I see my poetry—constantly evolving and always creative—I’m able to deal with the terrifying changes that lie before me.
Mourning my almost-lives allows me to accept and love the woman I’m becoming. I’m able to grow because I let them exist in a liminal space, before eventually being able to move on from the idealized notions of what I could have been.
To my almost-selves—I’m glad to know you, and even more glad to have let you go.
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