Early on in the (rather excellent) movie Fight Club, Edward Norton's character meets Brad Pitt's character (well, so to speak), and they have a brief exchange whilst sitting next to each other on the airplane they're on. Ed tells Brad about his "single-serving friend" idea - how he meets people on airplanes and considers them "single-serving friends" just like the single-serving of butter they give you, and the single-serving of salt, etc.. And its clever, because its accurate - the way you meet people in small doses when you travel for a living. Pitt goes on to tell him that its clever, and then asks him how being clever is working out for him.
I like to say I make fast friends (fast in the speed sense, not in the intensely close sense). I become friends with people perhaps more quickly than you would in other places / situations, and that's kind of easy particularly here in Africa. You bond with your fellow expats pretty quickly. Take Alan, for instance - I met him at frisbee on a Friday a few weeks ago, spent a night out or two with him and friends over the weekend, and by the middle of the next week had invited him to take over my spare room while he finished his apartment search. No biggie. That wouldn't happen in NYC.
The problem with fast friendships is that they tend to exist and then end that way too. I would say of the group I've bonded with here in Nairobi, approximately a 3rd of them are the longer-term expats - here for multiple years with not much of a looming horizon on when they might move on. The rest of us are faster. We come in with 6 months or maybe 8 or a year. But that's it, then they're off, back home, or somewhere else. Its not a bad thing per se, it just is what it is. But it is sometimes very sad.
Right now I'm not sure where I fall - I came here on a 2 year contract but who knows when work will take me elsewhere for longer periods. I just found out this morning that I'm not returning from my 2 weeks in the US that begin tomorrow directly, instead I'm off to Haiti for a couple weeks of work. I probably travel too much here to really be considered in the 33% of those who are long-termers. In the last month I've worked in 4 countries.
When I first started playing ultimate here in Nairobi, I met a really cool couple of dudes named Chad and Matt. They both worked for International Justice Mission, an organization I've been a big fan/supporter of for a long time. Chad was married to Jill, the sweetest girl you ever met. I saw them each week at frisbee but that was about it. Then Rosemary, a girl I work with, invited me to her church, Mamlaka Hill, which has since become my own church here, because it is awesome.
My first Sunday there, they ask the visitors to stand and then bring around a microphone so we could introduce ourselves. I didn't see Chad, Jill, and Matt in the crowd, but they were there and heard my introduction. That afternoon at disc, they asked me if that was me, and I said it was. I began running into them at church and giving them a ride back to their place, and we'd have brunch occasionally after.
I didn't spend nearly enough time with them while they were here and I regret that very much. I came to enjoy them immensely as friends and just really great people. Matt left for home in Alaska and then he's off to Cairo for more school, so I hope to see him again sometime soon. Chad and Jill left tonight, returning to Texas. I know we'll stay good friends but I have no idea when I'll see them again. I sure am glad to live in the age of the internet, though.
This happened a good deal in NYC as well, albeit on a more prolonged track of sorts. But it too is a transient place - people come and people go. Some day one of your best friends might just announce she's moving to London. Some day I might up and tell everyone I'm shipping off to Africa. And I guess I was that person - the one who left. Its just kind of the way things are, when your life involves travel. You sacrifice a lot of what-might-have-been with some really awesome people. Its just that way.
But it doesn't mean I have to like it.
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