Saving My Soul

by Barbara Steenstrup

15 May 2017

French trained Nigerian Chef, David (left), Barbara (middle) and her son Alan (right)

French trained Nigerian Chef, David (left), Barbara (middle)
and her son Alan (right)

For thirty years Kenya was my home; the place I had lived longer than any other. I enjoyed working, playing, sponsoring a child through school, growing my business networks, and building friendships. I also mourned the death of my mother and my husband during this time. My adventures, friendships and my beautiful house with an expansive garden have left me with such wonderful friends and memories.

Time passes –I was approaching seventy-five years old; my children and grandchildren were on the other side of the world. Key friends had moved. The house was too big, and the proceeds from its sale could help my younger son and his family with their new home.

After thinking about it for a while I decided it made sense to be closer to my children and grandchildren. Life also seemed to be getting too easy somehow. Everything was routine and predictable. It was time for a change and a new challenge.

So after 30 years, the time had come to sell my house and move to a new place. Many times during the year, it took to prepare for this move, I thought I was making a big mistake. How could I leave what is paradise? It was my home, what I was accustomed to. But I knew deep down it was the right decision. But I also knew I needed to remain connected to Kenya; I couldn’t just cut the cord and never look back. I would take all the wonderful things I had gathered over the years, furniture, paintings and Fatuma, a giant camel made of scrap metal created by the artist Kioko, to make my transition easier.

Four days after my 75th birthday and a final farewell dinner – I boarded the plane for Costa Rica, accompanied by my assistant Jacob, who would spend six weeks helping me to get settled. I had bought an apartment on an earlier trip to visit my younger son and his family. Being close to them was not a hardship. It also meant I had help and support. BUT I was still leaving the home I loved and will always love.

I call all of my moving preparations and my soft landing in Costa Rica, as ‘saving my soul.’ I am grateful for Jacob, as he made my transition easier. Not only was he a familiar face, he navigated the ins and outs of a new location with ease despite not understanding Spanish. I purposely brought with me my Kenyan things to remind me of my wonderful life as well as ensured I keep contact with my friends in Kenya. Every Sunday, there is a Skype call with Renee and Margarita. We catch up on the week; we laugh a lot and make plans to meet. Renee is visiting me in July.

Part of the “saving my soul” also entails trips back to Kenya. I have just returned from a visit after only five months of being away. I did not go to see my house, but I did visit former neighbors on the street. I did not go to see my dogs that are in new homes; it would have been too hard for them as well as for me. Thankfully, I did all the fun things with friends that I didn’t have time to do in the frenzy before moving. The welcome was amazing.

And it was a reassurance that the connection is still there. It is not necessary to burn any bridges. The bridges remain with the help of WhatsApp, e-mail, Skype and an airplane ticket now and then. I took back suitcases full of kikoys for gifts and kanga material, small solar lamps, and Kenyan coffee. Maybe another Kenyan painting will soon makes its way across the ocean to my new home.

Best of all, my soul is intact; the 30 years in Kenya lives within me, and now stretches all the way to Costa Rica. There is holding on, and there is letting go and moving on. I am learning how to do all at once.

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