February 12th, 2012 – Sabrina Premji (Nairobi, Kenya)
Buzz Buzz. That’s the sound my Blackberry makes when someone’s thinking about me. A BBM, an email even at odd hours of the night. And when you’re living in Africa and 3000 miles away from home, buzz buzz is indeed the best sound in the world. It’s the sound of being loved.
The best buzzes are from your parents reminding you that no matter how old you may be, or how far you may be living, you are still very much a big part of their lives. I woke up this particular morning to a much different message from my parents – one that said let’s talk. I quickly did the math and realized it was 1 o’clock in the morning their time. That’s never a good sign.
Dazed and slightly let-jagged from having flown from Italy the night before, I cuddled up with my computer in the spot that receives the best network connection – an idiosyncrasy you learn when living abroad. Through muffled skype video chat, I heard 3 words that have never left my head since. I have cancer. My mum – my beautiful 53 year old mother who has been my inspirer, my coach, my rock, my role model, my bestest friend since the word first came into existence. My mum. Cancer.
As soon as I heard those 3 words, the tears started quietly rolling down. I listened to my mum and dad recollect the story, but was too shocked to make sense of any of it. Low hemoglobin. Blood transfusion. Bone marrow test. Cancer.
I remember sitting in my Nairobi flat – there was no anger, no fear, no anxiety, only sadness. I was sad that my parents had to bear the burden of telling me this news for a whole week – I can only imagine how tough it was for them to have kept it from me while I was sending ‘wish you were here’ emails from Italy. I was sad that I could not be there for my bestest friend while she was grappling with the biggest news ever given to her. I was sad of all the pain in store for her just as she had reached the absolute peak of her life. I sat curled up on my couch and was overwhelmed by sadness. Never have I felt more alone in this world.
The sadness was quickly trumped by a sense of purpose. What did I need to do? I needed to get on a plane, that’s what I needed to do. But not to Toronto to see my mum; to Dar es Salaam for 3 days of meetings. I quickly dumped the Italy jackets and boots out of my suitcase and stuffed in summer dresses for Dar es Salaam. I hopped in a taxi, checked in at the airport and waited to board my plane. I really didn’t want to go, in fact the last thing I wanted to do was put on an ‘everything’s-okay-face’ while my heart and my mind were with my family in Canada. I just needed time to sit with a tub of ice cream and just be, just process.
But I boarded that plane, spent 3 days in Dar-es-Salaam and 10 more days in Nairobi wrapping up project deliverables and closing the nearly 1.5-year Kenya chapter of my life. It was time to gear up for another chapter – probably, the most challenging but life-changing one our family would ever have to go through. Kwaheri Kenya, karibu Canada.