Picture a deserted coral cove on the Mombasa coast in the early afternoon. My colorful kikoi flutters in the sea breeze as I lower it slowly onto the smooth sand beside the cliff. Then I quickly sit down on the kikoi and dig the four corners into the hard sand to anchor it. The teal sea is quiet. An underwater field of coarse seaweed waves back and forth with the motion of the waves. Baby waves tumble into a bubbly froth at the shore. When my eyes grow tired of the dazzling sunlight, I lie down under the coral overhang. The quartz crystals clinging to the sharp coral glint in the dim light.

Now, picture the orchestra of nature playing lazily in the late afternoon at the edge of Lake Naivasha. Monkeys catapult through the yellow and green acacia trees, avoiding the long thorns that cover every twig and branch. Hippos snort in the shallow, muddy water. Two purple-and-gray Baby waves tumble into a bubbly froth at the shorehippos, their tiny ears ridiculously sized in comparison to their massive bodies, lumber onto the grassy shore to graze. I stand very still, but the wind changes and the hippos smell my intrusive presence. They look up, and lumber back into the camouflage of the murky water.

These picture-perfect scenes are the stuff of my childhood, yet I know they’re not mine. I feel like a stranger here. Although I was born in Nairobi, neither of my parents are Kenyan citizens, so I’m not automatically granted citizenship. But more than that, I’m a Jew. I belong to a different land.

Fast forward more than twenty-five years.

Picture the green Carmel mountain range undulating along Highway 2. “Here’s where Elijah and the prophets of the idol Baal brought their sacrifices,” I call out to our children, strapped safely in the back of our car. “Imagine seeing fire coming down from the sky to burn Elijah’s sacrifice!” Leaving the hills behind, fields of wheat, sunflower, cotton and corn wave in the heat of the Jezreel Valley plains. Fish ponds lie like enormous puddles, pumps working vigorously to oxygenate the water teeming with bakalah, cod, that are headed for the Shabbat table.

A couple of hours later we climb the Golan Heights. Mountain sides, covered with tawny grass and dried-out thistles, slide gently into the Jordan Valley, where the Kinneret glitters like a jade harp in the late afternoon sun. It’s hot, and the air is drier than dead bones, but my heart swells with love and pride. I want to stretch my arms out, pull the scenery It’s hot, and the air is drier than dead bonestowards me, and hug it tight, like a large gym ball, against my chest.

Because it’s all mine.

A day later, we follow a trail packed with hikers. I lose sight of my sons as they skip ahead. I bump into the woman in front of me, who’s cajoling her two-year-old into taking another step so that they’ll reach the stream that we’re all hiking towards. I notice an Eden water bottle stuffed into a scrawny tree, and empty snack wrappers flutter listlessly in the hot breeze. A small voice pipes into my consciousness, This isn’t picture-perfect nature like in Kenya. I shrug away the voice, and focus instead on the beautiful families that are out building memories with their children.

Outside our rented rooms, I lie on a wooden swing under the pine trees and watch the branches wave in the wind, patches of blue sky coming and going as the pine needles scratch the sky. I take a deep breath—and inhale the musty smell of cow dung from the cowshed fifty meters behind me. No, it’s not picture-perfect. But I love it because it’s mine—the country, the people, and even the cows.

Then it strikes me—my life is like that too. The child who rushes out every morning before I can remind him to eat a bowl of cornflakes and brush his teeth, the leak in my kitchen that has ruined an entire wall, the way the edge of my nostrils gets red and chafed whenever spring warmth sets off its pollen traps. It may not be picture-perfect, but I love it because it’s mine—packaged especially for me by G‑d.