Intercultural Pregnancy: The First Trimester

This blog post has been a long time coming, especially considering the fact that I’m working towards my sixth month of pregnancy, but after months of writing bits and pieces here and there, I’ve finally found the time to get it done. As it turns out, taking my time with this blog post was actually necessary. When I first started writing, it was just a three-page long rant. Now that my hormones have chilled a bit and Ray and I have had many discussions about intercultural pregnancy and I’ve allowed the conviction of the Holy Spirit to do its proper work in my heart, I’m approaching this blog differently. Trust me. You’ll be happy that I did.

Relationship vs. Research

One thing I have learned about Kenyan culture, my husband’s culture, is that it is very relationship oriented. Generally speaking, young people learn by sitting under the guidance and wisdom of older family members. The older women take the younger women under their wings and show them the ropes. In fact, according to tradition, an older woman (grandmother, mother, or aunt) will typically move into the home with new parents for a few weeks to help with the household chores and to teach the woman about how to take care of the baby. I’ve been told that this process can start even a month before the baby is born.

The way of my culture is mostly to Google everything. If you want to know anything, get a book, scour YouTube, or find an article or forum. We also have pregnancy classes you can attend on a weekly basis. (What I wouldn’t give for a pregnancy class right now.) Yes, some mothers stay with their daughters after the baby is born, but it’s not a tradition per se, and most women I know end up frustrated with their mothers in the end. I think American women going through their first pregnancy prefer a more do-it-yourself attitude, though they are grateful for the help and support of friends and family. Just as long as people know when to give the couple space.

This difference between our cultures has made accepting help with this pregnancy difficult for me in some respects. I don’t like being told what to do, and because I have been raised in a culture that encourages research, I feel like most of what I read contradicts some of the things certain Kenyans tell me about pregnancy or baby rearing. If I had more humility, I would just listen to what people have to suggest and move on. Sometimes I am capable of that, and then sometimes I find myself arguing with people.

And it’s not just me. Expats from first-world countries that live in third-world countries typically struggle with valuing the input of locals on many fronts. We have a friend from the UK who broke his arm here. He went to see a Kenyan doctor and the doctor set his arm in a cast. Our friend felt like the cast had been completely set wrong, so after two days he removed it and set his arm himself. That’s typical of expats. I’ve done the same thing many times with medicines doctors have prescribed for me or advice they’ve given me.

Ray actually gets annoyed with me when we go see doctors here, because he says I try to tell them how to do their job. I don’t. I just suggest alternative options… I know that sounds terrible, but when I had health problems two years ago, I had three very wrong diagnoses that required me to be put on antibiotics for two months. I ended up much sicker than when I first started seeking help! That has happened to many expats here, so I believe such instances make us very skeptical of believing what we’re told.

Kenyan Healthcare

I don’t mean to paint a bad picture of Kenyan healthcare, but the public healthcare system is terrible. I’m talking two to three pregnant women to one bed. Not one room, one bed. All three women in various stages of labor. But private healthcare here is pretty good. There aren’t any good options here in Kitale where we live, so Ray and I rent a car once a month and travel an hour and a half to a bigger town called Eldoret to see my OB/GYN. She’s delivered babies for some of our Kenyan and American friends, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about her, so I’m thinking she’s the best choice.

One thing I did have to get used to though is the fact that because my doctor is in high demand in this area, she doesn’t have a lot of time. Her office hours start around noon, but she usually shows up an hour or two later (she’s always busy with surgeries and deliveries), and then you have to wait in a room with about 30 other women. Once you finally get in to see her, she quickly goes through what needs to be covered, sends you to do lab work and whatnot, and then you have to come back to the waiting room and wait all over again to get back in to go over the results for her. You have to block out an entire day for about 15 minutes with the doctor. I’ve definitely learned a lot of patience in that regard. And by patience, I mean I usually sleep in the waiting room until I’m called.

On the plus side, healthcare is much cheaper here. A lot of people ask us if we’re going to come back to the States to have the baby. As ideal as that may seem, when you go through the logistics of what that entails, the idea quickly loses its appeal. We’d have to spend $3,000 just to fly to the States, and because I wouldn’t be allowed to fly overseas after I reach 7 months, we would need to find a place to stay stateside for at least five months, not to mention the hospital expenses. To have the baby via natural delivery in the hospital here is just $350. If we require a C-section, it jumps to $1,400, but that’s still a lot less than anything we would pay if we were to travel to the States. So, yeah. The decision was pretty easy for us from that standpoint. I’m just having to adjust to not getting an hour to talk to my doctor about every little question I have, and I’m learning how to make the most of the little time I have with her.

Making More Adjustments

Another area where Ray and I had to change during the first trimester was in regards to sharing responsibilities. When I say “sharing”, I mean Ray did everything. My morning sickness would last all day, confining me mostly to the bed, so Ray had to take care of everything. He cooked, cleaned, and watched me vomit from a distance but with just enough sympathy in the worry lines of his face to make me feel nice.

Culturally, it’s not common for Kenyan men to take on household duties (especially not for three months), but that’s the culture we’ve established in our home. We don’t currently use a house help, though we’re considering employing one after the baby arrives, so we do everything ourselves. Everything but the laundry. I thought I could be Super Wife when I first moved here, and I used to hand wash all of our laundry, then I got overwhelmed. So now we have someone do our laundry every other week. That will be increased to 2-3 times per week once the baby arrives, and we’ll probably have her help clean the house sometimes too, but it just depends on my energy level.

Dealing with Cravings

One of the hardest things about the first trimester for me was cravings. My biggest craving was meat. If I had been in the States, I’m sure I would have visited numerous drive-throughs on a daily basis. That was my point of reference, after all, for all the meaty dishes I craved. There is no fast food here, at least not like what we have in the States. In Nairobi (the capital city) you can find maybe 5 American fast food restaurants, but only one (KFC) has a drive-through. What I know as fast food back home typically operates more like a fancy restaurant here. But that’s 8 hours away from here.

In Kitale my options are limited, so we bought a lot of bacon, sausage, roasted goat, and beef-filled samosas. Here’s what fast food looks like for us. Because we don’t have a car, we rely on guys that drive motorcycles (pikis) to run small errands for us. Ray will call them whenever we need to order something, they use their own money to buy whatever we asked for, and then they bring it to our apartment so we can reimburse them and pay them for their service. It usually takes about 30-45 minutes to get whatever we ordered. When Ray was in Pokot (about 8 hours away) on a video shoot, I called him and whined about my insatiable desire for a bacon cheeseburger. The next morning I woke up to our piki guy knocking on our door. Ray had ordered me a bacon cheeseburger from a restaurant in town and had the guy drop it off. I’ve never had a cheeseburger here that compares even slightly to the ones back in the States, but that was literally the best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten in my life. He done good that day.

Getting Around

Because I was still small back then, Ray and I mostly got around by piki the first trimester; three to a piki. It’s the cheapest way to get around and there are literally hundreds of pikis around town. All you have to do is go to the main road, and they will pick you up and take you to where you need to go for less than a dollar. We have a couple of piki guys that we primarily take that we know to be safe drivers, but when they’re not available we just take tuk tuks or taxis. They’re more expensive, but they’re safer.

Now that I’m in my second trimester, Ray doesn’t let me ride pikis anymore. Sometimes if I’m late for a meeting or if I need to rush to town, I hop on a piki, but only if I don’t mind having “the talk” with the hubsters about my safety when I get home. Kenyan pregnant women ride pikis all the time and even carry their babies on them. I don’t think I could go that far, but maybe that’s an adjustment we’ll have to make in the future.

Baby Gear

When we announced our pregnancy, some friends of mine announced their pregnancies in the States at the same time. Within weeks, my friends were sharing some of the items they had already purchased for their baby or things they had made for the baby room. I, on the other hand, had not even thought about that stuff yet. I actually had no desire to get anything for the baby. It wasn’t until recently, when someone offered to bring things over from the States for us that I started thinking about what kind of things we might need.

I didn’t need to get a car seat because we don’t have a car (even if people have cars, most of them don’t use car seats anyway). I didn’t need to get a stroller because everyone carries their babies on their backs, and where we live the roads are not nice enough for a stroller to pass. I didn’t need to prepare a special room for the baby, because the baby will be sleeping in the room with us. It’s uncommon for babies to get a whole room to themselves in most Kenyan households. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that all the baby really needs are clothes and hygiene items. This is one aspect of raising a child in a third-world country that I’m excited about. It’s going to force me as a mother to learn how to raise this child with minimal product support.

And this brings me back to why even though I’m going to continue to Google, YouTube, and get advice from friends back home, I need to learn to accept the advice of Kenyans around me. They are the only people who can truly advise me on issues like dealing with hygiene properly for babies when there’s no washing machine, or how to protect the baby from Typhoid and malaria, or how to get along without electricity and so on. They’ve been doing it for years and raising healthy children, and though their methods are very different than my own, I know that I still have much to learn.

If you guys have any specific questions you’d like to ask about how this pregnancy has been going, feel free to leave a comment. I tried to be as thorough as possible with this post (sorry it’s so long), and I’ll do another post for each trimester here on.

Much love!

The tension of the moment: dealing with anger and bitterness

One thing that has always been true about me is that when people get on my nerves, my immediate reaction is to put distance between them and myself.

If you say something that I don’t like, I’ll unfollow, unfriend, block, or avoid you, and I’m good.

If you do something that I don’t like… Bye, Felicia.

Eventually, my relationships with such people fade into the deep recesses of my memory, until I completely forget what caused the tension between us in the first place.

Bad habits become a bad lifestyle

As a single person, this is primarily how I lived my life, so it should come as no surprise that this nasty habit still resurfaces in my marriage. Changing your marital status doesn’t change the fact that you are a jerk. It just makes you more aware of how much of a jerk you are. Painfully aware.

When Ray and I first got married, we stayed in my hometown for a month. I’m not kidding when I say that the honeymoon phase lasted a mere week for us before we entered the “Hey, let’s fight every day” phase. As is in my nature, after most fights I would run away. Whether I angrily left the house and went for a long walk around the block or I went to my best friend’s house for hours at a time, I would cut off the conversation, spin on my heel, and leave Ray choking on my dust.

Moving to Kenya changed that with a quickness. While we were in Nairobi, I used to try to leave the apartment in the middle of a fight, but the howls of stray dogs usually forced me to return home. That removed the walks around the block for me. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t know a single soul outside of Ray’s family, so there was no friend to run to either.

Those dogs did me a solid though, for real. Because of them, I had to learn to deal with my problems.

Making a joint resolution

It was during that season that Ray and I made a commitment to not allow the sun to go down while we’re in the middle of a fight… basically, not to go to bed angry. I’m not going to lie or pretend like that happens every single time, but we generally don’t stay angry with each other for longer than 24 hours. Why? Because he lives with me AND works with me AND does ministry with me. We do almost everything together, and we know that not a single one of our ministries can survive if we don’t deal with the issue of us, since marriage is our first ministry, after all.

This particular trip to the States has definitely been the most trying season of our marriage in a long time. We’ve been living out of suitcases, on the road a lot, still working online and with our video business to make ends meet, trying to raise money for our ministry (which has been pretty slow thus far), and on top of that, we’ve realized that whereas we had gotten into a comfortable groove in Kenya regarding how we work together and communicate, being in the United States as a couple has changed everything.

You see, in Kenya I am dependent on Ray, and in the U.S. he is dependent on me. It took three years for me to be able to accept the fact that I had to rely on someone other than myself (I was nearly 30 when we got married and had been single for all but 9 months of my life), so now that we’re Stateside, I can hear Kelly Clarkson whispering in my ear to become that Miss Independent Woman again, and Ray has been forced to deal with the fallout. I’ve become impatient, rude, and insensitive towards his needs and an overall pain to live with.

I originally intended to write about that whole experience, but as I began drafting this post, I received a phone call that changed my mind…

Old habits die hard

At this moment in my life there is a particular relationship I once had that has gradually declined and bottomed out. It’s a relationship that is supposed to be very important in a human being’s life, yet for this particular human (me) the relationship has gotten so far into bitterness that I feel nothing but hurt, anger, and disappointment.

Maybe someone would say, “Well, now sounds like a good time to apply that sundown policy, eh?”

That would be great, but it’s about ten years too late. There is a root of bitterness so deep in my heart that choosing to refrain from daily anger cannot work anymore. In fact, it’s a lack of doing that in the first place that got me here.

And 800 words later, I finally get to the heart of what I want to talk about.

Red or blue? Choose well.

Whether you’re married or not, you have undoubtedly had those moments of inner tension, when someone has offended or hurt you. Just seconds after the knife has been placed in your back or your gut, your initial reaction will of course be one of pain, but then you have a choice to make…

  1. Do you follow your primal instinct and respond in anger?
  2. Do you give way to the urgent tapping the Holy Spirit is doing on your heart?

We all know that feeling, right? We’ve felt it since we were kids on the verge of doing something we know we shouldn’t. Back then we referred to Him as our conscience, but we all know that there is nothing wholesome and good about our hearts and the way we engage in this world. We need the guidance and direction of someone pure who can teach us what it means to love others. That’s the Holy Spirit.

It is in that moment that we have a very important choice to make… to give in to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and mend things or to allow anger to fester until it becomes a giant, oozing sore of bitterness. All too often, the easiest and most desirous option is bitterness. For some of us there may be an issue that has held us captive for years, and it’s simply because every time we’re given the choice of the red or blue pill, we go for the red one. Every. Time.

I don’t say this to be preachy at all. I’m still in the throes of figuring out how to deal with the deep root of bitterness I have in my own heart. I want desperately for the issue to be resolved and would love to do whatever it takes to make that happen, but here’s the rub. How do you do that when the other person believes that they have done nothing wrong? How do you have a conversation about a problem that the other person cannot see? Trust me, it’s impossible. I’ve tried.

And so I’ve come to this place again where I’ve said, “Bye, Felicia,” and written that person off. I noticed my inclination towards running away once again the other day when said person called me and really pushed on a nerve. As I hung up the phone, I said in my heart, “I’m done. I could care less if I ever see this person again.” And these were more than just words. This is how I legitimately felt in the moment, and it’s how I continued to feel as I sat on the couch for the next twenty minutes chewing on the conversation, regurgitating it, and then chewing on it some more.

Thank God for “yet”

Yet, in the midst of my pity party I felt multiple nudges from the Holy Spirit.

Ray and I have some friends that we spent some time with while we were in Manhattan, and they had talked to us about living “on the other side of the line”, which essentially means to see people and situations as Jesus sees them. That conversation kept coming to my mind.

“Take a moment a check out what I’m seeing,” the Holy Spirit said.

I furrowed my brow and dredged up the most hurtful thing the person had done to me and began to feast on it.

“I know that bitterness tastes so good to you right now, but I can give you something that tastes much better. It’s called freedom.”

When we are in our right minds, we all know what we should do, and yet like me many of us still refuse to change our heart position. Unfortunately, the more that we reject the prodding of the Holy Spirit, the harder our hearts become until we can no longer hear Him, let alone respond to Him. I thank God that my heart is not yet hardened to the point that I can no longer feel those nudges. That would be a truly scary place to be. But even so, I know that if I continue doing what I’ve been doing, that’s where I’m heading. Romans 1, anyone?

So what do we do?

To be honest, I don’t know. I’m still dealing with it myself, so I can’t give you a five-step strategy to overcoming, but I’ve at least got three points that I’ve learned so far.

Fill your heart and mind with Scripture

Put something in your spiritual reservoir for the Holy Spirit to work with. There is a direct correlation between the amount of time you spend in the Word or in prayer and your willingness to respond to the Holy Spirit in the midst of turmoil. The less time I spend with Him in the quiet place listening to Him speak, the less inclined I am to listen to Him when He speaks and all my feels are up in the mix shouting just as loud.

Develop new habits

It only takes a few times of choosing the right thing in order to retrain your heart and mind to begin to do it naturally. You just have to take that first step… then do it again and again until you’re walking, and one day running, in grace and peace.

Repent

This is the most important factor. The other steps keep the wall from getting any higher around your heart, but repentance is what tears the existing wall down. I know of people that have testimonies of God miraculously healing a relationship overnight, and I have actually had that happen in my own life, but what had to happen before that was daily confession and repentance. I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t okay in my heart, that I still felt bitterness towards these people, and that I needed God’s help to forgive. For a particular relationship in my life, after years of running the crazy cycle of getting angry and then confessing my anger to God, He literally healed the relationship in one 20-minute phone conversation. True story. I have not had a single ounce of bitterness towards that person since.

I choose to believe that if He did it for that relationship, He will do it for this one as well. I also believe He’ll do it for you, if there’s a relationship in your life that has left you with a root of bitterness in your heart. God desires nothing more than to see His children walking in freedom. So let’s be free, yeah?


Additional shameless plug because… Well, why not?

Ray and I have one month left in the States. We would love to reach the goal that we have for our ministry, but anything helps. We’re going to hit the ground running as soon as we get back, regardless of whether we hit the goal or not.

You can read more about our goal here: A Place to Call Home.

You can visit our general fundraising page here: Gofundme.

You can make tax-deductible contributions or become a monthly partner through our mission page here: Mission Quest.

Weighing in on the BLM movement

So I’ve been quiet about this issue because I’ve lived out of the States for nearly three years now, and I felt a bit removed from everything that has been going on, but after sitting back and watching all the mayhem unfold, I do have something to say.

Black culture, my culture

Living in Kenya, a predominantly Black nation, I’ve learned a few things about myself and my culture. I’ve shared this before, but there are pretty much two cultures here in Kitale: Kenyan culture and white missionary culture. I don’t really fit into either.

As much as I love Kenya, live in Kenya, have a Kenyan husband, and will someday have partially Kenyan kids, I am not Kenyan. Even when I finally become fluent in Swahili, that won’t change the fact that Kenyan culture is not my own. Likewise, as much as I love making friendships with the white missionaries because we have the commonality of coming from the same country, their culture is totally different from my own.

Because there is not a single Black American living in this city apart from myself (that I know of), I often come to the realization that though I am surrounded by Black faces, I am alone. There is no one that understands or engages in the culture I grew up with, and try as I may, whenever I spend time with people from other cultures, I feel like I’m pretending.

Why do I mention this?

Because I feel the need to make it clear that Black culture is not only very specific, but it is an indelible part of who I am. The same goes for other Black Americans. That’s why KevOnStage will always have material for his stand-up routines (I can’t even begin to tell you how much watching his videos has helped my soul cope with not having any Black Americans to associate with here. It’s good medicine for me.).  But basically, we are all knitted together with the bonds of culture. If you prick one of us, we all bleed. If you poison one of us, we all die.

White Americans have their own culture as well. Some families have traced their ancestry back to discover which country they originate from, and some of them actually celebrate their ancestral traditions. There are also those whose culture is based on what region of the States they live in (i.e. the South, the Midwest, etc). But for the most part, White culture is accepted as American culture.

Black culture, on the other hand, is considered “other”.  It’s the reason why products for Caucasian hair fill the shelves with the simple label “hair care” and black hair products get a small section with the label “specialty hair care”.  That’s just one example, but I fear if I continue going on and on about the others, I’ll lose some people along the way. I want you to get my point.

The souls of black folk

As W.E.B. DuBois described in one of my favorite pieces of work “In the Souls of Black Folk”, black people typically view the world through what he terms a “double consciousness”. It’s like having separate identities: one that allows us to see ourselves through what we understand White Americans know/expect of us and one of our own Black culture.

He also describes a veil that essentially keeps White Americans from being able to see the reality and depth of what happens in the Black community and from even seeing us as real Americans. I believe this veil is what has laid the groundwork for what is going on today.

All of the violence that has been occurring against Black people lately is nothing new. It’s just now that the veil is being lifted for others to see. As a Black community, we see what others don’t see because it’s our lives. Men in the Black community have always known that they’re targets for police, because it’s what they’ve lived. I’ve seen it happen with my brothers and friends many times before it started making the news. Long before all of the live recorded videos began circulating, Black men have lived with this reality.

Personally, I’ve found it very interesting to see the reactions of people of all cultures, regarding the initial deaths of the Black men and the subsequent deaths of the officers. People’s reactions have established a very clear demarcation in my mind of who sees beyond the veil and who doesn’t. I’m not going to comment on that any further though, except to say that I do not condone the if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? position that some of my culture have taken. Shylocks we are not.

So I wrote all of this in the hopes that I could explain a bit of why the Black Lives Matter movement matters to so many Black people. I do recognize that BLM can represent a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but this is what it means to me, and though I’m 8,000 miles away from home, I stand with my brothers and sisters across the ocean.

I get it. And I hope what I’ve shared has helped a few others to get it too.

And it comes ’round full circle

So as I was taking a shower this morning, I had a thought. I often enjoy standing under scalding hot water for ridiculous amounts of time doing nothing else but thinking, and this time my thoughts revolved around the future of the ministry Ray and I have started (The Joshua Blueprint) and all that has happened to get us to this point. But I wasn’t thinking about it from the perspective of anything I’ve done, but from the perspective of what others have done. Let me explain…

Fulfilling the calling

All of the things that I am doing now, and even some things that I have yet to do, are the culmination of a number of things I have already done. Okay, I fear that either sounds super common-sensical or completely nonsensical. Let me try again… I want to connect some dots as a way of saying thank you to the many people that have influenced the trajectory my life is currently taking. My life is what it is because of what you have done.

Ever since my college days, I’ve been asking people for money. But not in the typical, “Hey, I’m a broke millenial. So… you got a dollar?” fashion. No, I’ve always sought financial help for noble reasons (mission trips, leadership training, ministry projects, etc.). As much as I hate asking people for money – ask my dad, he knows – I’ve maintained this view that anytime people donate towards something I feel called to do, that they are working in partnership with me; they are in essence fulfilling the calling with me.

The journey begins

It all started shortly after my mom passed away. During spring break, a few weeks before she died, I had attended a “Spring Breakthrough” conference in Alabama at The Ramp, and I came away from that meeting with a fire burning deep within my belly, as I had received the gift of tongues and a fresh anointing. When I returned to Salina that summer, I returned with a vision to start a dance ministry. But I needed money. I reached out, people answered, and the Lord enabled us to put together an intercessory worship dance event. It was rough, but the day of small beginnings usually is.

A few years later I felt called to go to South Africa on a short-term mission trip with Global Expeditions (Teen Mania). I had always had a heart for Africa and wanted to take advantage of my youth and singleness to get a feel for ministry on the continent, so I applied. Thankfully, I got accepted. But I needed money. I reached out, people answered, and the Lord enabled me to go to South Africa.

While I was a college student, I helped organize campus-wide prayer vigils and spent a lot of time with friends in houses/chapels/grassy knolls of prayer and worship. It became my passion. Once I moved back to my hometown, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, so I applied for a leadership course at the International House of Prayer with the Luke 18 Project. Though they specialized in training college students to start prayer furnaces on their campuses, they accepted a few young adults. I was one of them. But I needed money. I reached out, people answered, and the Lord enabled me to get in-depth training on building prayer furnaces.

I came back from that intensive with a renewed fire for prayer, found a few people that were willing to keep a furnace with me going for a full year, and then I got invited to Kenya to take part in a youth conference. Now, as many of you know, Ray’s uncle had been coming to stay with us since I was 14 years old. He had told me numerous stories about Kenya and had piqued my interest in visiting, so I was all about this trip. But I needed money. I reached out, people answered, and the Lord enabled me to minister in music and ministry at the youth conference AND to meet my husband.

Aside from dealing with the after effects of a shocking engagement announcement after that trip, I also felt compelled to take some of the music I had written and record a proper album (My Name, Your Seal) to share with friends and family before I moved away to another country. These were personal songs that had resulted from a particular season in my relationship with God, and I wanted a producer I knew from college to help me bring them to life. But I needed money. I reached out, people answered, and the Lord enabled me to create an album that I’m extremely proud of and that stands as a lasting reminder of God’s faithfulness to me.

That brings us back to today

Since then, with our fledgling ministry trying its darndest to get out of the nest, many people have supported us and helped us to get to where we are today. We of course still have a long way to go (the vision is much, much bigger than I think we even realize), but we’re getting somewhere. And that’s because of people like you.

People who partnered with me to put together the dance event, which ultimately prepared the way for what I’m doing with my dance students now. People who partnered with me to get to South Africa, where God stirred a love for this continent deep within me. People who partnered with me to receive valuable training on prayer that we’re implementing in our home and ministry today. People who partnered with me to make the initial trip to Kenya and discover my forever home. People who partnered with me to release songs that had been in my heart for years and who helped me believe that I was good enough.

None of what I have done or what I am doing could have been done without your help. None of it.

As I’ve said to some of you before, this has never been about me doing whatever I want to do and taking money from other people so I can make it happen, but it has always been about joining with people who understand the heart or purpose behind why I’m doing something. When I stand before God one day and give an account of all that I’ve done in these various areas, I will not be alone. You who have supported me in prayer and finances will be there with me receiving your due reward. We’re all in this together, and I for one am so happy to have kingdom-minded friends like you to run this race with.

Thank you.

P.s. This thank you also goes to those that helped us raise money for me to go back to the States last year to see some doctors. It wasn’t ministry related, so I didn’t add it in the post, but I am INCREDIBLY grateful just the same.

Cultural expectations strike again

We get a lot of emails from people across the world that read this blog who are in or are about to be in an intercultural marriage. It has been a blessing to get to develop relationships with some of you and to hear your stories. I just want to take a moment to say thank you for reaching out. Though the combinations of cultures differ, we all pretty much face the same challenges, and I’d like to think we can find some solidarity in one another. So, I wanted to write today’s blog specifically for this particular demographic.

Facing a new challenge… again?

One of the biggest talking points for newly married cross cultural couples is cultural expectations. As I’ve been saying the past few years that I’ve been writing this blog, culture plays a big part in how Ray and I understand each other, and without earnestly seeking to understand each other’s culture, this marriage would have been over long before it even started. #truth

In our first few years of marriage, we mostly focused on cultural expectations as they related to our marriage – what he expected of me as a wife, the assignment of marital responsibilities, and the like. But as we are currently working on our third year of marriage, we’re discovering the importance of discussing cultural expectations regarding people outside of our marriage, specifically family members.

Before we got married, my husband was the man of his mother’s household, as his stepdad had died some time ago. Culturally speaking, it was his responsibility to take care of his mother and his siblings. Leave alone the fact that he had become the man of home, there is also a general cultural expectation that once a child gets on his feet financially, he should always be aware of his family’s needs and provide whenever possible. I might even go so far as to say it’s more like a rule, not just an expectation.

I’ve shared this before, but when we had our African wedding reception, we didn’t just feed each other wedding cake; we also fed cake to his mother and grandparents as a sign that we would always take care of them. I had no idea about that wedding tradition or the implications of what it meant for our marriage until later. (Side note for people marrying into other cultures… take time to learn the significance of the traditions you will perform at the wedding. They will give you great insight into your spouse’s cultural expectations. There was no rehearsal before our African wedding, so I was totally clueless about what I was supposed to do or what anything meant. To this day I wish we had done things a bit differently. This is Sam. Sam didn’t take time to learn the significance of Luhya traditions before her Kenyan wedding. Don’t be like Sam.)

The tension of transition

Once we got married, Ray encountered a lot of emotional anxiety because I was crying, “Leave and cleave, bruh!” while he was feeling the pull of cultural responsibility to his family. If you know Ray, you know he has an incredibly big heart for people and an even bigger place in his heart for his family. Even when he came to the States, I was busy focusing on how to pack my entire life into three suitcases, while he was considering foregoing packing his suitcase with clothes so that he could fill it with gifts for his family. Because he had also given a bunch of his clothes away before he came to the States, I made him get clothes for himself, but for months after that he complained about feeling like he hadn’t given his family enough.

In the beginning this issue actually caused lot of fights between us, because my perspective was that his only obligation was to me. As far as my culture is concerned, once you’re 18 you’re on your own, and once you’re married… fahgedaboutit. American parents typically don’t support their children financially after they hit those two milestones, and there is no expectation that the child should support the parents unless the parents can no longer take care of themselves. Generally speaking, what you do with your money is your business.

It took some time before we realized that the tension we were feeling was stemming from cultural differences. He just assumed that I was a miserly, selfish woman (as I’m sure many other Kenyans assumed and still assume is true of me to this day), and I just assumed that he cared about everyone else but me. There may be some truth to the fact that I’m a tight wad and my husband is overly generous, but we also were raised with different expectations about what money and marriage are supposed to look like.

Considering a compromise

As a couple, we’ve really had to work together to come up with a compromise that prioritizes our marriage while being as helpful as we possibly can to his family. For us that means if someone is requesting an amount under $10, he can give out of his discretionary fund, and he doesn’t have to tell me. That’s his prerogative. We’ve decided to do it that way simply because I have overreacted numerous times in the past.  So instead of selfishly asking him to stop giving, this was the next best happy compromise. We also have designated a fund just for requests we might receive from family, and once that fund is empty, that’s it. We don’t dig into our personal money or make ourselves broke and we don’t allow ourselves to feel guilty about it. We do what we can, and that’s that.

If there’s anything cautionary I can say about cultures similar to the Kenyan culture, it’s that I’ve seen young people really incur financial loss on account of family members needing to borrow money so frequently. If the young person doesn’t have a financial plan or doesn’t know when to say no, they can easily give what they can’t really afford to give and later on they find themselves resenting their family for putting them in a hole. As a whole, the culture can pressure people to make unwise financial decisions, which makes it difficult for anyone to get ahead, and it just perpetuates this cycle of constantly needing people to bail you out of financial problems.

But, if there’s anything encouraging I can say about cultures such as the Kenyan culture, it’s that you can rest assured that when you give to those in need, they will be there to support you when you are in need (for the most part). There have been times we’ve had to rely on the kindness of family to get us through a dry spell, when we didn’t have any work coming in or when we had exhausted our savings. Because of Ray’s connection to family, he can reach out to them, and they will do what they can to give a few dollars here and there. One of the greatest attributes of Kenyans is their giving nature.

A Word to the Wise

Now, to those of you embarking on an intercultural marriage, I would urge you and your partner to talk about this particular matter thoroughly. This has truly been a source of stress in our marriage, and considering money matters are one of the biggest reasons for divorce these days, you may want to commit to paying special attention to this area. Trust me, it can come to a head fast. Even the first week that we arrived in Kenya, after only two months of marriage, we came face to face with this issue, and we fought a lot. Seek to establish a cultural compromise for your money matters, and then tweak it along the way as your financial situation changes or even as your perspectives change.

Also, as I’ve said in other posts before, if your family is the side putting financial pressure on your marriage, you are the one responsible for being the spokesperson to share whatever you have decided as a couple. Your spouse should never feel like they have to defend decisions you made together to your family. It’s easier for you to deal with disappointment from your own family than for your spouse to deal with disappointment from their in-laws, if you know what I’m saying.

No matter what, protect the integrity and reputation of your spouse. A lot of Kenyans used to tell Ray that they thought I was controlling, but Ray has always vehemently stood up for me and asserted that we make decisions together. I can’t tell you how much that honors me as his wife and makes me love and respect him all the more. Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes and instead of fighting about money, foster love and respect in your own marriage as well.

Much love!

God’s promise to my mother

From the day we got married to today, Ray and I have committed to studying one chapter of the Bible together every week night. For the most part, with the exception of one of us being away from home or nights we are too tired to see straight, we’ve been faithful to that commitment and have since managed to finish the entire New Testament and a few Old Testament books together. We’re currently working our way through Exodus, and I happened to catch the itch to blog about it, so here goes…

God keeps His promises

One of the most remarkable things about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is that it demonstrates that God’s promises don’t necessarily need to come to pass in your lifetime to be fulfilled. As far as God is concerned, once He promises something, He doesn’t take His words back. Any word He’s spoken will not return to Him void. It will accomplish what He sent it to do before it returns to the Father.

Even if we fail to keep up our end of the bargain, as human typically tend to do, He is faithful to keep His word because He’s not human. No, He demonstrates that His promises, just like His very nature, supersede time. He can give whatever He promised you to your great, great grandchildren and still consider that promise fulfilled. You may have disqualified yourself from receiving the promise, but that doesn’t nullify the deal… it just postpones it.

Take for instance the Israelites. Though God was undoubtedly aware that they would eventually lose out on their opportunity to enter the promised land, He still made every effort to keep them from missing it. Why? Because He had made a promise to Abraham. He could have led the people through Philistine territory, the shorter route, but He knew they would turn back if they faced war too soon (Exodus 13:17-18). Pharaoh came to recapture them, but the Lord himself stood between the two armies while the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Throughout their journey through the wilderness, we continually see God say to Himself, “These people are stiff-necked and I can tolerate them no longer… BUT I made a promise to Abraham. For his sake, I’ll continue on with them.” On and on and on, the story continues and God keeps giving these guys chance after chance to be the people to cross the threshold of the promised land.

We know the story. They didn’t.

But their children did. The promise was still fulfilled.

Jeannette Michelle Curtis

Now let me take the liberty of comparing these stories to my relationship with my mother. If you didn’t get the chance to know my mother before she passed, let me describe her a bit for you. Nearly six feet tall, Jeannette Michelle Curtis possessed a very commanding demeanor and equally strong personality. Her fiery glance alone could be enough to make a child fear for his life when she caught his attention by snapping her fingers at him in the middle of a church service, but her heart was full of love and the kind of warmth that always caused her to be found with kids underfoot. She was passionate about a lot of things, but she especially had a love for the arts, children, worship, prayer, and Africa.

My mother was a nationally known poet and playwright (she’s even made the “Who’s Who” list) while she was in college, but when she decided to pursue family instead of a national tour, she made sure to utilize whatever resources my father’s hometown could give her, and she continued putting on small plays here and there.

My parents both were known throughout the city as Mama Bear and Papa Bear because of a children’s program they started called “The Good News Bears”. It had quite a long run and it reached a great number of kids, but then they got into full-time ministry as they became pastors of their own church, and though they still set apart Saturday nights for kid’s church, they weren’t able to pursue children’s ministry to the extent that they had in the past.

The list of interests and dreams my mother had could go on for days, but I’ll add just one more.

For as long as I can remember, my mother had a fascination with Africa. Whenever African evangelists would come to Salina, Mom would not only be in attendance, but she would offer to host them so she could pick their brains. As a child I benefited from this greatly, especially since one of the evangelists we had hosted since I was 14 was my husband’s uncle James Murunga. Whenever he came to town, I would ask him questions about Kenya and the Bible until my mom sent me to bed.

I mention these things, specifically the Africa bit, because I want to give some context for what comes next.

I am my mother’s child

Let’s start with my first trip to Africa. It was 2006, and I was traveling to South Africa with Teen Mania Ministries. Everyone had to meet in Texas for training before heading over, so my dad and youngest brother drove me to Kansas City to catch my plane. We stayed the night in a hotel, and in the morning my dad told me about a dream he had. In his dream my mother, who had passed away almost two years prior, met him in the airport. He was so excited to see her alive and wanted to bring her back home and show everyone she was alive. But mom insisted that she needed to get on that plane because she was called to Africa. She got on the plane and was gone.

My father told me that he felt like the dream was assuring him that I was carrying out my mother’s dream and that the trip wasn’t just about me fulfilling my own dreams, but hers as well.

I believe my dad was right about that dream and its application to my life, but I have also come to believe that it’s even more than that.

See, I always felt like I was born with so much favor on my life. People would tell me all the time that there was something “set apart” about me, and both they and I had myself convinced that it was because God was just really into me. As true as that may be (I mean, He’s into everyone of course), I now realize that the favor I’ve lived in has really had nothing to do with me, but more about God keeping His promise to my mother through me. She was my Abraham and as her only daughter I became the recipient of her covenant to God. I’m not saying my other siblings haven’t received benefits from her and my father – by the way – I’m just saying that God knit my heart to my mother’s in a way that I can’t comprehend. It feels like every day I find her when I look in the mirror, I hear her in my voice, and sense her passions fueling the fire of my own.

God gave my mother a lot of dreams, and it seems that the life I’m living today is the fulfillment of so many things she started. Like our ministry (The Joshua Blueprint) combines children’s ministry with the arts and worship as we train kids to use their talents to glorify God. My heart has also been for Africa, and now for the past two years I’ve been living here, getting the chance to love on some of the people my mom’s heart yearned to meet. My dad also told me when my Nashville-based EP came out that he cried the first time he listened to it because making an album was something my mom had always wanted to do, and he could hear her voice as I sang. Once again he affirmed that I was fulfilling a dream my mother had.

This has probably been a long stream of rambling, but my point is that I know the Lord has given me specific dreams and promises apart from my mother, but I just feel like this perspective has brought me to a new place of humility. No longer can I look at what God has done or what He’s doing in my life and believe that it’s because I’m anyone great in the kingdom. No, I am the least. It’s because of my mother’s relationship with God that I was set apart from birth and led into the life that I’m living now. It’s because God made a promise to her and for whatever reason, He decided to fulfill it through me and maybe even my children. I know our kids will be blessed because of the path their grandmother paved for them, and I thank God for giving me the mother He did and I pray that my husband and I are able to carry out her legacy to the fullest. I know she deserves it, and apparently God thinks so too.

Count to ten and start again: mission trip in Pokot

This past weekend my husband and I had the privilege of joining Rick and Mary Strickland in serving the people in the northern region of West Pokot. Based in Olathe, Kansas, the Stricklands have been coming to Kenya for over two decades and have been acquainted with Ray’s family for just as long. Believe me, I’ve heard some interesting stories from them about Ray when he was a kid. 😉

The Pokot tribe is about 700,000 strong, but they’re generally pretty secluded people, so the group we visited was way up in the mountains in little pockets throughout the bush. They’re so hidden, in fact, that years ago Rick initially had to drive through unpaved roads for hours only to hike for hours just to reach them. Some of the roads have been semi paved since then, but it’s still a tough trek to get there. Even once you arrive, the place will look totally secluded until someone starts playing a drum. Once the drums plays, you’ll suddenly find people pouring out of the bush from all directions.

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Bumping right along

Currently, with some of the work they’ve done on the roads, the trip to Kitale from Pokot is 8-9 hours. One hundred and forty kilometers (70ish miles) in 8-9 hours, that is. Our spiritual parents Bill and Patricia Cornell of Vision for Africa Ministries took us along for this trip in their vehicle.

Riding with ma and pa

We drove along some pretty bumpy roads for about four hours, stopped at Rick and Mary’s home, and had a little lunch.

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The home Rick and Mary are building in Kinayu.

The home Rick and Mary are building in Kinayu.

 

The view from Rick and Mary's home.

The view from Rick and Mary’s home.

 

Making sandwiches with Mom Patricia.

Making sandwiches with Mom Patricia.

Then we continued down even worse roads – the kind that force you to duck away from your window to keep from getting whacked in the face by thorny branches and that make you cringe as you hear bushes scraping and breaking against the underside of the vehicle.

The fun has arrived

Thankfully, our vehicle arrived without incident (though the same can’t be said of the trip home), but Rick and Mary’s vehicle had some issues with the carburetor, so they stayed back at the house for the evening. We at least had enough daylight left to set up camp and get the projector in place to show the people pictures Ray took of them when he went for a medical mission trip while I was stateside. A lot of people in the bush don’t really get the opportunity to see what they look like, so they’re very keen about huddling around cars to see their reflection or crowding you when you take pictures because they know they’ll be able to see themselves on screen. I found it quite amusing though how if I was taking video of something, people would scrunch up behind me to look at my screen, then they’d run in front of the camera and run back and try to catch themselves on screen.

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Pokot selfies!

You can imagine then, how excited they were about the slideshow. They laughed and talked throughout the whole thing… until the generator quit after about fifteen minutes.

Sadly, we couldn’t do anything until the morning when Rick arrived with a backup, so we just packed up and went to bed early. Well, we did … throughout the night we could hear singing and drumming and laughing. I’m pretty sure Pokots don’t need to sleep. They sang and prayed in the church all night long and even when we woke in the morning they were still going.

The call to worship

The next morning was Sunday, so it was time for church. Shortly after we had breakfast, the call to worship was sounded via the drum, and people once again came pouring in from nowhere. They sang and jumped and danced and prayed, and even though everything they sang was in Pokot (Ray was just as lost as I was) there was quite a joyful atmosphere in the church service under the trees.

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We spent the afternoon entertaining the kids by doing silly things simply because they would mimic everything we did.

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Ray taught them the electric slide, Bill did some counting games with them, Patricia danced with them, and I taught them some chants/songs about Yesu in mixed English and Kiswahili.

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The funny thing about the kids is that they’re terribly frightened of white people. We’ve been told that there are longstanding rumors that white people are cannibals, so it took a little time for them to warm up to Bill and Patricia. I, however, was able to walk up to them and play some hand games with them, though if I ever made any sudden moves, you better believe they would dart away from me like I had the plague. I wish I recorded the sound they made when they got scared and scattered… “Woooh”. It was really cute.

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In the midst of all the fun, we came across a small girl laying on the ground looking very weak – she could barely open her eyes. We figured she was dehydrated and tried to give her some water. She allowed Ray to pick her up, of course she had no strength to be scared, but she wouldn’t let me give her water. She would cling to Ray’s neck and turn away. Finally we put her down on the ground and the mother came around and helped us give her some water. It was incredible the difference water could make. In no time she was handing her cup back to me for more water and then up and running and playing with the other kids. We didn’t do any “witnessing” during this trip, but we did fulfill the scripture of giving a thirsty child water to drink, so that’s enough for me.

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Rick showed up with the generator and bags of food, and we managed to finish the picture slideshow and play about the first hour of “The Passion”. We got to the very end of Jesus being beaten, and though it was dark outside, you could hear the people weeping openly. I watched the movie in American theaters three times and I heard lots of sniffling, but never anything like that. It was quite moving.

Suddenly the rain came and it never stopped. By the time the people had taken cover in the school house and we had taken down the equipment and packed it up, the thunderstorm had arrived. All we could do was sit in our tents and wait …

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The morning after the storm. Thankfully we were on top of the mountain, so all the water ran down into the river.

We waited until late in the night for the storm to pass, but the rain never let up.

Even in the morning, we woke to rain, but guess what we also heard… singing, drumming, dancing, and praying. Those people never quit, I tell you!

We were supposed to leave Pokot that morning, but because we were so far up the mountain and the rains had been so heavy (I mean we could hear the river below us ferociously rushing all night long and even throughout the day… Imagine, it was just one of the rivers that we were supposed to cross to get out of there… and by cross, I mean without a bridge), we had to wait. Ray and I went into the schoolhouse and recorded some Pokot songs and games – the inspiration behind a future project we hope to film – and spent the morning with the kiddos.

A teachable moment

Now before I get to the bit about our trip back, let me tell you about an incident that was definitely a teachable moment for me.

As I mentioned before, it was raining all morning long. Most of the kids were barefoot and had very little to keep them warm – just lessos (large, thin scarves). One little girl was just in a t-shirt and skirt with no shoes. I had carried my mom’s knitted sweater afghan thing-a-ma-jig (I don’t know what it’s called) with me to keep warm. It was one of the few items that belonged to her that I was able to bring with me to Kenya. I felt bad for the girl, so I took it off and covered her in it so she could keep warm.

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She kept it on for quite a while until we all went back into the school house. The kids were dancing and the rain was beginning to let up, so she took it off and set it on a chair. One of the mama’s took it upon herself to watch my stuff while we were occupied with the kids, so when we went to leave the school house, she made sure that I had all of our equipment and my afghan sweater thing.

Ray and I joined the other missionaries under the main tent to play games and wait the rest of the rain out. As the sun came out, so did the little girl with her mother. They wanted the whatchamacallit back. Now, I couldn’t understand a single word they said and they couldn’t understand me either, so they just kind of circled the tent and tried to get my attention. I knew what they wanted, but the rain was ending, so I didn’t want to go back out and hand it to her and confuse her into thinking I was giving it to her. Too late… the damage was already done.

The sun came out and it got warm really fast – Pokot is typically really hot, which is why the rain storm was so uncommon – so we decided to start packing up.

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We hoped that after a good three to four hours the road would be dry enough to get across and the rivers would have gone down. The whole time we packed, the girl and her mother hovered around and every once in a while tried to tell me in Pokot that they wanted my do-hickey. I was at a loss; I didn’t know how to communicate that I didn’t mean to give it to them.

Before you start thinking I’m a monster, let me clarify… Some Pokot women can be very aggressive when it comes to getting what they want. If you give something to their kids, they’ll take it from them in a heartbeat and not think twice. The missionaries I was with have even seen the women take candy out of their children’s mouths and pop it into their own. I had given a bag of oranges to one of the kids that sang because Ray and I really took a liking to her, and within minutes, her mom confiscated them and I don’t think the little girl even got one. It was very clear from the way this particular woman was pushing the little girl to keep coming to me that she wanted the sweater for herself. So I wasn’t denying the girl something she needed (Rick and Mary had actually brought hats and jackets for the people, so where there was a need they would have filled it); I was denying the mother something she wanted.

The rest of the afternoon I got some pretty cruel glares from the two of them until I found an interpreter and had him help me explain the situation to them. I really struggled with whether or not I should just give it to them or if I should keep it. I’m not the most sentimental person, I threw gads of personal mementos away when I moved here, but this particular item.. I just couldn’t give up.

Anyway, if there’s one thing I learned from that situation, it’s that I have to be careful about “being nice”, especially when I have no way of communicating my intentions. As far as they were concerned, if I gave it to her to wear, I gave it to her. There was no question in their minds that I was in the wrong for taking the sweater back, and nothing I said or did could change that fact. Ray and I gave away a number of things that we had brought with us, but that didn’t matter. I took a gift back from a kid and proved myself to be dishonest. Honestly, that experience was a little overwhelming emotionally for me because I didn’t mean to cause offense, but what more could I do? Lesson learned.

Until next time

As we drove off from there, we were met with surprisingly mostly dry paths. Pokot gets really hot, so even after all that rain, the moisture was either sucked right out of the ground or ran downhill. That was true of the road for about half an hour until we got to the area where the government has been grading the road. All that was there was miles of mud. Rick had gotten stuck ahead of us and then we got stuck … twice. We came across someone else who was stuck just at the end of a river bed, used the wench to get him out, and then continued on our way until we came across the big river… you know the one I said we heard roaring all night. Coming down from the hill, we saw the water still about 20 meters wide and everyone said, “Uh-oh”.

I for one had horrible visions of our truck floating down the river flashing through my mind, but thankfully another guy was down at the bank and told us that though it looked formidable, it was cross-able. He even had someone walk across it for us and the water that once looked so menacing turned out to only be about calve deep. We easily crossed it and everyone breathed easy again after that.

Because we left so late in the afternoon, we decided to just drive the four hours (30 miles) to Rick’s house and camp there for the night. The road had been washed out in numerous places and the mud proved to be a challenge more than a few times, but we made it.

The next day wasn’t so bad. Just a flat tire, but after all the other stuff that had happened, that was easy peasy. We made it back home just in time to get to Mattaw for classes with our students.

Lessons from Kimmy

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt probably isn’t the purest show to quote, but I must confess that I binge watched the heck out of that show over the course of two evenings while I was in the States. One point Kimmy made in the show that I completely relate to was that when she’s doing tasks that upset or frustrate her (i.e. turning the “mysterious” crank again and again), she just counts to ten and starts again.

In situations like we faced this past weekend, the old me would have been severely impatient, frustrated, and emotional. I can’t imagine the S’ambrosia of two years ago going along with the flow like I was able to on this trip. Of course the grace of God kept me throughout, but I also had to be responsible for the choices I made each second. To that end, I didn’t necessarily count to ten, but I would continually tell myself that soon the rain would stop or soon the problem with the little girl’s mother would be resolved or soon we would get past the bumpy roads to smoother ones, and amazingly, my spirits remained high throughout the trip. What’s even more amazing is I’m totally willing to go back!

This was a crazy trip, but it was a fun adventure for Ray and I, and we’re ready for the next one!

Much love

Reverse culture shock: identifying home

Back when I used to blog more regularly, I would write a lot about identity. Although I haven’t written about it much lately, the inner conflict is still there. Being in the States these past two months have served to remind me that I’ve still got a long way to go to figure out this whole AmeriKenyan, wife, Christian thing.

There’s no place like home

One of the most repeated comments I heard from friends and family was, “I bet being back here is a real culture shock for you.”

My response was generally, “Yeah, after nearly two years in Kenya, I’ve found a new normal. Life in the States no longer feels normal to me.”

Which country to call home was the first of my conundrums. I wanted to call Salina home because it’s my hometown. It’s where I’ve lived the majority of my life, yet my current home is in Kitale with my husband. A friend of mine called some friends over for a small gathering while I was in town, and I even caught myself saying, “We say it like this, but you guys say it like that.”

My friend was like, “Oh, so now we’re you guys?”

I didn’t even realize I had spoken that way until she pointed it out. It was so natural for me to speak as though my identity were more Kenyan than American. When did that happen?

No matter how proud I am of my American identity, life in the States has become quite foreign to me, and I really surprised myself with the number of times I experienced culture shock throughout the past few months. I know some of you have been interested in hearing this list, so here goes.

Disclaimer: Please note that my culture shock is mostly in relation to where I currently live in Western Kenya. Life in Nairobi offers a lot more amenities than where we stay, so not all of my observations apply to the whole of Kenya.

Strange things are happening to me…

Water

  • We normally drink beverages without ice here. The first time I drank a cold glass of soda in the States, my teeth hurt so bad! I don’t know how I used to manage that before.
  • We use bottled or boiled water for everything in our home, so it was odd to brush my teeth in the sink without having to get water from a jug first.
  • The first time I cooked chapati for my brother’s family, I put the water for the dough in the microwave to get it warm. Totally standard routine, except I totally forgot that in America sinks spit out cold and hot water so you can adjust it to whatever temperature you need. Most sinks around here only issue cold water, so we’re forced to either boil water and let it cool or nuke it if we want it warm.

Food

  • I was blessed to be able to attend two weddings and a birthday party while I was in the States, so I ate my fair share of cake. In America you get whole slices of cake. I’ve been to a large number of weddings, birthdays, and various events here in Kenya, and they always chop the cake up into bite size pieces for someone to bring around on a tray. I’ve seen some people scoop a handful off the tray, but you typically get one mouthful and call it good.
  • Now Kenyans generally speaking aren’t fans of sweets. They use a ton of sugar in their tea, but in their pastries and baked goods, not so much. When I first arrived in the States, I really didn’t have cravings for sweets or fatty, greasy foods like I thought I would. In fact, I was very turned off by them. But the good old advertisements on TV did their job and enticed me to try a little bit of this and that (my sister-in-law was no help either), and it didn’t take long before I was back into eating junk food. Even so, Ray was surprised to see that I came back with only one small bag of candy. He expected me to have a suitcase designated just for sweets. When I first moved here, that probably would have been the case, but not so much anymore.
  • One thing I really did miss was the fact that in America you eat yogurt with a spoon because it’s oh so thick. You drink yogurt here. I still take it all the same, but I had missed using a spoon.

Transportation

  • A friend of mine lent me her car the entire two months I was in town, and it was so nice to drive again. We don’t have a vehicle here so we ride on the back of motorbikes and in matatus, which I don’t mind at all, but it really limits what you can do and where you can go. Having a car gave me the opportunity to go where I pleased, when I pleased, and I had really missed that.
  • Some of you already saw my Facebook post from day one about my confusion on which side was the right side of the road for my brother to be driving on. Thankfully there were only two or three other moments while I was driving that I found myself confused about how and where to turn, but no one was endangered or injured by my confusion, so we’ll just leave it at that.
  • In Kitale everything is pretty much closed up by 10pm. Everything. It’s also not really safe to go out after dark (Ray literally walked out of a duka one night as some thugs walked in and killed a security guard). It was so nice to just decide with my sister-in-law to go for a walk at night or to go to Walmart at 1am just because we could.

Technology

  • The first week I really had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t need to worry about the electricity going off unexpectedly. I kept telling myself, “Oh, you better plug in your phone in case the electricity goes off.” Nope. It never did. Even one night when there was a thunderstorm, I rushed to plug in my laptop because I just knew that rain means hakuna stima (no electricity). Didn’t happen then either.
  • WiFi is everywhere. It’s very difficult for us to get WiFi outside of our home here, but whether I went to McDonald’s or a restaurant or even church, there was WiFi.
  • A friend of mine invited my sister-in-law, her daughters, and myself over for a girls night. I asked her for directions and she was like, “I can just send you the address and you can use GPS.” I had totally forgotten about GPS! It doesn’t really work here unless you want to spend an extra couple hours taking the historic route to learn where there used to be roads.

Just for Fun

Okay, this last one isn’t a culture shock as much as it is a point of amusement for me. Coming to America this time, I discovered that there are some trends emerging among women with children that are in reality expensive knock offs of what women in third world countries do.

Baby wearing? Most women here, especially outside of Nairobi, use lessos (large scarves) and tie their babies on their back and go everywhere with them. They even work in their shambas (gardens) with their babies strapped to them.

Cloth diapers? Yep, they do that too. Pampers (the general term for diapers here) are too expensive for most people in villages, so they use napkins (cloth diapers) with plastic cover-ups.

I don’t understand how people can spend hundreds of dollars on a glorified lesso or napkin, but I’m going to chalk it up to culture.

Finally, she digresses

Yeah, so now I’m back and trying to relearn normal. I’m really happy to be home again and to continue with life instead of feeling like it’s on pause, it was crazy being without Ray for so long, but I’m still extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to spend time with friends and family and to get the health care that I needed. It’s still a balancing act, trying to juggle life in both places, but I’m getting there, pole pole (slowly by slowly).

Black Americans and Africa

Disclaimer: this is a bit of a departure from what I normally write, but I wasn’t sure what other platform to use to pose this question, so here you go.

When most Kenyans find out I’m a mzungu, which typically refers to a white person but in my case means an American, a lot of whispering and pointing usually ensues. Why? Because it’s very rare for them to encounter what they call Black Americans. In fact, we’ve been places where people have never personally met a Black American before. I find it funny when I hear missionaries say that they’re going places where the people have never seen a white face before, because it’s actually even more rare that they would see a face like mine, that of a Black American.

I’ve only been in three African countries so far, but in my experience, the African people are exceedingly willing to embrace us. In Kenya, once people get over their amusement at having met a Black person they thought was Kenyan but speaks like a mzungu, they generally welcome me to Kenya, claim it is my new home, invite me into their home, and call me their sister.

Kenyans love Black culture and they know loads more about it than I do. Take any matatu (bus) in Nairobi and the last sound you’ll hear before you go deaf from the loudspeakers will be that of some Black American rap, hip hop, gospel, or R&B artist. Even the decor in the bus, if not football (soccer) themed, will include images of Tupac, Biggie, and Bob Marley (I know he’s Jamaican, but they love them some island folk too). They like to copy the language they hear in our music and movies, and they love playing with my hair (I’m a 4a and that’s not as common here as 4c).

My question is, why as a Black culture don’t we embrace our African counterparts as readily? Why don’t we know very much about their cultures? Why don’t Black people vacation here? I know that as a people we’re not known for traveling overseas with our families for vacation and whatnot, but still, I don’t see traveling to Africa on any Black Americans’ bucket lists.

Why is it when people sign up for mission trips to African countries the majority of the people are any shade of color but brown? I went to South Africa in 2006 with a large team of nearly 50, and there were only about five people of color excluding myself. That’s it. I love being able to partner with all people of every race and serve the Lord, but I’m confounded as to why my people aren’t more involved in missions.

To me, especially when it concerns missions, it would seem like we are an ideal people group to connect with Africans. The simple fact that they generally have a keen interest in our culture, we share a skin color with them and could possibly have common ancestors (a number of people I meet joke that I could possibly be from their tribe, though the consensus is that I’m pretty much a Luhya – that’s Ray’s tribe – because I have the calves and the bone structure of a Luhya 😉 ). I know that part of my family history on my dad’s side goes back to Madagascar, but there could be a number of connections anywhere! That’s incredibly exciting to me.

Now, some Kenyans and even white missionaries who have been here for many years have also asked me “Why don’t more of you guys come over here?” Some have suggested that Black people might be embarrassed to associate with Africans because of the stereotypically well advertised poverty situation that plagues the continent. They feel that Black Americans have established their lives elsewhere, so they don’t want to be reminded of where they come from. Maybe they just want to move on and forget the continent that birthed their ancestors, but they fail to see the beauty the lies in the people, landscape, food, and culture of this place. Africa is so much more than media portrays. So much more.

Personally I believe the socioeconomic status of the Black population in America has a lot to do with it and that, as I mentioned before, we’re not a traveling race because we can’t usually afford to travel. Even so, savings accounts are great when it comes to saving up for vacations and most mission trips involve fund raising opportunities, so the financial burden isn’t as great as it may seem. If you eliminate the financial factor, I believe a great number of Black Americans would be more willing to come, but there is still a large sub-population that could care less. I just want to know why.

Let me just put one more thing out there. Black Americans have a really great advantage when it comes to engaging in cultural activities and the like around here. People don’t know you’re not Kenyan unless you speak. Game reserves, hotels, and most businesses like to charge “special” prices for wazungus (the plural form of mzungu). They see the skin color, and the price can automatically be raised to double or even quadruple the actual cost. Because my husband’s Kenyan, I usually just walk alongside him, speak the little Swahili I know, and people naturally assume I’m Kenyan and charge me the Kenyan price. It’s pretty nice.

I think I could go on and on with reasons why I believe Black people should come to Africa, but maybe you can save me some time and help me out.

What do you think?

Life can leave you so bitter

The Apostle James warned us to beware the power of the tongue. Though it’s small, it can set a whole forest ablaze. For the past few weeks, maybe even longer, my tongue has been out of control. Within in the confines of our home Ray has practically been assaulted daily with constant negativity about this person and that person, and even that person’s mother’s brother’s step-baby. I had something to say about everybody.

A bitter revelation

Last night, as an argument Ray and I had about money led to a time of prayer and repentance, I began to feel convicted about my recent behavior, so I confessed and acknowledged that I knew I was doing wrong and asked the Lord for help. Normally I “confess” and “ask for help”, and then get up and go right back to what I was doing before. It’s no wonder that Jesus never felt inclined to share any insight with me about what was happening or how I could change. But this time my confession was accompanied with tears and a broken heart, so in response the Lord gave me one word: bitter.

Unbeknownst to me, bitterness had crept into my heart, and like a silent killer began to spread its influence abroad. My tongue was only a symptom of my sin-sick soul, of course because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Truth is, I have a lot of reasons that I could be bitter, and when God first gave me the word, my mind went straight to those issues, but none of those things seemed to really touch on the root of my problem. Remember the argument I mentioned that led to the revelation? Remember what was it over?

Money.

Let’s begin again

When Ray and I moved to Kenya, we decided to stay out of ministry entirely for the first year of marriage, so we were just hanging out in Nairobi getting better acquainted with each other and learning how to support ourselves. In the beginning we really struggled financially, but we had both agreed to this lifestyle, and in truth, we were happy. At that time there was no bitterness to be seen anywhere near my heart. I honestly felt a little proud of myself for being able to hack it in spite of what people thought or said I could do.

Finally we started a business and literally made over $1,000 a month. For us, especially in the Kenyan economy, that’s a pretty big deal. It was during that season in our life that we decided we always wanted to work for our living. Even once we got into ministry and I could finally claim my long awaited status of missionary, we agreed not to raise support for personal expenses, only for ministry needs. Yes, we want to serve the people here as missionaries, but Kenya is our home. We’re not just here for a season. We will raise our children here, and we want to build our family legacy here from the sweat of our own brows. It’s just a personal conviction we have.

Moving to Kitale meant we had to start over, and once again it took us a while to get back on our feet. There would be dry spells and then we’d have a bunch of jobs all at once. Before this week we were in a dry spell… for two months. We already had practice living off of 100 shillings (about $1.50) a day, sometimes less, so it was no big deal really. We were used to it.

The inciting incident

The catalyst behind my downward spiral into negativity came as the result of a plan we made to travel to the States to surprise my niece for her 6th birthday. Though we were on track to making that happen when we lived in Nairobi, Kitale proved to be perfect for ministry purposes, but not so perfect for business. Nevertheless, God took care of us and we never went hungry or without shelter. Ray was able to use his skills to do odd jobs here and there that kept us afloat, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many times again, our spiritual parents here have really covered us. God has used them to make this transition bearable in numerous ways. He has shown us time and time again through them that He’s got our backs.

I’ve written before about how I usually try to be overly optimistic or live a faith-filled life instead of admitting that I have a problem, so even though our savings for plane tickets began dwindling away to cover living expenses, I maintained that I had faith that God would work out all the arrangements. Meanwhile, I watched others travel, shop, eat, and spend like there was no tomorrow, and bitterness began to set in.

I promise you I had no idea I was becoming bitter at first. Every once in while I would comment on how I wish I could live like so and so or how it would be nice to be able to afford to get a new cardigan since mine had holes in it, but that didn’t seem bitter, it just seemed like a normal human response. But you give bitterness an inch and it will rapidly take a mile, so here we are today with me coming to the realization that as content as I thought I was, I really was just bitter.

Time to make a change

Now here’s the thing. I know that the answer isn’t more money. No matter how much money we acquire, I would never be able to rid myself of the greenish film that tints my vision. I would still be a jealous, envious, and bitter person; I’d just be a jealous, envious, and bitter person with a fist full of cash. God knows that better than I do, so I know that He’s revealing this to me now so I don’t crumble under the pressure later. Work is picking up again, some friends have helped us get our plane ticket fund restarted, and we’re coming out of the dry spell, but that alone won’t change my attitude. I have to.

Now more than ever I’m feeling the need to dip myself into the permeating presence of a God who is overflowing with love, joy, and peace. I need to take my eyes off of others and self, and put them back where they’re supposed to be, gazing into the fiery eyes of the King of Glory. My hope is not in wealth, but in God, who richly provides us with everything we need.

A more serious symptom of my sickness was a lack of desire to spend time with God. I can’t say that I was bitter towards Him, but I did feel like escaping our situation through movies and mindless Internet activity was a more appealing option than reading the Bible or praying. I was so wrong. It was the very remedy my soul needed!

I know that bitterness doesn’t just go away overnight. My confession kicked over the table it was feasting on, but it will keep trying to come back for scraps. When I hear stories of opportunity that money has afforded other people, I have to make the choice then and there to say no to bitterness. I have to deny it again and again to the point that it becomes starved and is forced to leave in search of a better host. It’s only by the grace and power of Jesus that I am able to achieve that, so I ask those of you that have it on your hearts to keep us in prayer, that you pray for me in that wise. I’m sure there are plenty of other roots of bitterness or whatever in my heart that need to be dealt with, but this is what God is highlighting to me in this season. I’d sure love your prayer support.

I’d also like to say that though my particular struggle with bitterness is centered around money, I believe this blog post can be applicable to many situations: singleness, marriage, children, material possessions, time, etc. As I search my heart and bring its contents to the Lord for illumination, I pray that this post encourages you to do the same.

Much love,