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.

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!

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).

14 interesting facts about life in Kenya

Throughout the course of this blog I’ve shared numerous points of interest regarding Kenyan culture, but today I figured I’d focus on some things I’ve discovered that probably wouldn’t make it into a regular blog post. Whether you’re planning on traveling to Kenya, you have a general interest in Kenyan culture, or you’re a Kenyan checking to make sure I’ve got my facts straight, I hope you enjoy this post.

Greetings

Kelly, fellow expat and friend, recently wrote a blog post about her first year in Tanzania. One of the areas she focused on was greetings. Greetings here are similar, with just a few differences:

  • Normally you don’t smile at strangers or passerbys in Nairobi. As a woman, if you smile at a dude on the street, he may very well believe that you’re flirting with him… a little something I discovered during my first trip to Kenya.
  •  When you encounter people you intend to have a conversation with, always shake their hand or hug them first (they do it the British way – clasp hands then hug right and left) and use the following greeting:

                         Old School

                          Question: Habari? (How are you?)

                          Response: Mzuri (good)

                         New School (Sheng)

                          Question: Sasa?

                          Response: Poa

Side note: if you’re traveling to Kenya and you’ve found a book that tells you the proper greeting is “Hujambo”, it’s wrong. If you use that greeting, you’ve just stamped “noob” on your forehead. People in the coastal region use it, but you’ll definitely get some side eye if you use it in the other parts of the country.

  • If the individual you’re speaking to is with friends, you typically shake everyone’s hands or at the very least acknowledge their presence by nodding at them or speaking to them. When you enter a room of people, make your way all the way around the room shaking hands before you’re seated.

Ray had a hard time with this one in the States. It really confused him that after he met someone the first time, he wasn’t obligated to ever shake their hand again. Here you do it every time you see someone.

Petrol Stations

  • Kenyans refer to gas as petrol, so if you use the term gas, they think you’re referring to cooking gas.
  • People are not allowed to pump their own petrol. You are helped by an attendant at all times.

IMG_7248

Total Kenya

When Ray came to the States, I asked him to pump gas in my car, not realizing that he’d never done it before. I had to teach him, multiple times actually, because every time we stopped to get gas there was a different system.

Once he got the hang of it, he loved it.

Once he got the hang of it, he loved it.

  •  Everyone that I’ve ever ridden with only puts enough petrol in their car for what they need that day. They calculate how much they’ll need to get from point A to point B, and that’s all they put in the tank. You never know when you’ll need that money for something else.

Children

  •  Kids gain autonomy very early in life. Around the age of the three, they’re sent to baby class (the equivalent of our pre-school), where they have homework assignments and get a jump start on their education career.
  • By about the age of seven, sometimes before, they’re able to be sent on errands for the parents, even riding on the back of motor bikes by themselves or walking home from school or the bus stop with their younger siblings.

students

girls coming home

  • They can also cook with fire or even help slaughter the chicken for dinner well before they’ve reached adolescence.
  •  Unless I’m with American friends, I rarely see car seats. Kids can sit in the driver’s lap, in the passenger seat, or even crawl back and forth between seats.

kids in front seat

Money Matters

  • When driving through any town in Kenya, you’ll notice that every other shop is painted green with the words Mpesa displayed in bold lettering.

Mpesa

  • Mpesa (mobile money) is a method of transferring money via your phone. You can connect it with bank accounts, use it to buy airtime, send money to other people, and purchase goods and services. It started in Kenya and has spread to other countries, but it’s a very impressive money management system. If Ray’s at work and I tell him I need money for groceries, he just sends it to me via Mpesa, I go to the nearest station and withdraw, and it’s a done deal.
  • I’ve previously shared that there are small makeshift dukas (shops) where you can buy veggies or staple items right outside your home (the picture below is the duka directly in front of our gate)

duka

  • But I neglected to mention that they tend to operate on an honor system. Often times if we don’t have the money at the moment or can’t break a big note, we can still go down and ask for bread, eggs, milk, or whatever we need and not pay until we have the money. It’s astonishing to me that people who may need the money would allow you to get what you need at their expense until you’re able to pay. Just another great example of the importance of relationship in this culture.
  •  Secondhand clothing from the UK, US, and China come through the Mombasa port in droves. Thousands of people make a living in the secondhand clothing trade (mitumba). There’s a great post about it here.
come rain or shine

I took this photo the first time I came to Kenya while we were driving from Nairobi to Bungoma. Markets like this can be found almost everywhere.

  •  One major item Americans seem to think they should send overseas is clothing, but you’d be surprised to discover you probably already have clothes here if you’ve ever donated them to a charity (check out the article). My two cents on the matter is that there’s enough secondhand clothing here. It seems more beneficial to send money for people to buy clothes here so that you’re not only helping the beneficiary of the clothes, but you’re also helping others here who are trying to make money by selling the surplus stock of clothes they already have.
  •  Hair is a bigger market here than it is for African-American women in the States. No matter what your socioeconomic status is, if you have some money, getting braids or weave is a priority after getting food. I’m not joking either. That’s why aside from Mpesas and dukas, kinyozis (barber shops or hair salons) are probably the next most frequent shop you’ll see in any town or on any side road.

kinyozi

  • Some of you know that I’m a natural hair advocate, but I was surprised to see that the natural hair movement is still fairly new here, and it’s mainly based in the upper class. If people in the lower class are natural, it’s usually for practicality, not style, and their hair is usually shaved very short. It’s not practical or as enjoyable to do your own hair, so most women opt to visit the salon multiple times a month. I still get blank stares when people find out that I do my own hair. My sister-in-law told me that women will pay 2,500ksh ($32 dollars, which by Kenyan standards is pretty high) to have someone do to the same thing to their hair that has become a nightly routine for me. The hair culture is very different here.

I’ve got so many more notes to share, but to keep this post from getting too long, I think I’ll just break it up into a series. Feel free to shoot me questions if you want to know anything in particular. I’ll do my best to answer your question!

Photo creds: Ray Wasike

My culture, my crutch: it all comes down to love

If Ray was married to someone of his own culture, he would never have to have “intense discussions” with his wife about the dishes, but since he’s not… let the games begin!

My culture, my crutch

Ray and I were warned early on in marriage to be realistic about our shortcomings as individuals and to be careful of blaming everything on cultural differences. In intercultural marriages it’s very easy to blame your negative attitude or bad behavior on culture and completely disregard your responsibility to do something about it. Just because it’s a cultural belief that you’ve held since childhood doesn’t mean it’s right or that it should take precedence over doing what you know is right.

Because the premise for this entire blog site is to share how my husband and I deal with our cultural differences, it’s clear that culture has made a huge impact on our lives. What hasn’t been clear to me is how to transcend all the recurring issues that stem from holding too tightly to cultural expectations. There are times when culture can feel a lot like law, and it becomes difficult to keep from holding it in higher regard than we hold each other. Next to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and advice from spiritual leaders, culture is one of the more dominant factors in our decision making process as a couple, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that.

It all comes down to love

I’ve shared before about how I desire to adopt a heavenly culture instead of swearing an allegiance to my own or even to my husband’s culture… and that’s about as far as that went. I made the statement, felt it was profound enough to give myself a pat on the back, and walked away from the laptop without any plan of action to make that my reality. Seven months later I’ve come full circle, and this time I aim to finish it right.

When I speak of a heavenly culture, I’m talking about a culture where love is the norm. It is deeply embedded in every relationship, every action, and every motive of the heart both spoken and unspoken. 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the best places to find an explicit list of what the manifestation of this culture looks like. People who are of a heavenly culture are patient, kind, they don’t envy or boast, they’re not proud, rude, self-seeking or easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs, they don’t delight in evil but rejoice with truth, and they always protect, trust, hope, and persevere. Every culture has its stereotype, but this is the stereotype of those who belong to a heavenly race: they act justly, love mercy, and they walk humbly with their God.

If I really am an ambassador of heaven or an alien to this world, I should be living by the standards of my primary culture, my heavenly culture. To set this culture of love in our household means that I should serve my husband without expecting him to do a single thing in return for me. It means that I lose the right to nag about the dishes he leaves in the sink and he loses the right to complain if I don’t wash all the dishes before the ants come to do the job for me.

We’ve been doing it all wrong.

Removing the yoke of law from our marriage

In every conversation we’ve ever had about household responsibilities, we’ve relied totally on cultural expectations. I am supposed to wash the dishes because I’m the wife. It’s my job, as is everything else in the kitchen. Yes, that’s the norm for his culture, but sometimes knowing that it’s my job or my duty can cause me resent it, and honestly it can make me resent Ray when he reminds me that I’m slacking on my responsibilities. But if we operated under the norms of our heavenly culture, there would be no need for either of us to nag each other, because we’d naturally pick up the slack (without keeping record of anyone’s failures), and if we’re truly loving and serving each other to the fullest, there shouldn’t be much slack to pick up.

One of the love reminders I've put around the house to remind us of home.

One of the love postings I’ve put around the house to remind us of home.

Side note: I know I just posted a blog about serving with the knowledge that one day you will receive a return on your investment, and that’s still true, but I’m just saying that love can understand the reality of the “you reap what you sow” cycle and still say, “Even if I don’t receive a return, my time serving was well spent.”

Dishes may seem like sort of a trivial application for the love culture, but this principle applies to all areas of marriage. In this particular area we were trying to strategize about how to go about dealing with the dishes: I do them on the weekdays and he does them on the weekends, but we are responsible for doing our own dishes as we use them, unless you take the dishes for the other person into the kitchen, then you wash both, and blah, blah, bliggety, blah. Isn’t that gross? Coming to the realization of how love removes the “need” for law, shuts down the whole conversation. Forget all the guidelines and amendments, just love each other and it will naturally balance itself out. I’ll show honor to my husband and fulfill his expectations of me without having to beat myself up so much about my shortcomings as an American trying to fit into Kenyan culture.

Just as Jesus came to remove the yoke of law from our necks and offer himself as the purest demonstration of love, when we seek to love, the pressure of cultural law is lifted.

Love fulfills everything. Love covers all. Love never fails.

Our answer to the question: “When are you having kids?”

It’s complicated.

From the first day we arrived in Kenya to today, our ear holes have ceaselessly been bombarded with the question, “When are you having kids?” Because we got married when we were both nearly 30, we were already familiar with questions like:

  • “When are you getting married?”
  • “Do you plan to be celibate for the rest of your life?”
  • “Are you gay?”

Enter the question du jour

Back in America, though many people may be wondering when a baby is coming, few people ask. Here in Kenya, everyone is wondering and everyone asks. It doesn’t matter if we met the person five seconds ago. Once he/she finds out that we’re married, we know what question is coming next. It never fails. The general expectation here is that within a month of a couple being married, the gossip grapevine should be bustling with baby news.

Ray and I both want to have and adopt a lot of kids, but aside from our decision to spend our first year of marriage focusing on our relationship, we just have a lot of cultural and personality issues that we are still trying to work through before we can answer that question.

Let’s start with delivery, shall we?

For American women, it can be incredibly disheartening if their husband is not present at the time of birth. You expect to have the guy responsible for putting the baby inside your belly to be present when it comes out. Of course we want to share the joy of meeting the baby for the first time with our husbands, but we also want them to share in our suffering. Someone has to. Here in Kenya, men aren’t allowed in the delivery room. Maybe some of our Kenyan readers can explain why it’s culturally improper, but we have yet to hear about a hospital here that will allow Ray in the delivery room.

**Update: After talking to a few people we found out that hospitals in Nairobi city will let the man in the delivery room if you communicate with doctors beforehand that it’s something you want. It’s mostly outside of the city that you won’t have that option.

Bringing home the baby… but who’s in charge?

The first week that the baby’s around, a Kenyan wife is relieved of her household duties, and relatives come and help her take care of the baby. Many of you have heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, and that’s truly the mindset here. For weeks, one or two family members will become a permanent fixture in the new parents’ home to teach the woman how to be a mom. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m an introvert. The first time Ray and I discussed this particular cultural expectation, I literally cried. I know in America some women have their mothers come stay with them for a week or so, and maybe I wouldn’t find that to be so bad, but that’s just the beginning. Part of the reason you have people come live with you is because there will be cycles of people coming to visit, and you are required to feed them all. It’s rude if you don’t. For this reason, once we find out we’re pregnant, it will be a must that we move into a bigger place, not just to accommodate the baby, but to accommodate all the guests, live-in and daily.

I guess for me I just was looking forward to learning by trial and error with Ray and spending quality time alone with my baby. I like the idea of a village helping to raise a child, but actually living that out is a different story. Maybe it’s the pride in me that doesn’t want to be told I’m doing things wrong or how to raise my child, but it’s something I’m going to have to deal with, because it’s important to my husband.

Is it a boy or a girl?

The majority of couples in the States find out the sex of their child as soon as possible so that they can prepare the nursery, clothing, and accessories. Unless you’re a modern couple living in Nairobi city, most people don’t find out the sex of their baby. Even when it comes to buying gender based items, it’s not that important. I often see baby boys in girls clothes and girls in boys clothes. Especially the rural areas, people aren’t as interested in dressing their kids in the appropriate clothing for their gender as much as they are interested in procuring any kind of clothing that fits well enough.

Infliction of pain on our boy child

I’m talking about circumcision here. There’s always the debate of whether or not to get your child circumcised, but for those that do circumcise, it’s usually taken care of shortly after birth so as to keep the child from having painful memories and to reduce certain risks, but for Ray’s tribe in particular, circumcision is a rite of passage for boys when they’re about ten (Ray was 8). There is a huge production that the Luhya tribe is known for when it comes to circumcision, involving parades, walking around naked, and covering themselves in mud (there’s more detailed information about it here), but thankfully Christians do not participate in these practices anymore, so our future boy child is safe there. Still, Ray thinks it’s cruel to cut a baby and I think it’s cruel to cut an adolescent, but we both think circumcision is important nonetheless.

And he shall be called…

Like most American girls, I picked out the names for my children long before puberty made child bearing possible for me. Flip through any of my journals from middle school and you’ll see lists of names, underlined, circled, or scribbled out (depending on if I was still into the dude I wanted to name my child after). A lot of you back home have heard me talk about this, but when Ray and I first got together, he told me that traditionally either his grandfather is supposed to name our child or our children should bear the name of at least one of his relatives. Nowadays it’s more of a respect thing to name your child after a grandparent, but not a necessity, so this matter has become the least of my concerns.

The battle of our wills

There are some issues on the list that are extremely important to me. I wouldn’t want anyone else in the delivery room with me except for Ray (and my bestie Lisa). I refuse to give birth without him present. Ray also is adamant about having family come to help out. As is characteristic of the nature of marriage, we both are going to have to sacrifice a lot, and we want to be in agreement about the majority of these issues before we’re bombarded with them as we’re dealing with the stress that will naturally come from having a newborn. Through natural family planning we’ve been able to give ourselves time to discuss this quite a bit, but Sammy honey wants to have a baby with a quickness, so hopefully we’ll be able to resolve all these issues soon enough.

9 things I miss most about the States

My goal in coming to Kenya this first year of marriage was to get to know my husband’s culture and to learn firsthand how to understand some of the cultural expectations he might have that I could not have otherwise grasped. I’ve learned so much these seven months, and I’m grateful for that, but as time goes on, I find myself missing certain elements of my own culture.

  • Free WiFi – We have WiFi at home nowadays, but there was a time that I searched the whole of Rongai for a place where I could use my iPhone to connect with people back home. There are very few restaurants and a couple of buses that offer WiFi, but waitstaff don’t take too kindly to people ordering water while they suck up some free WiFi, and you have to get off the bus at some point.
  • Mail – The excitement of checking my mail every day used to have me anxiously watching the clock to see if the postman had graced my front porch yet. Here mail is not delivered to your door. Addresses don’t exist. There are postal stations with postal codes where you pick your mail (by the way, Kenyans say “pick” not “pick up”, so yeah, I said that right). Ours is a shared box in Nairobi with Ray’s uncle and I can’t remember the last time we checked it, so sorry if anyone has sent mail (be sure to contact me and let me know when you send something so I can go to town to get it).
  • Shorts – As vain as this sounds, I miss wearing shorts. I’ve written previously about my struggle with dressing appropriately in my “You are what you wear” posts (Part 1 & Part 2), but on really hot days I still want very badly to throw on a pair of shorts. There’s a part of me that still mourns the fact that while I live here, I will never be able to wear a pair of shorts outside of the house.
  • Driving – We don’t have a car, which isn’t too detrimental to us at this time because public transportation is so accommodating, but I haven’t driven since I left the States. I miss being able to hop in my car and go to the grocery store or to see a friend. I also miss being able to get from point A to point B in less than 15 minutes with minimal traffic. That doesn’t really exist here. Oh, it was also nice that people actually obeyed traffic laws too.
  • Candy – Oh Dollar Tree, how I miss thee. How I used to frequent your aisles and buys gads and gobs of candy to satisfy my sweet cravings. Candy here may say “Twix”, but it will most certainly not taste like the Twix I know. They have Cadbury’s, which is pretty good, but a Cadbury chocolate bar costs as much as a bag of ugali flour, which can last us a few weeks, so it’s a bit of a splurge. Aside from that, Kenyans don’t generally favor a lot of sugar in their food, so even cake just isn’t the same. We did go to a cake festival last weekend and there were some stand outs that redeemed my faith in Kenyan cake.
  • Long phone conversations – A typical Kenyan will not be on the phone longer than five minutes. The majority of phones are prepay, and people generally just top up 10-100 shillings at a time . To call someone can be 2-5 shillings per minute, so Kenyans have perfected the art of keeping phone conversations short and sweet. People constantly run out of airtime mid-conversation too, so if you don’t say what you need to say quickly, too bad.
  • Chicken – Chicken here are about half the size of our hormone filled birds, so there’s very little meat on their bones and the meat is generally pretty tough. Beef is even worse. I like to be able to swallow my meat without fully chewing. Mmm, that’s some tender stuff right there. You have to give meat here a good 10-15 chews before swallowing. That’s not always the case though. I have had some great chicken at some restaurants, and Ray’s cousin has made some of the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life (she knows her way around the kitchen). When we visit Ray’s grandparents, his grandmother gives me four pieces of chicken because she’s been to America and she knows… she knows.
fried chicken

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

  • Security – We lock our home with a padlock. I used to be able to leave my house without locking the door at all. ‘Nuff said.

I have no doubt that when we finally return to the States I’ll have a long list of things I miss from our home here in Kenya, so I appreciate all the wonderful things I’ve gained from living here, but it will be nice to get to sit in my car and talk on the phone while eating a bag of candy again some day.

Wifey knows best

Image

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Curried carrot soup recipe below

My husband is a creature of habit. If it were up to him, he would eat chapo and beans every day of the week. I like to mix American and Kenyan food, but he’s always skeptical of my concoctions. Tonight I announced we were having ugali and curried carrot soup (he sometimes eats ugali with with mala, sour milk, so I figured why not eat ugali with something that actually tastes good?). We went back and forth about chapo this and rice that, but I stood my ground.

In the end the soup turned out extremely tasty, but the ugali was a bit too thick (I was so focused on proving a point with the soup that I figured ugali wouldn’t be an issue… pride goes before a fall, eh?)

Anyway, Ray really enjoyed the combo, and as creatures of habit are wont to do, he’s asked that we have it again tomorrow with rice.

Curried carrot soup recipe

1 med onion, chopped
3 tbs oil
1 tsp curry powder
2 tsp flour
3 1/2 cups of beef stock
1lb carrots, peeled and sliced
Salt and pepper
1-2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbs cilantro
1-2 spicy peppers

1. Heat oil in large pan and cook onions until soft
2. Sprinkle curry powder and flour over the onions, stir, pour broth in, and bring to a boil
3. Add carrots, salt, pepper bring to a boil then simmer until carrots are tender
4. Remove pan from heat and purée the soup (I just mash it with a fork or pestle)

5. Bring soup to a simmer and add cilantro, lemon juice, and peppers.

 

I wanted him to hold my hand. He wanted me to hold his stuff.

A few months ago Ray’s company was hired to provide sound equipment and photography for a gospel concert at Daystar University’s Athi River campus. This campus is unique for various reasons, but I’d say the greatest reason is probably the fact that it’s in the middle of a game reserve. Even as we drove up to the campus that day, we were greeted by herds of wildebeest and zebra.

There was one particular zebra beside the road that stopped to stare at us as we stared at him.

zebra run

He was standing there watching us for a while, but by the time I got my camera out he was movin’ on out.

zebra run

And there he goes!

That zebra, in all its striped majesty possessed the power required to lift me out of out what was quickly developing into a foul mood.

TIA strikes again

See, Ray and I live in a town called Ongata Rongai. With little to no traffic on the road, it’s about half an hour away from Nairobi city. If you leave at the wrong time though, you could be sitting in traffic for an hour or two. That morning Ray’s co-workers were supposed to pick me up and bring me to meet Ray in town. They came on time, we arrived at the rendezvous point, and everything was going according to schedule until… TIA. We ended up sitting in a hot car and waiting for at least two hours before all the other guys showed up.

Aching head? Check.

Sweaty pits? Check.

Growling stomach? Check.

We hadn’t even begun the 40 km drive yet! And fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Subway do not exist here.

When we finally reached Daystar, the zebra encounter managed to distract me enough to keep me from assuming full Hulk-mode, but thankfully Ray noticed that all too familiar greenish hue beginning to surface on my skin, so he wisely took some time to take me to the campus restaurant. We enjoyed a very tasty dinner together before he had to get to business. Crisis averted.

Lost in translation

This was my first official outing with Ray to one of his jobs, so I didn’t know what to expect, but I was hoping that we would get to enjoy it together somehow. We had already had such a lovely dinner together, why let the fact that he was on a job get in the way? If you don’t know already, one of my love languages is quality time, so nothing would have made the night better for me than for Ray to come cuddle up beside me to enjoy the show.

I found a nice bench near the stage and waited for Ray to take care of some preliminary details before joining me. Fluffing my hair and crossing my legs in a “yeah, I’m that guy’s wifey” kind of way, I waited… and waited. Finally he approached.

“Babe, can you hold this bag for me?”

In moments like that it’s very easy for me to be a brat and whine about how he’s not paying attention to me, but then I remembered that not an hour earlier, he had taken time away from setting up with the crew to cater to my needs. The least I could do was comply with his request. Now, one of Ray’s love languages is acts of service, so for me to act like his personal assistant expressed love and support to him in the same way his taking time to eat with me expressed love to me. It sounds simple enough, but not too long after that I found someone to chat with and left his bag of equipment totally unattended. Eventually he took the bag away from me and put it backstage. I had one job to do…

As the night went on and the crowd grew larger, my dull headache quickly spiraled into a stampede of wildebeest back and forth between my temples. Ray was all over the place taking pictures yet coming to check on me periodically, and I was trying to pretend like I was enjoying myself.

love language

Don’t let this picture fool you. It was taken fairly early in the night.

Normally in the States you have maybe two or three opening acts before the main act appears on stage, but that night there were no less than ten, closer to twenty different acts and with each act, the crowd got bigger and wilder.

daystar crowd

The wildebeest were now frolicking as merrily as the day is long all over my cranial region.

“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,” I whispered over and over.

I may have had the Kansas thing going for me, but beige flats does not magic slippers make.

Ray spotted me shriveling in my seat, looking like I wanted to clothesline everyone within a ten yard radius, so he gave his camera to one of the other guys and took me backstage to watch the rest of the show while we cuddled in the corner.

Ahhh, finally.

Before the night was over, Ray gave me what I needed most, a little TLC, and I got to redeem myself by carrying some of his stuff to the car before heading out. That night had all the makings of inciting an icy cold car ride home, what with my ridiculously high expectations despite the fact that Ray was supposed to be focused on work, but we made it work.

In the end I got him to hold my hand and he got me to hold his stuff. But we’ve decided that I won’t be attending anymore jobs in the future.

We’ve been learning a lot about the different ways our love languages have created funny, and not so funny, dynamics in our relationship. Anyone else have any interesting love language stories? We’d love to hear them.