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!

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?

More interesting facts about Kenya – VoCaB eDiTiOn

It’s been a while since my last factoid based post, but I figured I’d go ahead and make good on my promise to continue the “interesting facts about Kenya” series. The list is pretty much endless, so as I’m able I will make more of these and focus on different areas (i.e. weddings, security, education, or any other area you’d like to know about).

This time I’m going to just focus on vocabulary:

The following words mean something other than you may think

Smart

  • Americans may think – intellectual aptitude

smart

  • Kenyans think – good looking or dressed well (it’s a compliment to either sex)

smart2

Paper bag

  • Americans may think of the brown paper bags that are made from trees

paper bag

  • Kenyans think plastic bags – yes, when they say paper bag they really mean plastic (of course it goes without saying that they don’t ask if you want paper or plastic in the grocery stores)

Inside Kenyan Supermarket Chain Nakumatt

Hotel

  • Americans may think of the place where you temporarily sleep outside of your home

best western

  • Kenyans think of a small street side restaurant where you can get local food really cheap (hotels here can also be overnight lodging, but they usually refer to small eateries)

hotel

Blow dry/flat iron

  • Americans may think blow drying is prep before straightening your hair with a flat iron.

blowdryer

  • Kenyans think blow drying is straightening and flat ironing is curling.

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The first time I visited a local salon (or saloon as some call it) I asked if the lady could flat iron my hair.

“We don’t have that here.”

I then had to ask a different way, “Can you straighten my hair?”

“Oh, you mean blow dry?”

“You don’t straighten after you blow dry?”

“Blow drying is straightening.”

“Oh, okay. Let’s try that then.”

Real talk, I’ve never had anyone get my kinky natural hair straighter than ladies here do. They wash your hair, take a blow dryer through it, go through it again with a tiny comb or a hot comb (which is heated by the blow dryer), then they add a little oil and go through it again. Natural people will know what I mean by this, but even though it sounds like a lot of heat, I have total curl retention afterwards. Genius.

One of these days we’ll try to record it so my natural folks can see what I’m talking about.

“That’s okay.”

  • Americans think it means “No, thanks. You don’t have to.”

thanks

  • Kenyans think it means, “Yes, please. That is fine.”

more

“Isn’t it?”

  • Americans use it when speaking in the singular (i.e. Sledding is fun, isn’t it?)
  • Kenyans use it regardless of singular or plural (i.e. We all like to sled. Isn’t it?). When they say isn’t it, they mean something to the effect of “is it not true?”

“Pick”

  • When speaking of getting something or someone, Americans follow it with a preposition masking as an adverb (i.e. I need to pick up some things from the store.).
  • Kenyans don’t follow it with anything (i.e. I need to pick my dog from the kennel.).

Of course there are tons more incongruities between American English and British/Kenyan English, but I tried to pick some of the not-so common ones that we come across on a frequent basis.

Hope you enjoyed. 🙂

 

Empowering youth with a knitting needle and loom

Video

Once again the blog has gone dark for a few weeks (we still haven’t even gotten around to sitting down to write the one year challenges and triumphs blog), but it’s for good reason.

Aside from packing up our meager possessions for the move to Kitale (we leave tomorrow!), we’ve been working on a short documentary for a project a friend is starting here in Nairobi. This is our third short doc and we truly feel it’s our best yet, so we’re so excited to share this with you guys. If you’re into knitting or the empowerment of youth, this is should really be a good watch with good feels for you.

Enjoy and consider getting involved!

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

Gun fire in the streets: 5 minutes of panic

Rongai shooting

Ray looking out from the second floor of the mall at the area where the shooting occurred.

This morning, well fairly close to noon, Ray woke me up to tell me he was heading to work.

He normally leaves around 9am, but lately he’s been going to the office later so he can work on the Internet at home before meeting with clients. Recently I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been getting annoyed when Ray stays home late because it interrupts my “me” time, but today I was extremely grateful that he delayed.

Alarming conversations and unnecessary delays

Ten minutes after Ray left, my friend Whitney sent a text and asked me if Ray was at work. Thinking she was in the mall and wanted to stop in and say hi, I told her he was on his way and should be there shortly.

A few seconds later she called.

“There’s heavy gunfire going on right now at Maasai Mall (where Ray works), tell him to go home!”

All my grogginess suddenly disappeared.

About a year ago most of you probably saw coverage of the mass shooting at Westgate Mall, but what is not reported across the pond is the frequent bombings, shootings, and national threats that happen on the regular here. Just a few months ago a bomb exploded in a bus just down the road from Ray’s old apartment.

You can imagine then the horrific thoughts there were running through my head.

As I was trying to call Ray, my phone flashed “battery low” and threatened to shut off in the wrong place at the wrong time forcing me to delay placing the call while I searched for the charger.

I finally reached him and began breathlessly telling him to come home, but within thirty seconds I ran out of airtime and the phone cut off (I wasn’t kidding about short phone conversations here).

All of these delays were really doing a number on my mental stability. I was this close to throwing on my clothes and running down the road to see if I could just find Ray myself when he called me back.

He was coming home.

Takeaways from today

Later, as Ray contacted guys from work and Whitney updated me, we discovered that four thugs had tried to jack an armored car near the mall and there was a gun fight between them and the police in the streets. All four thugs were killed, and as far as we know, there weren’t any other casualties.

I hate to think of what could have happened if Ray had left for work just a bit earlier and was walking on Magadi Road when all this was going down, but I’m thankful that that’s not how it happened.

If anything, today’s incident has further increased my desire to quit being a baby about the days Ray sticks around the house and to cover him in prayer every time he walks out the door. One of the habits I had as a newlywed of praying for Ray as he left was dropped once his office moved from Nairobi city to Rongai, but I was putting way too much faith in Rongai being “safer than the city” and not enough faith in God. I definitely need to continue covering him in prayer every time he steps out of the house.

We’d love your prayers as well.

Uhuru Gardens

Image

nairobiA few weeks ago I mentioned that Ray and I attended a cake festival here in Nairobi, but I neglected to mention that it was held in Uhuru Gardens. I didn’t take many pictures because there was too much going on, and my hands were full of cake, but here’s a few snapshots of the sculptures in the park. Maybe next time we make it out there I’ll get more. 🙂

Taking the tuk tuks

Image

In the video we posted on transportation quite a few months ago, we showed the boda bodas (bicycles) and matatus (14 passenger vans), but we left out a few others. Motor bikes and tuk tuks. I’ve always been fascinated with the tuk tuks, but I’d never ridden one until recently. Every Tuesday now, I take one from the main road to the compound where I teach guitar lessons for a friend’s kids.

These things are pretty cool.

transportation

They’re very compact, but they come equipped with cush seating, large speakers with surround sound, and even flashing lights (the blue light on the ground in the picture actually flashes a bunch of different colors). Matatus are equipped the same way, but I prefer having a private vehicle that lets me stretch out and breathe in the fresh air as we bump along the road.

Hopefully soon we’ll get to walk you through what it’s like to ride in a matatu in the big city (our last video was done in a small town). It truly is an experience anyone who comes to Kenya must have.

In the meantime, here’s the last video on transportation if you missed it (it was one of our first vlogs, so don’t judge). I also want to point out that at the very end of the video that is a woman carrying her baby on the back of a motor bike. You see that a lot up country.