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.

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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.

Who wears the pants in your family?: a co-blog

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Before we got married, Ray and I received very similar warnings:

“Be careful of American women. They’re very controlling.”

“Be careful of African men. They’re very controlling.”

To say the least, these well meant presages have created some very interesting dynamics within our relationship.

Revisiting the power of words (S’ambrosia)

I’ve written about the power of words before in the “Oh Be Careful, Little Mouth” post that went semi-viral (1,000 views within a few days is pretty exciting for a fledgling writer like myself), but I didn’t realize until recently just how much those “beware, take care” conversations had affected our relationship well before we were married. When you have statements like that repeated to you frequently, and by people you love and respect, it becomes very easy to slip into misinterpreting or even demonizing the actions of your spouse.

During my time in Kenya prior to our engagement, I came to know Ray as a big ole’ squishy teddy bear. He was the most amiable guy I’d ever met with a mammoth sized heart of compassion that was bent on serving others before himself (even to the point of being taken advantage of). It wasn’t until I came back home and announced my engagement, that I began to see him in a different light, as various people emerged out of the woodwork to warn me about how mean African men are to women. For the longest time I tried to defend Ray and explain to people that when they met him they would see for themselves that he wasn’t at all like what they described, but my attempts were to no avail. They would give me those “knowing” nods and tell me that they’d pray for me, and I would leave the conversation slightly frustrated, but impacted all the same.

I never knew how bad the impact was until Ray and I would talk on the phone or Skype.

All of a sudden, everything he said was offensive to me, and every single word had a subversive meaning behind it. I became paranoid about whether or not he had ulterior motives for marrying me, and I frequently voiced the concern (not really my concern, but the concern other people had drilled into my head) that he would change after we married.

At the same time, Ray was voicing concerns of his own…

What’s going on in the kitchen? (Ray)

Knowing the culture I was marrying into, I was scared at first because of what everybody around me was saying. I heard things like: your wife won’t let you see your family and friends or your wife will make you wash her panties. The list was endless.  I remember my friend from the States, after I told him I was marrying an American, told me that one thing I should keep in mind is that they should always have their way. Discouraging, right? I tried to safeguard myself from statements like this, but they were confirmed one day by a personality inventory we took from a pre-martial counseling packet. One of my highest traits was the lion, a decision maker who is determined, confident, and likes to take charge. Guess what my wife was. She was a lion too. Needless to say, I was a little bit discouraged.

In our culture a wife is responsible for all the household chores, while the husband is in charge of decision making, manual labor or technical work, and of course providing the daily bread. There was a time that African men never went into the kitchen. If a man was ever spotted in the kitchen, he would be the talk of the village; some would even say that his wife is a “control freak” or that ” that man is the woman in that family”, to list but a few. Even if the wife was the breadwinner, we do have some cases of that here, and the husband stayed home, he would hire a house girl to go in the kitchen. With that kind of background, you can imagine how worried I was about what life would look like for me and my American lioness here in Kenya, but I was relieved when my wife told me that she believes that she is the one to take care of the house (even though washing utensils and laundry is not her thing, lol) and merely requested that I would be helping whenever I could. That was one less fight for us to have.

More than a stereotype (S’ambrosia)

As Ray shared, we eventually discovered that control actually would be an issue for us, not because he’s African and I’m American, but because it’s simply the nature of who we are as individuals. We don’t doubt that our cultures have influenced our personalities to some extent, but at least now we can speak about our control issues on a level that goes beyond the cultural stereotypes. Unfortunately, we still hear comments from people who only see me as a typical American stereotype, but once again we have advice from one of our mentors to fall back on. He encouraged us to be each other’s champion. When people from Ray’s culture harp on me for being too “American”, it’s his job to defend me, not mine. The same applies for him. The logic behind that is that when you’re dealing with people of your own culture, it’s easier for them to dismiss an issue when you address it as opposed to when your spouse does. They’ll forgive you quicker than they will him. This has been another great piece of advice that has really helped us stay afloat in either country. It’s also pretty neat to see my husband stand up for me amongst his peers. It really does wonders for my love tank.

Working out the kinks (Ray)

Through the help of our mentors, we also discovered that for an intercultural marriage like ours to work, though I believe the same applies to any marriage, there was a need to create our own culture as a couple. This means we had to  come up with our own set of rules to govern our marriage.  Some rules favored my wife, and some favored me, but above all we had to be accommodating. Even though my wife has agreed to the duty of being a home maker, I have personally made it a rule over the weekends to give her a break from all the duties in the house. It’s still easy for me to do this because we are just the two of us, so I am not afraid of people laughing at me (Sam: this is a legit fear that he has), but what is more important is the fact that we agree on something beforehand, and we do our level best to ensure that we honor our promises. As far as  decision making is concerned, yes I know am the head of the house, but we both have a right to give input, so long as in the end we have each others blessing, even though some decisions may be hard to bear for the moment.

(S’ambrosia) Although part of the Wasike culture involves shared decision making, a very real and current struggle we have with overcoming some of the things people have said/say to us has been Ray’s fear of exerting any control over me in certain situations. Before we were married, some people told him that if he did something I didn’t like, I would get on a plane, go back home, and leave him. No matter how much I tell him I’ll never do that, he can’t shake the doubt. So there are times we will discuss issues and I’ll argue my point, and to keep from having to deal with me getting too upset about how controlling he is, he’ll just say, “Okay, do whatever you want,” and drop the conversation completely. In his mind he’s keeping the peace and appeasing his cray cray wife, but in my mind he’s giving up the right to use his God-given authority as the head of our house. Truth be told, I actually want my husband to boss me around. I don’t mean that in the sense that I want him to be domineering or controlling (you can unfurrow your brows, ladies), but I want to be able to look up to see my husband at the helm of this marriage with one hand in God’s and other in mine and feel nothing but trust in his leadership capabilities. It’s hard to trust your husband’s leadership when he’s always putting you in that role to keep you from bursting into angry dances all over the house.

I have since given Ray total permission to exercise his authority over me without fear, even if it means I have to perform an angry dance or two. I may be throwing a fit, but secretly I’m admiring his ability to lead me in the best way he sees fit. Of course it’s incredibly baffling to him to hear me say something like that when he knows that me giving him authority doesn’t mean that I won’t argue my case until I need to pause for a water break, but he’s coming to understand that just because I want to make sure that I make my points known doesn’t mean that I won’t adhere to his plan. It’s just nice to know that he values my input.

We’re definitely still working this out; my husband is only on book 7 of “How to understand the convolutedness of your wife”, but God is faithful and He really has been teaching us both so much about submitting to one another in love. In turn we’ve agreed to just ditch the pants and clothe ourselves in garments of humility and servitude instead.

Wedding cake & a great big slice of humble pie

One of my favorite quotes from my teenage years comes courtesy of my mother. She had come into the dining room just as I was ending a phone conversation with a friend. As I placed the phone back on the receiver (this was back when everyone had a land line, and cordless phones were on trend), I proceeded to inform my mother that I was getting bored with my friend and that I planned to stop hanging out with her soon. My mom gave one of those long exasperated exhales and shook her head before saying, “I just don’t know how you manage to keep any friends.” Maybe I wasn’t supposed to laugh at that since she was expressing disbelief in the fact that she had raised such a rude daughter, but it was and has always been funny to me. According to my mom, the fact that I have friends is a miracle.

I wish she could see me now.

I am married and amazingly enough, the clerks at the nearby hotel don’t have a secret room permanently reserved for me. Nothing short of a miracle.

A growing distaste for my favorite word

In recent years, one of my favorite words to throw around in any conversation was “introvert”.

“Hey, Sam. You want to come over for dinner tonight?”

“No. I’m an introvert. I’d rather eat alone.”

—–

“Look! There’s a warthog over there!”

“No thanks, I’m an introvert. I don’t follow the crowd.”

—–

God: “Go witness to that person over there.”

“Is it going to start with small talk? I’m an introvert, remember? You know I hate small talk.”

—–

When I first came to understand what the word introvert meant, I felt totally liberated. There was finally scientific evidence to explain why my brain would literally cease to function properly after a few hours of social stimulation, and apparently it was normal. It wasn’t a malfunction! In my excitement, I threw that word around as often as possible. Everyone needed to know, or else they couldn’t be my friend. How else would they understand when I rejected their invitations for large gatherings? Nowadays I can’t help but groan inwardly whenever I hear the word “introvert” leave my lips. Yes, it defines me to a T and has really helped me understand myself and my brain better, but it also has become an excuse for me to refrain from engaging properly in relationships.

Traditionally speaking

Since I’ve been in Kenya, I’ve called home less than ten times. I’ve been away for nearly five months, and look Ma, I’m still homesick free! Yes, I love my family, but I really can go months without talking to them and be just fine. I can’t say the problem is that we’re all introverts, though some of us are, as much as it’s just that we simply lost the ability to communicate properly when we lost mom. You can imagine then how much of a struggle I’m having being in a culture where family ties are very important.

Our African wedding was my first hint of this reality, when after we cut our wedding cake I was instructed to take some to Ray’s grandparents and mom and feed it to them (literally put the cake in their mouth) to symbolize the fact that I’ll take care of Ray and that I’ll look after them as well. We also attended a birthday party for a five year old last week and the same ritual occurs there. The child helps cut the cake and then feeds her parents. From a young age kids are taught to value family ties, and various traditions serve to reiterate that point throughout their lifetime.

Difficulties with ‘leaving and cleaving’

This is definitely something I admire about the culture, as I hope to raise our children in an environment that fosters togetherness, but as someone who would typically choose to spend a Friday night sitting on a warm vent in her apartment watching “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for the twentieth time instead of going out with friends, this has been incredibly hard. As newlyweds, Ray and I decided to take this first year of marriage to focus on adjusting to one another. During this year we aim to stay out of ministry, treat the weekends as sacred time for ourselves, and not have any kiddos. By doing this we hope to establish a good foundation to our marriage before building a ministry or family.

For the most part we’ve done well in this area, and we feel that our relationship is stronger for it, but it’s kind of unfathomable for his family to see how we can be so “distant” when we’re so close. We hear remarks often about how it’s like we live in the States because they never see us, and how we’ve become strangers and so on and so forth.  Growing up a PK, I’m used to having people gossip about me, so the comments themselves don’t really bother me. What’s most bothersome to me is that in America I could tell people, “Hey, listen. I’m an introvert,” and they would back off and give me some space. They might even apologize for being so intrusive. But Kenyan culture is like my introvert kryptonite. I’ve yet to meet a Kenyan that isn’t impervious to my introverted powers.

Will this be the end of our not-so-super heroine?

There are days, especially when Ray catches wind of some of the gossip that circulates about us, that I feel like detaching completely. I mean, that always worked back in the States. Whenever people got on my nerves, I would just slowly back into my cave and hibernate for months. I can’t do that here. People would either complain until you were guilted into spending time with them or just show up at your house. Like I said, completely impervious.

For a long time I thought the problem lied with the people who didn’t know how to take no for an answer, but if marriage, leave alone culture, has taught me anything about myself, it’s that the problem lies with me. My introverted “powers” are actually a weakness. They indicate a deficiency in my ability to engage in healthy ongoing relationships with people. I don’t know how to work through issues with people, because I always shut them out when the relationship becomes too cumbersome.

That conclusion is pretty easy to come by when you move into a home with your brand spanking new husband, and then after a doozy of an argument, you realize the place didn’t come equipped with a secret hiding place behind a bookcase. There’s no running away in this relationship. I can’t shut him out and pretend that he doesn’t exist when he’s lying next to me in bed snoring to the tune of a steam engine.  I have to choose reconciliation… especially if I plan on sleeping next to him for the rest of my life. I have to choose to pop the bubble I frequently don as my outfit of the day, and let him in so he can become part of my processing routine.

Something I should have done a long time ago

This transition hasn’t come easy. I’ve tried to storm out of the house a number of times, only to walk a few feet out of the gate, hear/spot wild dogs, and run back to the complex to find a safer place to “be alone”. It didn’t take me long to realize that my disappearing act didn’t accomplish much. I was only doing it to punish him, which usually ended up making communication even harder when I would finally return. I’m still allowed time to process, and Ray is really good about giving me space to do that if I absolutely need to work some stuff out internally, but I’m no longer allowed to run away. I mentioned in our co-blog last month that we stress verbalizing issues with each other. Ever so slowly I’m learning how to process outside of myself with my husband instead of shutting him out so that I can sort out the hurricane of thoughts and emotions on my own. Even when it comes to processing, two are better than one.

Throughout my lifetime I’ve offended my fair share of people, and as I reflect today, I realize that I need to apologize. If you’re reading this blog and I’ve used the “introvert” excuse on you, this is for you. First, I want to apologize for using a personality trait as an excuse to put my wants/needs before yours. Secondly, I want apologize for lying, because in order to avoid hanging out, I most likely lied to you. And finally, I want to thank you for still being my friend (I’m assuming if you’re reading this blog we’re still friends) even though I wasn’t a very good one myself. Hopefully by the time we head back to the States I will be in a position to call you just to hang out.

To quote J.P. in reference to the miracle of seeing angels in the outfield: “Hey, it could happen.”