So today I received orientation packet from Kenya and I was all happy because I’ve had about 80 million open ended questions about living there that I just haven’t known how to ask. I’m not usually one to beat around the bush.. In fact I practically put the brutal in “brutally honest.” And I typically have no issues asking questions. I’m not afraid of not knowing things and besides, how do you learn things if you never ask? ANYWAY it’s very out of character for me not to just bust right in and start taking notes, but this situation is unlike any I’ve been in before, (the only comparable situation is the move to Canada, but I wasn’t actually aware of a cultural shift at the time. Basically I’m just saying I made an idiot of myself for a year until I realized that Canadians aren’t Texan.. and that’s okay. I’m not ignorant of the fact that Kenyan life is entirely different from my Canadian life, though.) so naturally my behaviour is unlike ever before as well.
Wow how hard was it to track with that hop scotch thinking pattern there? Everyone give yourselves a round of applause. *enthusiastic clapping ensues* (True story, I thought “clapter” was the word for applause for like the longest time. Ya I think I was around 10 when I finally figured that out. *everyone stops clapping to face palm*)
But seriously, how do you say “is wifi easily accessible from homes there?” without sounding completely and annoyingly white, or without triggering the following responses:
a) ‘of course we do, we’re entirely civilized you uncultured swine’ (Ten points if you caught the Toy Story quote. I’ll give you twenty if you can give me context.)
b) ‘uh no, it’s not North America, hello!’
So you can see my predicament. In trying to be culturally sensitive and respectful, I have kept my mouth shut.. because I haven’t quite figured out how to chance it without giving off a bad impression before I even land in the country. (Might I remind you they are my future employers, coworkers, advisors, mentors, and hopefully friends for the rest of my year.. No pressure. Uhh yes pressure. Lots and lots of pressure.) North Americans sort of have a reputation for being arrogant and ignorant in one fell swoop, so I think my caution is healthy.
Anyway, it was both a relief and a real wake up call to finally receive the answers to some of the questions that have been swirling around in my head. Here are some (not all!) awesome facts about my new life.
1) 85 degrees is the typical very hot day in Nairobi. Literally singing the hallelujah chorus about this. LITERALLY. This little Canadian does not enjoy hot weather. (Bonus of not living in Houston anymore!)
2) I will be taking “matatus” frequently, which are inexpensive buses that transport about 14 people. I’m a huge fan of public transportation, so this is a win for me. I also just enjoy the word matutu.
3) Every time you enter a room you shake hands with the people present. Apparently they’re bigger on touching, as in Canada it’s more typical for us to just nod and smile at each other. But this seems like a cool thing to do!
4) Side note: I am supposed to be connected to my host family by the end of the week, which is both exciting and slightly terrifying!
5) And for the record, Nairobi Chapel has wifi, and I can buy a motem there if I want. I just wanted to know I was going to be able to check in with my family when I wanted to, and the answer is yes. So that’s good news!
Some (definitely not all!) changes I will be facing:
(some of these I’m totally indifferent to, others I’m a little hesitant about. I am trying to avoid expectations or bias, but I think both of those are inevitable to some degree.)
1) There is such a thing as “house help,” and they will hand wash my outer garments and clean the house, etc. I am indifferent to this for the most part, but I think it will take some getting used to. I cleaned houses for two summers, but I never hand washed the client’s clothing haha.
2) As long as the food is cooked well, it shouldn’t be a problem for me, and as usual, only eat fresh foods with peels you can remove yourself. I do have to boil water before I can drink it, though, and I’m supposed to brush my teeth frequently, even with bottled water. Gonna come home with some pearly whites, y’all.
3) The houses don’t have air conditioning (less than excited about this.. ironic considering I currently am living AC-less, but we have like, 2 “hot” days in the entire year…) and water and electricity outages are expected.
4) Because it’s dusty there, you take off your outdoor sandals and then put indoor sandals on when you enter a house. The only difference is the Canadian style of leaving your snowy boots at the door, but we still sock it up here, so I think I’ll survive this one (;
4) I can’t go outside past 8 pm in the evening for my own safety. Also can’t carry any valuables.. and I’m always supposed to act like I know where I’m going even when I don’t (; Pretty standard, as I’m lost 98% of the time.
None of this includes the lifestyle changes I will be undergoing by nature of the trip itself. For instance: I’ll be working full time, I’ll be living with strangers, I won’t have books lying around to escape into, not to mention this is the first time I haven’t been a student. And these are just a few. Today was a huge step forward for me as I started to grasp the monstrosity of exactly what I am doing, and I’m not even sure I really understand how exact it is! Needless to say, I’m freakin out a little.
My mom once explained to me that I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist. This was a huge weight off my shoulders as I was, at the time, daily shunned by some optimists in my life and constantly called a pessimist, as if that’s an insult.. To each her own, I say.
I grew into realism. I liked the idea that I can see things for what they are and assess (pretty accurately) whether it’s a worthy investment of my time and energy. Another fun characteristic of yours truly is that if I do decide to invest, whatever project it is gets everything I can give.
I am now clinging to my realism. Honestly, all of this change, these challenges? They are starting to feel like my calling. I have assessed this situation, and I have decided that it is worth my investment. I happen to know that this is not going to be an easy 6+ months. There will be a lot of cultural blundering, home sickness, and questioning whether I did what was right. But even greater than my realism, I cling to my calling and the firm belief and conviction that this is where God wants me. And frankly, I have made a habit of hard choices and obedience.
The church my dad pastored in Houston, Christ Chapel, started out as this tiny little gathering in a teeny building that we cleaned up and painted green. I can’t remember exactly but I want to say it was on like, 104th or something. That place was like my second home in my earliest memories. Maybe it’s all in my head, but when I think of it, I’m pretty sure I can still smell the building, in the same way I can still remember exactly what my dad’s office looked like, and how Molly took me in there when I started crying because I couldn’t take communion. She gave me a life saver to suck on instead. I remember dressing up in matching penguin costumes with my dad for VBS, the plant by Miss Gini’s desk, and the old style copy machine that Austin was always making funny faces into.
I have this really vivid memory of going up on the stage to say good morning to my dad in between one of the songs, and he kissed me and I told him not to, because I was embarrassed everyone could see. He told me that he wasn’t embarrassed, because he loved me and he wanted everyone to know that. I can’t remember what I said after that, but I know shortly after, as I was partway down the steps off the stage, I was stopped by some adult I didn’t know, whom I politely greeted and had a short conversation with. He asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, like all adults do, and I kid you not, as the 4 year old I was, I replied “I want to travel everywhere and work for God.” Well, here I am, 14 years later, about to make good on that promise.
Since then I have made a series of choices and faced circumstances that have made me into my 18 year old self. A little nostalgic part of the older me wants to walk up to 4 year old me and hug her and tell her to stay strong. That the struggle is part of the story, and the bad only makes the good even sweeter. That you’ll get broken along the way, but you’ll get there.
hope you’re all taking care of yourselves.. xoxo