Tuesday, June 26, 2012
I had a brief section about culture shock in a previous post but now that I have been in Kakamega for a while and with my host family for over a week, I've experienced much more culture shock.
I told my host family about the fact that in the US, my family has a pet dog. Here in Kenya, dogs stay outside and are most often watch/guard dogs. I explained to my host family that in the US, there are many families who will have dogs as pets and the dogs are treated very nicely. They were so shocked when I mentioned that my dog stays in the house with us and has slept in my bed on several occasions. The crowning moment was when I mentioned that I was upset that my family dog, Penny, died last November, my host sister started to laugh. She wasn't being mean but it was just such an unusual thing for her, that it was hard for her to believe.
Cats here are usually only kept to catch mice, snakes, and others things around a compound. Both cats and dogs aren't given names and are not treated like family, like in the US. (In fact, I was talking with an FSD staff member about cats about what they are called. She said that they're just called cat or pussy. Me, being the 14 year old immature person that I usually am, couldn't help but laugh when she said that.)
Every Kenyan I have met in my time here is religious in some way or another. And most of the people I know are Christian and very involved with the church. Coming from a family that does not go to church and from a place that isn't extremely religious, this was something that I was really shocked by. The second day I was with my host family, I went to church with them. The service (which was just a regular, normal service) that day lasted four hours. And that was with me leaving early with my host sister. My host father is a Reverend for the church and my host mother is a pastor. In fact, my host mom mentioned that if she were to ever win a lot of money, she would give it all to the church so they could build a beautiful building.
At the same time, during the two ACCES meetings that I've attended, we have read passages from the Bible, reflected, and then prayed. All of the ACCES schools have the 10 commandments in some of the classrooms. That was what shocked me the most. In the US, there is a fine line between church and state, but it is still there. Most organizations, or at least in my experience, do not incorporate religion into the workplace. Religion is much more of a personal thing for Americans (in general), while here, it is such a big part of the community.
Church is such a big aspect of life here in Kenya. Worshiping, praising, thanking, and praying to God happens everyday in some aspect. Before I go to bed every night, I sit with my host family and read the Bible and pray.
This aspect of Kenyan culture is very different from what I am used to. It's very interesting to see the contrast between here and my life back home. I have had to explain to several people, especially my host family, that in the US, I do not attend church every week and that religion is much more personal for many people.
I had the chance to sit down with several members of my host family (my host mom, sister, and two aunts) over the past week or so. The biggest aspect of our conversations have been around the differences between culture in Kenya and the US and the topic or marriage and weddings came up several times.
Did you know that in Kenya, the groom pays the bride's family a dowry? As someone who was born and raised in the US, this was a difficult concept for me to understand. There are all of these traditions done for weddings and marriages that make it so different than what I am used to! My host sister explained that there are many things that need to be done before a couple could get married. Before a date can be set, a dowry price must be set with the two families. The two sets of in-laws must also host each other at the two family houses. The church is also very involved in helping to plan the wedding.
When I was at the Holy Cross Formation House a couple weeks ago, I remember one of the brothers telling me that people are considered children until they get married. So if someone was 40 and still single, they would still be treated almost like a child. Now if someone was 20 and was married, they would be considered an adult. My host sister, Faith, also mentioned something similar. Most people will not move out of their parents house until they are married.
I told her that in the US, it is more encouraged and more commonly found that people move out much sooner and before they are married. She was so surprised at this, especially when I told her that as much as I love my parents, I wanted to move out after I finished university.
(Note: this next section is my own experience and includes some of my personal frustration at the situation, not at individuals. I also apologize for going over this again but it has been on my mind for the past three weeks.)
Being a white American, I get a lot of attention from many different people. This has been the hardest aspect of being in Kenya for me to handle. I have been asked for money, handouts, to sponsor a girl in school. I have been stared at, pointed at, laughed at the way I say things. I've been treated like a guest of honor, simply because I am not African. People assume that I am German, European, Canadian, American. I have shaken hands with more people than I can ever remember.
To many people here, I am a walking dollar sign in a position of power. At my nursing assistant job last summer, I probably made more money in a week than some people might make in a couple months. Street vendors and people in market places will jack up the price because they know that I can afford the inflated cost. For me, this got to me a lot. It got really frustrating to be treated different and special because I was white. It felt like the only things that people were seeing in me were my skin and my wealth. To me, it felt degrading. And after a while, it really got under my skin.
This is nothing against the people here. I am not pointing fingers at people saying that they personally made me feel like this and it is all their fault. This isn't one individual's fault but rather, the fault of the global society and culture. Assumptions are made by people based on the stereotypes and perception created by others before me and the media.
This has been a very long post (and hopefully not too boring!) so I'm going to wrap it all up now and say good bye for now.