Saturday, February 14, 2015

Clash of the cultures

Every time I visit a country new to me, there are countless learning experiences along the way. I not only learn about the traditions and values of another group of people unlike me, but I also learn a lot about myself along the way.
This journey to Kenya was no exception for me. My first few days threw me into culture shock in a way I haven't experienced in some time. Perhaps it was partly because I was living with a Kenyan this time when often I am somewhat removed from the culture when I stay at my own apartment or hotel. Either way, I was really challenged to take a look at my own values and let go of some of my ideas of how the world should work.

A few things I observed:
(1) We may both be speaking English but that doesn't mean we are going to understand each other.
Accents and word meanings differ from America to Kenya and the result was obsessed hilariously through befuddled conversations.
Take the time Sarah asked me if I'd like a cocktail while we were at the supermarket at 12 pm. "No, thanks," I said, "I don't drink alcohol this early in the day." Come to find out that a "cocktail" in Kenya means a mixture of different types of juice.
Or take the time Sarah asked Esther if she wanted some hot [the "o" pronounce like the "o" in "coat"]
Esther: No, I don't drink whole milk.
Sarah: I'll warm it for you.
Esther: No, I don't drink whole milk.
Sarah: I'm going to boil it so it'll be hot.
Esther: It's whole milk, though.
Sarah: I'll warm it.
(This goes on for some time)
Esther: Oh!!! I meant "whole", W-H-O-L-E!
Sarah: Ohhhhh!!
(Uncontrollable laughter)

Other fun translations:
Boot= car trunk
Bonnet= car hood
Rubber= pencil eraser (yes, there was an interesting conversation with this one, too)
Biscuits= cookies

(2) A schedule is a loose suggestion and "being on time" is relative

Whenever a Kenyan said, "I'll be there soon" or "it won't take long", they would usually arrive at their destination 2-3 hours later. For this American who thrives on organization and schedules, I had a lot of heart work to do in letting go and letting God. There were a few times when God really used it though. Being a few hours late ended up being exactly what was needed.

(3) Sleep is not a daily necessity (only occasionally needed)

Kenyans love to party and have a ton of energy. We would stay up late and get up early daily. Esther and I took naps every day but Sarah didn't seem to need them.

(4) One person's "honesty" can be construed by another as "blunt".

Being someone who is pretty sensitive when it comes to words, it took some adjustment for me to process statements by Kenyans in the proper way. They are straight forward people with great hearts. They can really tell it like it is. I was really grateful for this, though, as it really opened doors for us as a team when Sarah would ask the hard hitting questions.

I could see God use every cultural experience for His good and my growth throughout our trip but, boy, am I glad to be heading home to some familiarity! I just pray that God reminds me of what I learned so I can adapt the things I've seen work well in Kenya to my own culture.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

1 comment:

Karen Butterworth said...

Kenyan vocabulary sounds very British! Of course that doesn't help with accents and such.

Sorry for stumbling across this so far after the fact, but I enjoyed reading. :)