Monday, May 25, 2009

Adapting to a different culture

“Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.” ~ Jawaharlal Nehru quotes

So as I was reflecting on emails I've received from friends and family back home I came to the realization that I have not had a blog post about the differences between the US and Kenya.

The culture:
In Kenya, people typically greet me based on my profession "teacher" hence they will great me either "habari mwalimu" which litterally translated means "news teacher?" ["Habari" is a typical greeting in Kiswahili (the Ki- before Swahili is cultural indicating a language; in comparison, the prefix Wa- would mean Swahili people). The typical responses include nzuri (good/well), salama (peaceful), or si mbaya (not bad).]
Another thing of interest regarding greetings is the hand shakes involved in greetings. In a given day, I see the askari (guard) of the compound about four times a day. Each time we meet we exchange greetings including a hand shake. In the mornings, also, as I walk to school I shake hands with the primary school students as part of the greetings. Even my students and I we exchange greetings and hand shakes as they arrive.
Some of the stereotypes that I've heard from Kenyans about Americans include: Americans eat snakes and snails; Americans are rich; there is no poverty in America; going to America means one will never be poor again.

The house:
In Kenya, a single room can be considered a house. In fact, my current housing is just that. One single room. In fact, there are several housing facilities where there are a set of six or eight single rooms within a gate. Each one being an appartment - a housing unit. In such housing set ups, there is usually a shared latrine and a shared shower room. Cooking is usually done by using a charcoal jiko (stove), a gas stove, and/or fire wood.Cutting the grass is done by hand using a long blade which has an angled top so that when the blade is swung just above the ground the blades will cut the grass and weeds.

The concept of time in Kenya is very different than time in the US. In the US, I would be too concerned about time and getting to work on time and thus would not take the time to slow my pace and walk with the primary school children as their school is on my way. In fact, the mamas in the area have gotten used to my walking with their children. This morning as I was walking to work, and though technically I was late (by US time standards), I slowed down my pace so that the young ones would not have to walk quickly/run to walk beside me. As I slowed down, there was a mama not too far back walking with her daughter and she said to her daughter "uende haraka kutembea na mzungu" English translation: "go quickly to walk with the foreigner."
That reminds me, the children think its hilarious that I have so much hair. Most men will have very little, if any hair, on their heads as the most men will have very little, if any, hair on their heads.
On a different occasion, I had time to watch a family of small birds building their nest. It was a slow afternoon while my students and I were waiting for the electricity to return. I stepped outside with a few of them to practice my Swahili. In the midst of our conversation, I saw a family of birds gathering twigs from the ground as they were building their nest in a nearby tree. It was truly amazing to see these little friends at work.On yet a different occasion, I had the pleasure of observing a few very young frogs as they were hoping around the area near the rice fields. I followed them a little bit to see what they were up to. In doing so, I found some birds nests in the shrubs along the edge of a shamba (farm). I also found some butterflies flying around in the area and had a chance to examine them closely. One of them struck me as particularly interesting. This butterfly's wings were almost entirely black save for two blue circles. As the butterfly was flapping its wings, I could see the purpose of the eyes. The butterfly was closing and opening its wings and as it did so, the blue spots on its back seemed almost like they were eyes opening from the black of the surrounding wings. The white and yellow colored butterflies flew away before I had a chance to look at them more closely.There are pretty neat things to be found if you only take the time to look around.

No comments:

Post a Comment