Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Personal Space

You know how one of the factors of cultural differences is how much personal space you need around you to feel comfortable. It’s sometimes referred to as an invisible bubble that your own culture knows cannot be entered. But in warmer climate cultures let’s pick on Italians for example, they will get quite a bit closer than Americans to one another in a social setting and talk right in your face.

Today as I was driving in rush hour traffic here in the Twin Cities, I noticed the same was true of car space. American driven cars need more personal space than those in Kenya. As you follow a car in “slow and go” traffic here you need to leave more room to feel comfortable. But in Nairobi, everyone is much closer together for very practical reasons. You can get cut off!

Yesterday I noted the same thing with parking lots and parking spaces. Good grief, a Kenya given the same amount of surface space for parking would probably get twice as many cars in the space.

I’m often amazed that there aren’t more accidents in Kenya. If there were more people that thought they needed more space – maybe there would be. I’m thankful there aren’t.

I’m fighting the urge to be Kenyan here. I’m learning to adjust.

Monday, September 27, 2010


It’s my favorite season in Minnesota, if I had to pick a season as a favorite. The day I arrived it was pouring down rain. In fact there are floods in southern Minnesota. Everything glistened even though it’s in muted autumn colors. I’m staying in a far suburb at the moment and it has large mature trees in along the winding roads.It’s also one of my favorite seasons in Kenya, its Jacaranda season! Totally different color pallet, but both are beautiful! They were starting to bloom before I left.
It’s just a win-win season.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock

From the time I have heard the term culture shock I have thought it not a really good description of what a person feels over cultural differences. This is even truer when I think of reverse culture shock – or what you feel when you return to your own culture.

So far this trip back has had some pleasant things I haven’t expected. One is that so far, and I’m on day 4 in-country, I really haven’t experienced jet-lag. The other was a successful quick trip to Wal-Mart for only a couple of items. (I wasn’t that successful yesterday when I went in for a look and got stuck in there for almost 3 hours.)

Usually I think of reverse culture shock as a kind of cultural disappointment or sadness, so it’s a nice surprise when it’s more on the happy side. Don’t get me wrong. I still think it’s so odd to drive around without traffic jams. In Nairobi I live only a few kilometers (shorter than miles) from my work, but it’s always a slow-go and a challenge to find a back way that is flowing more freely. It’s weird not to see lots of people walking along the roads. The aisles of breakfast cereal are still much longer than those in Nairobi. But all that isn’t really ‘shocking’. It’s just different.

Maybe Nairobi is just becoming more and more cosmopolitan and there is almost anything available. Maybe I’m here too often. Both have things that are strange to me and hard to sometimes understand or I don’t really like. But to be sure, both are home.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's So Different

It’s actually a very odd feeling to spend approximately 24 hours of travel and be in a so totally different place. I remember thinking on the plane how the airport in Nairobi feels fairly comfortable yet somewhat cosmopolitan in its own way. Still it’s a very different culture to the one I’m from in my fibers.

Then after this 8 hour fog of air travel, you arrive in Europe. While it’s closer to my own culture it’s the culture I’m least familiar with. I wander around the airport that feels like a shopping mall.

As I make my way towards the gate a couple hours before I’m scheduled to depart, I start hearing more and more American English spoken. I hear the loud conversations in markedly Midwestern accents. I look around at the footwear and think to myself how typically American it is to wear tennis shoes. Then I realize that they are only called ‘tennis shoes’ in the US. (If I was still in Kenya, I’ve called them ‘trainers’ even to myself.)

While I am pleased to be feeling I understand all my surroundings in a very basic way here, I am not altogether sure that I really like this. There is a certain deep happiness to being able to negotiate a culture without any second guessing, and no apology for whatever I do, after all, I am American. But at the same time, it’s not all good.

I’m writing from a Perkins where I’ve just had the biggest breakfast imaginable. I’ve been served so fast I can hardly believe it. The waitress made a mistake on my order that I probably wouldn’t have noticed, corrected and gave me a free muffin in the whole mix without me so much as even saying a word. It’s grand to have real customer service. But all the while I can hear all kinds of loud conversations and I think about how this culture has acquired that “Ugly American” image.

Kenyans must be horrified when they first arrive here. I tried to image a solitary Kenyan sitting at this booth instead of me. I’m sure she would have thought the meal that was served enough for two or three people. Perhaps she would have concluded that’s the reason why Americans are so big. This Kenyan would have been shocked by the shouts that come over the dim of asking for a cup or greeting someone. If she had as good an ear as I do for a Midwestern accent she would likely find the snippets of conversation equally as odd or jarring.

This is my home culture. It’s what I am at the very bottom of my being. I understand it on a fundamental level. But I don’t really like it all. And I have come to realize that there is a deep part of me that is also a little bit Kenyan.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Back to the Land of ...

Temperature-controlled running water
Relatively easy and light traffic
Convenience foods

I arrived safely in Minneapolis yesterday after about 20 hours of travel. By the time I hit the hay last night I’d been up for about 48 hours without more than a catnap. I slept for 8 hours last night and feel like a million bucks today, but my eyes sure hurt yesterday.

Let’s hope the jet-lag is minimal.

I have a cell phone; please call so we can get together! 612-462-2077.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

Dear Readers -

If you haven't received my newsletter, let me know. This post won't be news to you if you got it. I'm coming to the Twin Cities for a visit! I'll be there from my birthday on September 23 until, God willing, November 3.

We've planned an Open House for October 10th from 2-5 at the home of Steve and Rachel Maves. Please comment here if you need directions or any further information.

If you can't make it then, please email me so we can meet up while I'm home. I'm so looking forward to catching up personally with many of you. I can't wait to meet new family members that have arrived and see how big everyone's kids are getting! Once I have a phone number I will post it.

Part of why I'm coming home is that I still am without a work permit here. I need to leave every 6 months when I'm on a visitor's visa. Please pray with me that this would all come together by the time I'm coming back.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vacation at the Coast - Ahhh

This was the view from where we settled on the sun beads for 5 days.
What's a vacation at a resort without dancing. After the cultural dance show guests were invited to join in the fun.
Lest you think we spent every moment laying around, we did a few other things like visit the family friends of Jane's for lunch one day (family of 3 at the right).
Also we sent to visit a children's home that Jane's workmates volunteer at on a regular basis.
Jane holding a baby while a care giver explains what happened to this child.

Sometimes visiting Children's Homes can be heartbreaking. It's a better life than the streets.
Good-bye to the coast for now.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Laptop Toasted!

Hello Dear Readers -

I had every intention of posting while on vacation. God had more of a total vacation in mind. My laptop screen has decided it's had enough. It is currently completely non-functional. I'm limping along at the moment. But not sure when I will be back up and running.

If you list me on your reader, you'll know when I'm back to full speed. Blessings!