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5 Things I Learned (About Traveling) in Kenya

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All the Juniors’ Global teams are heading back to the States soon, and reflecting on all the good, hard, and beautiful things we’ve experienced–super important.

But sometimes we forget to mention the funny stuff.

There are many elements that I love about the Kenyan culture (like their gracious hospitality!). BUT. I’m American. And sometimes, parts of the culture strike me as even more–ahem!–different than I expected. So, here are five lessons that this very White (see what I did there?!) American girl learned on this trip! Hopefully, they’ll teach you a bit more about Kenya, and maybe make you smile. 🙂

1. Beware the word “program.” 

Kenyans love (and I mean LOVE) formal “programs.” This involves one person holding the attention of the entire group, formally saying a few necessary words (and a few that aren’t), and then passing it off to the next person. There’s also introductions all around. Each introduction must have a minimum of two greetings and responses before the speaker actually says his or her name. Building a house? There’s going to be a Program before you leave. Giving a few gifts to a widow? Program. Saying hi to a bunch of (adorable!!) kids in a Nursery School (aka Preschool)? Still a Program. If ever you hear this word, get ready to embrace your patient side and practice putting time with people ahead of your to-do list. (Good job, little American! I know it’s hard!)

2. Never believe it when your Kenyan guide says the road is “passable.”

Never. As far as I can tell, the Kenyan definition of this word means that at some point in the last 500 years, someone was able to use elbow grease, fairy dust, or some rather incredible luck to force their vehicle forward. In case you didn’t know, things can change a lot in 500 years. Also, you should know that Kenyans like to play a game every time they travel in a mutatu (van taxi). It’s called let’s-see-how-many-people-we-can-squish-in-here-and-still-breathe. Sometimes they’ll even leave the sliding door open with some brave soul standing inside and clinging desperately to the roof of the vehicle. A final word of advice on this subject is that you shouldn’t judge vehicles by their appearance. Looks kind of sketch? Have no fear–it will still take you anywhere you want to go…on all those passable roads. 😉

3. Don’t Talk. Unless you’d like to get laughed at.

Apparently, white people (Mzungus) sound like they’re pinching their noses shut when they talk. All the time. Adults find this amusing, but are usually polite enough not to point it out. Kids on the other hand…well, at least your humility will be in good shape!

As a corollary thought, be prepared to laugh a lot, yourself. Kenyans take every chance to laugh–at themselves, at you, at each other. Seriously. The only topic that seems permanently safe from laughter is when someone is seriously ill or dead. o.O Depending on who you’re talking to, anything short of that seems to be free game. Including you!

4. Expect Christian and oddly worded phrases to show up everywhere. 

You are able to get your hair done at The Great I Am Hair and Beauty Salon (well–maybe. If you have white people hair, you might be out of luck.), buy meat at the New Classic Butchery and ride in God’s Favourite van (with original spelling). If you’re feeling adventurous, you can learn to drive–Kenyan style–at the Budget Driving School (but don’t worry. You will be Taught By Professionals). After that long day, you can go home to one of the Whispering Flames Private Houses.

Does American advertising seem this strange to people unaccustomed to it? I wonder…

5. Mealtime. Oh boy…

Rule Number One: WAIT to wash your hands before you eat. Even though they will probably set the whole meal in front of you first, you should never start eating before you can wash your hands. In Kenya, this means you scrub your hands over a bowl as they slowly pour warm water for you. Sometimes they have soap; sometimes they don’t. And don’t ask for a towel. You just let your hands drip dry. Rule Number Two: Do your best to get the salt first. With a few exceptions, salt is served in a shallow bowl. Everyone just takes a pinch when he or she wants some. Germaphobes beware…

And that concludes this brief travel guide. I’ve thought of several more entries, but I think this post is quite long enough! You’ll just have to ask one of us for more stories later. 😉

Hannah

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One thought on “5 Things I Learned (About Traveling) in Kenya

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this! You are hilarious! Thanks for painting this picture and for helping me to enjoy the quirks of another culture!

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