Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rural Week Post 4: The Culture Shock

It almost should go without saying that I experience some culture shock being in the community. I want to share with you some of the most significant pieces of this culture shock:
  • First, because we were in such a rural area few of the community members had urban experiences. This means they were not familiar with white people, or mzungus. Everywhere I went I would hear “mzungu! Mzungu!” people waving, smiling, wanting a handshake, or wanting to hear me speak English. I have talked briefly about this on my blog before but this was a whole new level. I was expecting some of this but to the extent that it happened was nothing I could imagine. At first it was funny, being a celebrity. But it quickly got very old. I couldn’t go anywhere, or even be in the yard of my house without being hollered at and people wanting to see me, hear me, and greet me. This was one of the emotionally taxing things I have ever encountered, and it was frustrating during the survey to not be able to have it take four times as long to get somewhere to have to stop and greet everyone.
  • Another piece of culture shock, was the amount of food I was expected to eat. I don’t usually eat three big meals a day, but this week I did. Every time I would finish a serving I was given more. And more. And more. This in combination with my malaria medicine, meant there were times where I felt physically sick from the amount of food. Part of this food situation was because I was a visitor. They wanted to make sure I was well fed and impressed. Both of which were true.
  • Taking a bath. In the latrine, with my flashlight and a bucket of water. Nuff said.
  • The last major piece of culture shock that I want to discuss is my role as a man in the house. I expected the gender roles to be significant, but I never thought they would be as strong as they were. I would try to go help cook and was immediately dismissed to go back to the house. I would try to help clean up and the dishes would be taken out of my hands. I wanted to become a member of the family, and it wasn’t feeling like I was. Until I realized that I had. I had become a male member of the family. Victor, the father, would come home and sit. Everything was brought to him. He didn’t have to do anything. I, being an adult male, was in the same situation. I had become a member of the family. Just not in the role I had wanted. I learned a lot about these gender dynamics, but I didn’t learn what I wanted to (like making chai, but I am learning now!). I was not comfortable with these dynamics, but it was part of the experience.

The first few days were not easy. In fact they are some of the hardest days I’ve ever had. But near the end of the week, I was getting more and more comfortable. I knew my way around, I knew what to do, and I was connecting with the family. By then it was time to get picked and go back to Kiboko for a night before journeying back to Nairobi. I enjoyed a nice photoshoot with my family, and then walked to the school to be picked. I bid my father goodbye, and was done with one of the most memorable weeks of my life.

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