Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bringing a Little Bit of America to Kenya

Happy 4th of July!

I hope that wherever you are, your celebration of Independence Day has been happy and prosperous.  In our part of the world we decided to grill out to celebrate the holiday.  We cooked seasoned and marinated beef and chicken on skewers with chopped bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes.  It turned out to taste amazing, but I personally appreciated the conversations with our hosts and I enjoyed breaking the cultural norms in this part of the world.

Let me explain...

1. In some areas of Kenya, it is culturally accepted that women do most of the domestic work in the home. 

This includes cooking, cleaning, serving, etc.  This notion has bothered my classmate David and I for some time.  I don't know about David, but I consider myself to be an independent man, and so the idea of being waited on hand and foot is not comforting to me.  We literally don't have to do anything while we're here, and our hosts are perfectly okay with that.  On an average day, I do far more work outside of my Kenyan home than within.  

However, today we got the opportunity to reverse our roles.  The servants became the guests and we did most of the work.  It was odd trying to explain to everyone that we wanted to grill for them.  At first, Juliet, the lady who does most of the cooking for us, thought that she had done something wrong.  It took one of our hosts, Ann, to explain to her that we just wanted to make a special meal.  Then, even after we comforted her, she still did most of the food preparation, cutting up the meat and some of the vegetables, and making the side dishes.  She would even laugh as she occasionally passed the grill watching David and I prepare the skewers and put them on the grill.  "It's just not normal to see men cook," said Faith, the daughter of our host Wilehmina.  

We even took it a step further by asking everyone to come sit at the kitchen table with us.  Would you believe that night after night, these women prepare delicious meals for us but then sit in the kitchen area around a small table to eat while David and I sit alone at the large dinning room table?  Sadly, it's true.  But tonight we turned that system around by insisting that everyone sit with us to eat.  It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.  The atmosphere was a little awkward at first and it took some time for them to have a meaningful conversation with us.  But overall, everyone seemed to enjoy the "American" food.  By the end of the meal, Ben, one of our best Kenyan friends was encouraging us to cook more food for them "at least once a week."  This made me happy!

2. In Kenya, some women have a very different perception of what a "male" should be.

While grilling we were having a good conversation with one of our hosts, Faith.  During the conversation she informed David and I that they prefer to do most of the house work for us because "Americans live a softer lifestyle."  Actually, she didn't say "Americans," she said "whites," but then I gave her a strange look and she amended it to "Americans."  As the conversation continued she looked at David, my white classmate, and called him a "soft male."  She said that the way he carried himself and his tone of speaking made him vulnerable to the more dominant, money hungry women in society.  

(I was trying my best at this point not to laugh, but concealing the laughter was like trying to hold off an advancing mob with a squirt gun.  It just wasn't happening.)   

After I caught my breath from the initial reaction to this statement, I tried to tell Faith about how I lived in America.  I told her that I cook for myself, almost every night of the week, and clean, and do all of the other general chores to take care of myself.  David echoed that he did the same.  As Faith stared at me using my hands that were covered in grease from turning the skewers she seemed to accept my independence.  But for some reason, she would not believe that David had the ability to be a "hard male."  In her eyes he was soft, and she continued to make suggestions for his life.  She told him about the kind of women he should try to meet, even offering to help him find a good Kenyan woman.  She warned him of the kind of work that he should avoid doing, and made all sorts of jokes about what could go wrong if he wasn't careful.  Of course David just laughed it off, but it did help us both to understand the mentality of some Kenyans.  Here, males are supposed to be tough, and hard workers.  This doesn't necessarily imply that they should be the sole financial supporters of families (because that's not the case in many homes here), but it does suggest that the "emotionally sensitive" male is not as respected in this culture.  I find it amazing that even on a relaxed Sunday evening I'm still receiving a great education.

Happy 4th Everyone!


Cory Biggs said...


Reading your blog posts wear... me... out! That being said, I'm more than happy to make it through each one (or set of them). I hear your voice, rambling on--yeah, I know... pot, meet kettle. And I always take something meaningful away from them. You keep writing... and writing... and writing, and I'll keep reading.


Rebecca Morrison said...

Oh my gosh I loved this! That food sounds amazing too. I am so excited that you guys were able to "shake things up" a bit there- even for a day.

I love you guys!

Kimberly Caldwell said...

Patrick - when she was calling David soft, did you even think about poking him in the tummy a la Pillsbury Doughboy? Because I would have. And then I would have expected David to giggle.

Here's hoping y'all don't get too hard in Kenya...

Valerie said...

To David (via' Patrick's blog)

Maybe you should start burping and scratching and doing well, other gross guy stuff in public. Then growl and say "I'm a Man" and flex your muscles all day. Then maybe Faith and Wilehmina will appreciate how "soft" you really are! I like you just the way you are!

Shamim said...

I normally have to adjust when I go back home to Kenya, and all the food is prepared, clothes washed etc (and sometimes miss it) vs having to do it all in the US!

Awesome reverse of roles and treating your hosts to dinner. It's not very common and would hardly make it as an everyday kinda thing in that part of the world.