A common question we get while on the road here in the States is, “How does it feel to be home? I bet your loving it.” It is an interesting question, because the person asking it almost always includes the answer, but it also makes a very big assumption—that America is still home.
It is an interesting question and also a much harder one to answer than people might think. First of all, America is no longer home. Our physical house is in Kenya, our kids were born there, and it is where we are raising our family. We have friends in Kenya and our church family is now there. It is also where I work.
Still there are some aspects of America that do feel like home. Kenya is home, but our cultural home is still America.
Now after 5 years in Kenya, I understand Kenyans more than ever (although I still have a lot to learn). In some ways, being back in the U.S. has really accentuated my Kenyan habits. I don’t spend as much time focusing on time; not because time doesn’t matter, but because relationships matter more.
I was helping a friend carry in the groceries for a get together in the evening. I had the food and he had the drinks, which he was going to put into a cooler on the back porch. We were in the middle of a conversation, so I started to follow him. We stopped at the crossroads between the garage entrance and the path to the back of our house to keep chatting. Multiple times he suggested I enter through the garage, because going around the house was a much longer distance. He was focused on efficiency, a very American value that would have made sense to most people. I have learned in Kenya that finishing a valuable time with a friend is more important than getting the job done easier or quicker. I followed him to the back of the house and kept talking.
Another time I was visiting my grandmother. I had decided that we should leave by 1, so the kids could nap on the way home. We got working on some projects around the house, and as 1 rolled around, my dad was pushing us out of the house, because he didn’t want to miss nap time. It was really hard for me to leave without finishing the job that I was working on. It was nothing that couldn’t wait, but I have learned to be more focused on the task at hand than the time.
I have absorbed a lot of Kenyan culture, but I am still not Kenyan. There are still things that feel so natural to a Kenyan but require a lot of thought process for me. There are also some things that really irritate me.
I won’t go into many details on this one, but one of the hardest parts about being in Kenya is what some missionaries call the fish bowl effect. When everyone around you is black and you are white, you stand out, and people are always watching you. Most people are great and happy just to go on with their day, but there is always someone yelling “mzungu” (white person/foreigner). They are laughing and hollering to see you ride on local transport or wanting to sell you useless knickknacks for extreme prices. I had someone try and sell me a rock for $20. I wouldn’t have minded the attempt too much if he didn’t follow me around for 5 minutes and make me say no 100 times. I hate being rude, but sometimes it is the only way to get someone to leave you alone.
Sometimes it is just nice to blend in. I love being in the States and going to the store or out with friends, and knowing that no one is watching. No one cares what I do here. I love being on a boat or at the beach, and it feels so familiar, so normal and natural. This is why missionaries go on furlough.
Kenya is home and I love it, but culturally America is also still home. After 5 years living overseas, I can say with joy that I have 2 homes and both are great.