Posts Tagged With: Culture Shock

A Stink to Remember

The other day I was driving down my road, heading to the local coffee shop for a nice quiet study day. I was preparing to turn on to the main road when I saw a group of men running across the street. Not knowing what was happening (mobs can form pretty quickly), I made sure the doors were locked, and tried to see if I would be able to turn around if needed.

I turned back around to see what was happening, and knew immediately I was going to be alright. The guy in the front of the running crowd, however, did not look like he was going to have a fun time. I pulled over to watch the scene play out.

He was running from a group of people, shirt off. One of the guys behind him was holding his shirt as he followed him across the road. Another man running had a bucket of water and a bar of soap.

Apparently, the first man running was a conductor on a bus, here called a matatu. Other conductors had been complaining to each other when they stopped at the same stops that this man stank. I mean, really stank. Passengers on his bus had been getting off miles before their destinations, and getting on different busses just to avoid the stench.

The other conductors had finally had enough. A few of the busses waited at the bus stop for the stinky bus to show up. When it did, they grabbed him as he opened the door, tore his shirt off, and we’re planning on a public bath to help cure the malodorous man of his problems.

The conductor was able to get away and run across the street, but the matatu hygienists followed after. They were able to grab him, and, right there on the side of the road, dumped a bucket of cold water on his head. Two men held his arms, and a third grabbed the bar of soap, and proceeded to wash the man’s entire upper body. A second bucket of water followed to rinse him off.

A crowd had formed around the poor man, as the bathing was going on in a small outdoor market area. People were taking pictures with their phones, and traffic began backing up the road as drivers slowed to catch a glimpse of the scouring of the conductor.

After they left him there, wet and half clothed, I asked one of the cleaning men what happened. He said they had warned this man for a long time that something was going to be done about his smell, that even the matatu stank at the end of the night when they all parked them back at the lot.

As I pulled back onto the road and head for that cup of Java, I couldn’t help it. I made sure I smelled clean. Just in case.

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Two Hours Late? Right on Time.

The Bride was not there when the wedding was supposed to start. Usually, a bad sign for a wedding. But for those of us who were at the wedding on time, we were not worried. You see, the groom wasn’t on time either. And neither were the bridesmaids, groomsmen, or even the guests.

We were going to be celebrating our church’s first wedding, and I was going to be officiating. Pretty exciting stuff. I wanted to make sure the church members were at the garden venue early, for we have heard that if the church members aren’t there, other people will try to take over the wedding, making it about them.

So we caravaned from the church to the garden, and made it there early. Some of the members started helping put the finishing touches on the grounds, tying bows on the chairs, hanging flowers from the canopies, and helping keep the ground clear of trash. When the service time rolled around, we were still the only people there.

I had been warned that the wedding party itself would be late. They always are in Kenya. I guess everyone knows that, because the first guests didn’t show up until an hour later.

Horns honking down the road gave us the warning that the wedding party was approaching. As they pulled into the venue, I took a look at my watch. Two hours late.

Right on time.

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Time, Time, Time, is Not on My Side

The western concept of time is not a standard that is held by all cultures equally. One idea of being late to a meeting is showing up five minutes past the hour. Before moving to Kenya, I had actually been written up for being two minutes late for a shift.

But I have learned that this idea is not universal. In Kenya, the concept of time is much more fluid.

A few weeks ago, I was at a wedding rehearsal for a Kenyan couple. I had caught a ride with the happy code after church, because I had no idea where we were going, and Adrienne had to take the car to get the boys home. The couple was supposed to meet with the wedding vendors at 1:00, then we were to have the rehearsal at 3:00. I was excited, as this was the first wedding I would be officiating in Kenya.

We arrived at the venue, an outdoor garden area that was open to the public on Sundays for people to have lunch. I grabbed a chair under an umbrella, and opened a book to read until the vendor meeting was over. Around two o’clock, I looked over to where the couple was sitting, and realized that only one vendor had shown up. The photographer, who lived around the corner, was there, but the DJ, the caterer, the beauticians, and the guy renting the tent and chairs were still MIA. The groom came over and told me that they were all on their way.

I kept reading, wondering what was going to happen when the friends and family showed up for the rehearsal to find the vendor’s meeting still going on. But I was still thinking like an American.

The first people to arrive for our three o’clock rehearsal didn’t show up until 3:30. We waited until four o’clock before we had enough people to start. Even then, as the rest of the wedding party (20 people, besides the bride and groom) continued to come, we had to start the procession over again and again, so everyone knew where they needed to stand.

It wasn’t just the wedding party that was late. The couple had arranged for an entire goat, weighing 13 kg (almost 29 lb) to be roasted by 2:00. By 3:00, the groom and best man were wondering what was going on. They went to the kitchen area and asked the cooks what was happening. The cooks told them that the food was coming. They asked for 45 minutes to have everything together.

An hour later, the best man and I went back, but we were given the same story, this time by the manager.Finally, around 4:30, the owner came over to tell us that the full goat, which had been purchased by the groom and brought in for the kitchen to cook, had been butchered and given to other guests. He offered to cook up some meat for us, but it would take some time. He said he had just found out what had happened, and would cover all the expenses for the food and drinks for the entire party (which by now had grown to about 40 people.

And so it was, at 6:00, we were finally served our lunch. The nyama choma (roast meat) came out lukewarm, and the ugali (imagine corn meal cooked to a dense, play dough like consistency) was stale. Having nothing to eat since seven o’clock that morning, it was the most delicious food I had eaten in a long time, even if I am still unsure what type of animal it came from.

(N.b.: As I am writing this, I am sitting at the wedding gardens, waiting for the second rehearsal. We were scheduled to meet at noon, yet I am still the only one here. It’s two o’clock. Better order the nyama choma now if I want to eat today…)

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