One of the books recommended to people coming to work in Africa about cross cultural adjustment is called “From Foreign to Familiar.” This seems to be a really good way to describe how I’ve been experiencing the first few days and weeks back in Kenya.
I remember very distinctly my first arrival in Kenya back in January 2009. As we left the airport, the cool evening air was filled with… it was FULL. It smelled of wet pavement and diesel and the acrid smell of burning trash. But it also smelled of rain and cool and dirt and the sweetness of many flowers I didn’t yet know the names of. All of this – in one breath – told me: I’m in AFRICA! Almost everything I experienced after those first breaths was new.
This time, while some things have changed, there is much that is comforting and familiar. I recognized the route home from the airport. I knew the names of many of the staff at the guesthouse - and they remembered me! I don’t know if I should be comforted or worried about that fact!) I knew the way to the bank, to the shopping center, to the coffee shop. Taking public transport was not (quite as) daunting as the first time crossing a crazy Nairobi roundabout or jumping on a matatu – Kenya’s famous rickety, loud, and overcrowded mini busses. The traditional Massai man wrapped in a shuka (red striped blanket) herding his cows through the new car dealership was still amusing, but not novel.
I am looking forward to eventually getting back to Korr. There will be things that are different, to be sure, and in no way am I saying I have learned all I have to learn about life in Kenya – far from it! But I am enjoying the shift from foreign to familiar.
As I think about getting into teaching come September in Korr, this is my prayer for both myself and my students. For me, that language, culture, and relationships that start out so foreign become more familiar as I learn and study and observe, as I laugh, struggle through, and walk alongside my students and my friends.
And for my students, and for the Rendille people in general, that the Christ they hear about would move from foreign to familiar in their hearts – that the forms and the culture of my faith in Canada would be done away with, and that as my students wrestle with their faith, that this faith would become truly theirs – truly Rendille, truly personal, truly transformational.
I am so grateful to get to be back in Kenya, and for this wonderful place just waiting to teach me so much.