Children of Two Worlds
They run around. They can be seen playing with rubbish. As I walk by, they shout out, ‘mzungu.’ They are mature and are given many responsibilities at a young age. These are the children of Kenya. These children are the children of two worlds.
Not only are the children caught between two worlds but their parents are caught between two worlds too. They face difficult decisions about holding on to traditional customs and practices and adapting to Western practices. Although we are Western and therefore think that we are better than the rest of the world, I believe that our practices are not necessarily better.
Western culture makes its way to Africa through movies, television shows, the news, magazines, and tourists. It is amazing how the viewers and readers of these mediums take everything they see and hear at face value. They watch American films and television shows and believe that the things they see are representative of American life. On my last day with my host family in Riruta Satellite, my host mother turned to me and asked me if there were poor people in America. Movies and television portray such a glamorized version of America that my host mother truly believed that poor people do not exist in America. She was even more surprised when I told her that we have homeless people in America. In her mind, it was only possible for people who live in a rich, advanced country to be wealthy, live in mansions, and drive nice cars.
In addition to the movies and television shows that have made their way to Africa, the culture of spending much time in front of the television is evident in Africa. Even though electricity is a luxury here, the television in my host family’s house is constantly switched on. My young host sisters and well as my host parents spend a great amount of their evenings watching Spanish soap operas, the East African version of American Idol, and other Western or Western inspired shows. During the two weeks that I have lived with my host family, there was not a single night when we all sat around the table and ate dinner together. It has become normal for them to sit on the couches and eat their meal in front of the television.
In addition to the Western television shows and movies, the radio, music video channels, and internet have helped to make Western music a huge part of African culture. There is not a day when I return to my host family’s home and do not find my host father’s 23 year old brother blasting American rap music. My host father’s 21 year old sister enjoys watching American music videos on the television. My young host sisters love this and sing and dance to the American r&b and rap songs. Even as I sit in my host family’s living room and write this reflection, the radio is on and playing American rap, pop, and hip hop music. Although the girls are probably too young to understand the lyrics, they memorize them and sing them. The lyrics of some of the songs that they are exposed to are not exactly the most positive things for a child to listen to or say but since it is American, my host parents have no problem exposing their children to it.
My host mother told me that the thing that most surprised her about me was the fact that I couldn’t hand wash my laundry well. She knows that in America, I just throw my clothes in a machine and don’t really think about it. Being here in Africa makes me realize just how much I take for granted. I must admit that washing machines are very useful machines and make laundry very easy to do, but at the same time, hand washing is a lot more environmentally friendly. It uses less water and by not drying the clothes in a machine, Africans are not only saving energy, they are also saving money. On top of that, my clothes are much cleaner when they are hand washed in Africa than when they are thrown into a machine in America.
As I am the first foreign student that my host family has ever hosted or even interacted with, my host mother was very worried that I would not eat their food or partake in things they are normal to them but to which I was not familiar with. My host mother informed me that she spent the first few days of my stay with them worrying whether or not I was having a good time. Like any mother, she was concerned about me and wanted to make sure I was enjoying myself. Of course, I was. I made sure that she understood this when we had a conversation about her life and aspirations a week and a half into my stay with her.
My host mother, Judy is a 29 year old mother of two girls. Her daughters, Wendy (age 8) and Stephanie (age 3) are very mature, well behaved children who are easily influenced by Western culture. Judy was born upcountry in Nyeri, where she attended school and lived until she completed Form 2 at age 18. Judy moved out of her parent’s house to live with her aunt as her parents were going through a divorce. She was separated from her two older brothers as they went to live with another family member.
At age 20, when eight months pregnant, Judy married the father of her expected child. Judy and Moses’ first child, Wendy now attends Le Pic School in Class Three. She is a very bright young lady who had goals of being a doctor when she grows up. She knows that in order to become a doctor, she must study hard and attend university.
Judy and the new baby, Wendy moved in to Moses’ family’s house, where they continue to live and raise their family. Judy worked various jobs from a kindergarten teacher’s assistant to a cashier to help support her family. Three years ago, Judy gave birth to another baby girl, Stephanie.
After giving birth to her second child, Judy decided to stay home to care for her growing family and the house. In June 2009, she began to pursue her childhood dream of working in beauty by enrolling in Ashley’s Beauty School in Nairobi. She will graduate in October and then will take an external exam in December. The external exam is required to show that you are qualified to work outside the country. She is choosing to take this exam as she wants to work as a masseuse in a hotel in Dubai. Judy is so passionate about going to work in Dubai for two years as she believes that she will make a lot more money there which she can use to support her family and give her daughters a better life. Her husband, who works as a tour guide, however isn’t very fond of this idea as it means that his wife would be in another country, away from her family for two years.
I was surprised to hear that Judy had dreams of going to Dubai and not to somewhere like America. My experience in Africa is that everyone wants to go to America or marry an American so that they can get to America, but Judy thinks she will make more money in Dubai than she would in America. She is convinced that Dubai is the place for her to go as she has a friend who went to work in the beauty industry in Dubai. Judy’s friend told her about her life there and the cheap cost of living there which helped her save a large amount of money to bring back home. Judy claims that her friend is now back in Kenya and is living a much better life.
Judy describes her family as being of average wealth in Riruta Satellite. If she had an endless amount of money, her first priority would be to move out of Riruta Satellite. Although Judy and her family are happy and feel safe in their current neighborhood, she is ready for a change and wants to move out of the village that she currently lives in to a neighborhood near Adam’s Arcade. In addition, Judy would invest money and send her children to good schools which use ‘American and European standards’.
Although Wendy and Stephanie both currently attend private schools, Judy is not sure that she will financially be able to continue sending the girls to good private schools and eventually to universities. She worries a lot about money and is concerned that she will not be able to provide her children with the opportunities that they deserve. Judy’s daughters are her number one priority which is why she wants to go to Dubai and make money to improve the lives of her daughters.
Judy wants “to see her children grow up and become responsible girls and good people in society.” She is a supportive mother who will support her daughters in anything they choose to do.
Living with my host family in Riruta Satellite made me realize just how much Western standards are idealized in Africa. Yes, the West has produced many useful machines and pieces of technology but they are not necessarily better than the old fashioned, simple ways. I enjoy the fact that African life is slow paced and that not every minute of their days are planned out. I despise the fast paced culture which exists in America and that fact that we are so obsessed yet hindered with our supposedly better systems. It amazes me how Africans can survive and be genuinely happy with so little. While materialism is making its way to Africa, many of the people still realize that they don’t need all the material items that we Westerners pride ourselves with.
Although I think that Judy should stay in Kenya with her daughters and husband, I am impressed with her dedication and the sacrifices she is willing to make to support her family. Although she is the female of the house, Judy is very independent and refuses to sit around and live off her husband’s paycheck. After graduating from beauty school in October, I believe that Judy will be successful in finding a good, stable job in a hotel in Nairobi. I respect the decisions that Judy and Moses have made in their household. They have most definitely been influenced by Western practices but they refuse to let these practices define them. They blend their simple, traditional practices with modern, Western practices. Judy and Moses, as well as their daughters, Wendy and Stephanie are children of two worlds. This is something that will define them and influence them for the rest of lives, for the better or for the worst.