I Thought You Were One of Us

I can’t believe we’ve already been here for three weeks now. The concept of time here in Kenya is quite different from the U.S. fast-paced and busy life style. I’m always being told to take my time even though I feel I have to be somewhere at a certain time or do something. Especially during tea time, there are no interruptions, this is a break. Even then, I still can’t get completely into drinking tea so often due to it being hot and it is already hot outside. But given the slow and relaxed Kenyan time occurrences, it still seem as if the days are going by so quickly.

Realizing I’ve been here for quite some time, I feel quite adjusted and know my surroundings well. Although today I was a little nervous on the matatu coming home because they went a completely different route, but I made it just fine. Even before I began feeling comfortable with the environment and people, those around me believed I too was a Kenyan. As I got to know the students from sisterhood for change, many of them shared with me that they originally thought “you were one of us” or “you look like us.” This was quite interesting because I did not expect for there to be an interest in my own nationality, aside from being American and from the U.S. I even realized how important nationality was when preparing to teach the girls about writing their CV’s (curriculum vitae). They must include their nationality within their CV’s because the employer wants to know. I shared with them how this is not allowed in the U.S. so that it eliminates discrimination based on race or nationality. However, here everyone is very open and curious about people’s identities.

My host dad Wycliffe even explained to me how nationality is important in terms of tribalism. He explained how there is such a divide due to tribalism because many people remain within that tribe. He mentioned how people elect politicians based on if they are in the same tribe as them. The first, third and fourth president of Kenya were all from the largest tribe in Kenya, Kikuyu; while the second president was from the second largest tribe, Kalenjin.

The darkness of my skin has really effected how people interact with me and I believe it is because of the assumption that I am also Kenyan. Many times while in the office, people would come in and automatically begin speaking to me in Kiswahili. Even when I was on the matatu yesterday with Ally a man came on and began to ask Ally where she was from and more in English, and then he began to address questions (I believe they were questions) to me in Kiswahili. Last week during the wedding, the MC thought Ally was from the U.K., which we were wondering how do they know unless someone begins to speak. There have been numerous instances in which these interactions have taken place. Even when the little kids chant their usual phrase when seeing foreigners (“Muzunghu how are you?”), they rarely direct this towards me. This has been interesting to see how nationality is important to different aspects of their lives. It is cool to think that they believe I am one of them; however, it is also a challenge when people realize I am not when I begin to speak and some have no clue if they do not speak English what I am saying. Nationality, it is quite tricky, especially in this global era.

Kamari Harrington ’15