Monday, October 13, 2008

First Reactions to Kenya, Part 2

*Note: This post is somewhat outdated, since it was written the first week of September.  The Sunday referenced was August 31st.*

The next day I took the bus into church to Nairobi Chapel, and it was very interesting.  They meet in tents, and the main area is a huge tent with chairs set up on this patio-type area, all cobblestones.  I thought the backdrop of the church was so interesting, it was this painted landscape all along the back of the stage, and it was like the epitome of suburbia.  There were little streaks like you are looking through glass onto a grass lawn, and then there was a swing set and a trampoline, and then a fence and another house behind it.  It looked nothing like houses I’ve seen in Kenya and very much like typical American suburbia, which we always decry in places like Wheaton.  But that’s what they strive towards; they see it as a good thing.  It was really weird.  I really enjoyed the service, the worship seemed so genuine.  It was natural and cheerful and it was great. Then they had a skit that was like the worst type of gender stereotyping, with the guy lounging on this couch they brought onto the stage watching “football” on TV while his wife is cleaning and he orders her around and is a complete stupid jerk and goes through all the tasks that a women should do.  I was a little surprised, but I guess some things are universal.  But then the message was really good, I was impressed.  He talked about gender and he brought out things I had never considered before. He talked about how we (meaning mostly guys, who have generally determined most interpretation) view the word “helper” in the creation account as meaning servant, lower, assistant.  And honestly that kind of how I’ve always seen that when I’ve read through, like it seems to set up women in a subordinate and somewhat demeaning way.  But then he went through all the uses of that word, and 16 of the 20 or so times it’s used, it’s used of God: “The Lord is my helper” type of thing.  And obviously when I read that I don’t think of God as being in any type of subordinate relationship to me in that context.  I may have heard that before, its sounds a little familiar, but hearing it presented that way really did change my perception of that passage, which doesn’t often happen.  Then he went through the commands given to men and women and how they have been distorted, and some of that is more particular to Africa but still interesting.  For example, when the man is told to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, but in African societies it is the women who moves into the compound or place of the man, generally very close to the man’s family.  And how the women is cursed with childbirth and the man is cursed with tilling the soil, but the women are made to work out in the fields as well as go through the pain of childbirth.  This pastor gave the keynote at the last Urbana, and he was a really good speaker and teacher.  I’ve heard his session was amazing and that I really need to hear it. Then we had tea after that, and I really like their tea, I’m so glad we do it so often.  Every day we’ve had a break for tea at 10, and I think that continues into the term, so I am glad of that.

I’ve been shopping three times already, and its quite an experience.  I had to buy a water boiler, because all the water has to be boiled, so that’s a little different.  I bought food, an electric adapter so I can plug things in, cleaner, and a bunch of other miscellaneous things.  I still need a cell phone, mattress, rice cooker, and things like that.  Philip (from The Gambia, which I think is really funny that its so small and they call themselves that, but then we call ourselves The United States, but like The Kenya sounds so dumb) has been one of my best friends, we’ve gone shopping together every time and I bought his things for him since he didn’t have any money.  We’ve had lunch together twice and he came over to eat dinner once too since there was no gas in his kitchen.  When we have breaks for orientation he’ll propose we walk somewhere like the computer lab or he’ll go along with me if I need to turn something in.  I’ve also done quite a bit with Njeri, who is single, which really does help in relating to someone.  She took Philip and me shopping and is a lot of fun.  When we were shopping I saw Philip showing her the latest book by Joel Osteen (Becoming A Better You), and I was thinking, great, I can make fun of American materialism and individuality and selfishness with my African brethren, so I walked over there.  When I got there Philip was saying, yeah this is so good I didn’t have room to pack it but I think its one worth buying and having while I’m here.  Njeri was all in agreement, so I didn’t really say anything, and it struck me both how cynical I am and how unfortunate it is that those are the types of things that represent American Christianity overseas, when most people I know would be somewhat skeptical of a Joel Osteen.  It was a revealing encounter.  The guy who was staying across the hall from me played K-Love for several hours the first two nights, and I’m sure he loves it.  So different from Wheaton culture, and even the whole HNGR social justice element.  One of the standards of NEGST that I had to agree to, in the student handbook, in addition to no drinking, gambling, drugs, was that I would respect the authorities set up by God and not participate or have anything to do with boycotts, strikes, protests, riots, or any of that type of thing.  They have a tendency to get very violent here, so I guess that does make a significant difference. 

            I’m trying to think what else I was going to say.  There is so much going on and so much I’ve been thinking about so its rather overwhelming.  I found that have a café here which is very reasonable by my standards, 170 shillings for a hot meal, less than three dollars, so I think I’ll be doing that fairly often, because dealing with all that cooking and going shopping is such a pain.  But then I feel bad because I’m the typical American that eats meat and all these expensive foods, so I’m not sure what to do.  The other guy on my floor for dinner took some potatoes, chopped them up, boiled them in water, and ate them.  He had nothing else, did not flavor them, or anything.  Just boiled potatoes.  If that’s all you eat that can’t be healthy!!  I’m the only way who has put anything in the fridge at all.  Yesterday an American family invited me over to eat, so that was good.  They have two little kids, and I spend a few hours over there so that was nice.  Ok, so for cleaning clothes the only real option is to hire “house help,” and they get paid a standard rate of 50 shillings an hour.  That’s like 73 cents, per hour!!  I’ve always heard about low wages, but I figured things would be proportionately cheaper, but they’re not here.  I guess if you live in a hut and just grow your own vegetables you could live off that, and probably a lot of them do, but if you go to the store and buy like a radio or anything electric or basic food like rice or canned goods it costs about the same as in America.  I can’t imagine paying someone that little to do that work, it just seems so wrong.  But apparently if you don’t you’re seen as really uppity because you’re not sharing your wealth and hiring someone to do your work.  And most students hire people to clean their rooms and bathrooms I think and cook for them.  I mean, its dirt cheap.  I really think I can do my own cleaning, and it seems such a bother to go out and buy the food and then tell them what you what to be cooked, and then it case it doesn’t come out right or something, it just sounds so difficult.  So for sure I’ll hire someone to clean my clothes because I have no other option, but as far as the other cleaning and cooking I just don’t know, its really weird to me.

The other thing I’ve trying to figure out is what program to concentrate in.  Basically the MDiv is a 9 term program, 3 for 3 years, and there are a lot of designated classes everyone has to take like 90 credits or something.  Then within your program you have 43 credits which differ.  I came in as general studies, which is basically meaningless: I can’t specialize and I can take whatever I want, whenever I want (for the 43).  Or I could take Biblical studies, which basically means I only take Greek and Hebrew beyond the MDiv requirements.  Or I could take Missions Studies, which would have sweet classes like contextualization and evangelism and things like that, which would be arguably more useful and relevant than more Hebrew and Greek.  And since I don’t really enjoy Greek, it would be more enjoyable and interesting to me.  But I feel like if I’m going to a seminary, I’ve got to take Biblical languages beyond just one year of one language, which is the only core requirement.  I want to get good at Greek, to be able to actually read the Bible and not just struggle with it.  If I take more classes than the requirement, which is difficult to get approved, I would have to have above a 3.3, get the permission of the instructor and the program director, then I could do it.  I’m meeting with an advisor tomorrow and hopefully that will help sort things out.


Rachel Dawn Kornfield said...

Hey David.

I'm glad you heard that sermon about gender roles - that's important stuff :).

About Joel Osteen... I've never read anything of his, nor do I know much about him, but here's some things I've experienced living in Brazil, going to Wheaton and coming back to Brazil. I'd love to hear if any of this rings true with what you are discovering: its interesting how different the perspective of people in third world countries tends to be than perspectives at Wheaton. Because people in areas with a lot of poverty are more concerned about living things out, than about intellectual consistency. There are good things and bad things to that - I find it often refreshing and sometimes frustrating. There are so many sad, hard things in these people's lives, that positive messages, full of hope, that might be floofy to Americans living in the US, are life-savers for people struggling for basic necessities - they need to be reminded that there is a good God out there who cares about them and wants them to be happy, whereas often in the US, it seemed more like people needed to be reminded that it's not all about them. Those are huge generalizations, of course, and I'm not at all saying that Americans are bad people or that Africans are never selfish. Its just that the physical reality around someone changes their perspective on many things, changes their emotional and spiritual needs as well as their physical ones, and therefore changes the way they hear certain messages and the impact those messages have on their lives. So I don't know if any of that was helpful, and would love to hear any response you have to give. They're just some thoughts, written in the way they came out, without a lot of revision.

About paying for someone to help you - I think you do need to think about what things are easier for you just to do for yourself, but also think about this: if someone has a choice between making no money in a day, and making 50 shillings an hour, which do you think they would rather? You can pay people more than that, if you want, and I'm sure they'd be grateful. But realize that by not hiring someone because you think the salary is too little, you're not doing them a favor. The people who work for that amount don't have a lot of other options and often desperately want to work. We face this situation in Brazil all the time, though not quite to the same extreme - we pay a woman to clean our house and do laundry once a week - about 8 hours of work - about U$30. Which is not much at all by American standards, but makes a big difference for her.

Anyway, enough blabbing. Maybe you've already thought through all this stuff and nothing I'm saying is new. Also, feel free to take or leave anything I said according to how helpful it is - its just one perspective on some of the issues you brought up. Over-all, if I'm talking too much, let me know and I won't repeat it on future blogs :).

I was really surprised to hear that food costs about the same there as in the US. How crazy. :(. That's not true here in Brazil, it probably costs betwee a half and two thirds.

That's really crazy also about the suburban landscape in the church you went to. That I have never seen :). It makes me think about the fact that a new perspective on America is definitely one of the things that takes adjusting to in a third world culture. Although I often try to help Brazilians see that the US isn't the utopia they think it is, necessarily - that there is a cost to high amounts of material wealth - it can come between people and between people and God. Also, that there culture and ways are a lot more beautiful than they often realize. Anyway, enough for now :).



David said...


Thanks for your insights, I think in a lot of ways you are right on. I won't get into all of these issues here but about finding hope in messages we find trite there probably is a lot of truth in that. I haven't had nearly as much experience as you so I can't say for sure but it does make sense. I was placed with a group of four other single guys and we hired a lady to cook and do laundry for us, and it didn't take me very long to get used to, it was really just the initial shock that I talked about here. It does make sense to hire people and "spread the wealth around." When you buy food in the market, and if you just buy vegetables and flour, then it is cheaper than in the US, but if you buy meat or anything processed it can be equivalent or more expensive. You just have to know where to shop (and in the market not being white so they don't overcharge you helps as well). There are so many interesting issues that I have come across since I've been here and I appreciate hearing about your experiences as well.