Today included a trip to the US Embassy to speak with the cultural affairs officer, political affairs officer, economic affairs officer, USAID, and a security officer. We were briefed on many aspects of Kenya: the cultural affairs officer tours Kenya, encouraging intelligent and promising Kenyans to go to colleges and universities in the US and will now be taking Calvin propaganda with him; the political affairs officer talked to us about the importance of human rights in Kenya and the impact the ICC trials of their president have had on local politics; the economic affairs officer told us that tea, coffee, and flowers are the main exports and percentage of the economy; USAID told us about the different projects and programs they sponsor to promote health and improved water access for sanitation and hygiene; and the safety officer told us all to tell our parents that the threat in Kenya is less about terrorism and more about small scale crime, moderately avoidable by increased awareness, and that the US prioritizes keeping US citizens in Kenya aware of safety concerns promptly.
The afternoon entailed a trip to Rosslyn Academy - a popular boarding school for people, especially missionaries, all over Africa to send their children. Here we had the chance to play some soccer under the hot, Kenyan sun and enjoy some time as a group.
We then trekked to the Masai Market, through heavy, chaotic traffic. What we didn't know was that the market itself was to be just as chaotic and potentially more traumatic. Our goal was to get long traditional skirts called kangas. As we walked into the market, the venders flocked our big group of Americans, pulling people aside to look at their goods. One of the variables in this, though, was that we were deliberately not told how much those skirts should cost. And the bargaining began. Some got away with steals, others did not - I being one of those. When I first decided on a skirt, they said it would be almost $1000 USD. What they didn't realize was that though I was a rich American, I was actually a poor college student. We hassled a bit, seemed to sincerely offend them, and got away with two skirts for about $16 USD each. We then found out, they should have been closer to $8 USD. A cultural experience, yes. But I think this highlights something we've been discovering more and more in the time we've been here, and that is this:
Yes, there are cool giraffes in Kenya, and delicious mango juice, and perfect warmth with a slight breeze. But there are big questions, things we are wrestling through as a group.There are so many questions. Where do you draw the line between feeling compassion for these people and wanting to support their goods and livelihoods and just being ripped off? And how do Kenyans view Westerners? How has Western culture impacted Kenyan, and where is that good and where is it not? How much can we propose and push changing their traditions to replace it with what is our culture and things we view as right? What about when some of these practices are deeply harmful to the people, and often more specifically, the women?
We're about to head up in the morning to the Northern part of Kenya to spend time in the Samburu community. And there very well may be a huge clash of our culture and theirs. And it's bound to produce more of these questions, and more of a face to the health and water issues we expect to see. We're excited; these questions are good. God is good.