15.02.2013 31 °C
Two weeks ago we were sitting shivering in a cold basement in Nairobi wrapped in sweaters and borrowed socks at some of the best training I have ever attended. We had been encouraged to attend an ‘Africa Based Orientation’ and really, it couldn’t have come a day too soon…
We were very grateful to have a superb Kenyan speaker, who had the amazing, and probably rare, skill to critique his own culture, yet remain proudly Kenyan. He was a great resource to ask questions about things that have baffled, frustrated and annoyed us over our time in East Africa.
One of the highlights was the talk about rites of passage (birth, naming, initiation, death, burial), which are present to some extent in all cultures, and can tell you so much about a peoples worldview, priorities and belief systems. So much of our frustrations 2 years ago in Kenya when Amelie was born clicked into place, and I only wish we’d had the cultural ‘heads up’ then!
The week that followed the conference gave plenty of scope to put my newfound knowledge into practice… David was away at an Agricultural conference, leaving me realising that being a single mum in Africa isn’t much fun. I realised how much I rely on Bighair’s cultural sensitivity mixed with diplomacy and assertiveness, which I am pretty hopeless with. I tried to pick up our 4-foot oval dining table which we had ordered, only to discover a massive 6 foot dark wood rectangle which the shopkeeper’s tried to convince me I had ordered. After sawing a few feet off the table and benches, the furniture was delivered to our home by motorbike and for the first time in 10 months we are enjoying eating around a dining table rather than hunched over a coffee table with Amelie running about.
Next came the curtain saga, as David was away, I had hoped that I could put up curtains in the bathroom for a sense of privacy, our Congolese tailor friend had used our lining for her clothes she was making to sell and so gave us see-through curtains back, claiming there was not enough lining.
Understanding some of the worldview did not make either situation any less frustrating, but at least helped to understand possible reasons why.
Whilst David was away, Amelie’s sleeping was terrible, so when he returned we decided to get stuck into some strict ‘sleep training’ to regain some precious hours of our own in the evening. The first night was, as to be expected, rough, Amelie howled for what felt like ages. The most distressed of us all was our night watchman. Our language teacher told us that you do not leave a child to cry, especially for a long period of time, as it believed by the Lugbara tribe that unless the child is sick, ancestral spirits are coming out of the wailing child and trying to communicate.
It seems like a tightrope balance with daily decisions about respecting a different worldview but also keeping personal sanity. We are glad to say that we are now all enjoying more sleep, and there are no ancestral spirits disturbing us in the nights.