I have often had people ask me what the biggest culture shocks I experienced were when we first came to live and work in Kenya. The two biggest which I personally faced were driving in Kenya and church. Let me explain…

When Chip and I first arrived in Kenya, we had very few expectations. This could explain why we had little culture shock. However, like anyone living cross-culturally, we did have some. Interestingly, church was one of our biggest areas of challenge initially. We were plucked from a Midwest megachurch and plopped into tiny African churches out in the boondocks. Our early years in Kenya involved visiting many of these tiny, mostly rural churches. The differences in worship were quite pronounced, and church services went from 1 ½ hours to often, 6! It was certainly an adventure, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and enjoying their renowned hospitality of the Kenyan people, but some things were uncomfortable, and not only for me.

Take for instance the time we were in church (which met in a local elementary school classroom) in Nyeri town. We were all seated at the desks, listening intently to the speaker (never mind that I did not understand a word being said). I kept feeling a gentle tugging at my long hair from behind. I finally turned, expecting to smile into the face of a child, only to find myself face to face with a mortally embarrassed full-grown woman. I just smiled as she mumbled ‘sorry’!

I guess my hair was really quite a novelty for these people, who usually have to buy extensions to get that long, flowing look. Another time, we were out in the country, visiting an even smaller church, which actually had its own building. After the service, as we visited with the people, the ladies and children gathered round, commenting on and asking for permission to touch my hair. I suppose by this time I was getting used to being the odd one and usually granted permission. One elderly lady reached out, stroked my hair gently and exclaimed, “It is so soft…as soft as a cow’s tail!”. I hardly knew how to react to that one. I just smiled and said, “Thank you”. What else does one say to such a compliment?

Then there are the returns to Kenya after we’ve been to the U.S. Naturally, one puts on a few pounds (Ok, ok, more than a few!) by the time of the return. I still always feel defensive when someone comes up to me (usually at church) and proclaims loudly how fat I’d gotten. Um…thank you? It is still a tad difficult to convince myself that here, to be fat is a compliment. In a culture, where hunger is a reality for so many people, fat is still often equated with being healthy and looking good.

Then there is driving… Driving on the roads here is an exercise in terror. In fact, I have often thought that if I were the ‘techie’ type, I could design a new computer game all about trying to stay alive on the roads in Kenya and call it Terror on Every Side (see Jeremiah 20:10, some versions). When we first came to Kenya, there were considerably fewer vehicles on the road and so our biggest challenge was remembering to drive on the left-hand side of the road. “Keep leftie” was the mantra always going through my head. Of course, it does not help that no matter where I am in the world, I face this lifelong condition of being geographically challenged. Therefore, trying to remember to keep left only added to that stress. Now that everyone and his cousin owns a car in Kenya, the added pressure of millions of cars, trucks, and busses on the roads, not to mention aggressive and downright rude drivers, makes good material for my new computer game. I suggested this to my second son, our family techie, but he’s not nibbling. These days, when I need to get about Nairobi, it’s great to have Uber!

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