Traveling to Kenya meant exploring a completely different culture. In this post I would like to give insights into my personal experiences of my first, 1-week-stay in Kenya.
What was my first impression?
There were many first impressions in this trip.
First of all, even at the airport I realized the friendly attitude of the people in Kenya. Whereas in Germany the staff at the passport check act really seriously and only talk what is necessary, the staff at Mombasa airport spread a good humour and immediately started some small talk.
Moreover, the way from the Mombasa airport to Kilifi was a real culture shock because I noticed the existing poverty on the streets. And I was surprised that the streets were full of people although it was just 5:30 in the morning.
Which differences did I detect?
I experienced the Kenyans as incredibly friendly, courteous, caring and hospitable. And not in an overacting but in a really authentic and honest way. Especially the hotel staff behaved incredibly friendly and courteous and was always in the mood of having a small talk with their guests. They always smile and laugh a lot. My impression was that Kenyan people naturally seem to be in a good mood and express a lot of positive attitude towards life.
When it comes to agreements, I experienced the Kenyans as reliable people. They seem to be punctual and verbal agreements are seen as binding. This is what I experienced in our university and private appointments, pick up dates and so on.
However, in every day life, Kenyans take their time. “Pole, pole” (which means “slowly, slowly”) was an expression I many several times.
How did I manage the differences?
It was quite easy to adapt to the friendliness of the people by also being friendly, smiling and greet strangers. I believe that expressing a friendly attitude when you go out on the street can help to improve your own mood. I think that Germans can really learn a lot from this mentality.
When it comes to eating behaviour I experienced a lot of differences, most of all the fact that people eat with their hands. The national dish in Kenya is Ugali, which is made of maize. I tried to eat Ugali with my hands which was a new experience, but I managed it. 🙂
What was a real success?
In the beginning of our trip there was no exact plan for the week except of one appointment at Pwani university. So first, I was unsure about what we are going to do. However, soon there turned out to be a lot of chances and possibilites for us to take.
Sifah was a big help during our stay because he took us to visit the women in the villages, introduced us to his family, joined us in unversity meetings and took us everywhere we wanted to go.
The collaboration with the university made a big progress. During the graduation festival, to which we were invited spontaneosly, we could already meet some contact persons for the cooperation. And also during our official appointment at university we could set up a project and define milestones and responsibilities.
In this way, a lot of chances have arisen to get the best out of our short stay.
What did I fear and how turned it out?
Before we visited the girls in the villages – the participants of the project – I was a bit scared about the meeting and how they would react to us. Not only did I not know how severe their situation is and how I would react to the gettogether, I also didn’t know about their reaction meeting us, if it would be a friendly or an unpleasant atmosphere. Also, I was unsure how the communication will be because most of them could not speak English.
It turned out to be a really exciting experience. The girls sat together as a group when we arrived. Sifah and his team chaired the meeting, translating from Swaheli into English and vice versa. Most of them were willing to talk about their situation. In this way, it was possible to get to know something about them even though we couldn’t talk to them directly due to the language barrier. Although all of the women are struggling with their situation, having to raise their children alone without having a job, all of them had a dream in their mind what they would like to do as a job. This really impressed me.
One girl showed us their home. She sleeps together with her mother and her kid in a tiny hut made of mud. Inside it was dark and smoky because they had their cooking place inside. On the one hand it was interesting to see but on the other hand it was so sad to see the living conditions.
What did I learn?
Before I came to Kenya I was already aware of the fact that you don’t need many belongings to be happy and that it’s the people around you that make you happy. However, being in Kenya strengthened this awareness and the thankfulness for the basic things in life even more. In my culture, people tend to own a lot of stuff and still they are wondering what to buy next. In this way, they invent problems, where there aren’t any. In reality, having enought to eat, a home and a family is all you need to be happy. I think that people in Kenyan are more aware and thankful of what is really important in life.
What impressed me most?
What impressed me most was the overall positive mentality of the Kenyans. No matter where you go, people are friendly, hospitable and easy-going.
One helpful behaviour that really impressed me was when I asked for the way. People didn’t tell me where to go, like it is the case in the countries I have been before. They even took me to my destination! This was not only the case in the university building. One time, a guy even walked 20 minutes with Stephanie and me through the village to get to the kindergarten. This also fits to my impression that people are patient and take their time.
Which competencies did I win from the excursion?
As I got to know a completely different culture, I think that I improved a lot my openness for new cultures and new people. As we presented our student projects at university I believe I improved my skills to express my ideas in English. It was a new experience to present and discuss in a culturally different environment.
Moreover, the fact that we didn’t have a fixed plan of our trip beforehand helped me to be more spontaneous, curious about unexpected situations and take initiatives.
Would you recommend a trip to Kenya?
Yes, I definitely would: Kenya is a country with beautiful landscape and wild life, lots of resources, amazing people, but it also has a lot of problems. In order to see the real Kenya you have to look behind the scenes. Many tourists make a trip to the national park and enjoy the sheltered hotel areas for the rest of their stay. But the most interesting part is to see how the people live, which you are more likely to see if you know some locals. I really appreciate that we had this opportunity!