I’ve been reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest book entitled, Americanah. While reveling in the similar ways that I experienced America coming from Bermuda and the opposite cross-culture shock of experiencing Kenya I felt inspired to blog my own version which I will call Africanah.
This month marks two years of living in Kenya for me. They say that it takes at least two years to get over experiencing culture shock before one can truly begin to enjoy the new location. Like the opposite of Ifemelu in Adiche’s Americanah , I’ve gotten used to saying, “Sorry” to someone after they’ve tripped over a crack in the sidewalk or if something bad has happened to them. I’ve grown to understand that when someone doesn’t call you back it actually means, “No” but not wanting to disappoint you, the person would rather let you figure out the meaning of the subliminal silence on your own. If anyone wants to know by the way, I STILL GET DISAPOINTED!
I’ve also discovered that my English accent is what separates me in the eyes of Kenyans from being truly African but simultaneously grants me a privilege that I did not have living in my own country. “You have the right accent” someone once told me. I think back to the many times I called a business to make an inquiry back home in Bermuda and realized that the person on the other end could hear my slurred, Bermudian tongue and knew that I did not have “the right accent.”
In Kenya I have “good hair”- must be mixed with some muzungu. In Bermuda my hair is picky, knotty, can’t get a comb through it, needs a good conditioner, will only grow if you lock it.
From afar I look at Bermudian politics as a plethora of cloudy philosophies and repeated points in history rather than current happenings. I observe food programmes and religious charities as a mockery of developing nations. I prefer benevolent dictatorship to fascism disguised as democracy. I’ve decided that the tribalism in my own country may be more lethal than the tribalism expressed here in Kenya except that Bermudian tribalism is a slow-killing poison that will subdue and silence the lesser before it kills.
I’ve concluded that it will be at least 50 years before being a hippie, hipster or hobo is fashionable in Kenya. To be retro is now and to be postmodern is to be lost.
While I live trying to prove how African I really am; “We eat cassava and dance to Soca which sounds like Lingala or Luo Benga,” upscale Kenyans live trying to prove how Western they are; “We eat red jelly like the British do and only wear European-brand clothes.” The Africanah becomes caricatured into Shaka Zulu turned Kunta Kinte while the Kenyan caricatures him or herself into a bedazzled version of Queen Elizabeth.
I’ve come to embrace wide skies and yellow Acacia trees even though I miss palm trees- especially ones covered with Christmas lights. I am a real Africanah now. But somehow I feel like I always was.