Motherhood Around the World – Cup of Jo
Lifestyle blogger Joanna Goddard from Cup of Jo has a fascinating series on her blog called “Motherhood Around the World.” I love reading the excerpts from different mothers around the world, and the cultural differences that impact their parenting (and just their lifestyles in general!). This week Joanna posted about a mother in Nairobi, Kenya. Click here for all her “Motherhood Around the World” series. From Kenya-
20 Surprising Things about Parenting in Kenya
This week, our Motherhood Around the World series goes to Nairobi, where Tara Wambugu lives with her Kenyan husband, Jesse, and two daughters, Claire, 4, and Heidi, one and a half. Here, she explains how Kenyans refer to their elders, the pleasure of outdoor bathing and 18 other surprising things about living in Kenya…
Jesse and I always planned to settle in Kenya. When we started dating 10 years ago, while working for the humanitarian aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières in Uzbekistan, I told him I wanted to live abroad long-term, and he said he hoped to eventually move home. Luckily for us, raising our family in Kenya met both of those goals. I now stay at home with my girls and write a blog about my life here.
We live in Kilimani, a neighborhood with a suburban feel, where we rent a house. When we first moved here in 2011, I was struck by all the beautiful tropical flowers. The gardens are teeming with jacarandas, poinsettias, hibiscus, frangipani and nasturtium. Nairobi is known as “The Green City in the Sun,” and it’s full of bright, leafy neighborhoods. For me, the smell and sight of flowers is quintessential Kenya.
On culture shock: Despite having worked and lived before in very basic conditions in Africa, we both experienced some culture shock when we moved to Nairobi after spending a year in England. During our first week, we had power outages, a water shortage and a massive ant infestation in our bedroom. Both of us were kind of freaking out because we’d quickly become accustomed to well-established infrastructure and services in Europe. I remember waking up for one of Claire’s night feedings, and realizing there were thousands of ants crawling all over my feet and up my legs!
On being a multi-racial family: Even though mixed-race couples in Kenya aren’t as rare as they used to be, people are surprised to see a Kenyan man married to an American woman. We sometimes get double-takes. Usually it’s just curiosity, but it can be unpleasant. For example, security guards occasionally assume Jesse is my taxi driver.
It’s really important to us that our children see plausible versions of themselves in their toys, TV programs, books and schoolmates, but it’s not always easy to achieve here. We once saw another family with mixed-race children in a local restaurant and our older daughter, Claire, was so excited she jumped out of her seat and shouted, “Mommy, look, that girl looks like me!!!”
We were astonished by how hard it was to find black baby dolls for our kids. You’d think it would be easy in an African country, but the stores here are stocked full of only blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls. (I wound up finding a black doll on Amazon.)
When we go to visit our Kenyan family in their village, Claire falls right in with the local children, even though she looks different and can’t speak Kikuyu, Jesse’s tribal language, or Swahili as well as they can. However, they’re fascinated with her hair, which is a different texture, and curlier, and every time she comes home she has a GIGANTIC Afro from all the children running their fingers through it!
On addressing elders: It’s discouraged to address an elder by his or her first name here. But, rather than calling someone Mrs. Smith, you call her by the name of her first-born child. I am known as “Mama Claire.” I think this is such a sweet way for children to address adults respectfully, but without feeling too stuffy or strict. It also makes it much easier to remember other parents’ names on the playground! I always remember the children’s names, so I can easily just call a mother “Mama Mya,” if I forget her first name. It is a sign of respect to be referred to as “Mama Claire,” and I love it. (Somehow I expected to dislike this tradition, thinking I’d feel a lack of personal identity, but I found I adored it from day one.)