Culture Shock 2.0

Greetings from Mikinduri, a tiny community in Meru County, not far from the slopes of Mount Kenya. Mikinduri is the second stop of three on my Kenyan adventure, the first being the town of Gilgil, which is located south-west of Mikinduri, nestled in the Great Rift Valley. My third and final stop is Asembo, on the shore of Lake Victoria, before I finish the last few weeks of my internship in Nairobi.

When I first found out that I would be moving locations several times over the course of my internship, I was elated! In my mind, the more of Kenya I got to see over in this six-month period, the better. Little did I know how just how hard on me moving around would be. In many ways making the move to Mikinduri from Gilgil has been more difficult than my initial move from Canada to Kenya. A different language, a warmer climate, a new living situation, and the loss of my new friends and colleagues in Gilgil were all things I had difficulty adjusting to. What I also failed to understand was just how different cultures within a country can be (even when two communities are only 262 km apart!). Here are a few of the major changes I’ve encountered since my arrival in Mikinduri. Some have been easy, or even welcome changes, while other I would consider to be a bit more difficult.

1. The biggest change for me has been adjusting to a different language. In Gilgil, everyone spoke Swahili (one of the national languages in Kenya), and often English and Kikuyu (a local vernacular) as well. In Meru, the population is mostly of the Meru tribal background. Given how rural Mikinduri is, people mostly speak only the Meru language, and not even Swahili! As a result, my Kiswahili learning has ground to a halt.

Delivering a workshop on breastfeeding in English, while my amazing colleague Caro translates into Kimeru

2. Mikinduri is substantially more rural than Gilgil. In some ways, this makes my job as a nutritionist much easier, since most families in Mikinduri actually have land they are able to farm, and thus produce food of their own. In Gilgil, most families were renting small plots of land and were unable to grow any food, which meant they were completely reliant on purchasing food from the market.

Visiting a small farm outside of Mikinduri. Laura’s cassava is bigger than mine!

3. Mikiniduri is teeming with fruit! Papaya, mango, passion fruit, avocado, oranges, and more, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner! This is a welcome change from Gilgil, where fruit was less available and comparatively more expensive.

Eating freshly harvested passion fruit. Delicious!

4. Another change I’m adjusting to in Mikinduri how large of a role religion, particularly Catholicism, plays in daily life here. Although, it’s possible I’m a little biased on this one, as I’m currently living in a parish with three priests. While here, I’ve been attending Catholic mass every Sunday, which is certainly a change for someone who doesn’t attend church all that often at home. One of my favourite things about church is the heavy emphasis on singing and dancing throughout the service, although I find that I look quite silly when I try to join in.

The church is located about 20 metres from our apartment. It holds over 2000 people!

5. Finally, Laura and I attract much more attention here. Since Mikinduri is so rural, most people aren’t used to seeing a mzungu (the Kiswahili word for white person) walking down the street. Luckily, so far most people have been extremely friendly and welcoming. I usually accumulate at least a few running buddies on my morning jogs.

One of the perks of living in a rural area. Baby bunnies!

Thanks for reading! My next and last blog post will be from Lake Victoria, where I’m sure I will have a whole new set of changes to adapt to.

Rachel Quehl is working with Chalice and Crown the Child Africa as a Nutritionist.