"And if you SPEND YOURSELVES on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday."
"The Lord will continually guide you. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."- Isaiah 58:10-11
Thursday, February 3, 2011
One of the things that is both freeing and yet frustrating about living in Kenya is the value placed on personal possessions.
On the positive side, possessions are not valued over relationship. That is good. Having an accumulation of possessions doesn’t give a person status, which is also good. Things are appreciated, especially if given as a gift. Having possessions which make life easier are also appreciated. However, if a possession breaks or is lost, there is no sense of sorrow or even much of an attempt to fix it. “I lived without it before I had it. I enjoyed it while I had it. Now it’s gone and I’m fine without it again.” That is the mentality here.
On the frustrating side, possessions carry such little value, that if it breaks or if something that belongs to someone else is broken, there is no remorse or attempt to rectify the situation. “You lived without it before you had it. You enjoyed it while you had it. Now if it’s gone, you’ll be fine without it.” It is expected that if you let someone use something that you are never going to see it again, at least in good working condition.
“I’m sorry.” In Kenya, these two simple words are spoken every day and yet never spoken. Every time someone trips, drops something, spills something, accidentally hurts themselves, etc. ‘pole,’ which means ‘sorry’ can be heard with deep compassion from everyone in the vicinity. Kind of like ‘I’m sorry you did that to yourself.’
And yet, if anyone intentionally or unintentionally hurts someone else’s feelings, breaks something that belongs to another, makes a mistake, or does something wrong, these words are rarely spoken – really almost never. It is culturally unheard of to apologize for your actions towards someone else because the shame carried with admitting a personal fault is too great to overcome. The incident is insignificant compared to the weight of the shame. And so, the injured party is expected to shove the issue under the rug and not mention it – forever. It would be incredibly offensive to shame someone else and even bring it up. Yeah – this is a big problem.
After experiencing both of these facts about Kenyan culture, we have become selective about the things we share with our friends here. Call it selfish or prudent, there are some things we don’t want to do without.
So, I’ve been saving some of the kitchen items I brought from my home in America for when we have a kitchen of our own. One of those things is a big butcher knife. My mom bought it for me in a set several years ago, and it is a great kitchen tool. I’ve sharpened it and re-sharpened it and I love using it! I intentionally didn’t bring it out, first of all, because it’s expensive and I can’t get another one like it here. Second, because I want to be able to use it in good working condition. Third, because it was a gift from my mom and I value the sacrifice made to give me such a good tool in the kitchen.
The other day, I couldn’t find any of the other 3 knives I had ‘donated’ to the kitchen so I pulled it out during dinner to cut the pizza. I’ve actually used it a few other times and washed it immediately and stored it away. This particular day, I intentionally used it not in the kitchen but in the dining room, which is in a separate building than the kitchen, so I could put it away after we ate. We got caught up in things and I forgot to put it away but it wasn’t even in the kitchen so I wasn’t worried.
The next morning, I went into the kitchen to make breakfast and there was the knife on the counter, broken. The center part of the blade was mangled and chipped away. It was full of food and it was useless. My heart sank. I took it to Annah and asked what happened. She hadn’t even seen the knife before nor had any of the other women. I washed it and put it away anyways and then I walked away and I cried. I cried because I was mad at myself for not putting it away. I cried because here I have taken care of this knife and used it for years without incident and now in less than a few hours it was ruined. I cried because no one values our things here and I wanted to have one working thing in my kitchen (yes, an exaggeration, but when you are emotional you are entitled to a little of this). I cried because I felt sick of having our things broken without apology. And I cried because I knew no one here would understand or care.
We left for the Children’s home that morning and I was sad. When we came home for lunch, one of the young girls that live here approached me tentatively and asked to speak with me. In broken English she said, “I was using your knife last night to cut meat and I broke it. I am very sorry.” WHAT?!!! I could not believe what I was hearing! It took me a full 30 seconds to get over the fact that she apologized – she actually apologized! And she was a young girl! This was the first time in the 6 months we have been here that I have heard these words in connection to doing something wrong.
When I finally came to my senses, I was so overwhelmed by her words that I didn’t even care about the knife anymore. I was so blessed by her willingness to put herself out on a limb personally and culturally that I put my arm around her and thanked her for her honesty. And of course I forgave her verbally.
The Take Away:
So I heard from my brother Dave who lived in Kenya for 5 years. He could completely relate. What I learned from him is this….
In America, we are predominantly a guilt-based culture. We apologize to an injured party out of an overwhelming sense of guilt. Early on, we learn to follow rules and respect things. We feel bad if we don’t toe the line. We apologize because we have crossed a boundary and inflicted injury to a person or property on some level. Our actions our wrong.
In Kenya, the culture is shame-based. Hurting someone’s feelings or property goes to the core of someone’s person and is a deeply personal issue. A boundary is not crossed; a soul has been marred. To bring this issue to light means admitting that the person is bad in and of themselves, not just the action.
The cool thing about Jesus is that He transcends both cultures. When He died, He took all of our GUILT and SHAME. He offers us forgiveness and completely removes the guilt and shame from our lives. What a gift to live in His freedom!