Fitting into the new culture

A new culture is more like an adventure; a totally new experience, one that needs to be taken one step at a time. It can be a moment to shake a person to the core with its many shocks that come courtesy of the obvious yet new cultural differences. It could also be a moment full of joy especially with the realization of how expeditious it can be. That having been said, I must attest that fitting in can be quite a task! So, in the endeavor to find a place in this amazing Norwegian culture, I have had to become a baby again. I know this sounds hilarious but to say the least, that is the best that one can ever do… 😉

Some of the things I have had to take part in sound easy but to say the least, they take both energy and courage. And I am grateful to everyone that has made this possible. Here is a preview of some of them:

  1. The language: It is said that language is the key to any culture! This is true to the letter. Inasmuch as English is a language that is readily used in most of the activities and encounters I’ve had, taking a step of learning a new language is quite an experience. Så snakke jeg litt norsk nå (So, I now speak a little Norwegian)! I have practically noted that acquainting with a new language takes a lot of practice and determination. It has been an undeniable difficulty especially when it comes to pronouncing some particular letters that are not found in English. I, however, don’t regret trying out a few words every now and then. It has been quite periodic but I can now understand most conversations especially when they are said slowly. But then, what can one do if everything you’re doing involves that very new and estranged language! 🙂
  2. Meet new people: After trying out the language, it is always good to know the very users of the language. It has been a memorable journey just meeting new people; getting to introduce myself and making follow-ups. This may seem an easy step but it oozes every bit of your creativity especially if you are to remain reliably relevant. This has usually ended up being accompanied by an invitation for a cup of coffee, tea or chocolate (commonly called “kakao“) and/or dinner. Being Kenyan, preparing a Kenyan delicacy has also been a plus. And truly most of the Norwegians love these very simple kind gestures of concern and care. 
  3. Cabin trips: I have tried out cabin trips and I have loved them. They have become part of my favorites. Just going out to a place where you can be away from all the “destructions” and have a time to know each other more. They create an opportunity to interact closely but also to get to appreciate each other’s strengths. I love those cabins that are far in the woods and without many aspects of modernity like electricity; because they are more serene. Jeg liker å gå på hytteturer (I like to go for cabin trips). Getting to use my sleeping bag is also quite exhilarating!!!
  4. Play games: Most of the student fraternity loves games of different kinds. It is undeniable that to become effective in such a student culture, one has to try out some of these games. So, I have had a strong and lasting attempt at various games including card games like normal cards and ligretto; board games like chess and “Ticket to ride”; outdoor games like football, volleyball and most recently, frisbee. All these have not only created an atmosphere of getting to fit in but also getting to improve on my own personal fitness… 😉

It is indeed a joy getting to live in such a new culture and it is continually a journey that I have kept encountering varied realities. And the fascination continues…

Uniqueness in diversity

It is often interestingly sad to note how many people always confuse and negate the importance and place of diversity in our lives. Most people, from interactions, think that diversity is a bad thing! Well, today I want to attempt to demystify this very central reality. It is actually true that we ourselves are a true picture of diversity. We have bodies that have various parts, each of which is adapted to a different distinct function. The functionality of the respective parts cannot be similar because that is simply not what they were made for. In our natural design, we depict diversity. Yet there is a lot of unity in the way all the parts work together to fulfill the general good of the body as a whole. Whenever there is a problem with any part of the body, the entire system is wired such that it “stops” to ensure that everything is done to alleviate the issue and bring the whole of the body back to optimal functionality. And the body has an amazing way of  readjusting itself. It operates in such a way that every anomaly detected has to be acted upon with the necessary solution on the way… That’s why you hear that someone is not feeling well; and then they have to get rest or some prescription. Once this is done, one gets better and the whole body system comes back to normalcy again.

uniqueWhen I went to University back in Kenya, we defined the university as a place where there is “unity in diversity”. That may have become the closest that I have experienced and appreciated of how similar we are yet very far distant from one another. For instance, we were students from all walks of life and had simply come there for study. Thus, the central reality is that we were students pursuing varied fields of study; yet we had different stories that defined us. There were those who were from extremely rich families, those from the middle class and those from extremely poor backgrounds. One interesting thing though is that no one could tell the background of someone just by looking at their faces without getting to know them. And so, the students had a way of communication; a manner in which only they could understand; hence their similarities. They could appreciate the academic frustrations that they were going through; and could connive together to get a way out fighting a common enemy. At the same time, they all had different ways of thinking… All of these students remain to be unique in their own ways achieving their different goals and objectives at the end of their tenures at the institution of higher learning.

Looking at God Himself; we see diversity. That very God who exists in three with each person of the Trinity playing a significant role in our lives yet solidly one! The Genesis 1 account shows that He created lots of animals; all of different kinds. The trees were also of different kinds; there are no two things that He made which were basically the same. And even in creating man; He had to create female and male, different yet equal before Him. That should at least say something to us about the place of diversity in His kingdom.

In His quest to reach out to His people, God used different people with different endowments to fulfill His purposes. He used Moses, a stammerer, yet a great leader, a person with great humility and patience… He reached out to Abraham, a polytheists, yet a man with great faith, from Him we get all the nations. That is why Abraham is the father of the nations. He used Joseph, a showy young timid man, yet a great planner and orderly strategist, who saved the whole of the known world then. He uses Rahab, a harlot to save Israel’s spies. And this woman appears in the lineage of the Savior of the world!! 🙂 God surely has a great sense of humor!! He did not only use the strong but also used the weak. Actually in His ways, He kept contravening the norms of man. He set a mark of quality on those things that seemed unqualified in the eyes of man!! Thus, He shows that all people are necessary in His Kingdom. He uses all; and does not discriminate. If anything, He chooses those He desires; yet ensures that diversity is kept and maintained.

diversityGod doesn’t expect us to be the same. He actually expects us to be ourselves so as to fully accomplish the plans that He has for each of us. In Him we get to be ourselves! And that is best achieved by stopping the business of wanting to be other people. If only we could look deeper and see the great treasures that He has endowed us with. We have so much; that if we only knew, then we won’t be so much amassed in the comparison sequel. We will actually not look up to the celebrities to set the agenda in the fashion world but instead we’ll choose to remain distinct. We won’t be so taken up by the trends in the movie world; speaking like the entertainment bigwigs and stars, but just be ourselves. I think it is much better to become a carpenter and a great carpenter than to become an engineer and a struggling engineer. Why frustrate myself with the thoughts that won’t necessarily lead me to getting fully fulfilled?

I like the quote in a movie Coach Carter that “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. And this is true; we are able to do so much, and we have the power within us. Paul says that he “can do all things through Christ who gives us strength” (Philippians 4.13). And furthermore, He is able to “do immeasurably more than we could ask or think, according to His power that is at work within us!” (Ephesians 3:20). We have this power at work within us; let us go out and keep shining, releasing the very light we were created to release. And let’s blossom even the more…

I am Kenyan

Being in a different country can be quite difficult and frustrating to say the least. To fit in becomes the only option. But blending in can actually be at the cost of losing your own identity; becoming something that you are not. It is so easy to start behaving like your new contacts, to begin thinking like them, and arguing similarly. While all these things are adorable and desirable, there comes a limit which one is not supposed to exceed because then one loses themselves. And I guess that is one of the extremities of engaging cross-cultural exchanges and/or activities. They could subject you to another dimension that if you don’t have a sober mind in, you could easily fall into the pit of becoming a copy of yourself. For instance I know that I am Kenyan, and yet I am in Norway. In the quest to fit in, it is quite easy to simply put myself aside and start adapting to the new way of life. But being a good student of culture, it is imperative that I learn as I teach at the same time. And learning doesn’t mean changing your entire self; it simply means observing with appreciative eyes and deciphering what is different and what can be picked knowing what needs to be discarded.

The only time that people will be regard you as being a true student; and even enjoy your company as you penetrate their territory is if they know they can also learn something from you. In fact one of the things I have learnt and noted over the past several months while in Norway is that I have ended up learning more about myself and my country!! This is because everywhere I go, most Norwegians and the people I meet are interested to know more about my country and my origin. This has meant that I end up speaking more about my country than I had ever expected.

Thus, to keep up the acknowledgement of my own country and my origin, I have adapted some precautions. These precautions only go ahead to aid me in being authentic as I present myself and represent my country in this new land….

1. The Kenyan flag: I have hung up my national flag on the wall so that everyday I wake up, I can always see it. This is to remind me of my country and what I should stand for. Every time I see the four distinct colors and the notable shield and spears at the center, my country’s entire history gets refreshed in me all over again. And I must say that with this, I have begun appreciating how beautiful our flag is; with an amazing blend of colors. And I have discovered how rich our history is. 😉

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Amazed at my origin

2. The Kenyan food: I guess I should say that my coming out of Kenya has really made me love and appreciate my Kenyan food more. It is true that getting used to a new system of eating can be quite a daunting task. In this breathe, and having been formerly informed of the importance of carrying some bit of Kenyan foodstuff, I packed a few things like coffee and tea. And for my Kenyan roots and nature, I couldn’t forget some unga (maize meal) for ugali (a special Kenyan delicacy). Other things like sugar, salt and sossi soya just found their way in my luggage. I must attest that these things have really come in handy… There is nothing as sweet as tasting your local food in a foreign land! 😀

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Kenyan salt, maize meal and sugar

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A blend of some Kenyan beverages

3. The language: Language is one very essential element of any culture. Coming to Norway has opened me to the beauty of loving my own mother tongue. Therefore, every time I call back home, I endeavor to speak in my own native Luhya language (I have sufficient proof that this is not a dialect, but an entire language!!). And in Trondheim, I have made it a practice to always speak some Sheng and Swahili with my teammate. I have kept learning more in these languages and taking more pride in their distinctness. I have also found out that speaking English with my Kenyan accent (Oh yes, I also have some accent!!) is quite refreshing. It has been very original and given me a sense of pride for my rich origin. I, thus, have not been trying to speak any differently…. 🙂

4. Kenyan Music: Whereas I need to learn Norwegian by listening to Norwegian music, I have found my greatest inspiration coming from the music that I was listening to while back in Kenya. I have also kept track of the progress in the Kenyan music; thus ensuring that I am up to date and continually uplifted. It has been quite uplifting listening to Christina Shusho (I know she is Tanzanian!!), Sarah K., Reuben Kigame, Paul Mwai, and at times, when in need of being contemporary, getting hold of Juliani and Kanjii Mbugua! These simply give me a real Kenyan touch…

5. Kenyan shows: It is inevitable to lose track of all I used to watch while in Kenya. So, when in need of a Kenyan laughter, I have been enjoying the Kenyan jokes. And this has been made possible by watching comedy shows like Churchill show, Churchill raw, Offside, and Kenya Kona. 🙂 To keep up with the political flips, I have been watching news satire features like Flipside, Truthmeter and Bull’s eye. Not forgetting the amazing TPF, for the love of the East African progress in the music industry.

6. Kenyan news: To know what is happening back in my motherland, I have been reading from the online Kenyan dailies and keenly checking the newsroom tweets and Facebook updates. This has ensured that I am apprised and that I can always be at par with my fellow Kenyan fraternity. 

7. Connecting back home: Given that I am human, I am truly not an island! As such, I need to interact with others because I am a very social being… 😉 And there are those moments when chatting with friends and family back home is just the only option.Getting to hear them “verbalize” what is going on and just to know that they are well is quite inspiring. It has been a great boost every time I talk with friends back home whether on Facebook, on phone or via Skype. It has become my weekly endeavor to ensure that I connect with both family and friends; a people who form a very essential part of my life.

8. Time with my teammate: Coming from the same country gives us a lot to share. To tap more from this encounter, both of us have purposed and agreed that we meet every week for a debrief. In this, we keep it natural and just talk… This really helps. It is through a teammate that somebody gets to know if they are changing; which is a good way of raising a red flag about stuff!

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My teammate and I on an AtB bus

What more can I say but to simply declare that I am Kenyan and I am proudly so.

Together in a new land

Being in a new country with lots of new things, new experiences, new people, and new systems is definitely a big leap of faith! More so, when it is that you are to serve God in a seriously secular setting! All these, however, get so encouraging when you realize that you are not alone in it. Thus, the presence of a teammate is really inspiring. A teammate is someone with whom you come from the same setting; have faced similar or near-similar episodes in this life; have a common viewpoint on things; and understand each other given the common origin. This comes with the extra task of having to accommodate the other person. But then, is there anything that ever comes so easy!? In each and every matter, one must be willing and ready to pay the price! And so I was willing to do likewise. This meant that each of us had to be disposed to the fact that a number of compromises would be made, so as to mitigate any eventual difficulties. And as sure as rain, being human beings, I anticipated that there would be conflicts that would arise once in a while…

Learning the identity of the teammate became one of my quests; and finally the truth unfolded… It ended up being someone who I had known for some time; Joyline Mutai. I had heard that being in a new country would unearth us both into getting to know both the bad and the good. This sounded very scary, and as such, I wasn’t really looking forward to it at all. But the true taste of the reality was yet to come… 🙂

It is funny how we began our journey to Norway. We couldn’t travel together courtesy of visa troubles and delays that were eminent then. Beginning with separation from the very start wasn’t very encouraging, to say the least. That meant that each of us had different entry experiences in the land of the midnight sun. While I had to pass through Oslo to Kristiansand, Joyline came directly to Kristiansand from Amsterdam. She came a week later after I had already arrived. And so, we had some catching up to do…

Fast forward; it is now nearly five months down the line, and we’ve had a good share of experiences as a team. There has been a share of both the two sides of teamwork; and by God’s grace we have come through and are still going strong!!

Hereunder is a pictorial of some of the moments we have had together…

For starters, we held closely to what gave us the Kenyan identity.

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Still holding tightly to our documents

We had times when our childhood dreams nearly came true… 😀

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I want to be a princess…

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I want to be a king…

…and times to face some of our inherent fears like learning how to ride a bike…

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Stay steady teammate…

We then enjoyed some good views…

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Taking a cup of coffee in Trondheim

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Appreciating a good Norwegian view while on a camp at Vassfjellet

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Enjoying the view of Ålesund city

…and lots of spontaneous happenings…

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An attempt at looking scary…

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How about a funny face?

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Being reminded of birthday the Kenyan way

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Appreciating some breeze of music

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In the company of our contact person and friend, Karla

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Are you scared?

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Waiting for the bus at a typical Norwegian bus stop…

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Cooking with consultation…

And there are those times when we simply had to have some meal together…

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When the knife and fork gave way for our own hands

With all such activities and engagements, it becomes inevitable to begin to know each other more. And thus, Joyline and I have been in that journey. There are those moments when all we needed to do was sit down and watch a movie together. Other times, all we needed was to listen to each other’s week-long experiences. It is not easy, of course, to become vulnerable to your teammate but until that barrier is broken, it is quite difficult to resolve any conflict that may arise.

It is indeed encouraging to have someone from your context; one who understands the background that you come from. This sets a stage for a clear mode of operation… And so, the journey continues!!!