Knowing beforehand that living here would require numerous adjustments did indeed help to prepare us, particularly for the adjustments we expected to face (like being stared at all the time, or having difficulty communicating because our American accent is so different from their Kenyan accent, or not being able to pop a frozen pizza in the oven when that's all I can handle by dinner time). But little could have prepared us for the adjustments we didn't expect to face (like brown water, or bug bites despite mosquito nets, or people knocking on our door multiple times a day). And therein lies the irony: a huge part of adjusting to life in Kenya is learning to cope with the unlooked for, but necessary, adjustments.
Most of it is hard, but certainly not all of it. Some things make us rise to the challenge (like cooking from scratch) while others leave us downright frustrated and annoyed (like our kids getting bug bites from an unknown source). Some things we've adjusted to quickly (like washing all our produce in bleach water) while other things are taking a much longer time to adjust to (like having househelp in our home). Ups and downs. Pluses and minuses. All of it summed up in one word: adjustments!
Let me highlight some particular areas that will further my point and also offer a peek into our daily life in Kenya.
We didn't know until we arrived at Tenwek that the water coming through the pipes is usually a shade of brown. It comes from the river and is filled with alum that taints the color. It's not safe to drink, which we knew beforehand and is also why we drink filtered rainwater, but we still brush our teeth with it and wash our dishes with it and do our laundry with it and bathe in it. This is what the water looks like before our dirty boys get into the tub:
Quite frankly, we don't mind bathing in brown water, or washing our dishes in it, or brushing our teeth with it. What we weren't prepared for is what it does to our clothes in the wash. It stains clothes and somehow makes them gritty. We quickly had to come to terms with the fact that some of our clothes might not last the two years we are here. After a couple weeks of frustration and staring at our kids' clothes while wondering how their shirts are supposed to last two years when they're barely lasting two weeks, we heard from another missionary that we can wash clothes by hand with rainwater to prevent staining. So we quickly adopted that method for our light-colored clothes in an attempt to preserve them, which has done wonders. Our househelp does laundry twice a week for us and washes half of it by hand with water from the giant rain barrel outside. We've decided to keep washing the dark clothes in the washing machine because stains are hard to see on them anyway. So we've found a middle ground and are adjusting to the water situation. (On another note, whenever I wash my hair with water from the pipes, my hair becomes funky. There's no other way to describe it. It does something weird to our hair, and mine is long enough to be frustrated by it, so I wash my hair with rainwater instead, filling a big Coke bottle from the rain barrel before taking a shower. Almost every other white woman does the same thing here.)
One of my first attempts was to make pizza. It was a bold choice since the one thing I have failed at every single time is homemade bread, which is the same category as pizza crust. And I failed yet again when I made my first pizza here, but Eli was gracious with my attempt and helped me salvage the wreckage, and by golly we ate it and it wasn't awful! I made a Hawaiian pizza with ham I bought in Nairobi and pineapple I bought here at the hospital, and I've made several Hawaiian pizzas since (with varying degrees of successful crusts, but all edible). We've also had pizzas with sausage from Nairobi, pepperoni from America, and peppers, onions, and tomatoes from the local market. It's been an adventure that we're committed to continuing. Friday Night Pizza Night is a Tenwek tradition and we are happy to adjust to that!
Another cooking success has been homemade chicken nuggets. Caleb and Kai love chicken nuggets and we weren't sure how our transition into Kenya would go without access to them. But I quickly found an amazing and easy recipe on the Pioneer Woman's website, and they were such a hit that we've made our own tradition of making chicken nuggets every Sunday for lunch after church.
Another adjustment in the realm of cooking has been to wash all our produce in bleach water before eating it. It's not a big deal, but does require a bit of forethought. When dinnertime comes, I can't just pull the apples out of the fridge and cut them up. I have to fill the basin with water and a cap full of bleach, let them soak for a bit, then rinse them again before cutting them up. We've gotten better at washing our fruit and veggies ahead of time, but sometimes it still escapes us until we're pulling a meal together and realize we didn't wash the carrots we're planning to use in the curry. Maybe someday it will become second nature to buy tomatoes and wash them right away so they're ready to use!
There are a lot of bugs in Kenya. This was something we knew ahead of time, but it has been more of an adjustment than we anticipated. Mosquitoes are annoying, but we sleep under mosquito nets and basically cope with them like we do in the summertime in the States. Ants will occasionally creep into the house, but they can be squished or swept out of the house and soon forgotten. The real adjustment has been dealing with the unknown bugs that bite us overnight. We all have mosquito nets which mostly work (although the occasional mosquito does find its way into the net and buzzes in our ears in the middle of the night), but there have been a handful of times when one or more of us wake up with random bites that we cannot place where they came from.
One night I woke up to the feeling of something crawling across my face. I flailed and freaked out and subsequently left Eli to fend for himself when Kai woke up crying a few minutes later and needed someone to snuggle with him. Sure enough, in the morning I discovered two bites on my neck from whatever the creepy crawly was that found its way into our bed.
On two different occasions, Kai has suffered bug bites on his ear which have led to swelling and blistering and weeping. We had to combat the symptoms with ibuprofen and Benadryl, and despite asking around we still have no idea what kind of bug did this to our poor boy.
Perhaps worst of all is when our completely innocent and defenseless infant gets bit. A few times he's woken up with bites on his hands or face. The most recent episode included bites on his forehead and throughout his hair. They weren't mosquito bites but we have no idea what else they came from. Spider? Bed bug? It's anyone's guess, and it's been hard to adjust to this enigma.
Twice a week we have two househelpers working in our home. One woman cleans the house and does our laundry while another woman cooks. Once a week we have a third househelper who works in our garden and does other odd jobs as needed. While there are many benefits to househelp, such as the obvious help with time-consuming tasks like meal prep and cleaning and laundry, it has been the most difficult adjustment for me. I never imagined how awkward it would be to have someone in my home, cleaning the floors of the living room while I'm sitting on the couch reading books to my kids, or how invasive I feel in our own kitchen because I need to access the snack cupboard for the boys. I also never imagined how stressful it would be to have my "safe zone" taken from me twice a week. Our home is the only place where it's possible to retreat from the outside world. If we walk out the door, there's nowhere we can go without being instantly on display because of our white skin. There's no walk we can take where eyes aren't watching our every move. There's no coffee shop or library or mall where we can blend into the crowd. There is nowhere for us to go to avoid being the center of attention except our very own home. Twice a week, when I am home with our kids like I am every day, the freedom of being in such a "safe zone" is taken away when our househelp enter our home for the day, and it's surprisingly stressful.
Despite the stress, we've decided it's worth it because of the benefits. I don't like having my space and privacy invaded, but I do like having fresh bread that I don't know how to bake myself. I also like having the laundry that needs to be done by hand done by someone else's hands who knows how to work out water stains. And I like having someone monitor our garden since I know nothing about gardening but would love to eat lettuce, for example, which can only be found by planting lettuce seeds in the soil. So the benefits are real. Furthermore, hiring househelp also offers employment to the people working for us, which is an important contribution the missionaries offer to the community here.
There are other benefits too. For instance, because we have a Kenyan cook twice a week, we get to eat traditional Kenyan meals like this beef stew and chapati that leave us begging for more.
On the other hand, because we have a Kenyan cook twice a week, we occasionally discover the limitations of someone who doesn't have an oven in her own home trying to bake with our oven. Yesterday H made this apple pie because we had extra apples and I asked her to, and when I saw it sitting on the counter after a long and stressful day of multiple confusing cross-cultural encounters, I could only think that is Not My Mother's Apple Pie and I wanted to cry. Why does it matter that the apples were diced instead of sliced, or that it was more like apple soup instead of pie? I don't know. But somehow it did matter on a day like yesterday and I nearly lost it. Caleb liked the crust, which is ironic since the top was burned, but at least there was a silver lining.
Other adjustments regarding househelp have involved sorting out their insurance and Social Security benefits which we're required to pay for. We naively assumed that hiring househelp would simply require paying them cash at the end of the month, but there's more to it than that, and adding requests for advances on top of that (and wondering how to handle those requests mixed with wondering if we even have enough cash on hand to give an advance without prior notice) all makes for a stressful situation sometimes. So it's been a huge adjustment on many fronts, one that was unlooked for.
Last but not least has been the adjustment to so many people coming to our door at all hours of the day. We live in close proximity to many people, and some people pop over just to say hi or drop something off, which is nice. But many people also knock on our door because they're selling something, or straight-up asking for money, and there's simply no way to avoid the oft revolving door unless I literally shut the door and close the curtains. There's an Open Door Policy here, which can be a beautiful thing, but can also be an annoying thing. I like having the door and curtains open because it lets in fresh air and sunshine. But the cost is that the rest of the world knows I'm home and available, and there's no putting a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob. If someone comes to our door hoping to sell me bananas, or a basket, or whatever, I need to answer the door. Because if I don't, that person will wait patiently until I do, and Kenyans are very patient people. Because my door is open, it means I'm somewhere inside and they are willing to wait if it means they can sell me something for a hundred shillings (the equivalent of a dollar). And everyone who comes to the door is friendly and kind and greets me with a smile and a handshake, and often I'm actually interested in what they're selling, but sometimes I just want to remain in the house undisturbed because I'm busy enough with the kids and pausing whatever we're doing to answer the door and make an instant decision about pineapples isn't a convenient thing to do.
So it's been an adjustment of learning the balance between leaving the front door open but not the back door (because people come to both doors), versus leaving both doors open because the fresh air and sunshine is simply worth it in this place of idyllic weather.
And so we are adjusting to life in Kenya, which has required some coping skills and a willingness to learn new things and much appreciation for the way some things are done differently here that are better than the way we do things in America. But we are adjusting. Slowly but surely! God has been good to sustain us through all of it, and He will be faithful to sustain us still. All praise and glory go to Him for creating people and culture in the first place which require adjusting to and which stretch us to become more like Him as we see people and culture through His eyes.