By Jody C. Brown, Director for Lee’s Summit Physicians Group.
My husband took his first trip to South Africa in 1989. That trip would spark a life-long love affair with the country, and other African countries would eventually be added to that list.
We took our boys to Kenya, Africa for the first time back in 2006.
They were ten, nine and seven at the time. It had long been a dream of ours to expose our boys to another culture for a longer time than the normal two week vacation so this trip was a “fact finding” trip to see if they (and we) could handle a year living in Kenya.
Prior to our trip, we had talks with our boys about different cultural situations they might find themselves in and how they should respond during those times. Mainly that conversation had to do situations like eating at someone’s house or a church gathering. I explained the kinds of foods offered may not be something they were used to, it may not be something they particularly liked and it may be something that we weren’t even sure what it was!
We didn’t want to offend anyone.
We explained to them that we did not want to offend anyone and therefore there would be no “I don’t like that” or rolling of the eyes or any other comments that might offend our hosts. I was explaining all this to them, but it was a personal reminder as well. There were a couple of customs I was aware of that I knew if I were faced with them, it would be a real struggle for me!
I knew the boys had taken our conversation to heart when we were leaving a remote village where we’d been served a delicious lunch that included a meat we were not familiar with (it turned out to be goat meat). On the drive back, my youngest and pickiest son told me that his meat had hair on it. I had been sitting beside him the entire meal and had no indication that he was having any issues whatsoever.
We had an amazing time, met wonderful people who remain our friends to this day, and ultimately realized that even though it wouldn’t be easy, we could definitely live there for a year. Unfortunately, the timing wouldn’t be right for our family to make the move for several more years, but we would eventually make our way to Kenya!
That time came in November 2014
We were supposed to go to Africa for a year, but due to some unforeseen circumstances prior to our departure, we were only able to stay for eight months. But what an amazing eight months they were! I’ve been back to Kenya twice since that time, the most recent being June 2019. Remember when I said earlier that there were a couple of customs I would have a hard time participating in if I were faced with them? One of those situations presented itself to me on this last trip.
One of those customs is drinking curdled milk. The process of curdling milk involves burning the inside of a large gourd then adding goat or camel milk and letting it curdle before drinking it. My oldest son was on a trip to a remote village when he was given the “opportunity” to partake of this drink. I’ll give it to him, he was braver than I would have been. He attempted to drink some, but when he felt the first “curd” of milk, he nearly tossed his cookies and that was the end of it. Thankfully, he hadn’t offended anyone by not being able to drink it, in fact, the Kenyans got a good laugh out of it.
On our trip in June we were invited to a village by a remote tribal group that is trying to attract more tourists.
We were the first outside visitors to this village and they greeted us so warmly with their tribal dances, singing and their traditional tribal clothing. When we walked into the village, I saw a goat tied up and knew it would be our lunch. I also later spotted them preparing the goat to put on the fire. When I was grabbed by the hand by one of the tribal ladies and walked in the direction of the now dead goat, I knew my biggest fear was about to be realized and I was in panic mode.
I knew it. I was going to be asked to drink some of the goat’s blood.
As we were being led to the goat, I passed by my husband who was sitting under a tree just watching this all take place. As I passed by him I said, “they’re going to make me drink the blood?!?! Are they going to make me drink the blood?” He got up as if he was going to save me, but he didn’t. Sure enough, we were led over to the goat and a young lady who was with us was the first to be offered a piece of raw meat… she declined. They laughed. I was offered the meat/blood. I declined. They laughed. And I nearly collapsed with relief!
Never have I been so far outside my comfort zone as I was on that day, but it was a great day. It was an honor to be warmly greeted as the first guests to this village. They spoke to us through translators, their children sang songs for us, they proudly showed us their hand-built huts and invited us in to see them. I could go to Kenya one hundred more times and I will never cease to be moved by the happiness of these people who live so simply, yet have so much joy.