“Do you like Sprite?”

“Yes,” I reply stepping into the passenger side of the metallic Toyota Allex.

My host dad, Chris, hands me a green plastic bottle. I slowly twist off the blue cap as he tells me about my new family.

“My wife is Elizabeth. She is a banker. We have two children—a daughter, Tiffany, who is seven and a son, Taavi, who will be three on Monday. There is another baby on the way.”

He asks me about my family, and I share basic information about my mom, my dad, my stepmom and my younger brother as we turn into the gated apartment complex across from Yaya Centre.

We park in front of Apartment 5—my home for the next two months.

Tiffany—my Kenyan little sister.

Chris gives me the tour of the living room and kitchen before leading upstairs. We walk down the hall past the master bedroom, the bathroom and the kids’ room before entering my room. Chris places my overstuffed backpack on my double bed and opens my two storage closets.

“Make yourself at home,” he tells me.

Asante sana.”

This isn’t the Kenya I remember…

Everything I Thought I Knew

Two summers ago, I spent two weeks volunteering in the Kawangware, Kibera and Mathare slums. I taught English to primary school students in single light bulb boarded classrooms. I kicked grocery bag footballs with orphans in muddy alleys. I served ugali and sukuma wiki to street boys high on industrial glue.

I came home thinking I knew everything about Africa and poverty and social justice, but I was wrong.

Sure. I witnessed every stereotypical image from the diaperless baby squatting in front of a tin roof shanty to the Maasai warrior draped in colorful beaded necklaces to the elusive burnt African sunset.

But what I failed to realize that summer—and what I am just beginning to realize now—is that while Kenya is everything we read, hear and watch about it in America, it is also everything we don’t.

Taavi—my Kenyan little brother

Kenya has a suburban middle class completely like and unlike us. Who knew?

Understanding the Unexpected

The next morning I wake at 7 a.m. I dress, wash my face and curl my hair before taking tea and muffins for breakfast. I walk 30 minutes past homes, schools and churches to work at Tanari Trust. Grace, my internship supervisor, escorts me to my desk—which faces the wall—and turns on my Dell work laptop.

We read over and sign my employment contract, detailing my 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a one hour lunch break administrative assistant responsibilities, along with the organization’s “smart, casual” dress code. I meet the staff and follow them into our first of many multiple hour-long meetings in the upstairs boardroom.

This morning’s topic is “What worries you about Kenya?”—specifically focusing on the disintegration of the middle-class family.

“Divorce.” “Substance abuse.” “Unemployment.” Every answer sounds surprisingly familiar.

Tanari’s plan to reconnect families.

“If the men would just be men,” Rhoda suggests, “it would change everything.”

So far what I’ve gleaned from my limited Mzungu—white person—perspective as a Kenyan suburbanite, is that along with the adoption of the Western lifestyle of fast food, smart phones and social networking, middle-class Kenyans have also unintentionally acquired some of our individualistic and workaholic bad habits.

In order to achieve the “Kenyan Dream” of Terrific Tuesday “Buy 1 Get 1” pizza nights and religious private school educations, both parents work during the day and take night classes to increase their education and in turn, their bank accounts.

Kenyans used to believe it took a village to raise a child, but now families only need “house help.”

And while parents sacrifice to provide a “better life” for their kids, the youth also suffer.

“Teenage pregnancy.” “Addiction.” “Loneliness.” The list of “Realities” continues.

“So what is Tanari doing about it,” Steve, the Executive Officer, asks.

Empowering youth for life.

Trusting Tanari

Tanari hopes to empower youth for life. Based on the philosophy of Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.”), the nonprofit believes reconnecting families to actually be the God-reflecting communities they were created to be will transform everything.

When the family is whole, society is whole.

And that’s what I’m most excited about learning this summer—how ordinary Kenyan families in ordinary Kenyan communities are falling apart and being restored with the hopes of changing their individual and collective worlds.

As I sit and reflect on everything I thought I knew about life in the developing world, I sip my Dormans’ Café Mocha in uncertain expectation of all that I overlooked. Devastation and restoration seem to follow me into the most average circumstances. Apparently, I still have a lot to learn.

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Next Steps
    • Interested in learning more about how Tanari is empowering youth through the reconnection of families? Check out their website, www.tanari.org, for detailed information on their various unique programs!
    • Spend some time with your own family! Watch a movie, bake cookies or go for a hike. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re doing it together!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Jocelyn is a freelance photojournalist with World Next Door. She studied Creative Writing and Missions at Concordia University Irvine. She enjoys reading, writing and traveling. She also likes butterflies.

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Comments

  1. Katie Wollman said... 

    Reply

    June 19th, 2011 at 8:16 am  

    So well-written…you’re entering the scene with a bang, Jocelyn! I’m touched by your honesty to share the “average” when the dramatic is much more sexy to the world.

    Although you didn’t say it outright in your closing, the message was clear: the fact that devastation and pain inhabit the most common of circumstances says a lot about our need for Jesus.

    Such a great article- thank you!

  2. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    June 19th, 2011 at 1:23 pm  

    Jocelyn, reflecting on your comments about your last trip and this trip, and where you were then and where you are now, I can’t wait to see what picture God paints for us through your work this summer. I suspect from this first story that you are about to see an all too familiar form of poverty seen in most developing and developed countries. I suspect also that you are not stuck in the burbs…you were placed there. God is amazing He knew who he wanted there to tell this tale. You are a gifted storyteller.

  3. Chuck Easton said... 

    Reply

    June 20th, 2011 at 9:21 am  

    It’s always amazing how much western culture has influenced the emerging world. Yet we have not communicated the dark-side of this influence; divorce, addictions, loneliness… We here in this western culture need to learn from the emerging world that maybe all the “stuff” we work so hard to get is not that important. Maybe the cost for this stuff is too high! Thanks Jocelyn for reminding us.

  4. Kim Hoffman said... 

    Reply

    June 20th, 2011 at 11:09 am  

    You are right, the picture you painted is at once familiar and unfamiliar. I will be praying for your ministry while you are finding your way in the suburbs.

  5. Jessica Vanderhyde said... 

    Reply

    June 20th, 2011 at 1:23 pm  

    Dear friend, remember our epiphany from the first trip, “People are people.”
    We’re praying for you. It is beautiful to witness the Lord using your talents, desires, and dreams to produce this good fruit. Love you.

  6. LeAnne Hardy said... 

    Reply

    June 20th, 2011 at 7:54 pm  

    There are some amazing Kenyans who are thinking creatively about the Bible and their own culture and how living as a committed Christian in Nairobi is different from living as a committed Christian in Chicago. It sounds like you will be working with some of them. I look forward to learning with you.

  7. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    June 21st, 2011 at 2:21 am  

    Jocelyn, thank you for this! I’ve been reflecting a lot on this from my own gated Kenyan apartment over the past week. Suffering pervades all classes and countries. You’ve nailed it (with eloquence). Your perspective is refreshing, and it’s helping me figure things out for myself.

    I think I’ll go to Java House for some more research…

  8. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    June 23rd, 2011 at 1:08 pm  

    “Devastation and restoration seem to follow me into the most average circumstances.”

    The two are forever and always around us. Thanks for the important reminder to open our eyes and look for them. See them. And be them in someone’s life–in the suburbs or around the globe.

  9. Traci Hanna said... 

    Reply

    June 24th, 2011 at 5:47 pm  

    Joci –

    This was a fantastic article. I feel like I just sat and had an intellectual conversation with you. I appreciate your insight explaining that just because we are diverse as a global society, doesn’t mean that we all have different issues simply because of where we live. At the end of the day, no matter who you are, or where you live, nothing can solve our problems; only Jesus can save us.

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