Today, I was talking with Marilyn Brenchley, the American expat who runs the Thiiri Centre, about differences between Kenyans and Americans. Specifically, we were discussing how they both view self versus community. In the middle of our conversation, it came up that I had gone through a divorce, and it visibly put me in an I’m-about-to-cry state. Marilyn then took my hand in to both of hers so that I could feel her touch. She looked into my eyes for a few moments before talking. Then she said, “Andrea, I care about you.” She said it with such sincerity that tears started to roll out of my eyes. I hardly know this woman, yet she brought out emotions that I have only shown to my closest friends.
She did this to make a point (and I don’t think she anticipated that she’d make me cry). She explained that the sense of touch and connection of the eye is way more powerful than anything you can get on the phone or over the internet. She was sad that the Kenyans, as they gain more in material goods and as they start to move away from home to gain more success in education and their professions, are starting to lose the sense of community that has been such a sign of their success as human beings.
I have said many times that although the Kenyans I have met have very little compared to me by ways of material goods, they are extremely rich in their interpersonal connections. I often bemoan the loss of that in my own life. I have many people who love me, yet it is very rare for me to gather with people, even with close friends. I choose what I share on Facebook; I choose to answer my phone or not; I choose whether to make plans with friends or not. But if I am about to shed a tear, there is rarely someone around that will catch that moment.
Here, and also at home, I often observe people who have strong community bonds with deep feeling of envy. Yet I am one of those gosh-darned kids who still want to option to ask myself, “What is it that *I* want to do with myself? or with my life?” I have gotten used to a way of life that I have come to value, and this includes my independence. I could do without things; I could live in Meru in regards to the purchased goods that I would or wouldn’t have. But could I live in Meru and give up my independence? Could I live my life for the common good over my own? I’m not so sure. I know that makes me spoiled, and I’m almost even ashamed to admit it.
I’m glad to be here. It’s making me think about things that I don’t feel I’ve had the time to process.