Tuesday, 13 August 2013


I’ve been reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's latest book entitled, Americanah. While reveling in the similar ways that I experienced America coming from Bermuda and the opposite cross-culture shock of experiencing Kenya I felt inspired to blog my own version which I will call Africanah.
         This month marks two years of living in Kenya for me. They say that it takes at least two years to get over experiencing culture shock before one can truly begin to enjoy the new location. Like the opposite of Ifemelu in Adiche's Americanah , I’ve gotten used to saying, “Sorry” to someone after they've tripped over a crack in the sidewalk or if something bad has happened to them. I’ve grown to understand that when someone doesn’t call you back it actually means, “No” but not wanting to disappoint you, the person would rather let you figure out the meaning of the subliminal silence on your own. If anyone wants to know by the way, I STILL GET DISAPOINTED!

I’ve also discovered that my English accent is what separates me in the eyes of Kenyans from being truly African but simultaneously grants me a privilege that I did not have living in my own country. “You have the right accent” someone once told me. I think back to the many times I called a business to make an inquiry back home in Bermuda and realized that the person on the other end could hear my slurred, Bermudian tongue and knew that I did not have “the right accent.”

In Kenya I have “good hair”- must be mixed with some muzungu. In Bermuda my hair is picky, knotty, can’t get a comb through it, needs a good conditioner, will only grow if you lock it.

From afar I look at Bermudian politics as a plethora of cloudy philosophies and repeated points in history rather than current happenings. I observe food programmes and religious charities as a mockery of developing nations. I prefer benevolent dictatorship to fascism disguised as democracy. I’ve decided that the tribalism in my own country may be more lethal than the tribalism expressed here in Kenya except that Bermudian tribalism is a slow-killing poison that will subdue and silence the lesser before it kills.

I’ve concluded that it will be at least 50 years before being a hippie, hipster or hobo is fashionable in Kenya. To be retro is now and to be postmodern is to be lost.

While I live trying to prove how African I really am; “We eat cassava and dance to Soca which sounds like Lingala or Luo Benga,” upscale Kenyans live trying to prove how Western they are; “We eat red jelly like the British do and only wear European-brand clothes.” The Africanah becomes caricatured into Shaka Zulu turned Kunta Kinte while the Kenyan caricatures him or herself into a bedazzled version of Queen Elizabeth.

I’ve come to embrace wide skies and yellow Acacia trees even though I miss palm trees- especially ones covered with Christmas lights. I am a real Africanah now. But somehow I feel like I always was. 



  1. "The Africana becomes caricatured into Shaka Zulu turned Kunta Kinte while the Kenyan caricatures him or herself into a bedazzled version of Queen Elizabeth." - Which Kenyan I wonder? The village Kenyan? The uppity Nairobian Kenyan, the Kenyan from Kibera/Kariobangi who listens to Ghetto Radio, the Kenyan who has lived in Europe, US, India... as a student like Ifemelu, or as a wife - with or without an education, as an artist... I'm curious about this 'one Kenyan'... because even Ifemelu's story is a 'singular' story - with it's very specific baggage, exposure, outlook..

  2. Hi One child at a time,
    Thanks for your question. In order to answer your question I will post the sentence prior to the following sentence that you posted:

    While I live trying to prove how African I really am; “We eat cassava and dance to Soca which sounds like Lingala or Luo Benga,” upscale Kenyans live trying to prove how Western they are; “We eat red jelly like the British do and only wear European-brand clothes.”

    I refer to some of my experiences and conversations directly from friends of mine and/ upscale Kenyans. This is who I am referring to.

    Yes you are correct just like Ifemelu's story, my story is singular, one person's outlook and experience with a specific outlook, baggage and exposure. The beauty of blogging is that we are able to share our singular stories that in the end make up the whole.

    1. So back to the reference of the caricature, I laugh at myself in hindsight trying to prove how African I am while juxtaposing how my experiences with some Kenyans has been similar but trying to prove how western they are. We are all beautiful people with a mixture of influences and experiences.

  3. Great blog post. I wish other Bermudians could benefit from such experiences.

    One thing that bothered me on my trips to Africa was how they correlate being Western with being superior. In America and Europe I felt a shared pride with other self-sufficient black men and women. However in Africa I felt a bigger rejection of blackness than I did in the West.

    What are your thoughts on this; especially coming from Bermuda where we have black leaders and professionals, and America with its black president?

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      Thanks so much for your reply. I also hope that more Bermudians, especially those of African heritage will choose to spend time in an African country of their choice.

      In my experience here I do see how people view the West and western items as being superior when usually the reverse is true. Business women wear European hair to work and suits because that is considered to be "proper" while the beauty of traditional clothing and natural hair are seen to be "from the farm".

      Some, not all Kenyans are ashamed of speaking their mother language and will not teach their kids their language because "it is better to speak English".
      My response to that is one of deep pain stating how Africans of the Diaspora will never know their mother tongue or tribe because it was stripped from us.

      I see ugly apartments being built all over the place at the expense of nature. Every inch of grass is covered over with concrete because "that's what development is in the West."

      On the other-hand there is a huge national pride in this country that Bermuda doesn't have. Kenyans want to see Kenyans on television and listen to Kenyan songs. Of course this intertwines with globalization and US pop culture but the culture here doesn't seem to be swallowed by it like in Bermuda.

      Technology here is also booming. Kenya has an amazing way to send money to and from any phone that the West hasn't managed to do successfully as of yet.

      I do find that people treat me and my family different depending on whether or not they think we're Kenyan or foreign. The latter causes us to be treated better which I would call the product of colonialism.

      Also, since living here I look at Bermuda as being much more white. All of the politicians here are black, there are tons of professionals and black leaders that I see here that I didn't see in my own country.

  4. what does acting black or acting white mean?? I thought it was just the color of ones skin.

  5. Hi Anynymous,
    I didn't mention anything about acting black or white. I was speaking about the ratio of blacks and whites in professional positions and leadership in Kenya in contrast to Bermuda.

  6. you said since living in Kenya you view Bermuda as "being much more white" to say that they are different from our black politicians. What does that imply??
    that's how I viewed it. that black politicians in Bermuda act white in your view because the majority of leaders in Bermuda are black on both sides of the isle. we are such a wonderful blend of different cultures. we need to be proud of our mixed culture and the way it blends. instead of trying to fit one mold.

  7. Hi Anonymous,
    I know that generally we like to impose that "being more white" has to do with 'acting' or actions. As I mentioned in my last response I used the phrase to refer to the ratio of whites and blacks in higher level positions contrasting Kenya and Bermuda e.g. "I never noticed how many white people are in Bermuda, how many adds have majority white people in them etc. until I moved to Kenya where the opposite is the case." Not a judgment, just an observation that I never thought about.

    It is obvious that you are passionate about this subject and I value that. I would be happy to engage you with that argument except that this wasn't a part of my discourse.

    Did I mention that my mother is Canadian and my father in Bermudian?