Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Kenyan men and women
It's typical to see women in Kenya who are responsible for much. You can see many Kenyan women taking care of daily tasks with a child strapped to their back. They can be responsible for the household tasks, child rearing and even hold down a job. We've seen them carrying HUGE bundles of wood for miles and miles, even in old age. We have found that often the case is the men will work or try to find work but wont help much around the house or even with the children. The women are expected to have the household chores done, keep the children quiet and provide an income for the family. Due to limited jobs and Kenyan culture, there are many instances where the men will sit around and the women will find the work. (Not all, but a lot) Mary, our house lady even explained that when mom's have babies, other women will come to help for a month and then they are expected to maintain their regular work at home, get up with the baby at night, feed the family and any unexpected visitors. Mary even explained that it is very normal to have women going through depression during this time.
It has been interesting observing the reaction of Kenyans when we go out in public and Baby Benjamin is crying. We have found that Kenyans don't really let their babies cry. I have heard this from a few missionaries and observed it when our house lady, Mary, immediately remedies Baby Ben's crying by picking him up. We were in a taxi a few weeks (due to car troubles) with Baby Benjamin and Josiah. The taxi driver looked at me in disbelief as Baby Benjamin was crying (he hates the car seat) and I seemed rather calm. He finally said, "Isn't their SOMETHING you can do to keep the baby quiet?" I saw the taxi driver's discomfort and took the baby out of the car seat to try and ease Ben's distress.
So what's the big deal about the baby crying? Well as I thought through the cultural aspects of the situation I came up with nothing. Until today. I was meeting some moms at a local restaurant called Carnivore. We try to get together on Tuesdays for a play group. Carnivore has a huge playground and the kids can play for free (very rare here). As we entered the play area Benjamin cried the whole way in. I quickly passed by the coffee shop, "Dormans" located near the play area. I asked in desperation, "Are you open yet?" "Just a few minutes ma'am," he replied. I returned with Ben in his stroller and a blanket covering the opening of the stroller so he could sleep. The barista looked up and said, "That one was crying so bad." Already frustrated with the way things started out today I replied, "Yep, that's what babies do at this age. They cry." He agreed,"Hmmm...they do. Even mine. When my little girl was small she was always crying." Seeing the discomfort in his eyes as he recalled the days of his little girl's infancy, I asked curiously, "Didn't you know that babies cry? Or did you expect your wife to stop her from crying?" And he said, "Yes. When I come home I don't want to hear all the crying." Hmmm...there it was. It is the woman's responsibility to keep things running smooth. No interruptions. No crying or disturbances from the children. Any mom at this point is probably wondering how a woman can be responsible for keeping small children from acting out in public or keep babies from crying, even when fed, changed and burped. Especially if they have multiple children.
The redeeming part for Kenyan men that changed my thinking:
So I continue the conversation, hoping for a chance to start a relationship to share the Lord (especially if we will be returning weekly). He explained that his daughter was now 17 months old and he takes his daughter every Wednesday for just daddy and daughter time. WOW! A VERY rare thing to hear about. He explained that he has the dates with his daughter because he remembers growing up and not spending quality time with his parents and he wanted it to be different with his child. That and he would get the opportunity to give his wife the day off. What a guy! This may not seem to be much to those of us women who have husbands that are "hands on" but this is HUGE for Kenyan men.
I have resolved to not conclude anything from my limited experience with these observations. I hope there is a generation of Kenyan men that will love their wives and share the burden of daily tasks and responsibilities.