Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hosting a Kenyan Woman

On Friday we welcomed the newest (temporary) member of our house - Marta Guyo. She is here accompanying five of her students who were chosen based on applications and interviews for a three-week leadership conference. Marta is a mother of five and a history and government teacher. Each of the students, and the others that were chosen from different areas are staying with different host families throughout Denver. Their first week was a retreat in the mountains, then they will spend two weeks going to classes and staying with host families like us in Denver, and then the last part of the trip they meet in Washington DC to tour and attend more classes.

Marta is shy yet affectionate. She spent a lot of time alone in her room the first few days. I recall needing the time and space to process everything when I did my overseas study in Spain, so I wasn't too concerned. Where she lives, in a remote village in Kenya very near the Ethiopian border there are very few cars or even roads and she said that people are always outside walking around. She says she doesn't see many people here - only cars. I wonder about her impression on many things here. For example, what does she make of a woman who goes to a heated yoga class and then occasionally treats herself to a Starbucks latte afterwards. I am not sure "yuppie" is in her lexicon, though she does speak English pretty well. Where she is from, exercise and sweat come naturally, without the aid of cute yoga clothes or thermostats. And there may be no Starbucks there but the coffee beans are native. I think she misses sweating - she has never seen snow before and spends a lot of time in her coat even indoors.

I asked her how American and Kenyan style of parenting is different (or at least our version of it). She said that she heard our four year old son shriek "Idiot!" at his Dad when he did not get his way during a trip to the mall. This word gets him a consequence each time. He has eight of them racked up this week so it doesn't seem to be working! She said that in Kenya a kid would never say that to his parent out of fear, but she thought that it was good for a child to be able to express himself because a Kenyan kid would feel that way too, but just be forced to keep it underground, which is not good. She didn't seem to be sugar-coating this for us and I was glad that it didn't merit a Kenyan Super Nanny intervention, though I am sure we could learn plenty from her.

Last night we took her to an Ethiopian restaurant that we love. Up until this point I had only seen her eating bread and tea. When she walked in, her shyness fell away and she immediately walked to the kitchen to warmly greet the owner in her own language - a dialect that was closely related to the owner's. She ate heartily, for once, and we were there for several hours talking about cultures, experiences, and life. I was glad to see her so comfortable and happy. We were invited back for a special Ethiopian breakfast and coffee ceremony in Marta's honor.

I look forward to our family learning more from Marta - about Kenya, the world, and ourselves through this experience.


  1. That's so wonderful for the whole family. I visited my sister in Senegal, where she lived for over 2 years, and it was such an eye opening experience. Enjoy!

  2. you continually amaze me! the things you do are simply amazing! - Sandy Herrick

  3. It has been great for the whole family. She is a really neat person and she brings her experience and world view to our table each evening. How great it would be for us to experience any part of Africa with visit - you are lucky to have traveled so much, Liza.

    Sandy, we are fairly unorthodox here, but all to broaden our experience. Thanks for your comments.