one of our favorite sights

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Exercising Patience

I am still getting used to the pace in Kenya, as it is, I think it’s fair to say, the complete opposite of our pace at home.   Of course, since  I am not working, my time is my own,  and since I am new to this community I am just getting my feet wet in terms of opportunities , but also there is not so much pressure to be DOING DOING DOING all of the time.  Kenyans get together and hang out regularly, and it is not considered a waste of time. It creates community, connections, bonds and ties which are very important to people here. Somehow we have gotten away from this mentality in the U.S., where just passing time with people is considered beneficial or valuable. Seems we must always be producing something or getting something done! Michael and I both had fallen victim to this state of mind while at home and we are learning to undo some of that way of thinking.
Recently, I was standing in line at Safaricom, which is the big Kenyan internet/cell phone server, and I was  next to a pleasant young man who clearly was on his lunch break from his office and he was sort of agitated at how long it was taking to get served. He kept looking around for the next available client server and I was just standing there playing it very cool. We waited together for about 45 minutes and having considered leaving, and after hearing him utter “they are very slow” I said aloud, “well, I’m not sure I can wait any longer.” This young man looked at me and said,  “you are in Kenya . You must exercise patience. Kenyan people are very very patient. “  I smiled and said, “well, that’s true, and I must learn this way because I come from America where people are not very patient. “ So that was my little lesson for the day.  When I think about all of the things that the people here must wait for, from the big, like for their leaders to actually deal with the issues that affect the wellbeing of the citizenry, or for a village to get water or electricity after decades of waiting; to the small, like patiently looking for and collecting wood everyday for cooking their meals  on a fire, then I do feel  admonished.
Michael has also been learning to exercise patience as he deals with the Kenyan concept of time and communication.   He is working on rectifying issues with some buildings that AMPATH has built and also is preparing  to begin this new project. He coined the new term, “molassification” for how things move here in Kenya. No offense, but it’s true! Certainly compared to our usually hustley bustley life, where every minute was full and getting stuff done at a very fast pace is considered  a virtue. We are definitely learning to adjust.  It really seems to not be about the individual here and the individual’s time needs, but rather there is a lot of preamble and courtesy that must be considered before addressing a topic. I don’t think “cutting to the chase” or “a rush job” are concepts here.
One of our first experiences was the other day when we went to the school program in Turbo. We sat through many hours of speeches and presentations and we just sat and listened, clapped and were appreciative of the efforts being made. At home I’m sure we would have left in the middle, sneaking out the back door and shaking our heads at how long the program was!  But for this event, we were moved and pleased by the dedication of the community and happy to be included.
As another example, I went to visit a friend’s aunt the other day as she had invited me and I knew that she would make a bit of a “thing” about my coming out, which is the way with company. I also knew that in order to be polite and make it seem like I really care about this new friend, which I do, I needed to dedicate the whole afternoon to her, which is what I did. I spent 5 hours just visiting her. I can’t remember the last time I spent five hours visiting a friend!
knife sharpener who came by our house

downtown eldoret

corn roasting on street

guy carrying wood on bicycle

market in eldoret
 Every time I go to one of the places where I am trying to help, I am expected to come back and to spend more time the next time. I am getting used to this concept and although I time my volunteering visits according to my own whims at this point, I have not yet quite figured out the perfect formula, in order to please myself and not offend, but also to be relatively helpful.
So, we are learning a lot, most importantly to exercise patience, as the young man so eloquently put it. Patience is a virtue, right? I’ve always considered myself a patient person and here I am learning all over again how impatient I have become. Thanks to Kenya for teaching me that! 


  1. I can't help but feel the adventure. Thanks! Is it stressful as it may have been at the beginning? Or do you have that under control already? If you're wondering if they're thinking you're old or not, I'm SURE they would consider me an old man (well, people over here probably think that too). Tell Liam we're missing his broad connections in the youth group! Thanks again for the updates.

  2. Ha, ha, I think learning about patience is really valuable for anybody, but especially you! :)

    By the way, WE spent more than five hours visiting on the way up to Michigan and I loved it! But that was the first time in many years, wasn't it?

    So, let's ALL try to learn to value sharing time with people we love first and foremost, then second, worry about getting things done. OK?

    I guess I'm learning patience working with Kay and Alan. I'm still not very good at it (compared to whom?) after 9 months. Sigh . . .

  3. I love the term "molassification"! It's so organic.

    I do remember India and other parts of Asia seeming to be in a time warp, but as you note, it's a good thing really for all the crazy multi-taskers to slow down. In fact, as I write, a phrase that I hear a lot when I was in Kenya was, "Pole pole."