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The Kenya You See, Is The Kenya They Let You See

I have traveled to Kenya many times and I visit mostly and among the Luo Tribe. I want to share with you some fundamental truths about Kenya that may go against what you think you know or what you want to believe.  It isn’t my intention you from whatever God is asking you to accomplish, but rather I wish to simply let you know the score so that you might be forewarned and potentially more effective.

We’re smiling all the time

To begin with, Kenya wears a mask which it shows to outsiders for various reasons.  People who visit Kenya rarely understand what is going on around them.  The Kenyan people, being very perceptive, realize that Mzungu’s or “white people” have certain reasons for coming to their country and certain expectations.  Kenyan’s have found, through long experience, that when they meet these expectations it can lead to financial rewards and access to the west.

Pervasive poverty is soul crushing.  When your children do not have school fees or even enough food to eat, it can test even the best of Christians faith and resolve.  When you don’t know how you will make it until tomorrow the prospect of making some quick cash, even if you have to lie to do it, is sometimes tempting.  Western people, who usually know little about true poverty, don’t understand what such economic disparity really means when dealing with people in Kenya.

Throwing cash around

To be honest, because many have come to Kenya for short visits and thrown a lot of cash around, we contribute to the “gold rush” mentality that locals have towards westerners.  Due to the fact that many have limited time and want to do a lot  we want to get things done in a hurry.  People have a tendency to play up to that desire and tell you anything they think you want to hear in order to get us to loosen  our purse strings. As a general rule of thumb anything done in a “hurry” in Kenya is usually wasted effort.

Many seek to get between you and the person or people you wish to help.  They seek to “help” you do what you want to accomplish.  Perhaps you do not speak the language and so they offer to help translate. However they may not translate exactly what you are saying, but rather tell the people what they want them to hear.  One such translator did not like the message a western preacher spoke so mocked the preacher through mistranslating the whole message.  The minister did not understand why the congregation was laughing during points He considered serious. He was devastated when He learned what had happened.

Don’t worry, I can take care of that for you

Maybe you will not be able to send help, financial or otherwise, directly a person so someone will “volunteer” to receive the money and then give the funds to them.  Kenyan’s will try anything to put themselves in-between you and what you are doing so they can divert some or perhaps all to themselves or people they know.  I personally left a bible and 100 dollars for a widow and her orphaned children with a “trusted” minister just before I left for the USA.  I found out later that the widow received the Bible but never saw the money.  This type of behavior is endemic in Kenya.

Western people have a certain level of decency below which many of us will not go, but that is not so in Kenya.  Very few people in Kenya have such a stopping point.  Those who come to Kenya find it difficult to believe that people would steal food from orphans, but steeling from the weak is common in East Africa.  There are a few individuals who walk straight and have “common decency”, but surprisingly few.  Some have described Africa as the heart of darkness and in reality that is not far off the mark.

 Do not trust anyone quickly in Kenya

Unless God says so, never trust anyone quickly in Kenya.  As a rule of thumb,  don’t trust a Kenyan without knowing them for at least a year or more.  Kenyans are quite capable of “lying low” for a quite a while if they think there is a payoff.  As long as they feel there is some pay off coming, they will pretend to be with you.  It might seem harsh but I know whereof I speak.

The problem is that some who come to Kenya like to believe the gushing praise Kenyans heap upon them.  After experiencing lack luster Christianity in the west,  it’s exciting to have find receptive people.  People are open to the gospel, but more so in the countryside rather than the cities.  “Revivals” in the city are a weekly, if not a daily, occurrence.  In the cities many are jaded and only come to crusades for the music.

The rural areas are more difficult, but more rewarding

Traditional Luo village, as depicted at Bomas ...

If you go into the rural areas people tend to want to hear the word of God.  They may wish to get something from you, but it is not as pronounced as in the metropolitan areas.

Kenyans are extremely good liars and really do consider you fair game.  People will even coordinate between themselves  to make you believe that you are saving the world.  They will tell you anything that ties you to them.  At the same time they will accuse anyone else that may be infringing on their Mzungu.

Here is a truth,

“The Hyena never thanks the Gazelle for dinner.”

(This means, that some Kenyans just want to eat off you.)

You can still do good if you take things slow

In conclusion, what I have said is the unvarnished truth about Kenya.  If your experience has been different you, most likely, have little idea what is truly going on.  Go very slow in Africa and make sure that those around you are truly for you. Remember, fast in Kenya is almost always a disaster.

There is true need in Kenya if you have the patience and funding to dig down to it.  It will not happen overnight and it will most probably cost 5 times your budget.  Take is easy and do not rush.  Find people you think  you can trust and then prove them over time.  Don’t try to do too much at once and when you commit to a few follow through.

Circle Of Life from the Lion King