Nairobi Family Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2014 was my first big holiday I spent away from home.  I was in Nairobi trying to decide if I was going to move here.  In many ways, that first Thanksgiving here really confirmed that I could do the whole moving away from my country, culture, and family thing.  In the month that I visited Nairobi I already started to feel connected to the community here and I knew a few people that I could form friendships with.  During that trip God confirmed that Nairobi would be “home” for me and gave me the words “rich and full” to describe what my life would be like.  A year and a half living in Nairobi, three Thanksgivings, and six Thanksgiving celebrations later and I can confidently say that God has been faithful to fulfill his promises regarding my life here.

This year was my first year hosting Thanksgiving.  I co-hosted with one of my good friends Ryan.  We both wanted our party to be meaningful, beautiful, intimate, and special for our guests.  Personally, whenever I host anything, I want people to feel welcome, loved, and like they belong.  Ryan and I were committed to having a sit down, family-style dinner.  For that reason, we tried to keep the party “small.”  We ended up with around 30 guests.  It was much larger than we originally expected, but it was perfect.  I am obviously biased, but I think our party was one of the most lovely Thanksgiving celebrations.  We went all out with it: hand written paper invitations (nothing else quite says :your presence is valued”like a real invitation), fall decorations imported from the US, candles and fresh flowers on each table, festive drinks, and all the traditional Thanksgiving food.  We started with hors d’oeuvres and drinks while people mingled, then we had a sit down dinner followed by dessert and games.  During dessert the power went out, but people were not phased, and the party kept going.  We just lit more candles.

Everyone pitched in to make the celebration a success.  We borrowed chairs and table cloths and assigned people different things to bring.  I am so thankful for all of the help we received both before and during the event to make it happen.  One of my favorite things about Nairobi Thanksgiving is  getting to share a wonderful American holiday with friends from all over the world.  We had guests from the UK, Northern Ireland, South Korea, The Netherlands, US, Kenya, and France.  It was some people’s first Thanksgiving.  Even though we are from all over the place and have different reasons for being in Nairobi, this group of people has become another family to me.  I was overly sentimental and sappy the whole night.  I was happy to celebrate with people who know what it is like to live far from home, to need to get support from people you might not know very well, and who know how simultaneously frustrating and wonderful life in Kenya is.

Living in Kenya has been hard.  Truthfully, it has been the hardest thing that I have ever done.  But, it has been well worth it. I have gained more than I could have imagined.  I have learned about myself, God, people, how to throw a great party, and the beautiful messiness of life.  I am so thankful for my life here, the hard-fought battles, the people who laugh and cry with me, the crazy adventures, all the ways I have grown.  I’m thankful for Thanksgiving.  I love that it gives us a time to stop, gather around the people who we love, and intentionally bring to mind the good things in our lives.  Nairobi has become home and my life is more rich and full than I ever could have hoped.

-HD

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Subtle sexism – on being silenced

On Sunday I went to a wedding and experienced a subtle but really discouraging form of sexism.  I was standing and talking to one of the other wedding guests when an elderly man approached us and asked us how we knew the couple because he didn’t recognize us.  Many of the wedding guests were students at the seminary where the couple goes and the man introduced himself as a professor at the seminary.  I think that he assumed that the other guest and I were together, but in actuality we were talking because we had met the night before and neither of us really knew anyone else.  The man asked us how we knew the bride and groom.  I mentioned that I have known the bride since I was in middle school and the other guest mentioned that the same thing was true for him and the groom.  At this point I would have thought that the man caught on to the fact that the other guest and I weren’t together since he grew up knowing the groom and I grew up knowing the bride.

However, he continued to talk to us as if we were together.  Or at least I hope that was the reason for his behavior because the other option would be that he just ignored me.  He continued talking to us for a bit, but only asked the other guest what he did.  It was as if the other guest was answering for both of us.  Which was hilarious because we had just met.  I was standing there, waiting for the man to address me, to ask me questions as well, to include me in the conversation, but he never did. I was effectively silenced throughout the conversation.  Other than saying how I knew the bride, I wasn’t able to contribute.

The situation was especially annoying because the other guest and I had just met, but even if I had been with a boyfriend or I were married and talking to my husband, it would have been frustrating.  The conversation communicated that my voice, experiences, and opinions didn’t matter, that a man should speak on my behalf– even if it’s a man that I met less than 24 hours ago. It was incredibly disempowering.  It could have been just an awkward social circumstance, but with how often I see the voices of women silenced it felt really sexist.  I doubt the man had any intention of coming across this way.  Socialization plays such a huge role in our interactions that I don’t think the issue is with this man in particular but rather with how little female voices are valued.

Right now with my job I am expected to do public speaking and honestly I really enjoy that part of my job.  I am good at running meetings.  I like teaching and consulting.  From the time I was young I was always in leadership roles in different organizations.  I wonder though, if I get married  will I be expected to just stand there when my husband is asked about what we do?  I wonder if I’ll be included in the conversation, if I’ll be able to use the talents that God has given me.  I often wonder about couples where the man speaks on behalf of both of them, particularly in religious settings.  Does the wife not want to speak?  If not, that’s fine.  Maybe she doesn’t like public speaking. But, when I’m talking to two people I want to hear both of their experiences.  The opinions and experiences of women are just as important and valuable as men’s.  And they are different.  And this is good.  Women are worth listening to.

-Hannah