Joyce is an immigrant from Kenya. She is currently pursuing her bachelors of nursing. I am always intrigued by other cultures so I was excited to interview Joyce about growing up in Kenya.
Where were you born?
I was born in Vihigo County, Kenya. At this point I pull up google maps. We zoom in on her area of Africa and she visibly gets excited. “Oh, there’s my village! Mbale!” She says, pointing. Joyce didn’t know her village was big enough to make it on the map. But, in fact, there is a dot for Mbale. I was born in the village and only the only people who move away are women who get married. But these women still have ties.
How big is your Village? What is the population?
I don’t know. I don’t really think of it in those terms but instead by the familiarity of knowing everyone.
Is there a more important heritage, your father or mothers side?
The fathers side is more important. Men carry on the family name. Men will inherit the family land. Just recently can women also inherit the farm, even if they are not married. Mostly men inherit and the land is divided among the family. The youngest does get the biggest part because he usually stays with the parents til their old age and will take care of them. Then the oldest brother will get the second biggest part of the land. And so on…this is the case even if men are unmarried. Parents are buried on the land. So even if the land is up for sale the family cannot sell the part of the land that has parents buried in it. This is an attempt to preserve the burial area. In some cases the family forgets about the burial place and then it is sold.
What was it like growing up in Mbale?
The best. (She says this emphatically and incisively, no hesitation). I was constantly surrounded by family members. People [in the community] would always tell me, “You are related to this person through this, and so on…”. It was a collected family. I didn’t have to look for friends because someone was always around. But we didn’t have much: no running water, no electricity, no indoor plumbing. We had a farm.
What did you grow on the farm?
Maize, corn (she adds to clarify), beans in between the corn, vegetables, banana plants, papyrus, mango trees, avocado trees, cows, chickens, goats, sheep.
Is this what was on everyone’s typical farm?
Yes. Well off people live in the capital-[live a lifestyle you would find ]like america-and a few miles away you find these villages.
What was a typical day for you?
School for 8 hours. In school we had lots of recess time unlike here in America. WE had our own desks that we were required to bring from home. I would come home, fetch water[at the local water well] and do chores. And chores were just something you had to do. We would never get rewarded for it and we get punished if you didn’t do them. Also, your neighbors could beat you and your parents don’t disagree.
How would you get beaten? A stick?
A stick or pinches.
At this point I prompt her for a story where she remembers getting in trouble. She hesitates, experiencing the shame even all these later) Well I remember two times : One time my grandma bought me a new sweater. I wore it to school one day and my friend said, ‘Oh it’s not right we need to fix it. So we pulled the thread out to fix it. So we did and we unraveled the sweater. [Afterwards] I couldn’t even put it on. When I got home my grandma kept asking, ‘Where’s the sweater? Where’s the sweater?’ I didn’t have it and she figured it out. I got in trouble and she pinched me. Another time, I was always told to stop climbing the trees. I climbed a tree and fell and got hurt and started crying. My grandma came over and beat me first and then checked to see if I was hurt. I had to go to the hospital after.
What did you do for your birthdays? How were they celebrated?
Nothing. Birthdays are not celebrated.
Really? So no cake or special treat?
So is it even a day that’s remembered by a person?
Sometimes. Sometimes its forgotten. Usually other people tell you. I only celebrated it while in college. Christmas, however, is very special.
Is there anything you miss about Mbale?
I miss my family. I miss having people to rely on, being by each other constantly. People stop by constantly. Everyone shares.
Is there anything you wish Americans knew more about your culture or traditions or Africa?
We recognize the beauty we have in our head ( she says pointing to her head).Even though our culture can be hard to understand just try to understand it. [With cultural traditions]….be open minded, try to understand there are roots to our traditions. For example we don’t have Halloween in Africa but you celebrate it here. I have often refrained from doing cultural things here because of the feeling that I wouldn’t be understood or that someone would judge me. At home we have this tradition that a mother and her newborn baby don’t leave the house for 1 month after the birth. When the baby is one month old we shave their whole head. It often makes their hair grow back better. This is not something I did here although I wanted to because of the feeling that I would be judged.