Sunday, July 6, 2014

Changing Tastes

No caption needed!
I saw it all in slow motion. I had just poured the last of my M&M’s into a cup to savor the pretty colors and smell the chocolate. I reached in for a few and carelessly brought them out of the cup when the unthinkable happened. Two of those marvelous little treats tumbled downward.  I watched in disbelief as yellow and blue hit the floor. In a split second I choose to do something I never could have imagined doing. I picked them both up and ate them.  This was serious and those little bits of chocolate goodness are rare here. OK, maybe that story is a little exaggerated. I can’t actually remember what color they were, but there were two and I ate them off a Kenyan floor!

Who is this stranger "mgeni" that you thought you knew? What has happened to me? How could I change this much in only 4 months? I have been adapting and changing in ways I never imagined possible. I have been learning and growing, hurting and crying, laughing and celebrating. Some days I excel in school and feel like I have it all figured out and other days I cannot even correctly say “Jina langu ni Shannon- My name is Shannon”. Sometimes, I have so many emotions wrapped up in one event that I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. 

Let me give you an example. I have been here at language school for 10 weeks. During that time
My friend sporting her new Kenyan skirt. 
another family has been here finishing school. They befriended me, taught me about cooking, shopping and life in Kenya. They shared tasty treats with me and showed me where to buy cheap movies. They were there for a chat when I needed someone to talk to and their 12 and 13 year old sons are some of the most polite and helpful young men I have ever met. Their 4-year-old son always had some exciting story to tell me or just wanted to kick the soccer ball around and play with me. They are a wonderful family who is serving the Lord and He blessed me by allowing me to know them.

Saturday they left for their new home, where they will serve for 3 years. The vehicles were loaded, we said our good-byes and as they drove away, I began to cry. Saying good-bye is something missionaries do a lot and not only when they leave their home countries. This was the first real good-bye I have had here in Kenya. I was excited for my friends "rafiki zangu" to be heading to the place where they will settle in and begin their ministry. I was jealous, because I’m not at that point yet. I was sad for myself because of the loss of missionary friends who get what I am going through and will no longer be here to talk to every day.

As I walked back up the hill to my house, I said a prayer for them for safe travels and a wonderful start in their new home. Then, my thoughts drifted to the box that they had brought me earlier that morning. It was full of left over food items that they weren’t going to take with them and all I could think about was one item in that box, a partial bag of pepperoni. I had commented that I didn’t know you could get pepperoni here and I was told: “It was brought from America.” Those are words that bring a smile to any missionaries face. Something from home, something familiar, something that you understand. Sometimes you just need that.

"Christmas in June" came in the form of a suitcase from home.  Thanks to those involved in getting it to me!
As tears fell from my eyes, my mouth began to water. I needed some atropine (sorry for the medical reference- just google it). I dug through the box and saw slices of different types of cheese (some I have never tried), real butter (I haven’t splurged on that yet), homemade mango jelly (it’s great and I get to keep the little jar) and the ½ full bag of pepperoni. It was like Christmas in July!

I cooked the pepperoni in the microwave and used it to top some oven-toasted bread with cheese and tomato slices. A quick version of pizza that tasted so wonderful it is making my mouth water again just thinking about it. I was still sad that my friends had left, but I found comfort in their generosity and their left over food.  

At this point all my friends in the mental health professions (who I know are always analyzing everything I say and do) are having a field day with this whole blog. Let me just spell it out for you, whether good or bad, missionaries tend to turn to food for comfort. That has become my reality.  

Today's Chai time snack- Fried Termites of course!
Before leaving America I always asked missionaries 2 basic questions. “What is your most interesting story from (insert wherever they served)?” and “What did you miss the most?” In answer to the first question I usually got some pauses and some interesting stories. Then one missionary explained that after awhile things became so routine and normal that you forget that they are different and interesting to people back home. Animals running through church services and eating bugs aren’t “weird” anymore and the things in American are what shock you (but more on the topic of reverse culture shock in my newsletter).

The answers to the second question surprised me at first. They always involved food items, whether spices, dressings, barbeque sauce, candy, pop tarts or favorite dishes at American restaurants. The missionaries would drift off and almost drool as they recounted what they had missed the most. When I began asking that question, I had suspected the answers would be the reliable electric power, running hot water at the tap all the time, clean floors, clothes that smelled like home, or a firm mattress and a roof that doesn’t leak on that mattress when it rains.

All the answers I got were about food. Wow, that’s not what I expected, but now I understand. Food brings us comfort and reminds us of home. We do get frustrated when “stima imepotea”, the electric is lost, and it was wonderful to pull out a pair of socks that had not been worn yet and smelled like “home”. However, when we get together at "chai" tea time and begin talking we almost always end up on the subject of food.

At one point this week when starting to write this post I wondered if I should just change my blog to “Cooking in Kenya”, since all I wanted to talk about was food. Most of you realize that I didn’t like to cook and didn’t cook much in America. The people who bought my house got a 9 year old almost brand new stove thanks to that fact!

Peanut butter cookies with chocolate!
Being single I learned how to get by with a few basic dishes and did some baking, but most things I could buy or acquire with little effort and little cost. Not the case here. If I am craving something I probably can’t get it here. So what do you do? Consult other missionaries and the Internet and figure out if its something you can make or adapt from other things.  I knew technology would be wonderful for communicating with family and friends, but didn’t realize I would use it in so many other ways, like in the kitchen. I can find recipes for the ingredients I have and read comments and search for how to make substitutions. Did you know you could make sour cream from heavy cream and vinegar? Streaky bacon is like American bacon? Brown sugar can be made from sugar and molasses? There are apps to help convert temperatures from Fahenheit to Celcius and charts to help adapt to cooking at high altitudes. Cooking here is like a science experiment and I like science! Cooking in America was boring!

I have made pizza (on the stove top- see my last blog for that story), onion rings (finally got them perfect this week), cake doughnuts with icing (didn't think it was warm enough that day for the dough to rise for yeast doughnuts), 
Apple crisp, baking pan made of foil, the adaptations abound. 
peanut butter cookies with cadbury's chocolate on top (just as good as a hershey's kiss), and an apple crisp (in honor of July 4th).

I have to admit that some of these items are made with a lot of substitutions and to me they taste wonderful, but I’m not sure how you all might rate them. When I tell people here that I like a certain item, I now qualify my answer with “but I have been here for 4 months and my tastes have changed”. It’s true and surprising to me. I think the Kenyan green-yellow oranges are so sweet and wonderful and another missionary reminded me that other "Wazungu" white foreigners, would probably call them too sour. I am now drinking the UHT (ultra high temp pasteurized) milk from the box and loving it (my teammates are all shaking their heads because I said I would never be able to drink it).

Someone asked for my salsa recipe and I have to admit, all I did was chop up tomatoes, green peppers, red onions and cilantro. Then I added a little pepper and garlic and it was wonderful. Sweets here are a lot less sweet than the American versions and right now I don’t always like them, but it will be interesting to see how I feel in 3 years. Will I think American sweets are “too sweet”? I was warned by a friend to learn to make Kenyan foods that I really like, because that’s what I will crave when I return to America and no one there will know how to make them.

Four months here and it really is amazing to think about all I have learned, what I have done and the ways I have changed. Each day is a gift from God and an adventure.  From using a few words of Swahili to help me get my visitors visa renewed quickly, to learning how to cook termites and actually eating some. From dealing with the bad days at school, when nothing seems to make sense, to appreciating my language helpers sense of humor when she tells me people will not laugh because I said it wrong they will laugh because of my accent. Thanks! Putting all my public health knowledge into practice as I spend hours cleaning and then disinfecting my fruits and vegetables. Then praying that I did everything correctly so I will not get sick. Being thankful for sunny laundry days so sheets will dry and you can actually remake your bed that same day.

Adapting to the cold by using the fashion trend of layering!
Life is full of change no matter where you are and it is not always easy or fun. I know that I will continue to learn and grow, hurt and cry, laugh and celebrate and God will be with me through it all. He is my strength through it all and I spend a lot of time each day talking to him. 

So now I say another prayer for my friends, as they should have arrived at their new home tonight. I thank them for their friendship and for the wonderful Godly example of a family that they share with others. I thank God for new students at the language school and the chance to make more friends who I will also have to say good bye to in another 5-6 weeks. That’s the life of a missionary, full of emotion and many wonderful hellos and tearful good byes. I would not trade it for anything and would not want to be anywhere else right now. God has me right where I need to be. Bwana Asifiwe. Bwana Asifiwe tena. Praise God. Praise God again.
Kingereza (English)

Philippians 4:13 I can do everything, through him who gives me strength.

Kiswahili (Swahili)

Wafilipi 4:13 Nayaweza mambo yote katika yeye anitiaye nguvu.

Kiturkana (Turkana)

Ngipilipi 4:13 Eyei ayong ationis na asubea ngakiro daang kotere agogongu naketaanyuni Kiristo.


  1. Shannon, it is delightful to hear of your experiences and the ways you are adapting to all aspects of living. Isn't it amazing how we really can do things, like things, and make things we never thought possible? I think of you as I sit here with Remy--he loves to help me on the computer--and I am thankful our paths crossed when they did. Is there anything we can send you? If so, please message me and let me know the best way to get it to you. Take care friend and embrace all things God has in store for you each day. Love and hugs--and licks and purrs from Remy and his pals.

  2. Oh, Shannon, another wonderful glimpse of your developing life in Kenya. I'm so proud of you for not wasting your chocolate. We will have to keep you supplied! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us - it enhances our prayers for you. Missing you....