Cootie Catchers and Male Advances in Kenya
Hamjambo Pink Pangea readers! I’m rounding up my stay here in Kenya, and it has been a journey. I’ll miss RUSH Academy (the primary school that I’m working at) and all the students and teachers there. Today, I taught my teacher friend Eugene’s seventh grade class how to make cootie catchers.
Do you remember those? The paper fortune tellers? You use your thumb and forefinger to open and close it, and then lift up the inner flaps to find out the answer to your question? They were cool when I was in primary school, so I thought it might be a fun game for the kids.
In the staff room as I was preparing, the other teachers stood around me in awe as I began folding a piece of paper into this prophetic contraption. One after another, they began asking questions as I wielded the cootie catcher. “Will I be at RUSH next year?” “Am I married?” “Will I eat ugali tomorrow?” The list was endless.
He closed his eyes and pointed at the number six, I lifted the flap. “In your dreams,” I read. His eyes lit up, “I am in your dreams?”
One of the male teachers approached for his turn. He stared at me, then at the cootie catcher, then back at my face. “Will you love me?” he asked. I rolled my eyes. “Pick a color,” I instructed. I was fervently hoping that the answer would be a negative one. “Ok, now pick a number,” I continued. He closed his eyes and pointed at the number six, I lifted the flap. “In your dreams,” I read. His eyes lit up, “I am in your dreams?”
“No,” I blurted. “It means only in your dreams will I love you.” His face fell and I feltbad. It was a pretty harsh rejection. And yet, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how my attitude around these men had changed. When I first arrived, I had such a difficult time acclimating to this new environment, and to the forwardness of all the men—especially in my workplace. At the primary school where I teach, all the employees seem to be young males, and as an American girl, I seem to be a Catch with a capital C. Especially in my small village, mzungu ladies are rare.
If you ever venture outside Kenya’s major cities, you will probably find yourself the object of much (mostly unwanted) male attention. I would walk down the street to choruses of “Mzungu, come greet me! I love the way you are!” and even a proposal or two.
At the end of the day, words are just words. I can’t control what is said, but I can control how I react to it.
When I first started working, I had an incredibly difficult time dealing with this. I found myself accumulating a great deal of animosity towards all of these men who made me feel so objectified. However, the longer I am in Kenya, the more I realize that it is unfair for me to be angry at someone for what their culture instills in them. Kenyan men, in general, are bolder in their advances than their American counterparts. Throw into the mix that I am a mzungu woman from the wealthiest nation in the world, and really, what could I expect? Clearly, my surroundings were not going to change—so, I had to.
The male teachers here are still the same. Rather, I am the one who is different. I am calmer in their presence, I let almost nothing bother me. At the end of the day, words are just words. I can’t control what is said, but I can control how I react to it.