Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My wonderful Host Family: The Macharias

I have now been in Nairobi for one week. Everything is still very new. I am beginning to know my way around certain parts of town, but every smell, every person, every plant and animal is a new experience for me.
My Host Family
After a full day of adjusting to my new home, I spent four days with my host family in the Laresho neighborhood of Nairobi. My family, the Macharias, consists of Baba Bobby, Mama Juju, and three boys Mwangi, Njonjo, and Kahagi. Bobby studied computer science at Cleveland University (in Cleveland, Ohio) when he was younger and now runs two businesses in I.T. and marketing using his leadership and computer skills. He is also very involved in Laresho Presbyterian Church as what would be considered an elder and financial manager. Juju is the CEO of the East African sector of a major cereal company and is a founding member of a foundation that extends classical music training into the lives of children from a wide range of backgrounds. Obviously these activities do not define my host parents completely, but it gives you a small glimpse into their lives here in Nairobi. They live in a suburban gated community located directly adjacent to one of the major slums in Nairobi. They are reminded daily of what they have and take seriously their responsibility to help others in need.
My brother Mwangi was accepted into a leadership academy in South Africa that is a feeder school for Ivy League schools and other world class educational opportunities. He left for school on Sunday morning, so most of the time I was with the family was spent celebrating this accomplishment with family friends and relatives. I spent most of the time talking with my host dad, Bobby, about societal norms in Kenya. The school system and parents put a lot of emphasis on education and picking a career track in order to specialize your education at a young age. Many students start taking classes to help them with specific career goals starting at age 13. He was surprised that people he met in college in the US were going to school without picking a profession to focus on first. Mwangi wants to be a neurosurgeon and has been working toward being a doctor for a while. Now that he is 17, he has a whole new life in a new country to figure out while working on career and life goals. He is a very mature 17 year-old.
Western Influence
There is a lot of Western influence in middle class life. The kids dressed in American fashion, we watched American TV shows and listened to American popular music. School is taught in English, so the language of business and daily conversation is also mostly English. It seems like some more personal conversations are spoken in Swahili or other native languages, but for the younger generation English is their first language and Swahili is learned in school like I learned German or Spanish. Many native languages are being lost with the generation of kids being born in the city. Rev. Edward Buri talked to us today about languages as a form of wisdom. We can learn another culture’s wisdom by learning their language, but if we don’t know our own we can lose our identity.
Going to Church
The church service I went to on Sunday at Laresho Presbyterian Church was very spiritually uplifting. The music worship and messages given by the pastors and members is a gift that I am very happy to accept. I come to this new place with an empty cup ready to be filled. This Sunday was a special recognition Sunday for one of the pastors. We sang songs in English, Swahili, and Kikuyu, had special “thank you” speeches from leaders of different ministry groups, had a baptism, listened to a powerful sermon by Rev. Phyllis Byrd, sang more songs, and then everyone got to walk up to personally thank the pastor for his work. The service was three hours long. Then there was a luncheon with traditional Kikuyu foods and Coke products.
I was invited to a prayer meeting at one of the member’s homes later in the day. The church was broken up into groups by neighborhood to have prayer meetings. Simon – a man I met at church – was hosting the group this month. There were twelve or thirteen people there led by a minister. We sang many more songs as a small group, the minister took prayer requests related to family and then on the topic of Kenya. Once we had discussed the issues on our minds, we stood up to hold hands for a long group prayer where most people added something. After the prayers and songs, we had tea and snacks. I was able to talk with three young men about Kenya and the US. Hopefully I can become good friends with them this year. One of them, Harun, invited me to visit his home village that he left in order to complete school. He is 18 and must work to pay for living expenses as well as school. I have great respect for the ambition and hard work that so many like Harun have. This is truly an inspired place.


  1. I am glad you are doing well and getting adjusted! You are in my prayers. GBY

  2. Your mom gave me your blog address. We had talked about my daughter's trip to Malawi last year with some of her Lutheran church members. It is good to have a window on another world along with the opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives. Hope that every day brings you new insights and chances for service.

  3. Hi Ben--this is Essie. Great to be reading you blog! You mentioned that one of your host brothers is at a leadership Academy in SA. Is it the African Leadership Academy? If so, I heard a cool story about it on NPR right after I got back from orientation!
    Sounds like quite an incredible venture. I hope that your brother is enjoying it.

  4. Essie,
    I believe it is the African Leadership Academy! I will have to show the NPR clip to my host parents. That is pretty cool. Hope everything is going well in Louisville!