Here’s Why It’s Confusing Being Me and It Might Be Confusing Being You Too

I exist in an extremely odd shade of gray. This post will be as the title suggests, a confused convoluted conversation about confusion. Uncensored and unedited, straight from my brain to your eyes.

Discussion

I was talking to a friend of mine today. This guy is one of the first people I ever met when I came to this country and we both came when we were in high school and have pretty much entered adulthood in this country.

We Have a Very Strange Identity

Our identities are odd because:

1) We identify with Kenyan culture much more than we do the host culture: Here it’s a 50/50 split. Some people come in their teens and completely soak up this culture, the language, the fashion and make their friends and their lives here.

Then there are people like us who come here either 3/4 formed or fully formed (I of course speak of psychology, body, hormones etc etc very different story) who have been so shaped by the culture of where we came from and/or may have been rejected by the people here so we find it weird to change.

2) We Think and Act VERY Differently From Native Kenyans

Want clear proof of that? Look at this blog. I have 227 articles that I spent 9 months putting together simply because it was what I felt would be the most meaningful thing to do.

In Africa that = An idiot

Sure from time to time, some of us should get together and talk about what we should do and maybe even engage in projects part time. But engaging in a blog FULL TIME for 9 months where you pour everything into it and put the message and the purpose ahead of the money.

That’s absolute stupidity

The other differences are quite subtle but they are definitely there. What it boils down to though is:

I love where I am from and identify with it at the core of my being.

There are MANY things I dislike about my culture at the core.

There are MANY things I like about the Australian culture at my core.

A Few of My Favorite Things

I like the fact that people here, not always but enough that it counts, don’t wait for people to solve their problems but take it upon themselves to do so, starting new industries and social movements in the process.

I love the personal development movement.

I love the fact that people here are willing to put themselves on the line for an idea and won’t just sit on the sidelines criticizing.

I love the fact that people here actually think about their health AND take action in the way they eat and live to take care of their bodies.

I love the fact that people here are always testing out their boundaries in real life instead of in the abstract.

As I said, this meandering post will probably resonate with some of you who are just plain confused and feel like a tiny minority in a large Western country.

There Is No Sub-Culture For People Like Me

I am not saying this because of arrogance but its true. I know no one like me. I know no one who has feet in both puddles like I do. There are no songs sung about people like me, no movies made, no poets, no discussion groups, no forums.

I just have to spend my time immersed with African culture one day and put it to the side while I engage in Western affairs another day.

I have to speak with a certain slang one day and change it up the next.

Not That I Am Complaining

I think I have been too blessed in my life to just be outright angry about something that is ultimately not a bad quality problem to have.

This situation doesn’t really anger me. It just saddens me from time to time, because I am yet to resolve it. If this resonated with you, leave a comment below or email me and let me know what your situation is.

Working through the confusion,

Mwangi

16 Comments

  • By Corey, October 26, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

    Dear Mwangi,
    First off, I wanted to say thanks for writing this blog, and that I found the podcasts about relationships to be particularly interesting/helpful.
    And secondly, I just wanted to let you know about a poet/autor, named Shailja Patel, who is a Kenyan of Indian descent, and who writes/performs pieces about immigrant experience. I saw her perform one of her pieces about immigrant experience at college over here in the US; it was a very powerful performance. I think she performed it at the World Social Forum last time around, as well. So, the book of poems she just published is called “Migritude: An Epic Journey in Four Movements”. I think you can only get it online from an Italian website (with Italian prices!), but here is her website, too: http://www.shailja.com/
    Ok. thanks again for your blog and stay well.
    Corey
    Chicago, IL, USA

  • By Mwangi, October 26, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

    @Corey: Thanks for the link and the heads up and I am glad I could be of service via my podcasts

  • By Liban, October 27, 2008 @ 3:04 am

    I came to Canada when i was 3, so I guess i identify with western culture, more than my own, which depresses me. I appreciate the fact that I can speak impeccable english, but am saddened that i forgot much of my own language to point where i can only perform simple conversations. It hit me when day, when a girl from school I hadn’t seen in years, bumped into me on the bus. She just spent the past year doing volunteer work around Ethiopia and Djibouti and was telling me all about it, while i could only nod my head. This white chick learned more about my culture than i ever did. talk about sad.

    All the things you described about what you like in western culture Mwangi, i just take for granted. its always been that way. i tend to focus on what i hate about western culture. The excessive consumerism, infatuation with the dollar, 9-5 work week, fake politeness, etc. Dyin to get the hell out of here, and get lost somewhere real, in the 3rd world. Maybe reclaim a little heritage I lost.

  • By Mwangi, October 27, 2008 @ 3:09 am

    @Liban: Your situation is as sad as mine. How do you relate to the fresh off the boat people from where you’re from? I’d assume there’s a lot of culture clash there.
    I lost my language too…..I’ve got to get that back, that’s for sure.
    Thanks for sharing man.
    But wouldn’t you have a lot of folks like you up in Canada who you can relate to? Or doesn’t that matter?

  • By Liban, October 27, 2008 @ 9:38 am

    There is a culture clash, with people fresh of the boat, but theres a culture clash with my own parents who came here as adults. T
    he good thing is, your right, there is a buncha folks in the same position as me that i can relate to, kind of like the sub culture you were talking about that doesn’t exist for you in oz.
    I think the other Somalis who’ve been living in Australia for awhile could probably relate to what im saying.

    I always pictured Oz as having the good parts of western culture, without all the bad. People tell me, that’s been changing. Either way, I’m still trying to find affordable education somewhere in Oz, and transfer there as a college student. My friend just came back after a year working over there, and said it was great.

  • By Mwangi, October 27, 2008 @ 7:05 pm

    @Liban: Don’t get it twisted, this place is awesome and in my opinion is definitely the greatest country in the world, especially when it comes to material things, culture of the people, safety and some other factors.
    As for this place changing, I used to think it was becoming more “Americanized” too, but its still Australia, where in a country town you can spend hours talking to the guy in the milk bar and people are friendly and respectful to you (and they force it even when they don’t mean it).
    Yeah, like I don’t have that much of a culture clash with my mother and father. There are one or two points we disagree on, e.g. this blog, but other than that, me and my folks relate quite well. My grandparents on the other hand, another kettle of fish.
    Get applying for a visitor visa, start saving your money and get your travel on brother, summer time is coming in Oz and it truly is an extremely hot sight to behold and experience – in a number of ways including probably the hottest summers on Earth outside of desert areas.

  • By Hilary, October 28, 2008 @ 12:41 am

    Hi Mwangi ..you’ve got a really interesting blog or site .. whichever term you wish to use .. this has to be beneficial to all kinds of people around the world – I congratulate you. I look forward to spending more time looking at the various articles etc .. I’ll be back & will post more in the future. I used to live in South Africa for 14 years, and am enjoying the personal development & psychological educational processes – while learning the technological aspects of the internet life ..while I help my mother through her last chapter after three strokes … she can still communicate, which makes life so much easier .. & has opened these other doors for me = interesting times .. we have to make life interesting .. and we have to learn & grow. Good luck and please don’t stop .. excellent .. bye Hilary in England!

  • By Mwangi, October 28, 2008 @ 12:53 am

    @Hilary: Thanks for the kind words and welcome to the Displaced African (tDA). Me think today I am in the “let’s-call-it-a-blog” mood and me thinks tomorrow might be the “lets-call-it-a-web-resource” mood :P

    I hope these are indeed interesting times for you and your mother.

    B blesd

  • By Carol Achieng Otieno, October 28, 2008 @ 1:15 am

    I reckon a little bit of confusion happens to everybody who is in the diaspora, every once in a while. Diaspora is the term we use up here in the Netherlands to refer to people especially Africans who are living away from the continent and in the West. Many of my Kenyan friends who are able to, make a point of visiting Kenya at least once a year (that’s during the December hols), just to be in touch with home and enjoy being in a place where you’re less likely to be judged by the colour of your skin.
    My position? I used to complain soooo much when I was back in Kenya, but being here in Holland as long as I’ve been, makes me have a greater appreciation of my country. Compared to most African countries, I think Kenyans are a hospitable lot, a lot less fake and a lot less superstitious.
    When in comes to the West, as a friend of mine put it, there has to be a compromise for many confused people. We have to draw on their positives (being on time as an example, keeping a promise or your word, as another, and just being efficient in whatever one does), and combine them with our positives (the culture of hospitality, the culture of diplomacy in the way we handle things, our tradition, respect for elders, discipline etc). Completely trash out the negatives: miro-timing (African time – I still need help in this area as I once in a while get late for one thing or other), for the West (the racism) – the best way I deal with a racist person (is just overlook it, don’t let it get to me, at best – I’m a great person, their loss!). Another way to work out of the confusion is just to focus. We all have dreams and desires, achievements and goals to set. If you have set your goals, and you’re fulfilled, and you’re doing the best you can with the resources you have at hand, you’re a winner regardless of what anyone thinks.
    On a personal basis, I think I’d like to achieve more. And as for the upbringing of my child, I’d love for my baby to grow up not in the West but in Africa, I’m still in awe of the way we discipline our kids!

  • By Mwangi, October 28, 2008 @ 1:21 am

    @Carol: Thanks co-writer for chiming in. I don’t know if I have spoken about this before but in your previous statement I noticed something that we as Africans do quite a lot of once we come out to the West: we focus a great deal on the negatives of the West and contrast them with the positives of home.
    In fact I would dare say no one on Earth loves Africa more than an African in the diaspora because all of a sudden things that we took for granted back home are the reasons Westerners pale in comparison to us.
    That is one of the reasons I started this site and my hope is over time we will focus more and more and more and more on our collective culture as Afropolitans and what we want to bring to it and what we want to exclude from it.

    In fact, I think that’s what I will make my next post about. What do we want to put in our Afropolitan constitution and what do we want to eliminate from it?

    Thanks for the tips, I hope folks take them to heart………

  • By Nightal, November 3, 2008 @ 10:34 pm

    Hi Mwangi,

    Your post was though-provoking to me. These are my reflections about it, but I am no expert – merely want to share some thoughts.

    I am a child of an English mother and Canadian father. Both toured a fair bit, including spending some time in Africa. I’d like to post my father’s photos of Africa online sometime soon – he was in Kenya in 1969.

    Although I don’t want to belittle your struggle, I think a great deal of people in Australia feel the same way, as many people in this country are immigrants or their children.

    My personal experience was only slightly similar to yours, as my parents were from a European, English-speaking background. Both of them had very different upbringings though – my grandmother had only one child and took my mother to Rhodesia, while my father grew up on a bleak Canadian farm in the middle of nowhere. They had habits that never quite fit into our neighbourhood, but made a few older friends in the street.

    I still found myself identifying with your feelings because I have felt devastating loneliness at times. I have found it isolating that others are completely different to me and have no way of understanding or relating – sometimes due to troubles, sometimes due to grief. Having lost my father to suicide, I know this affliction can be immensely harmful, although his was quite an extreme case.

    I have learnt to take comfort in the fact that we really are completely different to everyone else, simply because we are all completely unique – and that no other person could possibly see our troubles from our perspective anyway. I have come to realise that dwelling on that perspective can possibly be more of a hinderance.

    Although my personal position is quite unlike yours, I can see similarities between you and many other people in this country, and hope you take comfort. You also seem to share a lot of sentiments with some of the original Australians. They frequently describe feeling wedged between two cultures, having lost connections with their culture and language skills. They can feel stuck between the original culture of this country, and the newer, western ways which are very much geared around economic gains and financial goals (I agree with you about the apparent emptiness of these pursuits).

    You wrote some time ago: one of the great things about Australia is finding out you share simple commonalities with others – often of an entirely different background, such as India or elsewhere…. I remember you mentioning how refreshing you found it to start out believing you were so very different, only to be reminded how similar all people really are. I thought that was a very important lesson to have learnt and to have shared.

    I do feel for your loss of your language skills, but feel certain you will retain it in your memory and perhaps regain them some day. It is quite common for people to take the time making friends, but end up with a broad support from others in their community years after they arrive in a new country.

    At any rate, I hope you find whatever you need here, and encourage you in your pursuits on this web site. It certainly brings a lot to many others who might find themself in similar circumstances, so you should feel immense pride in that alone.

    Best regards,
    Nightal

  • By Mwangi, November 4, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

    @Nightal: I don’t know much else to say but thank you very much for sharing all of that and for the words of encouragement.
    You are right, it takes coming to a place like this to truly understand that WE ALL sweat, bleed, cry, laugh, love and live…..as humans should

  • By Henry Trewren, May 1, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    Hope you find your Kenyan Heritage

  • By Mwangi, May 7, 2009 @ 6:44 am

    @Henry: I am afraid I don’t understand what you mean by that?

  • By henry, May 13, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

    By Kenyan Heritage I mean seeking your language and your culture again

  • By Cmac, February 21, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    Hi Mwangi,
    I came upon your blogspot from a friend’s post on facebook (things Africans like), and clicked on it to see the whole list (still haven’t found the rest of it, lol!)

    But I have since been navigating all the different pages and I like what you have done!! I would like to let you know that I identify with what you have posted on this particular page! It was almost like seeing my thoughts in print!! There’s some joy in kinship….

    I especially like the switching of accents (which newcomers from home never get, and deride me for, until they’ve been around a while and learn the hard way, muhaha!). It makes life so much easier to ‘put on the accent’ and speed up understanding. I don’t knock on people who stick to their own(original) accents though, and ‘teach’ others to listen to them/the accent, perhaps they’re more patient/stubborn than I am. :)

    And like you there are certain things about where I am that I appreciate infinitely, and my love for my country (Kenya) is unfazing, but there are things about it that irk me to no ends… My hope for a reconciliation is to somehow share my new insights in a way that may benefit our motherland

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