African Friends and Money Matters

Boy am I glad I’m in Kenya at Tenwek. Compared to much of the content of the book, African Friends and Money Matters, my experience has been far more western than it could have been. Doing business and engineering within these structures would be much more difficult. Not only is this because, while I work mostly with Kenyans, most of my words are with Americans, but also it was evident from driving from the airport my first day in country. Every society has an implied system or culture of driving. My dad taught me that the first rule of driving was to be predictable, this is true all over the world. In the U.S., it is a highly regulated system, generally adhered to beyond what is required by self interest for the larger good of the system. My time in Cameroon is at the other end of the spectrum. To turn against traffic, one had to wait until a motorcycle was turning in the same way as you to cut between two cars, then you could stay along its back tire, giving no room for the driver going straight whose path you were crossing. The next driver behind you would continue right on your back and so on until either the group turning against traffic was exhausted, or a motorcycle going straight made it between two of the turning cars. Kenya is somewhere in between. Turns are reasonably well defined at intersections and roundabouts and there is a convenient honk and light flash language to inform passing. At the same time, traffic lights are ignored to an extent that I laughed at our stopping at one when I was back in the U.S.

This pattern continues for many of the subjects described in the book which took an observation based approach to looking at African relations and personal finances. I very much enjoyed the subject based format of the book which was composed of 90 individual observations, each one well founded but often disagreeing with other observations or implications in a conscious understanding that across an entire continent there is significant variety to culture. Fortunately for me, it turns out that most of these observations are true to a lesser extent in my area of Kenya. With Kenya’s English language (for a lot of people at the hospital at least) and the wealth from the fertile area, the cultural forces leading to the trends in the book are muted in my experience of Kenya. That said, many of the patterns noted in the book are seen clearly here and having someone else notice them and put them into words helps me to understand some of the relations I’ve had here. I especially appreciate the author’s frank usage of his own experience and personal policies in dealing with many of the issues that come from living in Africa as a westerner.

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