It didn’t take long after arriving back into the U.S. after having been in Kenya for two years to realize that many things had changed. We’d been told that re-entry could be likened to riding on a fast train: You hop off at a stop and the train keeps flying by. You get ready to hop back on from the same spot, and the train has shot so far ahead that nothing looks remotely the same. Everyone else has moved light years ahead, leaving you out of the know. After a year and a half of not-too-painful adjustment, I fondly remember the things that took me most by surprise over those first few months.
- Meal Kit Delivery/Grocery delivery/pick up. No matter the stage in which you prefer to purchase your food (whole, prepped and ready to be thrown together or full meals ready to eat) there’s a food service for you! It was amazing to me how many people do all their shopping online and either have their groceries delivered, or simply drive up to have them gingerly placed in the trunk of their SUV. If you’re in the States, you’re probably thinking, “yeah, big deal.” But I can almost guarantee I have a least a few friends over in Kenya who are reading this and saying, “What?! Food that’s already prepped and ready to eat?! To your front steps?! No way.” So bear with me. Numbers 2-9 of this list will be just as boring to you. Just know, things change so quickly, we hardly even know we’re moving on that fast train that is our culture!
- Amazon Prime/Stitch Fix. This is similar, but encompasses WAAAAY more than just groceries. I distinctly remember roughly two weeks after we were here and we went on a road trip to the Midwest. We arrived on our dear friends porch in Arkansas along with a multitude of Prime packages. She’d done all her back-to-school shopping for her kids online. It was genius. When telling another friend about it, she’s the one who said, “Yeah. I get my groceries delivered too. Sometimes the deliveyr person will bring them right into my kitchen for me.” My mind was blown. It didn’t take long for us to join the millions who are able to have just about anything delivered in 2 days. And I can’t lie. It’s incredible. New shoes, cassava flour, baby stuff, backpacks…it’s all just 1 click away. As for services like Stitch Fix, you can take a quick fashion quiz and they’ll send you full outfits in the mail.. shoes, jewelry, the whole enchilada.
- Card Chip Reader. They had credit card chip readers in Kenya, but it was still shocking to be in the States and see them everywhere we went. And the offensively loud “eh eh eh” sound it would make when it was time to remove your card because you’d done the right thing was pretty confusing. Nevertheless, we managed and now I don’t know what to do when I have to actually swipe the card.
- Cold Brew Coffee. When I turned 40 in January, I tried my best to become a coffee drinker. It didn’t work. I can say that I no longer despise the taste, but I still don’t love it like so many others in my life. During those weeks of trying to love it, I tasted many types of coffee. It’s sort of amazing how even something simple like coffee can change and evolve so much in just two years.
- Apps for School. This little change nearly sent me right into a full-blown come apart. There I was, at elementary parent Back-to-School night, with 3 kids in 3 separate classrooms. We decided that we’d done preschool before, so we chose to go there last. We went with the divide and conquer method. Nate headed to 5th grade and I raced off to the Jungle-themed 2nd grade classroom. The plan was to switch halfway through so we could both meet each of the kids’ teachers. Over the course of that hour, I was told I’d need to download no less than 5 apps to my phone to be able to keep up with what was happening at school. There was an app for behavior, financials, homework, general school info and one to scan each time I checked Beckett in or out of preschool! Y’all! In Kenya, just a few weeks before the night that I am recalling, I hardly used my phone. And as for keeping up with school, no news was good news. The teachers and kids did their thing, and if there was a problem, I heard about it at some point. Jumping into the deep waves of technology had me (almost) literally gasping for air. When I went to trade with Nate and asked what I’d missed….with a wide-eyed, glossed-over stare, he responded, “I have no idea. I spent the first 10 minutes looking around the room in culture shock.” We were quite the pair, but somehow we survived.
- Restaurant Apps, gas station, etc… And it wasn’t just at school. Apps have taken over the world. Every place you visit, has an app and usually has a rewards program attached to it. I used to carry random frequent shopper cards with me in a wallet or on my keychain, but now all I really need is my phone. One can swipe to pay with a credit card, use points, or look up receipts and more….right from your phone.
- Hands-free, voice-activated everything. My best reverse culture shock story sums this one up in a nutshell, so here goes. The first day of school was also the first day I began driving the Honda Odyssey minivan my Dad got for us to drive while we were here on our home assignment…which happened to be a bit longer than we’d originally planned, but who’s counting? Luckily, not him! Before we left for Kenya I drove what I would call a pretty up-to-date vehicle. It had an automatic lift gate, electric windows and a little auxiliary input where I could plug in my phone. The minivan my Dad chose is super nice and I am spoiled to get to drive it. That being said, it has all the bells and whistles. Get too close to a car in front of you without applying the break and it tri-beeps at you. Swerve over the lines on the road and again, it alerts you to pay better attention. Before it was time to get the kids from school, I was already confused by how in the world the car was talking to me?! I didn’t know Nate hooked up the bluetooth from my phone, so when I got calls, it would ring over the speakers in the van. I couldn’t figure out where to talk, or how to answer calls. In Kenya, I was rarely in my car and certainly wasn’t talking while driving in crazy Nairobi traffic or along the steep dropoff at the Rift Valley overlook. So I began my first day in the school pick-up line already a bit befuddled. And let me tell you, the school pick-up line, on the first day of school, where the preschool is still under construction and things are all willy nilly is NOT the place to be confused. You must bring your A game. Anxious to get to my new 2nd grader and hear all two words about how the first day went for him, I pulled into the line of cars right on time. Mom was there for moral support riding beside me in the passenger seat and happy to display the proper signage showing that we were indeed qualified to pick up Sutton Cook. I spotted his teacher, Mrs. T, who I’ve known for years. She pointed us ahead in the line, where Sutton was standing with a teacher I didn’t recognize. We pulled up to where they were standing and eagerly showed her our brightly-colored sign. She just stood there looking blankly at us. I asked mom to roll down her window, so I could explain that I was, in fact, the parent of the child she was keeping on the curb. Her response, “Yeah. I was waiting for you to open the door.” I looked at her confused, then asked Mom if I could open the door from where I sat? She’d never driven the van with anyone in the back, so she was no help. I stammered while I thought, then stuttered out, “Um. Well, I’m not sure about that. Could you just open it today and I’ll figure that out by tomorrow?!” She had to think I’d lost my mind. If she had thought so, she wasn’t too far off! She manually opened the sliding door and Sutter Bubs happily hopped into our van. I pulled away, laughing my head off at how ridiculous I had become and feeling like I’d just survived something major. Because I had. I managed to get everyone TO school on time, pick up Beckett at noon using the scanner thingy on my phone, get Natalie from a separate 5th grade carline, whip through the elementary line and even find time during the day to check all those apps! Then, as if doors that open with a push of a button and phones that automatically sync with the car weren’t enough, a few months later at Christmas, we got Alexa. Hands-free commanding at it’s height and we don’t even use the smart house features.
- Eyelashes. Nate and I got to reunite with some friends from med school for a weekend away soon after we arrived back into the States. The ladies, whether they knew it or not, helped bring me up to speed on so many things over those few days together. One of those things was eyelash extensions. Apparently, in much the same way that people will have their nails done every few weeks, in 2017 (and still now, of course) you could have long, full, beautiful lashes added to your own once a month or so. And it’s not just for the rich and famous. Anyone willing to make the appointment and hand over the cash can have eyes to make even a camel envious. Sorry, Cover Girl $5 mascara, you’re no longer the norm. And no, I haven’t had it done. But it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to try it! Who doesn’t love long lashes?
- La Croix. I love Coke. I really do. I’ve tried to not love it, but it’s been a long time love affair that started when I was just a kid. Remember those days? When you got a Coke for catching a foul ball at the ball park and your mom and dad just high-fived you and didn’t give a second thought to grams of sugar, caramel color, caffeine content or whatever else is in Coke that will inevitably kill you?! I’m a little sad to say that healthy is the new hotdog at the ballpark. My brain tells me I should embrace fizzy water with “flavors derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit used in each of the LaCroix flavors.” So I try. I really do. But cantaloupe and grapefruit just doesn’t have the same kick as sugar, phosphoric acid and caffeine. But I digress…I really just meant to say, there are many new drink choices that weren’t around, or at least weren’t as readily available two years ago. The choices were truly mind-boggling.
- Athleisure. And last, but not least is the ongoing change in the fashion industry. Yoga pants are a thing of the past, replaced by tights or leggings. Ladies, gents, kids of all ages now wear tight workout gear where they used to wear jeans. And I can tell you why. They are cozy and flattering (usually). I admit, I’m usually a few years behind all things fashion-related. It took me forever to agree to capris and 3/4 length sleeves. So it’s no surprise that I haven’t jumped on the leggings-as-pants (a term borrowed from Jen Hatmaker a few years ago, who has probably since changed her mind and given in to the comfort of it all!) bandwagon. I’m not saying I won’t, but for now I’m still skeptical. So, in preparation for returning to Kenya, as I packed up my ancient wide-legged sweats that are already so out of style, but I couldn’t care less because I love them, I couldn’t help but wonder just how much things will change the next time we return to America? I’ll probably get brave enough to order a pair of exercise tights on Amazon and finally work up the nerve to wear them, only to realize they’ve come up with something new, again. One thing’s for sure: If they ever stop making regular old t-shirts, I’m toast.
Over all, transitioning was more amusing than stressful. My friends patiently answered all my questions about apps, and fashion and food trends. But it does leave me to wonder exactly what unexpected changes will have happened in Kenya these last couple of years? We surely didn’t expect theaters to be showing the latest Minion Movie when we arrived there last time, or that KFC could be delivered to your door in Nairobi, or that there would be heated pools or nice restaurants. We didn’t really know what to expect the first time. But I have a feeling much has changed, so I’m trying not to have too many expectations this time around either. Lucky for me, I have friends on the ground in Kijabe who are keen to give me the answer to any random musing that pops into my head…like if they sell cotton rounds at Carrefour, or can I get coconut flour at HealthyU? The only thing I’m sure to expect is, you guessed it, the unexpected.