You don’t go to church?

Something I think would surprise people to know about Kenya is that it is quite religious. The vast majority of people are Christian – Protestant/Catholics make up almost 80% of the population. About 10% are Muslim and then a smattering of “other”.  This varies widely by region with the coast being more heavily Muslim and the western area (where we are) being mostly Christian.

What I find interesting though is the complete integration of religion, in this case Christianity, into all aspects of life. Our first staff meeting started with a hymn. A little religious I thought, amused to think how that would never fly in San Francisco. Then there was a prayer. Not the kind of generic prayer where “god” is mentioned and it could be any god. No, this one was all about Jesus.  If I was surprised then I can only describe it as being shocked when the next three staff meetings began with straight up preaching for the greater part of 20 minutes. Today was a verse from Exodus, finally I thought the  Old Testament. At least I knew what they were talking about!

Similar to the way I described race being something that is fair game in greeting and conversation in a previous post, it seems that religion, a notoriously touchy subject in the US, is also up for discussion at all times. I knew at some point I was going to get asked about my religion. It happened in Uganda so I knew to expect it. And I almost made it to the end of my stay but today while I was talking to the administrator of the clinic about a completely different subject he interrupted me by asking whether or not I had been to church this weekend.  Now maybe there are some places in the US  where this is a normal question, but not where I come from.  Wanting to get back to talking about our previous subject I skirted around the issue saying simply No. But eventually I told him I was Jewish.  He seemed genuinely confused and spent the better part of the next 15 minutes trying to convince me that Jews were Christians and could not understand why I disagreed.Then I found out that the receptionist who was sitting with us the entire time is Muslim. And he proceeded to tell me that the administrator always tries to convert him at work.  Between proselytizing at work and preaching during meetings it was a bit like being in the twilight zone.

Despite the lack of division between Church and work I do think there is quite a measure of religious tolerance in Kenya. Every day, even in this most Christian of areas, we hear the five Muslim calls to prayer. No matter where we are I can hear it and its gotten to the point where I know its 1pm when I hear it midday and I associate it with lunch.  Our street is home to a Hari Krishna temple and what looks like a cross between Sikh temple and a cult that worships aliens.  Certainly there is no dearth of places to worship.

What it comes down to is that I think religion and faith are such a large part of life here because when it comes right down to it –  life is effing hard here.  And a little faith in something bigger than yourself makes it easier to deal with the daily difficulties that people have to face. I’m glad I don’t live in a place where religion is so ingrained in the workplace but I understand a little better why it is the way it is.


Published in: on May 26, 2011 at 9:48 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. So incredibly interesting.

  2. Awesome post babe!

    I have decided I am going to answer the religion question with “buddhist” just to see what happens.

    And yes, the neighboring Sikh temple looks like a set from the original Star Trek series. We are considering asking whether they can beam us home.

  3. Rachel that was a great informative post. I kind of thought that Kenya like most of the African nations was Muslim. As a matter of fact many of the slaves were Muslim and they were Christianized after they were sold to their masters. The South African Boars believed that the bible oked slavery and they had no qualms about keeping the blacks in servitude. Now as far as prayer is concerned and how you were interested in the fact that most public sessions were opened with a prayer you should realize that every session of congress the senate and the high court or supreme court are all opened with prayer. The congress has a chaplain and probably so does the senate and I are not sure about the court. They generally try to keep their prayers non denominational but very often the payer is closed in “Jesus’ Name”. I have to tell you since this is the case I have been advocating prayer in public schools on the basis that if it so good for the Congress it couldn’t hurt the school kids. Of course I am advocating with tongue in cheek. When I was in the navy in Jacksonville Stacy and Mark went to public school where they sang Jesus love me so I know… and it really didn’t harm their beliefs. Rachel did you ask any of your local MD if there ere any other Jewish people in the community? Let me know. There was a health fair on the hotel site and one of the booths was a young woman who was licensed acupuncturist and I noticed that on her board of ailments treated was Colitis and Chron’s disease. I told her about our Lucy and she said she had some success in treatment. I called the society and asked what they think of this treatment and she told me that it may relieve stress and anxiety. What do you know about this modality in Kenya? I wantto hear more about mores of Kenya people.

  4. […] more baby lions), elephants and baby elephants, Nairobi, Kisumu’s ambassadors, and reflections on religion in Kenya are just a few of the posts we got the most feedback […]

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