By Mukurima Muriuki
My name is Anne Nankinyi-Thomas. I was born and raised in Kenya. At some point in my life though, I decided to pursue education in America and I enrolled at University of California-Irvine. Immediately after school, I got a good job and decided to stick around, you know, make some quick bucks, perhaps settle! In the long run, I ended up living in California for almost a decade. Never the one afraid of making a different move, I eventually decided time was ripe and right for me to engage in something new-something different.
In 2012, I decided to move back to Kenya and re-establish my roots in the motherland. Unfortunately, my mother suddenly died of a stroke a month before I could execute the planned big month! This means I had to leave a little earlier than I had hoped. As a result, without full preparation, I packed my life in 8 suitcases and bid the U.S. of A goodbye!
On my way home, tired and broken-hearted, at Brussels Airport where I had a layover, I came across the sweetest grounds personnel! See, my phone battery had run out of power and I was trying to find a socket to plug in my phone. He offered to charge it for me. His radiant smile could by itself, have re-charged the phone. He had a unique sense of confidence and when our eyes met, I could not help but smile back. At that point, we introduced each other and he let me know that his name was Philippe.
While waiting for my flight, we chatted away for two hours and in our conversation I learned that Philippe had traveled quite a bit but had never to Africa! I told him he was missing out on the most beautiful of all continents! He promised to take up the challenge. I thought I was joking; but he was serious!
Six weeks later, Philippe and I would be making the drive to the great Maasai Mara! Something was growing and glowing. He invited me to visit Belgium a month later and this would be the beginning of many trips in different countries that we would share together. He then engaged me and a year and half later, we got married. Life is full of surprises; leaving America, I thought I was heading home but now I was destined to live in a country I would never have though of-Belgium!
Philippe is an only child in his family. His mother is 76 years and his father is 82 years old! It was quite a contrast for him granted that in our family I have 8 sisters, though my parents are both deceased. As such, our upbringing could not have been more different; On the first hand, with him being an only child, his parents’ lives revolve around him! On the other hand, I knew my parents loved me but was mostly number five of nine daughters! I realized I had to adjust to the many culture differences prevailing. The expectations set were quite high and as such I had to make a lot of adjustments!
I got lucky to marry a man who was ready for marriage! He puts all he has in it. His family is equally great! His parents are the most open minded and accepting people I have ever known! I was worried that race issues might crop up but that has never been the case! They are happy that their son has a woman that loves him! They prefer to go to Kenya on all our family vacations!
Being married to a man of another race requires someone that is willing to put in the work! I am now in a country that speaks none of the languages familiar to me! Philippe is half Walloons (French) and Flemmish (Dutch) and actively uses both languages! I am in the process of learning Dutch since I live in the Flemish community. As much as he speaks fluent English, most of his family members don’t! So to actually have a conversation, I have to sound like a child trying to explain the simplest things! But I love the challenge of learning and sharing all our differences!
I learned how to cut “wazungu hair” so he does not have to make the trip to the ‘kinyozi!’ Philippe has also learned how to remove my braids, and as a girl would add, without judgment! For the first time in my life, I have a man that truly reciprocates all the effort that I make or give! He works hard, but doesn’t excuse himself from sharing house responsibilities with me! He cooks and cleans just as much as I do. He sometimes brings me breakfast in bed!
Whenever we are home in Kenya, my sisters find it quite strange and “un-African” of me to not always “serve” my husband! They cringe every time I request a glass of water from him, or to do something “domestic” for me! To my siblings, a man should be served! While I do understand where they are coming from, I have acquired a different way of thinking and my husband does not seem to mind having me as an equal partner and that works for us!
He has also learnt how to adjust to some of my culture! For example, he knows not to show affection in front of my family, or any public spaces in Kenya. He has learned to eat with his hands and even cook Ugali!
We have a son together and what a task that it is, as we have to weave through the different cultures at play! I am Maasai and Kikuyu, and He’s French and Dutch! Poor child has to learn more than six languages that we both actively use, and adjust to European and African culture! All in all, we look forward to what the future holds for our growing family!
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