My first time in a developing country
Pereception Vs Reality
Daniel Weber – Kericho Fellow 2014
Having never been before in a developing country, I had many expectations – as well as mixed feelings – about coming to Kenya. I’d like to explore some thoughts on how you might be able to adjust your thinking when coming to a developing country.
In general I think that my initial perceptions had greatly been flawed by the information I have access to in a developed country like Germany, where I’m from. Usually you only get to know about Africa in heart-wrenching documentaries that either tackle poverty or the vast isolation and beauty of its manifold nature. Also, news about Africa as a whole is fairly scarce and if there is any news reported it always seems to be negative – dictatorships, civil war, images of starving children, reporting on genocide.
When telling my family and friends back home about coming here to Kenya, their reactions were diverse. Ranging from being worried about my well-being, being happy for me to have this chance and probably also some questioning my sanity – your mind constantly reminding you how troubled, poor or undeveloped Africa is. Africa = danger. So best not go. Even more pertinent given Kenya’s current situation.
On the journey from Nairobi to Kericho, you are able to see how many people live their day to day lives in seemingly poor conditions, having their shops and homes in sheds, huts or uncompleted buildings which from a ‘Western’ perspective might not even serve the simplest needs. At the beginning I felt shocked that people can live in such basic conditions, especially when seeing children barefoot running and playing around in garbage.
The first thing I had to realize was that even though you may be able to lower your expectations… in terms of how things look, how people live, and work; your minimum expectations might still be too high. But people here seem less likely concerned with whether something looks good or not – their priority might more be, does it work? And does it fulfill its main purpose? These statements are based on a couple of observations and are likely to be generalizations, but when looking at the condition of certain things with my western eyes, and then thinking practically from a local person’s view, I’d agree that functionality over aesthetics is ultimately most important.
Plus despite how I initially judged them, people seem proud to have homes and/or their own businesses. The businesses I’ve seen don’t look particularly inviting from the outside i’ll admit – and at first it’s hard to imagine how anyone would want to enter them or spend time in them. However, having been here for a few weeks now, and having started to work with local entrepreneurs in Kericho – seeing their businesses from both the outside and in, has helped me realize it’s just the way things are here. It’s just different. People don’t know any other way so to them this is normal – they are used to the way their homes and businesses look. This has shown me how much the environment in which I grew up in, has totally shaped my view of the world.
I’d therefore recommend to people considering coming for the first time to a developing country, or to Kenya specifically or another country in Africa; to consider thoroughly about how their thinking has been shaped by their world back home. It might cause certain judgments to be made on first arrival.
If possible, you should try to put all your assumptions and expectations to the side. By doing so, you might be able to circumvent any less than positive feelings when seeing that country’s reality for the first time – and more easily adjust to your new environment, enjoying it for what it is, instead of feeling shocked or sad about it.