Tag Archives: kenya culture

America: Exporting Culture Since 1945

America doesn’t export much. We all know that. The trade deficit is huge, and though there are arguments about whether or not this is healthy for the economy, in general it makes people uneasy. But don’t worry, this isn’t a post about global scale economics and trade; it’s a far more normal post. One thing America does still export however, is its culture. And by culture, I mean the, “pizza and polka,” side of culture (as a Aussie sociology professor puts it). In particular, America is very good at exporting its movies, its music and its television, as well as all of the celebrity culture and gossip that comes along with it. Heck, we even take in other peoples’ celebrities and rebrand them as American. Did you know that Van Damme is Belgian?

Coming to Kenya, I was shocked at how little American culture is apparent here. For all you hear about international corporations and whatnot, the only branding that I recognized was Coca Cola. There is not a McDonalds or Wal-Mart in sight. And of course, being a former British colony, Kenya has followed European-originated sports, leaving the only American-sports branding to be found on the clothing at the market where it has lost all meaning. Where is American culture?

Turns out, a few errant, seemingly unrelated, strains of American culture have made their way into the fledgling, post-colonial, DNA of Kenya. But boy, sometimes I wonder how they got here. So here they are, as I have witnessed:

  • Dolly Parton – People here love her!
  • WWE Wrestling – I have been told I look like one of the wrestlers by all the deaf school children at Paul’s school; how’s that for cultural integration!
  • Campy, 80’s, Action Movies: AH-Nohld, Van Damme, Stalone and the like.
  • Gangsta Rap and Hip Hop, though Eminem is a personal choice.

It’s a bit of an odd list, and always makes for good discussion when PCVs get together.  One of the stories that I never get tired of hearing about is when a trainee shares his or her first experience of their host-family sitting down to a nice dinner… in front of Jon Cena kneeing his opponent in the crotch on the latest WWE match.

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It’s Culture, But Not As An Excuse!

This past Saturday I headed into Mombasa for my weekly excursion for shopping at the supermarket (it’s cheaper than shopping local, though I buy veggies local), as well as for a change of scenery.  I sit all week in the same computer lab, go to the same hoteli for lunch, and rarely have conversations because my lab is so far from all the other teachers and apparently I am just not a good conversationalist when it comes to things Kenyans are interested in.  To compensate, I got to town.  As I have stated before, I seem to have more of a social life with Kenyans I meet on the Internet who share my interests, than those I meet in person.

However, this past Saturday I lucked out.  First, some preface.  During training out bosses solicited us for information about ourselves to help them in our placement.  They told us to tell them anything we thought might impact their placing us.  This is not unprecedented, as every PC office is allowed to handle placement however they want.  With request in mind, I sent off an email explaining to my boss (APCD is the correct title: Associate Peace Corps Director), that though my interests are in computers, I am also very interested in History (with a capital H).  Due to this interest, and knowing full well that Peace Corps is also about integrating and learning about the culture, I told him that I would be appreciative of a coast placement, as my research of Kenya informed me that the coast had always had interactions between Arabs, Westerners and Africans.  Score!  Email sent, I banished the thought from my mind but was more than pleased when I discovered I would be not only in Coast Province but also right near Mombasa, the center of a lot of coastal historical intrigue. Continue reading

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