Living and Working in Kenya
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Living and Working in Kenya
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Edith and I lived in Kenya about 25 years, for most of the time from 1971 to 1998.  After two initial years in Kenya, we were in the US for about 2.5 years for further advanced studies and training.

Over the 25 years, we spent all our time in Kenya, except for trips of a few months to a year about every 4 years.  Since 1998 we have spent 3.5 years in Cyprus, 4 years in Richmond, Virginia, 3 years in Edenvale, South Africa, and since 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  Our two sons were born and grew up in Kenya.

Sometimes Americans ask us what hardship we endured by living in Africa.  It is hard to think in terms of hardships.  We adjusted to things as needed and raised our two sons there, who were born in Nairobi.  I guess things were more rustic, and we had to make food from scratch.  Phones did not work well the first few years, and then again in recent years the infrastructure deteriorated rapidly again.  I understand it is gradually building back up under a new government that went in after we left.

The cultural differences and expectations were hard to deal with sometimes.  For an American, individual and family time for privacy, and space around us, is important, but these are not values in Africa.  So people don't have the same self-limiting values of not imposing on others.  People have to walk long distances to see another, so it is never appropriate to refuse to see anyone, or otherwise inconvenience them once they are there.

On the other hand, hospitality is a great value and people are always congenial and helpful, though sometimes it goes into solicitousness, which is sometimes annoying, as people tell you what they think you want to hear.  We had many good friends among Kenyans of various tribes.

Dealing with government and other officialdom was usually quite stressful.  There are formal requirements and procedures, which an official may often be very sticky about.  But often the informal or whimsical requirements are the ones that get you.  You never know when something else is going to be required.

The growing open corruption in public servants was a challenge, a strong pressure weighing on us much of the time over the last ten years or so.  Then nothing ever goes smoothly or fast in anything official.  And paperwork the African governments could teach Europe and America how to do red tape.

A Heart for Africa
Once you are in Africa, it grabs your heart.  You'll really enjoy it, and will thrill when you think of Africa later when you are away.  There is a charm as well as a challenge in the continent and the people.

Media and Language
I first served in media production, including radio and TV programming, music and children's programs, for broadcast and church use.  I had been involved in languages all my life and was asked by the Baptist Mission to become the director of a new language and cultural orientation program.  I developed and managed this, expanding our services to other East African languages, and providing guided learning for self-directed learners in various sites around Kenya and Tanzania.

I was director of this program, which came to be called the Cross-Cultural Communication Centre from 1976 to 1990.  This centre and its extension programs became a cultural training center for many missions, learning African culture and relationship-building and gaining cultural competence through the Swahili language.  This program is still operating, now as an independent business owned and run by some of my former staff:  Shade School of Language and Culture

Cultural Research
In recent years my studies in African cultural history, as part of my preparation of missionaries for their work in culture, became a primary focus in people group research.  I was the founding director of the research center for the Baptist mission network of Eastern and Southern Africa, called at that time the Interfaith Research Center (1997).

I developed the Baptist research network throughout Eastern and Southern Africa.  From Research office in Nairobi, I coordinated with other missions and cultural research agencies in developing cultural profiles and gathering information on the ethnicities of the region.  Through the IRC, I was involved in several research and publishing projects with many international agencies interested in clarifying the ethnic identities and history of the peoples of Africa.  Later the IRC was incorporated into broader research network structures across Eastern Africa.

I continued to be involved in cross-cultural and language competence training and evaluation for international agencies, especially across Africa.  I traveled as a consultant, evaluating learning situations in African countries.  I designed new, community-interactive language and culture-learning programs in several countries.

Until I left Kenya in 1998, I also continued as a member of the Board of Managers of a non-profit TV production company called Afromedia, of which I was a founder. Afromedia had become specialized in producing children's programs for the Voice of Kenya.

Mediterranean Focus
After leaving Kenya in 1998, I continued in cultural research, working from a base in Cyprus.  I continued working with various agencies working in cross-cultural situations in Asia and Africa, and continued training cross-cultural communicators in worldview investigation.

I was also involved in media production as I heightened my focus on the Internet and website development.  I worked with a media and research team in a small international company in Cyprus for 3.5 years.  It was during my time in Kenya when I focused on developing my Internet presence and providing resources over the Internet.

My research, comments, articles and resources appear in various Internet venues.  My central presence is found in the two websites
Orville's Thoughts and Resources and
Strategy Leader Resource Kit.
Since returning to the United States, I am now also involved in Real Estate at Texas Home Strategies.

Registry of Peoples
From there my heightened focus in ethnic research and cultural worldview studies led to my relocation to accept a position as the first Editor of the new Registry of Peoples (ROP).  The ROP is a standard reference database of the Harvest Information System that provides a unique code for each of the peoples of the world, to enable various databases with ethnicity information to compare and exchange information.  I continued to serve as the Editor of this codeset for peoples of the world until January 2010.

After four years of initial work in Richmond, Virginia, setting up the ROP and developing a worldwide support network of researchers, I relocated to Johannesburg, South Africa.  I continued editing the ROP and facilitating email discussions with world researchers on the current state of ethnic research and the meaning of new findings.  The African base provided a renewed field perspective, and facilitated interaction with researchers in various African locations.

During my three years there, I worked with research teams in various parts of Africa, reviewing questions arising from new research in previously closed areas.  I provided interpretation of raw field data into standard categories and definitions in the technical disciplines applicable and performed verification research.  The roots of all this went back to my longtime experience in Eastern Africa, living among the varied peoples and conducting research on ethnic histories and traditional worldviews.

For several years I was on the faculty of the Toronto Institute of Linguistics.  This special institute was an intense month of training in how to learn languages.  The purpose of this month was to provide non-linguistics practical skills in learning language and culture, without formal resources, learning from the people themselves in a community context.

Related to our mission relationships, I taught world religions, study methods, and Islam at the Kenya Baptist Theological College, Limuru, and was a visiting professor at other schools in the area.  I also taught a course in Communications at nearby St. Paul's College in Limuru.

Additionally I have been a visiting lecturer, in the areas of Islam, Cultural Research and Cross-Cultural Communications at the following Kenyan universities:  Kenyatta University College, Nairobi, Kenya; Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology; Nairobi International School of Theology; East African School of Theology.

Additionally, I was on the Board of Governors of Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, from which both our sons graduated.  I had earlier served as Chairman of the PTA, and worked on the Accreditation Committee.  I have also been visiting lecturer at Eastern College, St. David's Pennsylvania.  My wife and I were both on staff at Hardin-Simmons University during one of our years in the US.

Church Development
I also worked all through the years in various areas of church development and leadership training.  Over a three-year period in the 1980s, I also started pioneer church work among the Maasai (Keekonyokie tribe) in the Suswa area of the Rift Valley in the mid-80s, while carrying on my international responsibilities as Communication Resource Specialist, designing language and culture learning programs in various countries of Africa.

Also related:
Cultural Introduction to Islam
How to Learn a Language and Culture: Full Course with implementation tools
OBJ Educational Background
Orville's Thoughts and Resources: A Resource Center for Culture, Language, Worldview, Peoples and Religions of the World
PowerPoint Programs from OBJ on Culture and Language
Shade School of Language and Culture; successor to Cross-Cultural Communication Center and Baptist Language School
Strategy Leader Resource Kit: Tools, Courses and Materials for Cross-Cultural Investigation and Communication Strategy
Suswa: An Evangelical Experiment (Use of Natural Cultural Networks in Christian Evangelism)
Suswa Approaches: A Practical Cross-Cultural Ministry Approach among the Maasai People of Kenya
Texas Home Strategies: Real Estate in Texas


This article started with a 4-5 November 2005 response to an email query
Finalized as an article 29 July 2006
Revised 27 April 2010 and 4 January 2014
Last edited 22 April 2014

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright 2006, 2010 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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