I’m so excited about today’s Wifey Wednesday! I’ve been to Kenya three times before, and I just fell in love with the country. And one of my frequent Wifey Wednesday link up contributors, Ngina Otiende from Intentional Today, who is active in the comments and has an awesome marriage blog herself, is from Kenya. I wrote her a while ago and said, “I would love to write a post on the difference between African marriage and North American marriage, and what we can learn from each other, but I don’t feel like I’m qualified. So can you?” And she said yes!
My husband and I moved to the United States two and a half years ago. We arrived early in the evening and I remember looking out of the plane and beholding a strange sight. Although it was past 8pm, the sun was still shining! Where we’d just come from – Kenya, Africa – the sun sets at 6.30 pm.
We’d soon discover that the sun setting at later time than we were used to was just one of the many fascinating changes we’d experience in our new life in North America. (after a 23 hour flight, disturbing turbulence, severe food poisoning, cramped seating, we thought we’d experienced it all!)
It’s been two and half years and we have settled to life in North America–as far as possible anyway! Life in America is very different from life in Africa. From the weather, the food, the culture, the hectic pace of life, sometimes we feel like we moved to another planet, not across the oceans!
I am a marriage enthusiast and one of the things I wanted to find out was how different marriages are in America. I had come to America without high expectations, unfortunately. We’d heard stories about American lifestyle and culture and just before we left were inundated with counsel and warnings “take care of one another, stay committed and fight for your marriage because America will want to tear you apart”.
While there’s been some truth in some of the warnings, we’ve also discovered a lot more we didn’t know existed. For example, and just to give you an idea, think about all the things you’ve heard about Africa. Then imagine going there someday and discovering most of the stuff you heard was either half truth or lies. And the rest of the “bad” is eclipsed by all the good you never heard about. That’s been our discovery as far as marriages (and other areas) are concerned. We’ve enjoyed discovering all the great North American marriage habits and using the things we were told would drive us apart to knit us together.
So here are some of the differences between marriage in Africa and marriage in North America that I have observed. (Please note my views are based on two and a half years of stay!)
Differences: What I think America does better than Africa in marriage
America values Team work.
I come from a very traditional society where the roles of men and women are as different as night and day; very well defined. But here in America, these lines are a little blurred. Both husband and wife dive in to chores and responsibilities and do what needs to be done to keep the family moving forward. A dad can stay at home with the kids while his wife works. Men don’t recoil (at least not too much) at certain ‘wifey things” like cooking, cleaning, taking care of babies e.t.c. Overall, I think the lifestyle demands are very different as well. And hiring that extra pair of hand is not cheap! Unlike Africa where anyone can afford to hire domestic help. So I love how the hectic “First World Life” forces couples to work together as teams!
America has Expressive Marriages!
Africans are the warmest people you’ll ever meet but we are not very expressive in our emotions! Most North Americans are, and it’s been fun living in such an effusive and affectionate culture.
America has God-centered marriages
If Hollywood and the media is to be believed, most couples in North America are either divorcing or on the brink of divorce. Or living together out of wedlock. Or fighting to redefine marriage. That’s the picture Hollywood beams to the rest of the world. It’s been wonderful to discover many many happily married couples! And not just happily married but vocal advocates of the same! Marriage ministry is still at infancy in Africa and I enjoy connecting and learning from all the resources and people here. In fact, that’s how I discovered Sheila’s blog years ago. I had (and still have) great real-life mentors but at that point needed some deeper insights in a particular area of struggle as a young wife.
America Values Women
I love how the law treats everyone equally in North America. And not just the law, but society in general. Everyone is equal and that equality protects women and the vulnerable. For example a man can’t stop taking care of his children because he separated from the wife. You can’t make a girl pregnant and leave her to take care of the baby alone. Maybe you can, but you don’t have the law – and it’s enforcers – on your side! And boy do they enforce the law here!
I like how everyone is held responsible for their actions. That kind of equality protects the vulnerable.
Now here’s where I think Marriage in Africa is Better
Africa has Strong community ties
In Africa most people experience life as a community. Friends and family drop into each other’s homes any and all times. No planning or warning necessary – just dropping in and hanging out for no reason whatsoever. In America I see most people have to plan for things like that. You just don’t show up in someone’s house uninvited! Every second of life seems to be allocated for something important and there’s no margin to hang out, “doing nothing”!
Africa has Deeper Appreciation for Good Values
The wind of change is blowing across the world and in Africa has not been left behind. The culture is changing, societies are changing. But there’s still some really good old-fashioned traditions and values in Africa. For example men are still regarded as the head of the homes..and that respect and honor has got nothing to do with their perfect performance! Submission or staying at home to raise your kids is not a “controversial” subject. Generally good values are not seen as weaknesses or hindrances, but appreciated for what they are.
Africans are More Teachable
Generally Africans are less-wound-up, a little more willing to use wisdom from yesteryears. (In other words they are more teachable compared to North Americans 🙂 )This open heart makes for easier relationships and helps when it comes to sharing wisdom in marriage.
Africans Know how to Do More with Less
I used to think that an easier life ought to translate to stronger marriages – less to worry about and more to be grateful for. But after living in North America for two and half years and observing the state of some of marriages, I’ve come to believe that comfort and ease can make drifting in marriage easier. Not harder. So while I used to belly-ache about many of our “developing continent” pains and challenges, I am a little more grateful now. Because hardships tend to grow and deepen people. Challenges force you to hold tightly to gifts and miracles when they show up (e.g having a spouse). Most African’s don’t have many of the resources and support and margin that most developed nations have. But they’ve learned to thrive and grow with what they have.
Now here’s 3 things that both America and Africa can do better in marriage!
1. Understand the importance of strong marriages for a strong society
We might have different challenges but I think we have the same human condition – we like to major on the minor things and minor on the major things. We continually under estimate the importance of a strong marriage as the foundation for everything else in life. We put our marriages last in our list of priorities. And then get suprised when our marriages reflect that last position!
2. Kick out popular culture from our marriages
Traditions or culture will never give us a a good marriage. Only God can! We need to start pursuing God and His blueprint for marriage and stop pursuing what society – even ourselves! – think we should pursue.
3. Mentor and support other marriages
Even though I come from a culture where people are more willing to receive and be taught, we still have ways to go as far as mentoring in marriage is concerned. And we have the same problem here in North America, more mature couples hesitating to open up to younger (or other) couples. Opening up our lives to others is not easy, obviously. But often our fears are not based on truth. We think other couples are looking for perfection, but they are not. They are looking for other imperfect couples who’ve learned to make marriage work, even in imperfection.
Now, what advice do you have for us today? Put the URL of a marriage post into today’s Linky below! And I choose at least two posts to highlight on my Facebook Page each week–I try to choose blogs I haven’t highlighted before. So link up to get more readership, and join our marriage party!