Frankly … integrated
Integration while Mowing the Lawn
Dominic Otiang’a comes from Kenya. Before moving to Germany he was certain he would not suffer any culture shock. But he was wrong.
By Dominic Owour Otiang’a
I am Dominic Owuor Otiang’a. I prefer introducing myself as a novelist even though the word “novelist” often gets lost in translation to the German language. I am a writer based in Stuttgart, with roots from the Luo nation of Kenya.
It was okay to be part of a minorityI was born in the town of Busia, Kenya. A place where my mother tongue, Dholuo, was not native. Natives of Busia spoke Samia and Hayo dialects of Luhyia language- a language so different from mine like German is from Finnish. This is to say I was a minority in a region 30 miles away from my native home but in the same country.
I spent a better part of my high school years in a boarding school in a town called Bungoma. The language here was Bukusu, a Luhyia dialect that is somehow more different from those in my place of birth than the proximity between Dutch and German. I was a minority there too. In fact, we were only two Dholuo speaking students in a school of about 400. It is okay to claim that everyone knew us by name and origin just because we were the smallest minority.
A New Identity as an ImmigrantAfter high school, I boarded a plane to Germany and here too I was a minority. Well, I should add that, at this point, I ought to have gotten used to being one. The major difference is that my minority status now had a legal relation and a strong social status; I was not just a minority but an immigrant, a foreigner and, for the first time since birth, black.
I had no emotional connection to the latter since it was a brand-new identity being introduced to me as a grown up. The Luo identity no longer counted. Rejecting it meant 'self-rejection' while accepting it meant 'being proud' of who I was. So, I chose to treat it as a political identity before embracing it.
The LessonIf anyone would expect that I had a culture shock, it should be because they don't belong to the digital generation. My view then was that if fellow humans could study the moon prior to their landing there, it should have been easier for me as well to study Germany before touching down at Frankfurt Airport. I had done my homework to my satisfaction and with the conviction that under normal circumstances of moving to new places, culture shock was a result of laziness. Maybe I was right? Well, I was right until the day my housemates heard some engine noise and came shouting at me to stop mowing on a Sunday. This might have shocked or embarrassed me but, I swear, the speed at which I had pulled the noisy lawnmower back to the garage and scooted back to sit on a garden sofa as if nothing had happened and relaxingly watched the neighbours step out of their houses with guns blazing, was equally surprising. I learned the hard way that Sundays are for relaxing even if one didn't go to church.
InteractingLike for most people in new places, my first few months were spent on discovering, comparing and learning new things. I must say that my views were hugely Afrocentric just like others had Eurocentric world views. But the most beautiful part was when we began interacting and slowly unpacking our different views, letting them clash and give us better worldviews. We dropped certain views and ideas and gained a lot more others. The longer I stayed the more things became familiar. By now, even though some people are native Germans and 'white', they still remind me of some of my childhood friends and neighbours back in Kenya.
On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly …” column series is written by Dominic Otiang’a, Liwen Qin, Maximilian Buddenbohm und Gerasimos Bekas. Dominic Otiang'a writes about his life in Germany: what strikes him, what is strange, where did he get interesting insights?