Gathering gives glimpse of diversity, African culture

10/12/2012

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

When Frederick Elad and Simon Muturi first came to the United States, both experienced culture shock and have comical stories about some of their first interactions in America.

Both come from the continent of Africa, but from different sides.

Elad is from Cameroon, which is on the Atlantic coast. Muturi is from Kenya, which is on the eastern, Indian Ocean side of Africa. Both work for the Department for Children and Families.¬ Elad is a special investigator and Muturi is a refugee coordinator.

So while they come from different places, both shared similar experiences of immigrating to the U.S. and spoke about their homelands Thursday morning at the 2012 Diversity Breakfast, hosted by the Garden City Cultural Relations Board.

Debra Bolton, Kansas State University Extension specialist and member of the board, said the board chooses which groups to focus on based on the populations of Garden City and who has spoken in the past.

"We decided to base this year's presentation on Africa because of the populations of Garden City's most recent newcomers who are Somali, from the Oromo tribe in Ethiopia and Kenyans. Most people are familiar with the Somali population, but today we get to learn more about some of the other populations," Bolton said.

She said the breakfast helps educate people on the different groups found in Garden City, and also helps dispel stereotypes.

"This helps build bridges to new cultures and breaks down barriers of misunderstandings," she said.

Elad shared information about Cameroon, which has a population of about 20 million. About 225 different languages are spoken in Cameroon, with French and English being most common. Much of Cameroon's population is Christian and Muslim, with the Christians concentrated in the south and the Muslims in the north.

He said common agricultural products exported from Cameroon are coffee, cotton, rubber, bananas, livestock and timber.

Cameroon's infrastructure is partially developed, not like the U.S., he said.

"Some inadequate investors have allowed resources to deteriorate. They don't have the equipment, and they often don't fix the roads," he said.

Muturi is the refugee coordinator for Kansas in the western region of the state. He came to the U.S. in 1991 when he was 20.

Muturi, who is single, said if he was still living in Kenya, he likely would be married with kids. Large families are common in Kenya, he said.

Muturi said many African countries are similar because of European colonization. Many Kenyans are Christians but also adhere to ancient customs and beliefs.

"This is one of the most fascinating things about Africa. If you go to Africa, you'll see a lot of people who look alike, but those people are so different in culture, in customs, in traditions, in beliefs," he said.

The languages unify the people in Kenya, he said.

The most common languages in Kenya are English and Swahili, but there are certain dialects.

Muturi also talked about some of the cultural differences between Kenyans and Americans.

"If you ask someone here, 'How are you?' in the United States, they don't really want to know," he said.

"If you go to Kenya and you ask someone, 'How are you doing?' they'll be like, 'Let me tell you.' And they're going to discuss everything that's going on in their life," he said.

Muturi also explained why so many refugees have birthdays that are on the first day of the month. He said birth dates aren't kept track of as well as they are here, and war has destroyed much of the documentation for certain people, if it existed in the first place.

He also said in Kenya they don't have nursing homes and the elderly live with their families until they die. Kenyans believe a connection exists between the dead and the living.

"They don't really think of them as dead until they are forgotten, and that's generations and generations down the road," he said.

"People in Kenya think that the dead really do influence your life," he said.

In a separate interview, Elad said his family members are the only ones from Cameroon in Garden City. Muturi said he wasn't sure how many Kenyans have come to Garden City.

"Most non-refugee Africans like myself come here for professional work. Other refugee African populations have found work in the plants such as Tyson," he said.

Muturi said Garden City is a nice place to live. The Ethiopian Oromo population is growing here, he said.

Muna Ibrahim, of the Oromo tribe, was scheduled to speak but was ill Thursday.

"This might be the biggest population of Oromos in the U.S., right here in Garden City. They like that it's a small place and is easy to find your way around. Not like big cities such as New York City. They really like the slow pace of life here," Muturi said.

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