I am arriving back to #LA from my 4 city speaking tour through #Kenya, #Tanzania, #Uganda, + #Bahrain and I am coming back having learned probably as much if not more than the audiences I spoke with. I felt like a documentarian getting personal accounts of each culture’s take on relationships + sex—something I am so keen to ask about in all of my travels around the globe. Of course these accounts cannot so much be generalized, as within each country there was a vast diversity of people + culture, but here are some of what I learned:
In Kenya, I experienced the people as very alive + expressed. You could
even see it in their wildly decorated + music blasting bus systems. My driver shared with me that it was typical for people to be married by the age of 30 with kids, and people wondered what was wrong with you if you didn’t. This to be a common thread across all the countries I visited. Further, he (and all my African drivers moving forward) had never been out of the country. Ever.
The audience I spoke to were more of the affluent business culture and shared a different narrative. Many of them were married, yet it didn’t appear out of social pressure. Further, they were so open to talk to me about sex + their challenges + excitements. There didn’t appear to be shyness + their willingness to be open + playful was refreshing for my first stop.
Next day I flew on to Tanzania, and for less than 24 hours I got to experience the ultra-peaceful attitude of this coastal country. A Lot of people spilled out onto the streets, as my driver shared with me about how many people came here in the pursuit of work. As we drove, his big smile never left his face + the pride of his people never left his speech. ‘Look, we are driving on Barak Obama Road. He came to visit + we gave him a road.’ This was the first of many conversations instigated my others along my trip that showed me how much of an influence the US has on the rest of the world, while we Americans either get limited + often biased images of the world around us. That evening I was met with a sweet + seemingly well-bonded, close group of both Indian, Muslim, + African individuals + couples. One conversation really stood out for me after my talk + that was in conversation with a couple who were black African + Indian-African: ‘It’s not common + is often looked oddly at for a black African to be dating an Indian-African. But here in our group we have three.’ They further told me of the changing narrative in society in which the younger generations were challenging the messages of old about sex positivity, racially diverse coupling + how they were currently teaching their own kids the same. Yet the change was still in transition, as it was told to me some of the members did not come specifically because I would be talking about sex.
The very next morning I was on a plane to Uganda. 3 countries, 3 speeches in 3 days. My stay was at a gorgeous boutique hotel. Here, I spoke to a room full of 35, some of them members of the organization I was speaking for and some simply from the community wanting to join in on a ‘sex talk’. Apparently, as big as the city was population-wise, the community of urban dwellers had a very small town feel. ‘We all eat at the same 6 restaurants so we all know what each other is up to. When something new or cool comes to town, we all want to go to it for some change.’
Here, I was met with more of a challenge. The challenge of the small town mentality, where people are less inclined to share about their internal experiences + problems for fear others would judge them or label them ‘airing their dirty laundry’. Further, I found this group to have the most difficulty with an eye connecting exercise I introduced at the very beginning. Telling, as they shared their own resistance in that level of intimacy (a common statement shared across countries). This was the first time in my trip where I got to spend a couple of days + go out with some of the locals to better sink my teeth into the surrounding culture. Narratives surrounding the power + voice of women varied depending upon who I spoke with, what race, status, + gender they were.
A couple of the women shared that in Uganda, it was common for a husband to have a ‘side chick’ (they called her), but for the wife to challenge that or make efforts to leave was often not done or looked down upon. ‘We think we have support, but when it comes down to it, people look away or make themselves unavailable.’ They even shared with me that Valentine’s Day was often when they’d see the husband with the girlfriend out to dinner over the wife. Was this consensual? Some of the women reported not likely; however, one couple stated that it was possible + practiced for women to have a boyfriend outside of their husband, as well. Another narrative was that when a man earns more money, he can buy more wives + have + house more children.Again, depending upon who I asked + what race, or status they were. In other narratives shared, genital mutliation is still a practice here + education around sex does not include female pleasure.
The last leg of my speaking tour, I was in Bahrain. Before arriving, I had been receiving others’ opinions about what that would look like. Surprise, mainly that I would be talking about sex to a group in the Middle East. And yet when I received word that the audience was eager to discuss + all together, I made the conscious decision to bring em all I got.
This was by far the most engaged, inquisitive, openly-sharing group in the entire tour. I had even started my talk with an experiential exercise that involved connecting through eye gaze. And while every group I spoke with had some challenge with this, Bahrain were able to settle into it with less giggles + more stillness than any other group. Upon my exploration of the city, one of my hosts shared stories about the Middle East that I had never heard of, later confirmed by the others, causing me to realize how much of our own media is fashioned in a way to influence how we perceive the rest of the world. Further, he described the power of influence America has on the changing society of the Middle East (as well as the rest of the world). ‘We watch your Netflix, so as you change your social policies + perspectives, we want to be like you + so our minds are influenced, too. Before gay marriage was legalized across your country, we all did not accept it so well. It was looked down upon + even illegal. Now you legalize + put it everywhere. We watch Netflix + there is a gay character or couple in every show. Now it’s not such a bad thing + it’s more normalized. Eh, doesn’t have the same impact on us like it used it. It’s ok, because you all said it was ok.’ Here, I was asked about marriage in the US. ‘Why do people get married so late? Why do they believe they can’t have children + marriage + a career? We do it all. Children bring blessing each time.’ And he had a good question, one of which sparked our continuing talk on experiences of divorce + prenups in the US. We talked about the difference of the individual in the US versus the focus of family there in Bahrain. I shared with him the growing trend in importance of self-development + making sure the partnership fits. (Although I’ll expand in another article my thoughts on how much pressure we are putting on our partners to make us happy, be the source of our fulfillment + how it’s impacting our relationships).
All-in-all this trip was both enlightening + so rewarding. I loved every minute of my taste test through these beautiful countries + look forward to coming back that I may stay a bit longer. I’ve made epic friends out of the people here + am so in love with the richness each of these countries provide.
Now, I wonder where I’m off to next?