Sunday, September 27, 2009

We Love You Like Fried Chicken (ing'okho) (Edited)

(Picture from Public Domain Image)

[Bear with me -- once I got started, this turned out longer than I anticipated.] Great cultural tidbit this morning in church. When they sang to those having birthdays this week, one phrase was "Tunawapenda kama ing'okho." The pastor explained that ing'okho (I suspect it's a Kikuyu word. EDIT: Wrong! It turns out to be a Jaluo word.) are the free range chickens that run around in African city or town streets and you have to chase them down to catch and cook them, but when cooked they are oh so goooood! So, they were singing, "We love you like sweet-tasting chicken" -- somewhat akin to a Southerner (US) saying "I love you like fried chicken."

Language and how it's used provides so much insight into culture. Would Linda (my wife) appreciate me telling her I love her like fried chicken? I don't think so (wrong culture). Western cultures have romanticized love (not a bad thing at all, even if I have trouble verbalizing that). That's perhaps typified best by this:
SONNET #43, FROM THE PORTUGUESE
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints!---I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!---and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
But in a Kenyan context, saying "Tunawapenda kama ing'okho" made sense. Not that a Kenyan man would say that exact phrase to his wife nor would a person say that to a close friend, but the analogy was completely understood. For many urban and suburban Kenyans, meat protein is a rare thing -- it's just too expensive. Even in rural Kenya, many don't have the luxury of meat every day -- only on special occasions. So to get meat is a really good thing. Though it's changing with the under-40 generations, for many Kenyans, love is practical.

There's still a touch of that practicality in our culture. Remember the joke?
Wife: You never tell me you love me.
Husband: I told you once. If I change my mind, I'll let you know.
One of my favourite scenes in Fiddler on the Roof involves love as a practical thing.
(Tevye)
"Golde, I have decided to give Perchik permission to become engaged to our daughter, Hodel."

(Golde)
"What??? He's poor! He has nothing, absolutely nothing!"

(Tevye)
"He's a good man, Golde. I like him. And what's more important, Hodel likes him. Hodel loves him. So what can we do? It's a new world... A new world. Love. Golde..."

Do you love me?

(Golde)
Do I what?

(Tevye)
Do you love me?

(Golde)
Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You're upset, you're worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it's indigestion

(Tevye)
"Golde I'm asking you a question..."
Do you love me?

(Golde)
You're a fool

(Tevye)
"I know..."
But do you love me?

(Golde)
Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

(Tevye)
Golde, The first time I met you
Was on our wedding day
I was scared

(Golde)
I was shy

(Tevye)
I was nervous

(Golde)
So was I

(Tevye)
But my father and my mother
Said we'd learn to love each other
And now I'm asking, Golde
Do you love me?

(Golde)
I'm your wife

(Tevye)
"I know..."
But do you love me?

(Golde)
Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?

(Tevye)
Then you love me?

(Golde)
I suppose I do

(Tevye)
And I suppose I love you too

(Both)
It doesn't change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It's nice to know

(Lyrics from St Lyrics)
So, is one better than the other? Is western culture superior to Kenyan culture in this respect? While there is much to be said for some romance in love, I don't think one is inherently better than the other (I may get in trouble for that comment) -- they're just different.

So, how would you complete the phrase, I love you like....?

Run -- and live -- well, y'all,
Bob
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