Why I sometimes feel guilty in Kenya and what I do about it (printable diary prompt below)
When I came to Kenya the first time, something I call “white guilt” struck me. I felt guilty for having been born in a privileged country like Germany. I was wondering: Why had it been me who had been born by a German mother in a German hospital, with electricity and insurance and autobahn and good education? Could not have somebody, who is now living in a slum in Nairobi or in a clay house on the countryside, arrived there on my behalf?
Was it not unfair that I had all these privileges and someone else on the other side of the equator didn’t?
And all the stuff we had at home!
Bathtubs and toilet paper handles and several sets of towels and several sets of dishes, a car, canned food for the dog and dry sweets for the guinea pigs, tile roofs and iPads and seven different types of milk. And all the money and access and possibilities to buy them.
And all the stupid stuff that my country and my continent had been doing to Kenya and the African continent: missionary undertakings, colonial expeditions, economic exploitation, geographical fragmentation. And what they still did to it: exploitation of resources and labour, marginalisation, stigmatisation, taking influence with moral, financial and social measures…
I was in the middle of this. Actually, I was clearly from the bad side. So I felt guilty and that numbed me down and made me feel powerless and sad and angry.
Obviously, feeling guilty is the solution to nothing.
After reflections, interactions and research and many years later, I have mostly overcome that feeling of guilt and realised that it isn’t all my fault. Nowadays I am very grateful for having been born in a country that enabled me with the possibility and – yes – the privilege, to make these experiences, learn from them and become proactive.
I turned my guilt into my personal responsibility to adapt a certain attitude of awareness, and to travel carefully and respectfully.
This is how in the long run, >>> Mind Set Travel was born.
If you are feeling similar “white guilt”, here is what you can do:
- Recognise the feeling. Don’t just brush it away as home sickness or culture shock or the side effects of malaria prophylaxis. Those are different. If you are feeling miserable because of your origin, accept that and properly examine it.
- Examine what you are really sad or angry about, either in your mind or on a paper, maybe in your travel diary. Are they general points or do you have concrete examples? Do you, for example, find it unfair that you can easily get a visa to Kenya, but your Kenyan friend will have to struggle for a German one? Do you generally feel sad about how the BBC is reporting on African issues? Or do you feel plain shame for British colonialism in Africa?
- Examine your points and find out which ones you can influence and which ones are beyond your power. You cannot make history undone, for example. But you can try to do some research on it, or plan to do it once you are back in your home country. If you feel that the dumping of second hand clothes from your country in the global South is destroying the local textile industry, you can take action by telling others about it and stop donating second hand clothes to charities.
- But before you tell others about it from an expert standpoint, it is crucial to pause. Don’t write an email or Facebook post in the rush of your emotions. Try to talk to others in similar situations first. Talk to people you are living or working with, your hosts, other volunteers, maybe your sending organisation. Get other viewpoints and clarification. Try to balance your view and expand your emotions to be a foundation of knowledge.
- Let go of the guilt for the things you have no influence on. Take action on one point you may be able to change. Don’t do it if you only want to calm your conscience. Do it because you realised your responsibility.
- Accept that you can’t change the world. But you can move within it in an aware and responsible way, gaining knowledge and sharing experiences.
How do you deal with feeling uncomfortable or guilty while travelling? Let me know in the comments below!
This free worksheet shows you once more how to deal with your own confusion, resistance, and guilt.