August 25, 2010


Posted in Children, Friendships, Good people, Home, Organization, Travel tagged , , , at 6:51 am by Liliana

William enjoying hamburgers

William enjoying hamburgers

My friend Ann invited us over for dinner the other night. Her family is hosting an exchange student from Kenya and she wanted us to meet him. William is seventeen years old and a high school senior. This is his first trip ever outside his country.

I went with my youngest son, Sam, niece Nicole, and Joe, my brother-in-law. Sam and Nicky are William’s age so we were eager to introduce them.

Ann made a delicious dinner – salmon, chicken, salad, good bread. Most of us ate fish, but not William. He has lived his whole life far away from water and fish is not something he is used to. But he seems open to trying things that he is unaccustomed to, and much of what he sees in his new environment – he has never seen before.

William belongs to the Masai tribe and lives near the Masai Mara National Park in south-western Kenya. His parents are farmers and he is the tenth of eleven children. An excellent student who speaks English beautifully, he has worked hard for everything he has achieved.

This is a trip of many firsts for William. This is the first time William has flown in an airplane. William is not used to western food, or living in a large house. His family lives in small communal huts. William is not used to technology, but has already started a facebook page, made a PowerPoint presentation about his homeland, and will be getting a cell phone soon.

What struck me most about this young man is his poise and sense of calm faith in himself. William showed us pictures of his family and schoolmates and spoke about his culture with great pride, but also unclouded honesty. Things are what they are, and he has the fortitude to see them as such. He told us that many Masai boys have to make a decision whether to become Masai warriors or receive a western style education. Becoming a warrior is a complicated ten year long indoctrination process, so many boys are opting for the less rigorous western schooling.

William hit it off with Sam and Nicky right away. The kids wanted to introduce him to their friends, take him to the movies, and have him join their teams.

Later in the evening, Sam and William went outside to play soccer. They talked and kicked the ball around for a long time. When they came back in tired and laughing, all we grownups could see was two boys – having fun. Same the world over.



  1. Joe Holtzman said,

    This posting was artfully done, LJ. Way to go!

  2. Crystal said,

    Just read your comment on NYTimes (New Life in America No Longer Means a New Name), and then had to check out the blog link as my husband also immigranted from former-Yugoslavia. When it came to the names, we decided to each keep our own names after we married in 2000, and then when we had our 1st child in 2008 we gave him a hyphenated surname so that he’ll have the option to use just the American name on Resumes for example.

    I’m happy that the NYTimes article mentioned how race factors into the decision whether to keep the foreign-sounding name. Being that I’m African American and that our child looks very much African American, it just wouldn’t feel right to stick him with a slavic last name that no one can pronounce. In addition, we originally intended to pass down the languages & heritage (my husband is multiethnic and speaks both Serbian and Hungarian) as we do travel to Serbia fairly often, but we now feel it’s not worth the effort. Why? Because people both in Serbia and those expats/immigrants from the Balkans that live here in the D.C. area do not accept us as one of them, because of apperance, and it’s way simpler to raise our children with the ONE heritage of the people (African American) who do want to claim us with pride.

    Anyway, you have a great blog! Ironically we also hosted an Exchange Student (a girl from Turkey) last school year, and it was a wonderful experience. I have traveled to Kenya and spent much time there, and the people are so lovely, so I’m sure your friend will have an unforgettable year with their student. Teenagers all the world over, are very much the same. 😉


    • Liliana said,

      Thank you, Crystal, for a lovely and perceptive comment. I completely understand your conundrum about race, culture and nationality. My family has faced similar questions.

      Although my husband and I are both white, he is an American Jew and I am Serbian. We have three children, all, I am proud to say, citizens of the world. Although we both have great respect and love for our own heritages, we also have respect, admiration and curiosity about the cultures of other groups. We are deeply grateful for the diversity of our world and happy to learn something new from them.

      We have created a community of friends who feel the same. They are our real family.

      Best to you and keep in touch,

  3. tall penguin said,

    “Becoming a warrior is a complicated ten year long indoctrination process, so many boys are opting for the less rigorous western schooling.”

    “…less rigorous western schooling”. This made me smile. Everything’s relative, now isn’t it?

    I’m not sure what the six degrees of separation are that brought me to your blog but I’m enjoying your writing.

    • Liliana said,

      Thanks for your kind words. Please write often. Best, Liliana

  4. Robin said,

    I wonder if Crystyal would take the advice of an older (mid 50’s) woman: Don’t make decisions for your son in response to the bigotry and unkindness of others. Don’t deny him half his heritage, including its language, just because there are those who would want to put your family into a narrow box. You don’t have to stay in it.
    My children, who are 20 and 18, are monolingual, as are most Americans (we are of Barbadian descent)–and they hate it. They both intend to live overseas and acquire foreign language fluency (as their cousin recently did-he is now certified fluent in Spanish).
    Your son is too precious to deny him anything. I’m sure if you seek out affirming, accepting, open, like-minded people, you’ll find them. But even if you don’t, make decisions for your son based on love, not on the rejection of others.

    • Liliana said,

      I think this is wonderful advice, Robin.
      We should all make decisions based on love!
      Best to you, Liliana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: