Rural Homestay (week 2)

Rural Home Stay Component: KSP Spring 2015

Habari za! My name is Klare Nevins and I’ll give a little background on what the Spring 2015 KSP group was most recently up too. This past week each student was able to experience the first of KSP’s two homestay components – the rural home stay. These experiences are a vital aspect of what makes the Kenya Semester Program so successful as it gives the students the opportunity to truly integrate themselves in the local culture and start to gain the confidence to live as a Kenyan, not a tourist. The rural homestay was based in the Central Highlands of Kenya in Nyeri County this semester and each student was individually placed with a family who subsists off of their agricultural efforts.

Rich ecological resources characterize the Central Highlands of Kenya; the land is lush with green vegetation and has two seasons of consistent rain making it an optimal place to practice agriculture. Additionally, the land has a long, deeply rooted cultural history. The region is home to the Kikuyu people, the largest ethnic group in Kenya.

By living with our rural home stay families; we are put in a position of becoming complete learners who by participating in the family’s everyday life gain an understanding of what is means to be a Kenyan living in that area, in those communities. Over the course of the week students not only visited various locations around the community such as church, schools, and local natural attractions, but also learned traditional skills used everyday by their families. These activities included the cooking of traditional meals of chipati, ugali, mukimo, and others.  Harvesting subsistence foods that included indigenous arrowroot, maize, and various fruits and vegetables also took up large parts of each day and students learned how to harvest cash crops such as tea and coffee. If that wasn’t enough, students also learned how to milk cows, process dried beans for seed, hand washing laundry and practicing our various skill levels of Kiswahili. Overall we were so excited to learn about Kenya from people who embody the region not only through their traditional practiced culture but also through their everyday activities in a modern day Kenya.

Hi guys! I’m Ashley McDuffee, and my homestay parents are coffee, or “kahawa”, tea and maize farmers. Although my father is retired now, he contributed to society as a teacher and then served as an administrator at a primary school for many years. My mother was a nurse in a government hospital for many years, before opening up a clinic with a few other nurses. She specialized in the maternity sector and was instrumental in delivering home births of countless Kikuyu children. I found it extremely impressive that my parents held very demanding careers, yet still came home to work on their large farm every night, all while raising large families. Kenya’s rural areas, like Tetu West, are extremely agricultural-based. The majority of women in this area work labor-intense days plucking tea, harvesting coffee berries, and caring for children. Meanwhile men cultivate the land, plant trees, spread manure, and care for cattle. I think this agricultural lifestyle has shaped a unique family structure in rural Kenyan families. From what I observed, the mother is the caretaker; she raises children by teaching her daughters life skills, such as cooking and cleaning, and she cares for boys until they are taught life skills from their father. The mother is responsible for preparing every meal from scratch, and a large majority of her day is harvesting and preparing food for her large family. Additionally, I encountered the father as a figure responsible for providing for his family financially, thus he often assumes the role of the family authoritarian. He often works long hours away from his children in the fields or at his job in the city.

Thus, the family structure has had both positive and negative implications. In one aspect, every member of the family is expected to contribute to the family, and children are taught the values of hard work and familial responsibility. However, this has created a division in the family commonly accompanied by inequality. Men and boys are given “gender appropriate” responsibilities; for example, they are expected to care for livestock. Yet, women are responsible for kitchen duties, for example. This separation has the potential to weaken relationships between family members of a different gender. In addition, giving the men control over crops and livestock gives them power as “breadwinners”. Whereas, the kitchen duties and childcare done by women offer no monetary gain, and this can be seen as less of a contribution to the family. Despite the great potential for these issues, my family was quite close and each member had great respect everyone in the family regardless of gender. However, the responsibilities of my mother, father, and sisters demonstrated an undoubtedly patriarchal family structure. Overall, my time with them was unforgettable and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I was able to experience a family structure a little different from my own and learn so much about the rural Kenyan way of life.

Hamjambo. Kate Tuttle, here! During my rural homestay, I was hosted by a very traditional Kikuyu family made up of family members that held completely different gender roles than I am familiar to. My homestay consisted of two sisters, my mother and father, and while my family at home is structured in the same way, the experience I had with them was extremely distinctive and unique. When I was picked up by the family, I was greeted only by my sister Purity Wanjiru and my father Granville, as my host mother, Susan, was at home preparing for my arrival. Almost as soon as I arrived to the home, I understood that Susan assumed the role of the provider and cook of the household. I, too, took this role of the house with my two sisters during the week. I observed that my father very rarely ever entered the kitchen, nor did he work very much on the farm. My mom, my sister, and I did the majority of the fieldwork; we plucked tea the entire morning and gathered vegetables from the farm to add to our lunches and dinners everyday. Therefore, while I continuously felt that I was contributing to the family, I often wondered exactly what the responsibilities of my father consisted of. While reading and researching the traditional Kikuyu people, I learned that males in their traditional families were expected to protect the family and that they were not held as accountable for the farm work as the women. I firmly believe that my family is still practicing these Kikuyu traditions and that they have not been greatly affected yet by Western globalization standards for gender roles in the home.

Here is my homestay sister, Purity, shredding cabbage in preparation for lunch in our kitchen

Here is my homestay sister, Purity, shredding cabbage in preparation for lunch in our kitchen

Jambo, jina langu ni Claire Pacione! My host mami, baba, brother Dominic, and sister Jackline eagerly anticipated my visit to their church upon my arrival to Nyeri on Friday afternoon. After completing the family’s Sunday morning duties that included milking cows, feeding chickens, collecting eggs, making breakfast, and hand-washing clothes, we prepared ourselves for the 10:30am– 1:00pm mass…

As we take our seats, the Women’s Guild (a church organization helping the needy and the less privileged in the area) leads the church service accompanied by the choirs. As the sermon continues in Kikuyu, Jackline opens her English Bible to the corresponding scripture, and I read along. With time, I notice –with the few Kikuyu phrases Jackline and I have been practicing– that the church’s head speaker is referencing me in his speech. With this, Jackline gives me a gentle push and we somehow we find ourselves walking to the front of the church as a microphone is handed my way.

“Go on…talk!,” Jackline encourages me. Although the expectation to give a speech was so sudden and unexpected, I knew what I would share with the community that staring up at me.  I wrack my brain for the Kikuyu words I have practiced with my host mami the past few nights I start…

“Moriega. Jitagwa Claire. For welcoming me to Nyeri, Kenya and your Church, I am so grateful. I stand here with my host sister and host mami, as I gesture to her behind me, as they have taken me in as one of their own during my stay in Nyeri as an American student. Your vibrant community has made me feel at home in your town and Church and this you should be proud of. I will never forget the welcoming atmosphere you have created in my presence; your Kikuyu culture is beautiful. As you have made me feel part of your community, my family and I in America would be flattered at the opportunity to welcome you into our home if you ever find yourself on those shores. Asante sana”.

Quickly, the nervous faces that gaze up at me turn into softened smiles and nods. Jackline takes the microphone and translates my words for those who do not understand English well. But, what happens next is the most surprising of all. At the end of her translation, Jackline breaks into a beautiful gospel song. We both sway together, side by side as sisters.

Reminiscing on this moment I am able to reflect on the rich culture of the Kikuyu people as a community. As I listened to my sister and observed the church, I understood the important qualities of tradition, support, trust, morals, and commitment engrained by the Kikuyu culture. Although I have already studied such Kikuyu ideals through the pages of writers like Wangari Maathai, to feel the raw emotions of the community first hand was a lesson I will not forget. In that moment, instead of feeling like an outsider of the Kikuyu community, I felt unified, empowered and happy with them.

Mimi ni Wei Song, na ninatoka China! During my rural homestay, I was most impressed by the development and economy of Nyeri town. Unlike farmers in some other countries who strictly depend on the farm, the family-economy in Nyeri reasonably combines rural and urban resources. Both of my homestay parents have jobs in Nyeri, while simultaneously operating their farm with the help of an assistant farmer. Thus, the family has a great supply of fresh food for eating and selling that provides a solid income that improves their quality of life. Thus, the land and city construction work together to promote the local economy.

It additionally is clear that my homestay brother and sisters have better resources of education as compared to people of other developing countries like China, where education in most rural areas is a tough problem. My eldest sister currently studies at university in another town, and my other two siblings go to school in Nyeri with the help of their school bus service. After the children graduate, they have chance to get good jobs and also continue to manage their farmland.

Moreover, my homestay family has access to technologies such as television and computers. My homestay “baba”, or father, even told me that more people have started to buy imported goods like Japanese cars and cameras. In general, my homestay family is a positive example of the development and economy in Nyeri town, and they showed me their progression to a better life in rural Kenya.

Wei and her family in Nyeri

Wei and her family in Nyeri

Hey, Maggie Cummins dropping in!

During my experience in the rural homestay, I really focused on the education aspects of my family’s lives, as they had a teenage daughter and son and then two children under the age of ten in the education system. As soon as my siblings returned home from school, I would ask them all about their day, quiz them in kiswahili and in English, and look over their homework for them. School seemed to be something my family highly valued, and while they complained of exams and intimidating instructors, they seemed thankful for the opportunities they had been given.

Education was a fundamental component of the lives of the Kikuyu youth. Beginning at age 3, children began attending a pre-primary school, similar to a “pre-school” in the American education system. As there are no buses in East Tetu, children of this age are expected to make the commute along busy highways with limited sidewalk space by themselves. From this age until secondary students are required to adorn a school uniform, the colors of which vary between schools. Primary school, paid for by the government, lasts 8 years, a time in which students are required to take core courses in Kiswahili, Kikuyu, and English. By the time the children reach secondary school, they are allowed to choose their courses (a minimum of seven and a maximum of twelve) and begin planning for a career in the workforce or to continue onto University. Secondary school is subsidized, and students undergo a series of exams that will place them into a secondary institution, similar to the SATs acting as an agent in college acceptance. While primary schools are divided into “standards”, secondary schools are divided into four forms, one for each year. Education is required by law, and while supplies are limited and worn, students seem to value the academic tools that they have been given. On days that children weren’t in school, they were aiding their parents in work in the fields and around the house.

My host sister, a seventeen year old in Form 3, often spoke of the variety of classes she was enrolled in, some of which include; history, physics, biology, and agriculture. The agriculture course seemed to be isolated to local crops, rather than addressing the cultivation of crops in differing geographic locations. My sister aspired to attend a University within Nyeri, where she planned to study to be a tour guide.

Education made multiple appearances in the media when teachers in Northern Kenya went on mass strikes, protesting employment terms and refusing to return to schools until the government met their demands of raising salaries. Institutions threatened to fire instructors if they did not return soon, and students were unable to return to their studies until their teachers return. Another educational newsbreak revolved around land grabbing, and the tear gassing of children attempting to protest the confiscation of their land.

It is clear that the rural homestay component with the Kikuyu people has grounded us in regards to living in Kenya. Not only was the opportunity moving, it also taught us much about the culture, environment, and development of Kenya through meaningful moments and relationships.

– Kenya Semester Program Spring 2015


Nairobi Orientation (week 1)

February 1, 2015

Hamjambo! Tunaitwa MacKenzie, Darcy, Simon, na Meera. Our first five days upon arriving in the beautiful country of Kenya were devoted to getting acquainted with what will be our home for the next four months. After a long flight, long layover, and another long flight in, we were both tired and excited at the same time. Wairimu – the KSP director – gave us plenty of time to rest throughout the first day, but not before we all ran around the study center to scope out the rooms and have a housing lottery to determine rooms of our own. A few of us were too excited to sleep and went on a walk around the neighborhood with Wairimu as people who walked by welcomed us with a nice “hamjambo” or “karibu.” Upon arriving back from our walk, we were introduced to Kevin, a yoga instructor who had come to the compound to help us combat our jet lag. This experience was a bit strenuous for us, but it allowed for the group to share plenty of laughs during and after the session. When we finished our meditation, we came back in the house to some delicious Kenyan cuisine prepared by Seth, the program’s chef. We dined on chapati and rice, and then the group decided that we all needed sleep.

First Days on the Nairobi Campus

First Days on the Nairobi Campus

The next day, we all woke up to find monkeys playing around in our yard.  You can only imagine how ecstatic the group was; instead of looking around the SLU campus for the albino squirrel, we have been looking around the KSP compound for monkeys and we were able to see them from our balcony!  We all got ready in our best clothes that we had packed from home because we were going to spend the day in Nairobi, the capitol city of Kenya.  We were assigned into three groups of six and dropped off at different locations in the city with the goal of navigating our way to the United Kenya Center, where we would be having our classes for the next semester.  Wairimu and Njau – our driver – maintained their distance throughout the activity, but kept a close watch on the groups in case they got themselves into any sticky situations.  Because most of us had come from small towns back in the United States, we learned the invaluable lesson that we can’t always be friendly to those who try to greet us on the streets of the city as we may appear more vulnerable.  We celebrated our arrivals to the UKC by traveling to the West End of Nairobi for lunch, where we were introduced to Zucchini and The Java House, a store full of fresh foods and smoothies and a coffee house with a variety of sandwiches, respectively.  Once our appetites were satisfied, we were driven to the African Heritage House; a gorgeous structure situated on the edge of the Nairobi National Park.  The house is chock full of art, artifacts, and inspiration from all over the African continent.  We were all awe-struck at the amount of time and knowledge that was put into this beautiful house, as well as the fact that we were able to see our first ever wild gazelles and zebras grazing out in the national park, while relaxing on the house’s porch!! Coming back from Nairobi, we were treated to chai made by Seth as we debriefed on our experiences.  The rest of the evening was devoted to getting further acquainted with our classmates as well as updating our families on our adventures.

A view of the National park on the edge of Kenya's capital city

A view of the National park on the edge of Kenya’s capital city


On Monday, we started the morning with our first Swahili class of the semester.  The class takes place on the compound, so rather than leaving for class our professors came to us.  We were split into four groups based on our previous experience with Swahili classes: those who had taken two Swahili classes before were assigned to work with Ben, those who had taken one class were assigned to “Uncle Dan,” and those with no previous experience were split up into two groups with either Julius or Amisi.  The class was three hours long, but each group met back in the dining area halfway through class for chai and the opportunity to practice what we learned in class with our peers.  Each Swahili professor is engaging and makes sitting through class for three hours an easy task.  After class, Njau drove us into the town of Karen to explore the shops and grab some lunch at a restaurant of our choice.  We all were excited by the Massai market with a number of stands selling beautiful jewelry, clothing, and other items, as well as the supermarket that had everything we could possibly need.  We were also given the opportunity while in Karen to exchange currency and buy stamps at the post office.

We started our day on Tuesday with yet another Swahili class complete with a break for chai.  After class and lunch, we headed to the Nairobi Hospital for a briefing session with Professor Godfrey Lule, a program physician at the hospital.  Professor Lule provided us with more information on tropical diseases, health care challenges, and prevention measures while in Kenya, and Wairimu talked to us about the measures we should take if we needed medical attention throughout the semester.  We hope that no one will need any serious medical care while in Kenya, but we all know that the unexpected could happen and it was comforting to know that the KSP directors had taken every sort of hypothetical situation into account.  When we arrived back on the compound, we had our daily chai break and then gathered into the seminar room with Wairimu and Sinnary – the academic director of the program – to discuss the core course, titled “Culture, Environment, and Development in East Africa”.  Along with the Swahili course, the core course is the other mandatory course for every student on the program.  It is multidisciplinary, so almost everyone can find it applicable to their studies.  With this introduction, we became more familiar with the content of the course, including its requirements and schedule for the semester.

After Swahili class and lunch on the compound on Wednesday, we had another meeting in the seminar room.  This time, we were discussing our rural homestays that were coming up in a matter of days.  For the rural homestays, we would be traveling to Nyeri and each staying with a different family for a week’s time.  We learned about the Kikuyu people with Professor Godfrey Muriuki, a renowned historian in Kenya and the professor of “The Making of Modern Kenya,” one of our elective courses.  This lecture was very important as the families with whom we would be staying were of the Kikuyu tribe.  After the lecture, discussion, and our daily chai break, we got all gussied up for our dinner at Carnivore to wrap up our orientation week.  This dinner was quite the experience as we got a taste of many meats that we had never tried before (and the vegetarians of the group got other delicious entrees).  Waiters kept circling our table with foods such as ostrich meatballs, crocodile meat, and chicken liver.  It was definitely a great finale to a busy but amazing week, and we’re excited for what’s to come throughout the rest of the semester!