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!

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