Amboseli Field Component

Hujambo rafiki wangu!  Ninaitwa MacKenzie Juda na mimi na Meera na Darcy na Simon tungependa kusema kuhusu safari yetu katika Amboseli!

We had just arrived back from our three-week long urban homestays the day before we left for our field component in Amboseli.  Slightly exhausted from our choice of activities upon reuniting on the compound the previous night, we packed up the vehicles (three safari land rovers) and headed off for yet another week away from “home.”  I was excited: we were told that after spending two months trying to prove that we did not come to Kenya for purposes of tourism, we would finally have the opportunity to be tourists.  I can’t say any of us have ever thought it would be cool to be tourists in Kenya, but I, for one, took this to heart (see outfit in picture below).

After about four to five hours of watching the scenery go by and listening to my iPod (if you need expert advice, I highly recommend The Lizzie McGuire Movie Soundtrack for ANY road trip or long car ride that you take), we finally made it to Kibo Safari Camp!  The first order of business was to find someone to share a tent with for the week and move in.  These tents were unlike any tent I have ever stayed in in my entire life: firstly, they had floors.  Secondly, they had beds.  Thirdly, they had electricity (for certain hours of the day).  Fourthly, they had indoor plumbing.  Compared to our stay in Tanzania, we were living in luxury.

Mack Daddy getting stoked about the tent

Mack Daddy getting stoked about the tent

Normally I’m sure many of us would have stayed in our tents for a bit longer to relax and gush about how awesome they were or maybe even jump on the beds, but we were all on a mission: we were headed to the pool.  To everyone’s heartbreak, however, the pool was closed for the night.  To cope with such sadness, a couple of us ventured off to the bar where we met a man named Maurice who would become our friend for the week (DISCLAIMER: I’m 21 so I can legally drink in any country… OTHER DISCLAIMER: SLU did not cover our bar tabs).  Thus began the start of a weekly ritual; we would sit outside at our favorite table looking out over Mt. Kilimanjaro because I forgot to mention that WE WERE RIGHT THERE.  Along with Maurice, Samuel and Gona were serving us at meals all week, and they were incredibly hospitable.  I don’t always gush about the places I sleep, but when I do, I mean it: if you ever decide to go on a vacation to a safari camp in Kenya, you won’t regret Kibo.

After an evening of luxury, it was time to get to work: when we woke up in the morning, we got ready to head out and interview some farmers.  When I saw this activity on the itinerary, I was anticipating going to some sort of conference center where there would be farmers who had signed up and designated time to be interviewed by us.  However, what we experienced was even more amazing.  All of the vehicles parked on the side of the road after about a half hour of driving, and we met about six men who were our designated translators for the activity.  We then split into groups of three, were assigned a translator, and headed off in different directions where we would look for farms where people were working and ask one of the workers if they were willing to be interviewed.  I was amazed at how welcoming people were when a group of strangers approached them to ask about any hardships they may face with water, wildlife, etc.  No one my group asked refused an interview, and one of the men said he wished he could talk to us longer.  After each interview, we would hand the farmer a bag of sugar and tea leaves as a token of our appreciation and head off to the next farm.

Upon completing the interviews, we headed back to the camp for a quick lunch and then headed right back out for a visit to a cultural Manyatta, where we would learn about the Maasai culture.  Cultural Manyattas are catered to tourists, and Sinnary warned us before heading there that our Maasai homestays would differ greatly from these (I’ll let Simon elaborate on that later).  We were greeted by Maasai women singing and dancing and then each would grab a student or two to join in the circle.  The women draped beads over many of the females, but we were told upfront not to get too attached to these beads as they were not gifts and we would have to pay for them if we wanted to keep them.  A man wearing a Shuka led us into the Manyatta and discussed many cultural aspects of the Maasai.  What I remember him saying was that the Maasai feed on meat, milk, and blood (which made me incredibly nervous for the homestay) and that they rely on traditional medicine, showing us some of the plants that are used to heal stomachaches and pregnancy woes.  After that, half of us went to sit with the men for a question and answer session while the other half did the same with the women.  Of course, we had questionnaires already prepared for us as a guide to what questions we should ask.  Before we left, the women rushed us into the market to sell us their beadwork.  We came to learn later on in the week that selling beadwork is the only source of income for the women of cultural Manyattas; the admittance fees for visitors go directly to the men.  Because of this, every woman was trying to drag us to her shop.

Wei decorated in Maasai beads (she ended up buying the headpiece… We insisted)

Wei decorated in Maasai beads (she ended up buying the headpiece… We insisted)

To finish off a busy day, we had another evening watching the sunset and Big Kili, and the popcorn kept coming.

Darcy hapa, na ninasema kuhusu safari yetu katika Amboseli National Park!  Our third day in the Amboseli region was dedicated to yet another classically “touristy” adventure: game drives throughout the National Park!!!  As a Conservation Biologist major with a thing for lions and other large mammals, African fauna is what first got me interested in this continent.  Needless to say, I was pumped out of my MIND.  Of course, taking Sinnary’s Conservation and Management in East Africa course this semester has opened my eyes to the pros and cons of national parks and all the crazy conservation methods involved in saving species, often for the sake of tourism, so it was really interesting to be a tourist in Amboseli while simultaneously learning the effects of tourism… I was still super pumped, though.

We woke up early to increase our chances of sick animal sightings and drove the 1 minute journey to Amboseli’s gates; not only is Kibo great in terms of glamping facilities, but it’s conveniently located, too!  After providing gate security with our passports and student ID’s, the SLU KSP rolled on inside, half our bodies popping out the open roofs on our three safari jeeps, sunscreen on and cameras ready to see some wildlife.  The first thing I noticed was the vastness of the land within the park—it was all green scrubby grass atop an expanse of flat dry dirt, interrupted occasionally by trees and bushes, Big Kili dominating the left side of our far sighted vision, and perfect clouds distributed throughout the crazy blue sky.  And within that vastness, almost immediately we spotted zebras, some birds, and Thompsons gazelles.  As we continued driving, more zebras in larger numbers and with babies were seen, as well as grand gazelles, wildebeests, ostriches, cape buffaloes, and giraffes.  Because about 70% of Kenya’s wildlife exists outside of park boundaries, we had actually already seen some of these animals prior to entering the park—including a giraffe family with a baby which crossed the road in front of us the day before.  Still, seeing so many different species coexisting in such a space was definitely a unique and awesome experience.

Megan Kloeckner’s sweet shot of a singular elephant from the herd in from of Big Kili.

Megan Kloeckner’s sweet shot of a singular elephant from the herd in from of Big Kili.

After driving for a bit, we spotted a large mass of grey in the distance.  Upon further inspection, we realized that a massive herd of elephants was walking our way, and it was freaking incredible.  Never in my life did I think I’d actually be able to observe wild elephants from such a close distance, and right in front of freakin’ Kilimajaro no less. They were huge and wrinkly and slow and quiet and we loved every second of it.

We continued seeing more of the same, while adding grey crowned cranes, impalas, warthogs, and hippos (that were quite far away) to our list.  Before leaving for a lunch break, we drove out to a more tree-heavy area of the park in hopes of seeing lions, which tend to stay away from open savannah as they have little opportunity to hide from potential prey in such places.  After driving the loop and scaring a ton of zebras in the road (some of which farted in surprise and my 5-year-old self thought that was hilarious), my jeep came back to find the other two cars excitedly looking at something far off in between two palm tree clusters. They found a lion!!!!!!!!! She was real far off and basically couldn’t be seen without bino’s but STILL.  I got to check another one off of Darcy’s list of life goals, so I’m not complaining.

Another sweet shot by Megan Kloeckner of the lioness we spotted off in the distance

Another sweet shot by Megan Kloeckner of the lioness we spotted off in the distance

We headed back to camp for lunch and had the option of staying to relax a bit or going on game drive round 2, so I did the latter.  We saw more of the animals seen in game drive round 1, PLUS about 6 hyenas right next to the road.  Those guys were SO cool to see, because they’ve got such a unique body structure and there was even a baby hyena who was the cutest thing I’d seen all day. Nerd fact: their feces are white due to all the calcium they ingest from eating so many bones.  That’s pretty neat.

At the end of the drive when I thought life couldn’t get any better, a massive rainbow appeared over the area where the lion was, and I was proved wrong once again by Kenya’s awesomeness.

We drove back to camp, had a drink by the pool, and celebrated Lindy’s birthday with a cake made by the ever hospitable camp staff since she’d be at the Maasai homestay for her actual 22nd. All in all, I guess it was a decent day.

Photo credz to Cecelia Hyland for capturing the safari dream team under a casual rainbow. (Left to right: Lil Wei, Dar Es Salaam, Simom, Jenny, Jeff, and Meera)

Photo credz to Cecelia Hyland for capturing the safari dream team under a casual rainbow. (Left to right: Lil Wei, Dar Es Salaam, Simom, Jenny, Jeff, and Meera)

Simon hapa tuliishi katika Masaai kwa siku moja. We stayed with the Masaai for a night. Each of our groups had a translator because we weren’t good enough at Swahili and the Masaai weren’t good enough at English for us to get through the night. The translators were all either from the family we were staying with or from a neighboring Manyatta, our translators name was Mary. We got there in the afternoon and of course the first thing that happened was they offered us chai, like any good Kenyan would. It was strange staying with them after being at the cultural Manyattas because, surprise surprise, the Masaai are pretty much just like any other Kenyans. Most of the family that I stayed with wore western clothes and only the older generation wore the traditional dress.

That day we didn’t have that much to do because it was so late in the day. We herded the goats a little but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, they kind of knew where to go and didn’t really need us to help. As we were waiting for dinner Jeff started to make friends with the family’s children, there were about ten of them. He showed them his binoculars and they were amazed, they looked at Kilimanjaro and for people who saw the mountain every day it was the first time they had seen in so close. The children were amazed by the binoculars and looked at everything they could. Even our translator who was 20 was amazed by them. After that we started to play soccer with the children. We tried to make teams and play an actual game but soon enough it just turned into everyone trying to get the ball.

A little bit later the animals got back from grazing and it was time to milk them. I tried and wasn’t the best at it, Jeff was much better than I was. We talked to our host mother about the animals and she said that they weren’t producing as much milk as they had in the past. Part of the milk was given to a calf whose mother had died shortly after childbirth. It was given the milk from a bottle by our Masaai mother. We talked to Mary about this and she said the cow saw our Masaai mother as its mother and would even go into the house to find her, the cow was adorable. We ate dinner a little bit later and looked at the stars as we did; they were some of the most beautiful stars I have ever seen. After dinner we went to sleep on the bed. Except it wasn’t a normal bed, it was a traditional Masaai bed which is a platform made of sticks with some dry bean plants, with some cow hides on the top. It wasn’t the worst sleep I have ever had but it wasn’t a good sleep by any means.

Jeff and I were woken up around 4:30 in the morning by the sound of a rooster crowing, the rooster was under the bed along with all of the other chickens. It kept crowing about every twenty minutes. Eventually we were able to get back to sleep and we woke up around 8:00. We had a breakfast of chapatti, although it was more similar to a very thick crepe, or very thick, very greasy Kenyan pancakes. After breakfast we went with Mary to fetch water from a nearby well which the government had made. After filling the jugs with water we headed back to the Manyatta. After that we went out herding again but the animals were already too far away for us to reach them. We went back to the Manyatta and then we worked on beading with the mother and Mary. I made a bracelet and a ring and Jeff made a bracelet. After that we ate lunch which was ugali and cabbage. All of the meals we had there were regular Kenyan meals that wouldn’t have been out of place at our homestays in Nyeri. After lunch Mary showed us how to plant in the field that the family owned. This didn’t last long as the car that came to pick us up arrived shortly after we started to plant. The stay with the Masaai was a very interesting, and enjoyable experience and one unlike any other experience we have had.

(Left to right) Wei, our Maasai mom and Meera

(Left to right) Wei, our Maasai mom and Meera

Meera hapa sharing the rest of our time in Amboseli: After an incredible week with animals, some amazing Maasai men and women, and Kilimanjaro we finished off our week by interviewing different groups of people of Maasai people.  We interviewed groups of: Community leaders where there was a Vice Chairman and a committee member, Elders where we got the opportunity to chat with two older men, traditional women where the influence of modernity was evident because they had cell phones, handbags and weave however traditional culture was evident also because they wore shukas (a.k.a. Maasai blankets) and lots of beautiful beading, and last but not least, we had a group of educated women who shared the differences within their culture now in comparison to the past.

The Community Leaders group talked about how things are being done in the community to ensure that the community is safe and people are living in harmony together.  Some of the duties they carry out consist of ensuring that bride wealth is paid and making sure that people who owe people are paying them.

The group of elders talked about pastoralism and the role that it plays in their culture.  They told us about the importance of cattle in their culture and also how why they stopped being nomadic. In order for them to survive the Maasai people used to move from one area to the other to ensure that their cattle have enough to eat!  This is why Maasai people used to build semi-permanent houses since they did not live in them all their lives.  The elders said with the introduction of modernity, education and Christianity their culture is bound to change however the things that will remain the same are: one the wearing of their traditional Shukas, if it is not the everyday dress it will be worn at ceremonies. Two the scaring of the face will never change because it is a mark of identification and the people of Maasai society will always have cattle weather it is five or twenty, they will always have cattle!

The traditional women shed light on the improvement of access to medical services.  They said that nowadays more and more women are using the hospitals for childbirth compared to the traditional methods where they do a homebirth and have their co-wives help them or their friends in the community.  We were curious to know why they are using hospitals and what we were told is that the government has insisted that they use the facilities by making it more accessible to the population and also made the services free of cost.

The educated women shared some of the changes that have come to their culture which include the change in food they eat, farming as a way to gain access to different crops for domestic use and helping with providing food for the cattle also, permanent houses which are now being made for iron sheets and wood, education and the change for men to have only one wife which came about with the influence of Christianity.

While staying and traveling around Kenya we have meet so many different people and learned about their culture.  While the Maasai people have for long resisted change and modernity our trip to Amboseli has taught us that culture will not change but only evolve with the different influences.

Kwaheri wanafunzi, walimu, wazazi na marafiki!

Nairobi: Urban Homestay

Class weeks 3, 4, and 5/Urban Homestay Blog Entry
By Klare Nevins, Claire Pacione, Maggie Cummins,
Kate Tuttle, Wei Song, and Ashley McDuffee

Hello every one! So this blog post is covering the week three, four and five of classes. In addition to attending classes at the United Kenya Club in downtown Nairobi we also began our three-week urban homestay component. Each student was placed with a family that lives in or just outside of Nairobi. Many students went to live with families that have been hosting St. Lawrence KSP students for many years, while others were the first students to be hosted by families. I think I can speak for us all when I say leading up to the day before our new families came to pick us up at the compound we were feeling a whole mixed bag of emotions. Having just come back from and intense but unforgettable week in Tanzania, we all were still reeling from the prospect of adjusting yet again to a new environment, with new people and new experiences. This is the nature of the KSP program; we do a lot in not a lot of time. We are so grateful for all the experiences, but we have a real understanding of how this semester is intense in more ways than just adjusting to a foreign country.

Now let’s hear from some students – here is what they had to say about some of the standout experiences they had during their Urban Homestays:

Claire Pacione:

Here we are ready for the First Lady's Half Marathon. Over 10,000 people participated!

Here we are ready for the First Lady’s Half Marathon. Over 10,000 people participated!

Jambo marafiki wangu!

Looking over the Kenya semester program schedule, I was honestly most apprehensive about our three-week urban homestay. Having grown up in a small town near the Pacific Ocean in New England, I had never lived in a city before. Although I have experiences of venturing into Boston, a 40-minute train ride away, I expected that Nairobi would be a different kind of city than Boston, or even New York.

One of the aspects of this program I was most excited about was learning from cross-cultural relationships. When transitioning into my urban homestay, it was the relationships built with my homestay family, and in the city, that allowed me to prosper during the urban homestay I originally assumed would be most difficult!

Living in a household with my Kikuyu host family, their Kenyan Canadian friend, my Kenyan host cousin (41) who was raised entirely in Britain and his Armenian wife made for interesting conversations around the table!

In support of Kenya’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta’s, Beyond Zero Campaign focused on maternal and infant health, a few of the girls and I decided to take part in the Beyond Zero 10k / Half Marathon! I have been a runner since I was in high school and enjoy supporting and experiencing races; Kenyatta’s race was the largest city race I have ever taken part in. Upon registration we picked up purple shirts that displayed the First Lady on the back of them raising up a healthy child. The campaign seems to be highly supported by the individuals I have spoken with during my homestay. Generally, my Kenyan friends feel as though the First Lady is taking into her hands a necessary conflict and confidently moving forward with it. Through talking with my host mother about the campaign, I slowly but surely talked her into coming along and it was a great experience!

The race experience opened my eyes to the great support Margaret Kenyatta’s campaign holds. Once again, it is through these cultural-relationships built that have taught me, and my classmates, more about Kenya, its people, and more about ourselves and our growing perceptions of this world.

Beyond Zero is the organization that the Half Marathon was fundraising for. Check out the website for more information!

Beyond Zero is the organization that the Half Marathon was fundraising for. Check out the website for more information!

Maggie Cummins:

My experience in the urban home stay was not life changing; I did not pick up any new skills, learn experiences of people that vastly differ from my own, or spend nights in living conditions in which I had not previously encountered. This trip, rather than introduce me to yet another dissimilarity between Kenyan and American culture, showed me a plethora of similarities between the experiences of urban people (in this context, I consider myself to live an urban lifestyle in the States). My host sister was 22, had recently graduated from a school in South Africa, and was currently job surfing, a foreshadowing of my own future after graduation. We shared a similar sense of humor and enjoyed the same things, and I found that conversation flowed easily with her and her mother, and I never felt the need to censor myself (both in the sense of context and language). This is more than likely due in part to their English, which might have been better than my own, and their education. In the rural areas, I found little commonalities in conversation, and in Nairobi, I felt as a though I was able to express my own thoughts and begin to shift perspective a little more to understand the views of my family. It was comforting to come home after school and be greeted by an overstuffed couch and TLC on the television, a reflection of afternoons spent in the states, and I won’t lie, I loved the luxury of having a house keeper!

While the hands on activities were few, unlike my rural experience, I felt as though my urban experience gave me the opportunity to learn more about the diversity of Kenya as it’s represented in Nairobi, and I additionally had several opportunities to network and make connections with Kenyans my age. Many factors contribute to diversity of culture; nationality, ethnic group, gender, class, religion etc., but being in Nairobi contributed to the visibility of this diversity rather than isolate one group. My urban home stay was a valuable experience that offered me a wealth of knowledge that differed from my other experiences in Kenya so far. I’m sure a significant part of my attraction to the urban home stay is the comfort of living, where I had working water (for the most part), electricity, and wanted for nothing (‘ceptAnnie’s mac&cheese). But all in all, the communication played a vital role in my overall experience. I was fortunate to have a family educated in interests similar to my own. And those couches were ON POINT! Overall, an amazing experience!

Kate Tuttle:

Hamjambo marafiki! I also had a very enriching, and educational three-week urban homestay. While my peers and I were all taking our regular classes at the United Kenya Club, the most insightful learning I did during these weeks was after school. My urban host family consisted of my mom, dad, and sister, Diana. They also have one other daughter, who is currently abroad in Canada at university. However, Diana was unfortunately in the hospital for the first two weeks that I was there, with a condition that they described pretty vaguely when I asked; so, I naturally kept my curiosities to myself, with the assumption that it was something the family did not feel comfortable discussing. The beauty in having three weeks with a different family of your own is being able to distinguish how families react to certain hardships like these. While I may not have had full insight on exactly what had happened to Diana to make her go to the hospital, I did see how the family acted while they were genuinely worried and concerned for their daughter’s well-being. In addition to visiting Diana whenever we could, and even during my Mom’s work hours, the family turned to religion to help alleviate the situation. In our classes here, we have been learning about the devoutness of Kenyans to Christianity since the implementation of missionaries during the colonial times. Yet, I did not realize the extent to which the members of my urban family would turn to religion for peace of mind, as I did not witness such religious devotion at my rural homestay. While I have had my doubts about religion in the past, I will admit it was refreshing to adopt their optimistic and thankful outlook on life. For example, every few days before meals I was expected to say what I was grateful for. While it not only put into perspective all of the luxuries I have each day, it also was a bonding moment for me and my family to put aside our issues and look at what is more meaningful in life—health, family, and happiness. I do not intend to attend church or religiously affiliate myself after this homestay, however I do think I will—and already have begun to— start realizing what is important to fear or worry about, and what is not.

Ashley McDuffee:

It is extremely hard to categorize any experience here in Kenya as your favorite, because you experience so many incredible things each day. However, the Urban Homestay is certainly among my favorite experiences here. I was extremely apprehensive about this component; I’m a country girl through and through and have never liked cities. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wairimu and Sinnary were right as always. They place the component at a time when you’ve gotten comfortable enough in Kenya to brave Nairobi life with the homestay families. I had already spent a few weeks exploring Nairobi in-between classes held at the UKC. Once I got my bearings the city was no longer as terrifying as it had once been. Before long all of us were finding favorite coffee shops and restaurants and bargaining at theMassai market like true Kenyans. As far as my family was concerned, I have never felt more at home in Kenya. I had amazing parents and three sisters, one of which was my age and still living at home. I truly felt like these people were as much my family as my mom, dad and brother at home. Anytime we would go to an outing they would introduce me as their daughter “Anyango”, a Luo name they gave me. One of my favorite experiences was when my sister, an aspiring singer, had rehearsal with her friends for an upcoming gig. She allowed me to sit in on their rehearsal. I hadn’t told her I’m a singer as well, and have taken formal lessons since a young age. They were having trouble with a harmony so I sang an alternative one; they had no idea I sang. I immediately became one of their group and even helped create a mashup which they opened the show with. Although I was not in Nairobi to perform with them I had an incredible time bonding with my sister through something we both love. After this experience I will always have a home and a family here, and that is something truly priceless to me.

Ashley McDuffee with her host sister Prisca. They got along really well, especially when they found out they both have a passion for singing!

Ashley McDuffee with her host sister Prisca. They got along really well, especially when they found out they both have a passion for singing!

Wei Song:

Wei Song with her Urban Homestay sisters

Wei Song with her Urban Homestay sisters

Habari zenu! My three-week urban homestay was definitely one of the best experiences I had in Kenya. I grew up in a small city in China with a population of three million, so everything my homestay family did for me really helped make me feel like home. I’m a psychology major, and fortunately my host stay mom turned out to be a psychology teacher! She teaches in an International high school in Nairobi. We had so many great conversations at anytime – even when we were watching television, driving, or doing work. She took me to her school and let me join a Chinese class (Chinese happens to be my first language) and her psychology class so I got a chance to appreciate the one of the best International schools in Kenya. She also introduced me to her students and friends, one who became a good friend of mine. My two host sisters were ten and twelve years and they were so outgoing, kind, and we always played together. I really feel like we are real sisters and a real family. Although we didn’t have much time spent together, we tried our best to make the time we were together meaningful. They took me to the elephant orphanage, and we went out for swimming and dinner during the weekend. They have a house help named Mercy, and she is really like a family member in the house. We would make jokes of each other, and we shared our different life experiences. She is only twenty-three years old, and my mom told me that she wants Mercy to go back to school and would even be willing to pay her tuition. I feel so lucky that I had the best family, which I still consider as my family even after I have left. We still talk to each other and my mom still calls me daughter. I really feel I have a home in Kenya now, and I’ll always miss them and remember the great time we spent together. SAFI SANA

Wei Song with her Urban Homestay mother

Wei Song with her Urban Homestay mother

Klare Nevins:

Thank you to all the students who took the time to share their experiences. After the Urban Homestays, I think we all were surprised just how much we felt like we were a part of a family, in a way that we haven’t been since we left home in January. My personal experience was incredible, and I truly could not have asked for a more open, thoughtful and caring family to live with. One of the biggest things I got out of the experience was a realization that I could live in a major urban city, and live in it functionally. If you had asked me if I would feel this way at the beginning of the semester I would have said absolutely not. By seeing how families live on a daily basis and build the structure of their days around the same things I value in my home, I was truly able to understand not only the adaptability of humans but also recognize that we all are more alike than we think we are. As an Anthropology major, the classes I take mostly revolve around the diversity of different cultures around the world. By learning about different cultures we can in turn be more open and accepting of versions of the human experience that may differ from our own. Although this is vital to comprehend, I was most struck this week by the understanding that even though I had never met my family before and had no basis of connection other than their willingness to open their home to me, I left feeling like I truly had a Kenyan family. How was this possible? I saw it through the universal connectors of humanity – feelings of compassion, love, family and kindness. I think to at least some extent every single person feels these emotions, therefore we all have the capability to connect with anyone in the entire world. I don’t know about you but that makes me feel pretty inspired.

Thank you for all those who take the time to read this, and as always, we thank those at home and in our St. Lawrence community that have helped us make this incredible experience possible!

Asante Sana

Spring 2015 Kenya Program Students Respond to Attack in Far Northeastern Kenya.

The following is a response from the St. Lawrence students currently on the Kenya Semester Program. They wanted to reach out to the SLU community and let everyone know what they were thinking in relation to the April 2, 2015 terrorist attack in far Northeastern Kenya.  If any students or family members have questions related to this topic I encourage  you to contact me and or the Associate Dean of International and Intercultural Studies Dr. Karl Schonberg

Our thoughts are with our Kenyan friends and colleagues who are mourning this tragedy

Matt Carotenuto
Associate Professor of History &
Coordinator of African Studies
St. Lawrence University


Jambo marafiki wangu! First off, we would like to collectively apologize for our slow posting; we’ve been super busy having amazing experiences and have not had as much time to write as we thought we would!

We’re just going to jump right in: we know there’s been a lot of concern about the events in Garissa yesterday. And understandably so! When the western media writes headlines such as “University Students Targeted in Kenya,” it’s difficult not to immediately jump to the worst conclusions. That being said, these events are quite complicated, and, more importantly, they don’t affect us here in Nairobi in any way (other than our obvious sadness at the tragedies taking place in this country).

Here is a map of Garissa in relation to us in Nairobi:

Garissa in relation to Nairobi

Garissa in relation to Nairobi

It doesn’t look that far (though it is only a little closer to Nairobi than Canton is to Boston), but in reality, Nairobi and Garissa are literally worlds apart. Garissa is on the border of the former North Eastern province (now Garissa County), one of the most underdeveloped and insecure parts of the country, which even most Kenyans avoid. There’s a popular joke here that, in North Eastern province, they ask visitors, “how is Kenya?” because it is so far removed from the rest of the country. Not only is it far, it’s quite remote in terms of access. Many of the roads here in Kenya are not well maintained as it is, but getting to Garissa is more difficult than traveling most places due to lack of infrastructure. Basically, North Eastern province, including Garissa, is a lawless area that has continually been subject to the wrath of militant Somalis. It is for this reason that, while the attack is tragic, it’s not a surprise—unfortunately, events like this are not uncommon. The only reason that the Western media is taking notice is because of the scale of the attack and because of the Christian targets.

Unfortunately, these attacks have become more common in recent years due to Western drone strikes and due to the Kenyan military’s interference in Somalia. North Eastern province is an easy target in Kenya due to its proximity to Al Shabaab’s Somali base and due to its lack of law enforcement.

Now to the good news! Our program has not operated anywhere near North Eastern province in at least a decade.

This is the United Kingdom’s travel warning map for Kenya:

Map from British Travel Advisory outlining restricted areas

Map from British Travel Advisory outlining restricted areas

As you can see, Garissa is firmly ensconced in the orange area. Our program follows these same guidelines, with additional restricted areas. In addition, it’s important to note that a  travel advisory has been in place in some form since the 1998 bombings of the US Embassy in Nairobi. With the addition of Mombasa to the restricted areas in 2014 we now have a component in far western Kenya (Kisumu) as a replacement.

Since the attack at the Westgate mall in Nairobi in September 2013, security here in the capital has increased exponentially—these attacks are truly devastating the Kenyan tourism industry, and so president Uhuru Kenyatta is determined to prove that his country remains safe for foreigners. I know that every single one of us, all 18, feels 100% safe in regards to security in Nairobi, where we are metal detected and scanned before entering any mall or grocery store or restaurant or hospital, etc. Cars are searched before entering parking lots and bags are thoroughly inspected by private security firms all around the city. Honestly, we are more concerned in our day-to-day life by the crazy drivers or threat of petty theft—as we would be in any other big city in the world. As we are writing this, everyone in our beautiful house in the ultra safe suburb of Karen is happy and healthy. We’re making a potluck dinner tonight, actually, so music is blaring and people are singing as they prepare food for our Kenyan friends and professors. In short, none of us are worried. That’s not to say that we aren’t having discussions about the events in our current home country, and we are definitely taking our personal safety seriously (carefully deciding where we go on weekends, etc.), but we are living our lives as normal. In addition, our KSP administration remains alert, as always, because our safety is their top concern—as we learned last semester, when the program was canceled due to security concerns, we would not be here if it was deemed unsafe for us in any way.

All of us feel it’s important that, amidst the plethora of dramatic media articles, you hear directly from us. Within our fenced-in compound (equipped with an electric fence, barbed wire, and 24 hour security guards, as most houses here in Nairobi are), we are safe and anxiously awaiting our independent studies to commence next week. For us, it’s life as usual. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this tragedy and we are heartbroken that our adoptive country continues to suffer this plague in some areas. However, that does not change how we feel about our time here, and we urge anyone who is interested in the program to not be discouraged by this awful incident. As SLU African Studies chair Matt Carotenuto said in a post about this incident, “tuko pamoja.” All 18 of us truly feel that we are “all together” with our greater Kenyan family, especially those impacted by the events in Garissa.

Hakuna matata!

Love, SLU KSP Spring 2015