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! http://www.beyondzero.or.ke/

Beyond Zero is the organization that the Half Marathon was fundraising for. Check out the website for more information! http://www.beyondzero.or.ke/

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

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