Over the past three weeks the KSP students were all experiencing Nairobi through the lense of Urban Homestay families in and around the city. Be it in New Kitisuru, Kilamani, or Riverside we all had differing experiences culminating in three amazing and memorable weeks.
These past three weeks have been in stark contrast to our experiences in Tanzania and our rural homestay. Many of us were surprised at how progressive our families were, and took comfort in the similarities that existed between Nairobi and our respective hometowns.
During our UHS we attended daily Swahili classes as well as our elective courses. This large period of academic time allowed us delve deeper into the areas of government organization, historical issues, biodiversity topics, and gender inequality in Kenya. Many of these issues we were able to experience first hand within the city. Our core course professors also took us on weekly field components which played a great role in our experiential learning.
The first experiential component included in our core course was a visit to Kibera. Being the second largest slum in Africa, we were exposed to aspects of life many of us had never experienced. We visited an organization called Carolina for Kibera that introduced us to the area, and guided us around the slum. This organization aims to “develop local leaders, catalyze positive change, and alleviate poverty in Kibera” (Carolina for Kibera). We walked around for a few hours in small groups because the non-profit organization aims to discourage slum tourism. We visited the homes of three high school aged students. These students have all received grants from Carolina for Kibera to further their education and help provide them with opportunities they might not otherwise receive. We met the students and their families and were able to talk openly about everyday life. We were also able to visit one of Kibera’s nutritional aid centers. Centers like these provide nutritional aid for children below six months of age to age four. In addition, we visited the largest health center in Kibera. We were able to see first hand some of the new technological resources available to communities. This includes new X-ray machines, laboratories, and various pharmaceutical resources. Overall, this trip was very enriching, and as always, we found great similarities between our lives and those of the people who live in Kibera.
The second excursion was to Karura Forest. Karura is a protected national forest in the heart of Nairobi. It is open to the public for various leisure activities such as biking, walking, hiking, etc., on well-maintained, beautiful trails. It is the home of the infamous Mau Mau caves where the Mau Mau freedom fighters hid during their fight for independence. We were able to take a guided tour through the forest to see the caves in addition to waterfalls, wildlife, and countless scenic views. Karura is a great example of how conservation is taking a front seat in Kenya politics, and spaces like Karura are exemplars for sustainable living.
Later that same afternoon we were also able to visit one of the many curio shops throughout Nairobi. This one was the Maasai market, located at Village Market. We were encouraged to use as much Swahili as possible to both better our skills and avoid being overcharged for our foreigner status. We came away from the afternoon of bartering exhausted but satisfied with souvenirs to show for our work. Every time we go to markets to barter we are determined to further our Swahili, gain a greater cultural understanding of the market economy, and hopefully make some friends in the process.
The final activity we were able to take part in during our Urban Homestays was a Relay for Life event raising money for cancer prevention, a major issue in Kenya due to lacking resources and funding. Haley’s homestay mom, Katheke, is a breast cancer survivor turned activist. She organized the event featuring 24 hours of food, dance, and honorary lantern lightings in the Nyayo National Stadium. Haley’s host family’s participation in the event was a great example of how cancer awareness is growing in Kenya, and we were thrilled to be a part of that progress for a night. This is yet another example of how we were able to find similarities between the lives of Kenyan people and our own lives.
Overall, our urban experience in Nairobi has flown by. We are so grateful to the families that so generously took us in, and the people that welcomed us throughout our time in the city. Although our main time in Nairobi is over, we made lasting connections with our families and plan to maintain our ties for years to come. Although we are now switching directions and entering another rural component of our semester, we will take with us both everything that we have learned and the new connections we have made. Stay tuned to hear about our upcoming adventures in Kisumu and Amboseli.