Our second major homestay component of the program is based in around Nairobi, allowing us to travel and become more comfortable in the city through class trips, weekends out and exploring the streets between lectures. This component lasted three weeks, each student being placed with families in Nairobi and the surrounding suburbs. On Sunday Sept. 25 our new parents and siblings came to the compound in Karen to gather us. We all packed our bags, put on our nice outfits and waited for our parents to pick us up. The yard was decorated beautifully with a large tent and chairs and Seth, our chef, made snacks and tea for the occasion. Families came and went with their new American children. Those who were left at the end anxiously waited as we watched our friends leave excited to meet our new families. That night we all enjoyed dinner in our new houses, exchanging stories with new mothers and fathers and new brothers and sisters.
Monday morning meant another week of classes for us. However, with the urban homestay we only have classes four days a week with Fridays off for field trips. Each of us went to classes, using the time between them to go explore the nearby city of Nairobi. Whether trying a new place for lunch, bargaining at city market or finding new stores in the winding streets, these three weeks allowed for us to become more comfortable in the city we live so close to. After classes we’d go home and get to spend the evening with a family, a nice change from the more college style living at the compound. We now had people who asked about our classes at dinner, made sure we were finishing our homework, and helped us pack lunches. Our new families were very much appreciated, making it a little easier to be away from home for all of us.
On Friday of the first week we all got to experience different parts of the city, through three different organizations. One group went to talk to PAWA 254, an art-ivism (art-activism) group based in Nairobi. They call themselves a “hub for visual creatives in Kenya,” providing a spaces for artists of all kinds to work and have a chance to take classes and share their pieces. The pieces and projects they support help to create social change. Students who went here for to explore the workspace, hear about projects and see where performances take place. Another group went to Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa, and went to different organizations that are working with the youth here. First they went to Uweza, a program that helps students with school funds and provides safe and empowering programs for them. These programs include things like a soccer team and art clubs, which help develop talent, build life skills, and improve emotional and mental well-being. After this, they went to the Red Rose School. This institution provides primary education for over 400 children in Kibera. This school is actually supported by a number of groups at St. Lawrence, including Omicron Kappa Delta. The last group went to Lea Toto, a community-based outreach program which extends care of HIV+ children in the Kangemi slum. They do this by providing medical services, nutrition, counseling and capacity building to children affected by HIV/AIDs as well as educating their parents and caregivers. Everyone learned a lot from their trips and enjoyed being able to share their experiences with each other.
Not only do we get to explore on Fridays, but sometimes during the week we got to as well. On Wednesday Sept 12th we took the day off of some of our classes to go to a town hall meeting hosted by the US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec at his residence. Here students had the chance to vote in the upcoming election, talk to people who work at the embassy and then ask questions. We all enjoyed conversing with fellow Americans and seeing what they were doing here in Kenya as well as hearing about what our Ambassador had to say about Kenyan modern events. While here we learned lots of things, such as the lowering of travel warnings for Mombasa, which hopefully means students, can begin to travel there again through the program and for IDS. Overall this was a very educational opportunity, one of the best parts of this semester are all the chances for experiential learning.
During our time in Nairobi we also had the chance to explore the neighboring town. One really fun thing that a group of girls did was go get dresses made at a tailor. Mia, Erin and I (Emily) had a day off together and went on an adventure. Erin’s host mother Flo is a well known tailor who was gracious enough to make time for us during her busy week to meet and talk to us about her job and then help us choose fabric and design a shape. While here she told us about working with the President’s mother and niece to design clothes, it was crazy to think this women was making us things too! We each chose patterns of cloth and then talked with Flo about what shape would look best on us and with the fabric. Then we each got measured for the dress, a first for all of us to have something fitted to our own bodies. We returned a week later to try on our new creations and get any alterations that were needed. Each of us loved our creations so much we couldn’t help but order another beautiful dress. Now we all have hand-made, one of a kind pieces of clothing to bring back home that will always remind us of our time here.
During our urban homestays all of us had the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the city of Nairobi. By living with families scattered around the city we learned how to use public transit to navigate the city. Due to the complexities of public transit in Nairobi we all were helped by our homestay siblings. My older brother Emmanuel, who is a SLU graduate, class of 2015, was there to help me. Having Emmanuel there to help me was amazing. He didn’t just help me get where I needed to go but he was eager to show me new places around the city and take me to spots that I as a foreigner would not have otherwise visited such as the Kangemi Market. The Kangemi market was near our house and that is adjacent to the Kangemi slum. Being able to go to this market allowed me to see an entirely new aspect of Nairobi and without my Emmanuel I most likely would not have been able to visit it.
Emmanuel, my other brother George and myself also visited the Giraffe Center in Nairobi. The Giraffe Center is a tourist attraction where you can feed and pet giraffes and they have a museum on the cite to inform its visitors about the animals. As fun as we had at the center I can not say the same about journey there. To get there we were taking public transportation and had planned on taking two busses. This plan quickly dissolved. After our first Matutu (the Nairobi busses) we got on our second that said it was going to Karen, the part of the city where the Giraffe Center is, but halfway through the drive it took a turn and ended its route in a very different spot from where it said it was going. At this point our only option was to take an uber the rest of the way. Uber in Nairobi is relatively new and they have not quite figured out the most effective way to manage it. When we called the uber it said it was 6 minutes away but due to the faults in the uber system over here we finally got the uber after an hour. It took 3 ½ hours to get the the Giraffe Center but it was worth the journey.
Nairobi as strange as it may sound is a hot spot for SLU graduates. Max Miller from the class of 2014 is currently living in Nairobi. He moved here several months ago and before that he was located in Mombasa on the eastern coast of Kenya. Max attended KSP during his time at St. Lawrence and moved back right after he graduated. To any extent possible he is always looking to be involved with the program and is a great connection to have in the city.
During the Urban homestay our core course class had planned Friday activities. One of the activities was visiting the Karura Forest. The Karura forest is located in the middle of the city and is a staple of the greenbelt movement in Kenya. In the recent past this land was being taken over by questionable means and being used for development but in an effort to save the forest there has been improvement to the forest security and there is much more government involvement in maintaining it.
We also were taking our Swahili classes in Nairobi rather than on the SLU compound. We got the chance to go to breakfast in the city and visit the city market so we could utilize what we have learned.