Mombasa Field Component, Fall 2017

Immediately following our Amboseli component, we met Njau at a shop in Emali and from there drove the whole day down to Mombasa. Immediately after stepping off the bus, the change in climate was apparent. The humidity was higher than many of us had ever experienced, and despite it being 7:00 in the evening, it was still 85 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Palm trees lined the edges of the resort we stayed in, called Neptune Beach Resort, and dinner was on a patio overlooking a pool, which was just in front of the beach where the Indian Ocean awaited. After a good night’s sleep in our rooms, we headed into Mombasa the next morning to experience it for ourselves!

(Fort Jesus, Old Town, Swimming (Emily Hoffman)

It was incredible to say the least to see the ocean and the vast blue horizon line for the first time in months. Ever since coming to Kenya we’ve been daydreaming about swimming in the ocean, let alone the Indian ocean. Within the first hour of arriving at our hotel, a few people ran to the beach. We craved the salty film on our skin, open-water, and effortless floating. The warm indian ocean left people feeling giddy and excited. Some of us even got into the routine of waking up with the sun and swimming before breakfast as the soft yellow light lit up the ocean. What a magical place to live.

On our first full day in Mombasa we explored Fort Jesus, the ruins of a fort built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, along with the sites of Old Town. We traveled in and out of the ruin catching little pockets in the stone that looked out on the ocean. A reminder that we were on the coast. The color pallet is so different here than Nairobi. It’s soft yellows and exuberant blues and green sprinkled with the array of vibrant kangas and diras that followed us wherever we went.

The colors, the small buildings, and the chaotic street environment reminded me of what I thought coming to Kenya would look like. We roamed down streets popping our heads into windows, surviving wild spice markets and the bustling streets that double as markets and roadways. My nose was overwhelmed with everything it was experiencing. Smells quickly switched from delicious to rotting fish to somewhere in between where I couldn’t decipher if I enjoyed it or not. I loved watching the way that people roamed the streets. It reminded me of how people cross highways in Nairobi, effortlessly migrating through chaos. It’s safe to say that everyone slept like a rock our first night.

On Wednesday morning we headed out in the bus with Njau and Sinnary to go and learn about a local organization (Haki Africa) that was centered around protecting and providing justice to human rights violations. Their vision, as described on their website, is “A Kenyan society devoid of poverty and all forms of marginalization and where each person has an equal opportunity to participate in self-development.” In Swahili, haki means “justice,” however each letter has been assigned to have a meaning. The H is for humanity, A for activism, K for knowledge, and I for integrity. Haki Africa also advocates for progression of socio-economic well-being as it relates to Article 43 of the 2010 Kenyan constitution, which asserts that every human is entitled to various healthcare services from clean water, reproductive services, to freedom from hunger.  This group is also in the process of being recognized as an NGO. They also recently won the 2016 James Lawson award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonviolent Conflict.

Despite being oppressively hot inside, the company employees were very welcoming and even had ready a large assortment of snacks for us. We all packed into a small room where we were introduced to the company by one of the employees, and then were introduced to Hussein Khalid, the executive director of the organization, and a man who has been subjected to a lot of government controversy and oppression for his work. He had been arrested eight times as he led demonstrations against violence, corruption, and human rights violations within the Kenyan government, but was still incredibly enthusiastic and hopeful about the work he and his colleagues were doing.

He gave us a brief overview as well, and explained some of the cases they deal with, which were eye opening to us. The police treatment of those suspected of terrorist activity was often brutal and inhumane, to the point where if one person even suggested somebody had terrorist ties, they were picked up and often never heard from again. When asked about it, they would also say they have no knowledge of the situation, and in many cases the only way to open up a case was to bribe them a large sum of money. This speaks to the overall theme of police corruption we have heard of in Kenya, although it is seemingly exaggerated on the coast where the Arab influence is much higher. We also learned that Hussein had done some incredible work in his career along with his organization, which at one point even earned him an invite to the White House from Barack Obama, while he was on Kenya’s blacklist for allegedly sympathizing with terrorism. The reasoning for this was that the cases Haki fought for were often disappearances of those suspected of terrorist activity.

After lunch at a traditional swahili restaurant in Old Town, we moved back to Haki and discussed politics on the coast with a lawyer associated with Haki Africa. He gave us an overview of how all of the different coastal people of varying ethnicities often worked together, particularly in relation to coastal politics, and the issue of cessation. A theme we addressed throughout the week, many people on the coast felt left out or disregarded by the central government led by Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi. This in itself was interesting to learn about first hand all week, and it was something we would later be able to discuss in interviews and group discussions. Although not everybody supports cessation, usually because they feel it would lead to more corruption in a new coastal government, many people we spoke to did call for it, and this is what we discussed at length during our afternoon at Haki. It was interesting to see how corruption was almost even more an issue on the coast than in Nairobi, which created an interesting dynamic to what we had experienced as we have spent most of our time in Nairobi.

Corruption is what seems to be the biggest and most pressing issue within much of Kenya’s government, if the coast is going to feel more included in the country of Kenya, corruption has to be fought against through grassroots nonviolent action, following a model similar to that of Haki Africa and their work in dealing with human rights violations.

Neptune Beach Resort (Grace Riehl)

We stayed at the Neptune Beach Resort, right along a private beach. It was a huge contrast from our camping situation in Amboseli! We were also back down at sea level for the first time in months! We had a pretty busy schedule the entire week, but we were able to spend 2 full days at the Resort, exploring as much as possible. Usually, we would spend our free time alternating between sun-bathing, swimming in the cold pool, and swimming in the hot tub-like Indian Ocean. However, there were plenty of more activities to be involved in! A few of us joined in on a beach volleyball game with some locals and played a short game of water polo with some hotel staff and other guests! During the afternoon, when there were low tides, a few shops were set up on the beach, such as dresses, jewelry, art and other knick-knacks. There were more people wandering around as well, offering camel rides and glass bottom boat rides. Many of us put our bargaining skills to the test!

However, it was not all fun and games. In between our free time at the Resort, we were having interactive discussions with various members of the Mombasa community, in order to gain a better understanding of the Swahili culture and the current on-going issues. We talked with female sex workers, the youth, Muslim women, and local Mijikenda professors of the community.

As we alternated between our Resort and traveling through the rest of Mombasa, it was easy to see the contrast. The beaches were sparse, with a few guests and locals around, but soft white sand. The resort reminded me of resorts and hotels in the United States. It was the most American I’ve felt in a place while in Kenya. You could feel the slight difference between the beach and the resort. Mombasa on the other hand, had a strong Arabic influence that could be seen not just in Old Town, but everywhere! It was a very crowded and busy place. Neptune Beach Resort also almost felt a little pocket of paradise compared to all the pollution that we saw in parts of Mombasa. Nonetheless, it was still all beautiful! We ended our time with a Tamarind Cruise on a dhow for dinner and drinks. This was a very special week that we won’t forget!


As we settle down on the compound and getting ready to set out on our next big adventure on our independent studies throughout East Africa, we conclude our last night with a thanksgiving dinner. The table was set with flowers and kangas, Isaiah’s delicious cooking, and 20+ smiling faces. We went around and said what we were thankful for and many people expressed how lucky and appreciative for just being here, the people we’ve met, the stories we’ve heard, and the places we’ve seen. As Dr. Seuss once said, “Oh the places you’ll go”, and look at where all of our feet will travel to tomorrow. From Central Kenya, Nairobi, Uganda, Rwanda, the Coast, and Tanzania to your computers wherever your feet lie, we think about what we are grateful for and the list is long. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and stay tuned to see what’s next for our travels in East Africa.


Amboseli Fall 2017

Amboseli Fall 2017

Hamjambo marafiki na familia!  Liz, Britni and Phoebe here to tell you all about our week in Amboseli. This week was focused on learning about the impact of tourism and modernization on the Maasai culture. Traditionally, the Maasai are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd their cattle in search of water for their animals. In addition, we investigated land issues that have caused the decline of their traditional pastoral lifestyle. By conducting interviews with local farmers and Maasai, participating in a Maasai homestay experience, and going on game drives we learned so much about the Amboseli region that we are excited to share with you!

Farmer Interviews (Liz):

On our first day in Kimana town we conducted interviews with local farmers to get a sense of land issues in the Amboseli region, as well as the struggles that agriculturalists face. We approached a settlement of several metal sheet buildings surrounded by cultivated fields, not far from the center of town. Satellites stuck out from the roofs, new accessories installed almost strictly for watching soccer. KSP students were split into five groups and began interviewing Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers of varying ethnicities about limiting factors to agriculture like fertile land, water, and wildlife impact.

In the Amboseli region, water loss and changing rain patterns have degraded the land such that wildlife and people alike are suffering. Once dominated by pastoralists, this region is now becoming increasingly agricultural as people become desperate to find a profitable and sustainable livelihood. Farmers create a weekly schedule dictating who can use the irrigation system and when. Many of the farmers suggested that the best way to combat the water issue is to build wells, requiring lots of time, labor, and resources which might not be worth the benefit if farmers move frequently because of infertile land. The other significant infringement on profit is wildlife. Because Amboseli Park is so close, and not fenced, wildlife roams freely out of their protected land and onto farms in search of water and food. Each night, farmers sleep in their fields, using torches and firecrackers to scare off animals. They fear losing their entire livelihood in one night, especially if a hungry elephant comes trampling through. Conservation, while an important initiative in the face of changing climates, also unfairly impacts locals. Many farmers are frustrated that they bear the negative impacts of conservation without being provided electric fences or other compensation for their losses by the government. We departed the fields, some green, some bare and dusty, thinking how these hard working and genuine people can be so smiley and spirited in the face of such dismal challenges.

 Game Drives (Phoebe):

The sixteen of us piled into our three, forest green Land Cruisers and set out on a sunny Tuesday morning in hopes of both seeing and learning about the wildlife found within the bounds of Amboseli National Park. Upon entering the park, we watched as other Cruisers zipped by ours, filled with eager khaki-laden tourists with their cameras at the ready. We snickered as they passed, keeping in mind what we had learned so far about the negative impact of tourism on the region. At first, we believed that our drive was for more holistic purposes, while the rest of the mzungus (white people) were there to gawk at the wildlife. As we continued driving slowly down the uneven dirt roads within the park, wildlife began to appear before our eyes. We would look left and see grazing gazelles or wildebeest and then look right and see zebras casually strolling across the plains in the distance. In awe of the vast landscape that was home to so many different species, we grabbed for our own cameras and began to point and shoot. It was at that moment that we began to feed into the tourist stereotype which we had previously been making fun of. After overcoming the initial excitement of seeing so many different animals, we began to feel the inner conflict of our role as both students and tourists alike, considering what impacts we were having during our studies.

We settled into our seats and began asking our tour guides questions about the different wildlife in the park and their certain behavioral patterns. The winding, bumpy roads throughout the park led us to an overlook.We climbed to the top, making out Mt. Kilimanjaro to the right as we stared out onto to the vast landscape. We were able to read informational panels about the geologic history of Mt. Kilimanjaro and its impact on the well-being of the surrounding land and wildlife. Back at the lodge, exciting conversations were shared over lunch about all of the sights we saw and the snapshots we took that morning.

Practicing our Big Five poses at the Amboseli Outlook Point

In the heat of the mid-afternoon we all hopped back in the Cruisers and went out on a second game drive. It was during this drive that we learned to keep our cameras away, making this experience feel like less of a tourist excursion than the first drive. We were able to see many animals feeding in the late afternoon sun. As the sun began to set, we followed the dusty roads out of the park. It was during the drive back to the lodge for the evening that, in our silence, we could process and reflect on all that we had seen throughout the day. Upon exiting the gate of Amboseli we left behind all of the gazelles, wildebeest, zebras, buffaloes, hippos, elephants, lions and hyenas we saw to continue their day-to-day lives, unaware of just how much they had impacted ours that day. We felt we were more than just tourists on that sunny Tuesday. We were academics, young minds eager to learn about the park’s wildlife species and their relationships with the landscape.

Manyatta Experiences (Britni):

Next on the list, was a visit to a “cultural manyatta.” What is a cultural manyatta you ask? Great question. A cultural manyatta is a group of Maasai families who form a traditional village to draw in tourists for the purpose of income. The people who live there perform a traditional Maasai lifestyle. Notice how I said “perform”… please remember that for later. Almost immediately after we stepped foot off the vehicles, the entire community came out to greet us. Men and women lined up and sang different melodies simultaneously. No one had time to pull out their camera as each Maasai took hold of a student and dragged us into the clamour. After, it was time for a tour of the manyatta. We turned around and were greeted by a wall of thorns surrounding the Maasai homes. In groups we were given tours of the eight or so huts made of a mix of ash and cow manure inside. Then, the Maasai split into women, leaders, and warriors and we were all given a chance to ask one another questions about our respective ways of living.

Phoebe and I (Britni) jumping with Maasai Women

Later in the week, pairs of us were taken to a Maasai homestead to stay overnight. We were surprised at how different, and yet similar, our host families’ homesteads were to the cultural manyatta. The wall of thorns was still there, but only a nuclear family lived in a dung hut and tin house on the homestead, rather than an entire community. What the cultural manyatta failed to demonstrate was the effect of modernization on the Maasai people. We were also surprised to find that agriculture seems to be playing a larger role in the Maasai lifestyle than traditional pastoralism. Regardless, the Maasai culture has not been eroded completely by these factors. Many of us participated in things like milking cows, or rather trying to milk, cooking, and fetching firewood and water. The piece de resistance was learning how to mix ash with cow manure to patch the dung hut we had slept in the night previous, most of us sharing rooms with several family members, goats, skittish cats, and flies included. We ended our stay by learning how to bead the decorative bracelets the Maasai are famous for.

Got Milk? Because Liz didn’t

So, perhaps the most important lesson for those who may visit the Maasai, is that culture is always changing. This is true whether you are a Maasai living a decreasingly pastoralist lifestyle or a U.S. citizen living in a modern society. Ultimately, a cultural manyatta is not representative of how the Maasai people live their lives today. Did you remember that word, “performance”? Well, that’s exactly what a cultural manyatta is. Many people don’t realize that that is not how all Maasai live today; culture is simply not static. Another aspect that we learned about the Maasai culture is the importance of tourism. In the case of cultural manyattas, environmental degradation has led to a decrease in pastoralism causing them to find other sources of income. To do this, these people replicate their traditional lifestyle much to the delight of tourists, as this is akin to the “Single Story” of the Maasai. For those of you who don’t know, a “single story” creates stereotypes which leaves our understandings incomplete and fails to recognize complexities, like modernization, that are at play.

Interview with Maasai Community Members (Liz):

At the end of the week, we had the opportunity to interview Maasai community members, including leaders, female elders, warriors, and educated young women. Each group welcomed us to their circle, greeting us by exchanging hello’s in in Maa, “sopa” and “ipa.” Splitting into more focused groups, we asked questions about the social effects of modernization, impacts of group ranching, issues surrounding irrigated agriculture, and tourism’s effect on development. Our discussions were incredibly fruitful, as community members answered our questions passionately, speaking furiously in Maa and often interrupting each other and the translator. With only 20 minutes to interview each group, we never seemed to have enough time to ask all the questions we had. Luckily, we were able to join the Maasai community members for lunch where we were able to ask more specific questions about their lives, occupations, and hopes. In turn, they were able to ask us questions about our culture. One woman asked what issues we have in the United States which we have not seen in Kenya. Our responses included things like an inefficient and irresponsible national food system, rejection of climate science, and preventable gun violence. The exchanges that we shared both during the interviews and over lunch proved to be one of the most valuable learning experiences of the week. The result of our interviews were four fascinating group presentations later that day, sharing our new knowledge about the above topics. This week we were able to get a more holistic understanding of how modernization is affecting the Amboseli region, including land, wildlife, people and culture.

Signing off for now, stay tuned to read about KSP’s adventures in Mombasa!


Liz, Britni and Phoebe