Mombasa Fall 2021

Hey all. Following our trip to Amboseli we drove right to Mombasa. There is a lot to be said about this city, here’s what two SLU students thought about our wonderful few days there.
Mombasa has historically been a hub for interaction between Arabs, Persians, Indians, Europeans as well as native populations within Kenya. The Mjikenda are bantu and are the largest local ethnic group in the Coastal region of Kenya, they are accompanied by the Pokomo. Swahili people and inland groups that have migrated to the coast overtime also make up the diverse peoples of coastal Kenya.
The first Omani Arabs arrived on the coast of Kenya in the 12th century. Kiswahili (the Swahili language) eventually became the way of communication between local Bantu peoples and the Omani traders and settlers. Indian and Chinese peoples also made contact on the coast of Kenya early on. In the late 15th century the Portugese, lead by Vasco De Gama arrived with aims to take over trade from the Omanis. Since then kiswahili has adapted to include Portugese words and the Swahili culture draws from local Kenyan, Arab, Portuguese, Indian and Brithish culture. Turkish forces briefly took control of the coast from Omani peoples before the arrival of the British. However, the UK did not assume power over the coast until the creation of the East African protectorate in 1895 due to the power and integration of wealthy Omani Families in the region.
Throughout history Swahili people have seen themselves as distinct and different from the local native Africans of Kenya, often viewing themselves as more educated, powerful and civilized. This distinction comes from the involvement of Arabs in the slave trade and domestic enslavement of African peoples. As a result there is an economic structure on the coast that often benefits descendants of wealthy Arab families. During the colonial period, the coastal region was often excluded from development that was centered in the white highlands. Swahili people were further isolated by the tendency toward Muslim education and resistance to westernized, Christain education.
Today the coastal region is still isolated politically and socially from inland Kenya. A history of ethnicity based politics has lead to a lack of employment opportunities and educational institutions on the coast and stigmas around the Muslim religion has lead to danger and fear for Swahili people who leave the coast. Recently the central government moved the port of Mombasa from Mombasa to Lamu and the processing of items imported to an inland port, leaving the people of Mombasa without transport and processing jobs. With this move the tourism industry and specifically sex tourism has become a back bone in Mombasa’s economy.
Our time in Mombasa was one of experiential education. While it may have been the most beautiful place ever to many, there was a lot of education. During the five days we spent there we learned much about the city. That includes history, religion, and social aspects of everyday life. We went through tours, listened and discussed during guest panels, and had an amazing time.
Our first official day in Mombasa was quite the time. We took a drive over to Old Town, where we began the day with a visit to Fort Jesus. The Fort was built in the 1590s by the Portuguese, but was later taken over by the Omani Arabs. There was an interesting mix of cultural architecture inside the fort, which adds to its charm. The combination of our excellent tour guide, and the museum inside of the fort provided for a very educational and fun experience. After that our guides took us on a tour of the city. We learned more about the history of the city until we were led to the markets. Many students bought clothing, spices, and fresh coconut. Our guides taught us the ins and outs of the market, such as where to find “The greatest spice shop in Mombasa ”,Sunshine Spice co. This was the perfect introduction to our stay in Mombasa. We got to learn about the vast history of the city, as well as a taste of market life, and a taste of coconut!
Our second day in Mombasa started off with a documentary, followed by a visit to HAKI Africa. HAKI is an NGO based in Mombasa, but provides coverage to all of Africa. HAKI provides a safe space and resource to those abused or hurt by others or the law as well as provides information to citizens on their rights and ways to keep safe. HAKI wants to create trust with the citizens and the police, as there is love lost between the people and the police. They also participate and organize rallies and protests, to stand up against injustice in their community. After our visit to HAKI we went to lunch, and after lunch we visited a nearby Mosque, the Mandhry Mosque to be exact. The Mandhry Mosque is the oldest mosque in Mombasa, the elegant place of worship was a highlight to many. Inside we saw old artifacts built into the mosque that have been around since its founding in 1570. Many of us never set foot in a mosque so it provided a wonderful experience. We talked to members of the mosque about what Islam truely is, and why there is a stigma around it not only in their community, but a round the world. It was an amazing experience for many.
During our final day of activities we started the day with another educational documentary, followed by discussion in the morning. After that we went back into the city to talk to an organization called CHEC, which stands for coast hostess empowering community. The organization works with sex workers, providing them information and resourses on how to stay safe as well as access healhtcare and health resources, such as: family planning, STI treatment, mental health services, and many more. This was followed by a conversation and information session of Muslim mothers in the area. They taught us about the struggles that their families go through, due to islamophobia. These conversations were very informational and provided many students with new outlooks on serious issues. It was the perfect finale to our time in the city of Mombasa.
Henry’s Reflections
The first thing I noticed when arriving in Mombasa was how there was no desert sand and dust compared to Amboseli. The second thing I noticed was the absolute beauty of this amazing city, and the third thing I noticed was the heat. Never in my life have I been to a place as hot as Mombasa, but never in my life have I been to a place as beautiful as it. The inherent beauty wasn’t the only thing that captivated me in this city. The sheer difference in the speed of daily life compared to Nairobi, was surprising. Mombasa is the only city I’ve been to that is seemingly relaxed. It’s missing the hustle and bustle of bigger cities, which is an amazing thing. The city seems to work together which eliminates fast paced daily life many can struggle with. One of the coolest things I saw on the streets of Mombasa was a trade cart. The cart had different household appliances that one could trade for if they gave a piece of clothing. It was kind of like “leave a penny, take a penny”, but it had an actual purpose. Another thing I loved about the city was the history.
Fort Jesus was an amazing experience, being able to touch and stand in a place that’s been around since the 1590s is incredible. I think the tour of the fort was a great opening so that we could understand the sheer history of the city. When exploring Old Town the history of it all was clearer than the fort, everything kept its history from way back when. This is clear after looking at one of the first establishments we saw, a hotel. The Africa hotel is not only the oldest hotel in Mombasa, but the oldest in all of Kenya and it stands to this day. The history and culture that has been preserved in Mombasa is both breathtaking and insanely impressive.
I think the most influential thing learned in my time in Mombasa was learning about the stigma around Muslims. Mombasa and the coast are some of the only areas in Kenya with large populations of Muslims. In a Christain dominated country there is a large stigma against Muslims, this is perpetrated by portrayal in the media, as well as targeting by the government. We had a meeting with a trio of Muslim mothers who talked about the hardships they face, as well as the hardships their children face. When visiting the oldest mosque in Mombasa, we were able to further understand Islam. We were taught about the religion, were able to observe prayer, and have a discussion with the head of the mosque to further understand these issues. Our time in paradise was one of wonder and education, and something I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Piper’s Reflections
On our journey from Amboseli to Mombasa, it became very apparent to me that we were headed somewhere new and unlike anywhere we had explored before. The air coming through our bus windows became hotter and thicker, the earth outside became a deep burnt orange color and the style of bomas, or homesteads that we passed changed as well. We passed Baobab trees and pineapple farms and then big truck stops and towns with Mosques announcing prayer times to passersby. I knew we had arrived when I saw white sand out my window peeking out from low lying tropical plants. The beautiful resort that we stayed in faced the Indian ocean and the beach grew and shrank each day with the tides as we enjoyed swimming in the bath like water.
Throughout our time in Mombasa we learned a lot about how the coast varies from the rest of the country. The Swahili culture, Arab influence and large population of Muslim people sets the coastal region aside in special ways. Old Town, the oldest part of Mombasa is a reminder of all of the people who have come to the Kenyan coast to trade throughout history. The small streets and yellow buildings with intricate woodwork and balconies abound made me smile. Nairobi has no streets like this, I thought, Nairobi is new and fast paced and grey and here is a romantic city surrounded by water. On our first day after the tour of the ancient Portuguese Fort Jesus we went to a spice market and tasted and smelled the mingling of Kenyan, Indian and Arab flavors. At lunch we tasted spiced Swahili Coffee in tiny painted cups.
I learned quickly though that Mombasa and the Swahili people that are found there are not only different due to culture but due to the way they are treated, perceived and included politically. There are less resources allocated to the coast by the central government, such as schools, employment opportunities and investments. The proximity of the coastal county to Somalia has led to conflict between Police and the Muslim community and a stigmatization of Islam in Kenya as a whole. The mothers that we talked to about raising children in Mombasa expressed fear of discrimination and violence against their kids and potential abduction by the police. I was saddened and surprised when we entered the oldest Mosque in Mombasa and the Imam there felt the need to tell us, “See, there are no AKA 47s here”.
A lot of times this semester it feels like we are living two lives, the happy go lucky tourists who swim and stroll the streets and shop and go on booze cruises and the students who are passionate and thoughtful and concerned with the political and social issues facing the places we visit. I have said it many times, Mombasa feels like the most romantic place on earth, but is that only because I had the pleasure of being a visitor? Mombasa just like Nairobi is home to informal settlements and traffic jams and political unrest that is exacerbated by ethnic tensions and the war on terror. However, unlike Nairobi, Mombasa has the ocean and the influence of a history of world trade and that creates a truly magical tourism location. I am very glad to have the privilege of living both lives and seeing Mombasa through many different eyes.

Amboseli Component

Hey there! Aubrey and Tina reporting live from Nairobi. Following the urban homestay, our group had the privilege of traveling to the Amboseli region of Kenya. Once an area belonging to Maasai people living pastoral ways of life, Amboseli now consists of six different group ranches and inhabitants from non-Maasai communities. The idea of group ranches arose as an effort to preserve pastoral land from post-colonial leadership and elites attempting to grab land. However, accessible land and resources are continuously shrinking due to corruption and exploitation carried out by wealthier members of group ranches and the migration of non-Maasai people to the area. Who often partake in agricultural, small-scale businesses, and/or trading practices. So as a result of this shift from a pastoral-based economy to the constructed capitalistic ‘market’ (and other factors such as westernization, globalization and tourism) Maasai lifestyle is rapidly changing.
We contemplated these changes during our visit, particularly in terms of the pastoral, agricultural, land, tourism, and education sectors. Through various interviews and two home visits we began to better understand the individual experiences of farmers, people involved with the cultural manyatta, members of the KuKu group ranch, and those apart of the boma we visited. We were able to take what we have learned from scholarship and theory, and saw the implications for the actual, everyday person. So why yes, it is unjust for globalized and westernized systems to encroach upon Maasai cultural practices, people are typically trying to live the best they can in national and international institutions that favor the elite.
First stop: interviews with farmers. Ever struggle with socializing? Well walking up to complete strangers and asking if they’d be willing to chat, is a great way to overcome this. Jackson, who took on the role of culture broker, often translated and helped to break that strangeness of some mzungus and students bopping around with pens and notepads. We met with people who identified as groups such as Kamba and Kikuyu. Here we began to observe first-hand how non-Maasai people have taken up agricultural practices in areas originally used by pastoralists. As Maasai lost land to outsiders, their livestock began to decrease. However, in a group discussion Sinnary explained while a great deal of land used for agriculture is no longer owned by Maasai people, there are those who do own the land and choose to lease it out. Due to the expansion of the agriculture sector, swamps and rivers have dried up. Many rivers categorized as permeant are now seasonal, both farmers and pastoralists are experiencing water shortages. This decline in a resource needed to grow crops and ensure the survival of livestock has led to disputes between these two groups.
Following the interviews, we drove down the long and bumpy road to our hotel. We could see groups of people gathered in traditional Maasai dress near what appeared to be homesteads. What was surprising however was the few safari vehicles that frequented them. We later came to learn that these were Cultural Manyattas, a place where tourists may learn about and experience Maasai culture. When we visited the cultural manyatta later that day, men and women took us by hand and led us into a circle where we sang and danced together. The women placed beaded necklaces on us, and the men were encouraged to participate in the jumping contest. We were then able to learn about traditional Maasai medicine and visit inside the homes made of cow dung and mud.
Next, we had a chance to buy crafts, mostly jewelry, sold by the women. Lastly, we were able to conduct interviews with different groups of the manyatta: the elders, the young men, and the women. Our interviews seemed to spark more questions than they answered. The members stated to live on the manyatta, yet the insides were nearly empty with no cooking materials or personal possessions. Many of the answers we received painted an image of a group that was fully immersed in a traditional way of life and were challenged by our observations. It is more important however, to understand why such discrepancies exist. Many tourists travel to Kenya, and Africa in general, to observe the Maasai people, bringing along stereotypical notions of the group produced by the media and colonial pursuits. Out of demand and desire to please tourists, manyattas sometimes exaggerate the traditional nature of their current lifestyles.
The question of “who is exploiting who?” then arises. Are the Maasai people exploiting tourists and their lack of knowledge or are the tourists exploiting the Maasai to gain access to their culture? I’m not sure if I have a finite answer to this question. Throughout our experiences and discussions however, I have come to conclude that I don’t believe that the Maasai are exploiting tourists in any way. While they may not be producing entirely accurate notions of how they live in 2021, cultural manyattas are a way for this ethnic group to preserve their culture in an area which is developing and modernizing at rapid rates. Furthermore, stereotypes which are sometimes harmful of the Maasai that are produced in Hollywood and the media spread much more rapidly than by the relatively small number of tourists who may visit and make posts about them. Additionally, many of the people who participate in cultural manyatta depend on the income for their livelihood which has been challenged repeatedly throughout history by colonial efforts. If tourists wanted an authentic and modern day Maasai experience they most likely have the resources to put in the work ahead of time to be able to come to similar conclusions.
The inconsistencies between how the Maasai people told us they live and how most modern day Maasai people live was further exemplified upon our visit to a real Maasai homestead. Here, some of the houses were visibly modernized being made of sheet metal so they need not be repaired after every rain. The people we were able to meet with here wore modern clothing and had a borehole to retrieve their water. While this contrasting set of observations justified our suspicions about the cultural manyatta’s true nature, it more importantly gave us an accurate image of contemporary life for the Masai people living in the Amboseli region.
Rounding out the week we had the opportunity to talk with various members of the KuKu group ranch “traditional” and “educated” women,

Urban Homestay Fall 2021

Nairobi Skyline
Hi all! We completed our urban home stays in early October. Heres what two students, Grace and Tess had to say about it!
The Blog: St. Lawrence Kenya Program – The Urban Homestay Component (September 19 – October 😎
Following the Nakuru and Naivasha Field Component, our group spent three weeks in 10 separate homestays throughout urban Kenya within Nairobi County (nine singles and one double). The neighborhoods that students stayed in were in Karen, Kitisuru, Lavington, Runda, Kilimani, New Kitisuru, Runda Green, and Kileleshwa. Students’ urban host families were diverse in their environments, not only in regard to their location, but also in terms of whether both parents were present and whether their host families had siblings, pets or guard dogs, a garden, a domestic worker, an askari – a Kiswahili word meaning soldier or security guard – and various other factors. The variety of urban host families aimed to give students varied and diversified experiences, as each family had something unique to offer to the student(s) they were hosting. Throughout the three weeks, students were given various opportunities to engage with their family members through experiencing night life, family activities such as going to church and/or celebrations such as weddings and graduation parties, cooking with their families, exchanging stories about each other’s cultures, traveling to host parents’ rural homes, and exploring the city, among other activities. The program was fortunate enough and able to organize and continue forward with the urban homestays, despite the coronavirus pandemic still being extremely present in the lives of Kenyans, specifically with the enforcement of mask-wearing in public and the national curfew from 10 pm to 4 am during our homestay.
While we were in our urban homestays we were also taking classes at the United Kenya Club (UKC) in the capital city of Kenya (central Nairobi). The UKC is a private club that provides food, housing, and other accommodations, including a library and classroom spaces for students to work and take classes in. Two of the main classes, focused on gender studies and government, are being taught by professors from the University of Nairobi, which is the oldest and largest university in Kenya! The third course that is offered is based around conservation and biodiversity in Kenya and is taught by the Kenya Semester Program’s Academic Director.
Prior to students meeting their urban host families and moving into their houses, students had a conversation with each other and with one of the directors of student life and academics about the history of urbanization in central Nairobi, in regard to accessibility, social life, environmental degradation, and the urban divide related to wealth, as well as race. The city of Nairobi, upon its initial creation, was divided based upon one’s race and ethnicity; however, the city also became divided based upon economic status as a result of this initial divide. By living with urban families within the middle and upper middle-income classes, we were able to make comparisons with our rural home visits within Kipsigis culture in Kericho County, as well as with the “informal settlements” of Kibera and Mathare (the locations of our two field excursions on September 24 and October 1). As “informal settlements” will be referenced throughout, they can be briefly defined as areas where groups of shelters and housing have been built, in which the residents have no legal claim to their residency.
In viewing the density of living within Nairobi County and within “informal settlements” also in this county, our group was able to visually see and experience the massive urban sprawl that has overtaken the city of Nairobi. In 1963, the city only housed 350,000 people, but today the city houses a staggering 4.9 million people! In consequence to this rapid population increase, access to resources such as health care, security, water, high-quality housing, and food are in short supply, although a majority – if not all – of these resources are accessible by those within the middle and upper middle-income classes. Additionally, Nairobi National Park – the only national park that resides in a major capital city – may be at risk of being minimized or eliminated in the future to make accommodations for human resources. The increased population also has great effects on traffic, and by extension, air pollution within the city. The congestion of traffic was impossible to not notice on our way to the UKC every morning, with personal vehicles driving children to school, as well as people doing errands and driving to work, making the roads difficult to drive on for our taxi drivers. With Nairobi’s increased population, the lack of public transportation has also become highly noticeable, as the increase in public transportation such as matatus and boda-bodas would surely decrease congestion and allow for more drivers to utilize the roads. Ultimately, the large and still increasing population within Nairobi County and within the capital city will have devastating impacts on land use, in terms of environmental conservation of land and escalating agricultural land use to continually feed the growing population.
During our time doing the urban homestay we also participated in weekly experiential learning components as part of our core course “Culture, Environment, and Development in East Africa.” We each left our urban homestays on Friday mornings to meet as a whole group and from there departed for the experiential learning component planned. The first component we participated in was through the organization Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) based in the informal settlement of Kibera. SHOFCO is a grassroots organization which seeks to empower residents of Kibera through providing critical and essential services such as providing clean water, creating employment opportunities, and providing access to education specifically for girls. The presence of SHOFCO services within Kibera is extensive, and this became clear through the morning that we spent with them. For a few hours that Friday morning we were taken on a tour where we walked through Kibera and visited sites where SHOFCO services were available. We saw their headquarters, sites for accessing clean water, a school they had built for girls, their hospital, their center for gender issues and advocacy, and spaces where they offered employment to Kibera residents for services such as sewing. One of the aspects I admired about this organization is that they are not trying to change or eliminate the way Kibera has come to exist, instead they want to support the community as a way to empower the residents of Kibera.
The second organization we visited the following week was Mathare Girl Power Project, an organization working on a smaller scale than SHOFCO, which seeks to support young girls through vocational education in the informal settlement of Mathare. Mathare Girl Power Project educates young girls on sexual and reproductive health, menstruation, substance abuse, consent, sexuality, and other aspects of sexual and health education in an effort to make the girls aware and knowledgeable of life changes and circumstances to empower them to stay in school and finish their education. The organization believes that if the girls can finish their education they will be able to follow their aspirations, be successful, and give back to their community. The girls are taught by women older than them, many of whom have been through the organization’s education as well. During our time visiting the organization we got to interact with the organization’s founder, its teachers, and some students as well. We were put in separate groups with one teacher and two students to have an open dialogue about what the students are taught, what they have gotten out of the organization, and to ask any questions. When I asked one of the students what has been the most valuable thing she has learned from being part of the organization she told me that she has been able to build the confidence to demand consent and to say no when pressured to engage in activities she does not want to. I really appreciated her sentiment, and I think it shows that the goal of this organization is working and that education truly is power.
Reflection: Grace Brouillette
I was so, so fortunate to be welcomed with hospitality, kindness, and compassion by my urban host family for three weeks. The night of my arrival, I gifted them a container of maple syrup, a very sweet and significant food item that has been important to me since childhood because I grew up in Vermont – a state that is well-known for maple syrup and maple creemees (also known as soft-serve ice cream). Being able to connect with my family members and the domestic worker that lived on the same property through my love of cooking and baking was really special. I had the opportunity to learn how to make chapati and ugali from the domestic worker as well as make pancakes with my sister that we could drizzle the maple syrup on. Of all of the special activities that I was able to participate in, one in particular stood out to me as communicating the importance of family, love, and dedication to both of these the most. During my first weekend at their house, one of my cousins was getting married and so I had the opportunity to go to a Kenyan wedding, only the second wedding that I’ve ever been to. Besides the wedding being a beautiful moment to witness, I was also able to see a different aspect of Kenyan culture that I wasn’t expecting to see upon initially coming to Kenya. Religion was so interwoven into the wedding and made for a completely different experience than the wedding that I had gone to in America. Celebration through dancing, singing, and music brought such a warm light to the day’s events. I doubt that I will forget the all-encompassing feeling of love that I experienced that day dancing with my sister and seeing two people so happily in love, surrounded by their loved ones and family. I hope to continue to stay connected with my urban host family, especially my sister, as I continue through the Kenya Semester Program for the next two months, as well as following the program upon my return to America!
Reflection: Tess Maxam
In reflecting on the rest of my time doing the urban homestay I believe it is one of the most formative experiences the Kenya Semester Program offers. It is the longest period of time where we remain in one place, aside from our internships in the last month, compared to the rest of the program which entails a lot of travelling and moving around from place to place. The ability to “stay put” in a way really allows the homestay to feel like a return home at the end of each day. What especially made this new place feel like home was the amount of time I spent cooking with my host mom. As often as I possibly could I would offer to help with dinner and I was able to learn how to make multiple staple Kenyan dishes. As a person who is not the best at cooking I thought it was great practice, a lot of fun, and brought me closer with my host mom. Another aspect of the homestay which I really enjoyed was getting to know my taxi driver Peter. Each day we had the same driver which has been arranged through the program to bring us to and from classes. In the 45-60 minute commute each day I was able to get to know my driver Peter very well and he even invited us to visit his home next week where he will cook us nyama choma (grilled meats) and be able to meet his family that he has been telling us so much about. It is relationships such as these that seem least expected when entering a component such as the rural homestay but one that has meant so much to me and I will never forget. Last but not least, I got to have company with four of the sweetest dogs that lived at my urban home. Each day I would come home from classes and be greeted with face kisses and cuddles from each of the dogs. I even got to know the neighborhood better through taking them on walks a few times during my homestay and would be able to say hi as I passed by all of the other community members walking around as well. Overall, I really enjoyed the urban homestay and it was an experience I will look back on with much admiration through the rest of my life.