Author Archives: mcaroten
Urban Homestay Fall 2021
Nakuru Field Component
This past week our group traveled to Nakuru and Naivasha to learn about various aspects of conservation and problems the parks in the area are currently facing. We took many trips driving around Lake Nakuru National Park, as well as visiting a raptor rehabilitation center, Lake Naivasha, Interplant Flower Farm, and Hell’s Gate National Park. The game drives were certainly a highlight of the trip, and it was quite interesting to learn about all of the issues wildlife and locals are facing today.
The first day of our week in Nakuru brought us to the Naivasha Raptor Center. We were welcomed by owner and avian enthusiast, Shiv, outside of the bird’s enclosures. We first observed and learned about the vultures, the African White Back vulture and the Hooded vulture. These species, along with others in Kenya are at high risk of becoming functionally extinct, meaning a species still exists but is unable to play any role in the ecosystem due to population decline or disruption in their gene flow.
There are many human factors influencing the survival of vultures in Kenya, including wind turbines, geothermal power plants, and poisonings. According to Shiv, a wind turbine farm was constructed in one of the three worst locations in Kenya, just ten kilometers away from the rehabilitation center. The vultures are unable to sense the danger of the turbines as they fly through the area to scavenge. The blades of the turbines turn at 230 miles per hour and can slice a vulture in half. Turbines in Hell’s Gate National Park, we visited the park on Tuesday, were placed roughly 300 meters away from a vulture colony and killed five of the twenty-five ledge colonies which have been around for thousands of years.
As for the impact of geothermal energy, power plants are located in protected areas where vultures nest. KenGen, Kenya Electricity Generating Company, does geothermal drilling which has resulted in tapped ground leaks and superheated water that floods over, destroying habitat, specifically of vulture nests. These nests, tucked in cliff ledges, are many generations old and have high significance to vulture survival and reproduction. A final human impact on vultures is the poisoning of vultures as a result of the birds feeding on carcasses that have been poisoned by humans. One of the African White Back vultures at the rehabilitation center had been poisoned with a sublethal dose due to feeding on a carcass.
These issues are problematic for the reproduction of the species as a whole, as the birds pair monogamously for life and produce only one to two eggs per year. Of those couple eggs, the egg is often not fertile and if it is fertile it does not always hatch, and if it does hatch the hatchling is not always able to leave the nest because of predation. Those factors, combined with a 70% mortality rate in the bird’s first year, results in the parents needing to breed for forty to fifty years in order to replace themselves. If the vultures suffer from injures or death, it is unlikely that they will have been able to successfully reproduce. Therefore, the conservation and protection of vultures’ lifespans is important to the species’ continuation. If the vultures are able to reproduce at the rehabilitation center, it will be the first time they are ever successfully bred in Africa.
Many negative factors result from the loss of vultures, including a loss of biodiversity in the Kenyan and East African ecosystems and an increase in feral dog numbers and therefore rabies. Vultures also contribute the equivalent of $11,000 a year, per vulture, in cleaning up the environment. Shiv talked about the lack of awareness of and sympathy for vultures, and all birds, and how awareness needs to increase significantly in order for human interaction and development to positively impact birds.
In addition to the vultures, the rehabilitation center also has hawks, owls, and eagles of various types. We had a special experience going into the vulture enclosure and having a hands-on experience with the large birds. Afterwards, Shiv brought Phil, a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, out for each of us to hold. The Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl is the largest owl in Africa. As we interacted with Phil, Shiv talked about owls being a bad omen in traditional African culture. Many Africans think that if an owl is found calling outside of their house, someone in the house will die. This belief is a miss translation of an ancient story in which an owl was a messenger from God when one had sinned. An owl would come to the house and warm you of your sin, giving you a second chance before harm would come to you. This myth, along with every other piece of information from Shiv, was very beneficial to our understanding of and perspective on Nakuru National Park and the ways of conservation in Kenya.
On Monday, we had a short lecture from Mr. Edebe, a researcher with Kenya Wildlife Services, about some of the environmental issues Lake Nakuru National Park is currently facing. Around 30% of the park is covered by the lake, which is very well known for its flamingo population. Unfortunately, this population has been declining due to the impact of climate change.
Increased rainfall has impacted both water level as well as the salinity of Lake Nakuru. From 2010 to 2020, the area of the lake has increased from 43.3km2 to 61.3km2, and the perimeter has increased from 29.6km2 to 34.9km2. While the lake is expanding, the saline concentration has started to dilute which greatly impacts the biodiversity surrounding the lake. There has recently been a new species of tilapia, that typically only survive in saltwater, that are now able to survive in the lake. They have also seen an increase in the number of freshwater birds that now live around the perimeter of the lake. The increase in water level, however, has been destroying habitats of animals that use to live right outside of the lake. We unfortunately did not see any leopards, for example, because they have now moved strictly to the forest since there has been a decrease in land area.
On Wednesday we visited the Interplant Flower Farm, a farm for research and development in Naivasha. Flowers have become an important economic export, and Kenya is now the fourth largest flower producer in the world. Interplant is famous for its spray roses, or roses with multiple blooms per stem. The Naivasha farm is focused on developing and testing new species of roses to potentially grow and sell in Europe and other world markets.
This week in Nakuru was filled with animal sightings, interesting lectures, and lots of personal reflection. From the first day at the raptor rehabilitation center, our entire group couldn’t stop thinking about how much we had never thought about these issues. After the raptors, we went on many game drives and learned so much about the park from Mr. Edebe and Sinnary. Interplant gave us a glimpse into the flower farming industry in Naivasha, while Hell’s Gate and Lake Naivasha taught us more about the different issues affecting parks in the area. We each learned so much this week, and couldn’t have asked for a better program of activities.
Hope Olson: In reflecting on our week in Nakuru, I am especially grateful for the time we had in Nakuru National Park. We had previously talked about and learned about the Park in our biodiversity course taught by Sinnary and I really enjoyed visiting the place, seeing so much of what we had discussed, and imagining what the land might have looked like prior to negative human impact. It was incredible to be within such close proximity to animals that I had not yet seen in the wild, especially the giraffes, hyenas, rhinos, and lions. I am grateful for the tours we had in and around Nakuru, giving me a multi-perspective view of the city.
Brenden Bready: This week in Nakuru was without a doubt one of the best weeks of the program so far. I learned so much throughout the week about so many issues I never would have thought of, such as the importance of vultures for removing animal waste, as well as how changing the salinity of a lake can affect not only the fish but also the species around it. While it was amazing to learn so much, seeing all of the animals in the wild was certainly a highlight of the trip. I didn’t think I would actually ever see a lion, but being able to watch them hunt was certainly a treat. This trip went perfectly with everything we’ve been learning about in our biodiversity class with Sinnary, and I’m very excited to continue learning about more and more issues I wouldn’t have even thought about without these amazing visits.
Rural Homestay (Kericho)
The rural homestay has been integral to the Kenya Program since its construction. As the Covid-19 pandemic has altered student life in Canton, New York, it has also changed the rural homestay component, to adhere to safety precautions in a way that students can learn through field activities and guest lectures in addition to the home visit. Traditionally, the homestay component is a seven-day homestay in which students live with families and experience a way of life corresponding to the peoples and cultures of the family, independent from other St. Lawrence students. This year students were paired and visited their Kipsigis family in Kericho county for two days, immersed in activities within the home that embodied Kipsigis culture and life in Kericho. Outside of the two days spent in the family’s home, students also spent time learning about community activities and history from local professionals.
The home visits were located in Kericho, a tea town on the highlands west of the Kenyan Rift Valley. Kericho’s location along the Mau Forest, at an altitude and temperature ideal for tea farming has made Kericho a hub for commercial and international tea cultivation, local tea farming, and governmental tea farming. While Kericho is currently recognized as a tea hub, it is, more importantly, a center for diverse culture, specifically Kipsigis culture. Kipsigis culture has developed and changed between generations but has been carried on through oral history, maintenance of spoken language, and the inheritance of cultural practices and land. There were several opportunities to learn about Kipsigis culture throughout the week, from a pre-arrival lecture to a Kispsigis museum tour with a museum exhibition, an art gallery, and a general history and culture discussion with the museum director, Godfrey.
Through these experiences, we learned that Kipsigis culture dates back 2000-3000 years ago when a Kipsuroi man brought people from Egypt and Northern Africa to the Highlands East of Lake Victoria offering the people opportunity, milk, and honey. Kipsigis culture thrived for hundreds of years with rites of passage, ceremonial dance and drink, and graduations. Kipsigis people were said to have made everything by hand from clothing, musical instruments, and tools to long beer straws. As mentioned before, the Kipsigis people had several ceremonies, but most importantly the ‘rite of passage’, which marks a child’s graduation into adulthood. Outside of the four alarming calamities, Kipsigis culture thrived thanks to the resilient community and bountiful land until European Settlers arrived with diseases, destruction, and oppressive politics. Colonial rule led to the loss of tribal identity and customs due to social disruption from taxes, loss of land, pressure from commercial agriculture, and urban migration.
Before leaving for Kericho each student received a detailed schedule of what our plan was for our week in Kericho. The following are the field components that accompanied home visits during our week. One of the first activities we took part in was visiting the Kipsigis cultural museum which is one of the smallest museums in the country. During this visit, we were able to gain insight into the lives and culture of the Kipsigis people, as our host families are part of the Kipsigis community. This experience offered us the chance to learn about the practices and culture that we would be experiencing while visiting our rural families for two full days. When introduced to our families, we experienced a welcoming with dancing, singing, and even receiving our own Kipsigis names which demonstrated the welcoming nature of our host parents and siblings into their community.
On the following day, we went on a tour of a local tree nursery in Kericho, learning about the sustainable planting and growing of trees and sustainable agriculture practices in the area. Following our visit to the tree nursery, we were able to attend a church service with our host families which gave us a closer look into the religious beliefs that our host families practice, which holds a large amount of value within this community. Although many of us as students have differing religious beliefs, this experience allowed us to fully immerse in this aspect of the community’s lives.
The next activity which we did was tour a mixed farming project in which we were able to see some of the practices that our host families may also have been participating in such as the harvesting of crops, milking of cows, etc. In the following two days, we were able to spend time with our families and truly immerse ourselves in the way of life practiced by the Kipsigis people. Each student was able to engage in different activities such as tea plucking, planting of trees, harvesting crops, cooking, and milking of cows. Many experienced similar activities but each was representative of the rural lifestyle that our families practice.
During our time we were also able to meet with college students to discuss the comparisons between our college experiences as well as learn from two women leading a table banking organization.
Lastly, we were able to get an educational tour of a tea factory which is a major aspect of life within the community. During this tour, we saw the process of tea making which gave each of us a better appreciation and understanding of the industry.
Student A’s Reflection
The most powerful part of my experience was the welcome we received from our host families. Before this moment, we had not met our families and had no preconceptions of what meeting them would look like. As we entered a host parent’s driveway, I began to hear the sound of singing. Not knowing what to expect we got out of the car and walked toward them. At first, I remember feelings of discomfort; I did not know what to do or how to act. Slowly I started to feel more at home and by the end of the day, I had built a powerful connection to my family. After their Kipsigis singing and dancing had concluded, we had a buffet-style lunch full of Kenyan food like rice, ugali, chapati, nyama (meat), vegetables, and mursik (a traditional Kipsigis fermented milk). Through eating food prepared by our families, I tasted not only flavor but a great amount of care, thought, and love. Something I noted about the welcoming setup was the separate seating areas for ourselves and our homestay parents. Looking back, I realize that it was most likely due to Covid precautions; however, the separation also added to the anticipation of meeting our families.
Following the rural homestay traditions, after our meal, one at a time our parents came over and chose who they thought was their son or daughter. For myself, this moment was reversed as I was asked to chose who I thought could be my parents. After picking correctly, we walked as a family to a place to sit together and get to know our family. I remember so clearly how eager they were to meet us and how much excitement they had on their faces to finally meet their daughters after more than a year without hosting. The moments with my family that day were unforgettable, the feeling of comfort came so instantly. We concluded the welcoming ceremony with one last dance, this time alongside our family. We formed a circle in which we danced around following our host mother’s lead as our host father stood behind. As the dancing concluded, the rain became heavy. I will never forget my father removing his shakka (a traditional fabric tied across the body) and holding it over my head, protecting me from the rain. The act was that of fatherly care and protection, an important value to the Kipsigis. This day has become ingrained in my memory and I hope I never forget the feeling of open arms into my Kipsigis family.
Student B’s Reflection
During the two days living with my host family, I was able to both learn as well as teach my family about American culture. Amongst the many activities I was able to take part in, I believe that there was one which was the most impactful. My host mother was a teacher at a local school and on my second day decided to bring me to meet her students. Unfortunately, my other American sibling was unwell therefore I spent the second day independently. During my visit to the school, I felt the stares of all 200 students with some attempting to reach out and grab my hands, one even came up behind me and grabbed at my hair. However uncomfortable I felt in the moment, I allowed myself to absorb and take it all in. Out of all of the students, one young girl felt courageous enough to come up to me and ask me if she could introduce herself and tell me her name which was a highlight of my experience. Despite my mixed emotions surrounding this experience, as I reflect on it I can reconsider both how I am perceived as well as reconsider my prior assumptions. As uncomfortable and vulnerable as it made me feel at times, I strongly believe it gave me a perspective that I have never experienced, and for that, I am beyond grateful.
Student C’s Reflection
I had the fortunate opportunity to live two days with my Kipsigis host family in rural Kericho and learn how Kipsigis culture has prevailed and adapted over time. As a clarification, Kipsigis culture has been greatly impacted by globalization, modernization, colonialism, the spread of religion, and more, so breaking down the change in Kipsigis culture is incredibly complex and deserves more than a blog post discussion. Living with my host family I had the opportunity to walk through the community, visiting the local secondary and primary school, tea pluckers, tea pruners, and neighbors, spend time with my host brother harvesting and tending to crops, and working with my host mother to learn how to make ugali, chapati, do laundry by hand, and prepare other traditional dishes. Above all, I owe the success and meaningfulness of the experience to my host family because they were incredibly welcoming, supportive, communicative, and loving during my time there. We discussed traditional farming and cooking practices, my parent’s occupations, my brother and sister’s experiences at university, and more. It is challenging to try and put such a moving experience into words because the activities and conversations can barely begin to capture the closeness and the connections I felt with my family.
Tanzania Fall 2019
Hamjambo everyone, my name is Annie Vatcher. I am a junior at St. Lawrence University. I am an environmental studies major and public health minor. I am a member of the women’s lacrosse team back in Canton, New York but taking a semester to experience something completely different studying abroad in Kenya. I have thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in some of the cultures that make up Eastern Africa throughout the past six weeks.
Last week we hopped the border over to Tanzania. After six hours on the bus, our first stop was in Arusha where we got dropped off and met our three amazing Dorobo tour guides. Hope, Kisana, and Simon greeted us and we all introduced ourselves. After a quick lunch and cleanup we split into three of their land cruisers and drove another four hours to our first campground. Honestly, after leaving Arusha I never knew exactly where we were within Tanzania. The change in landscape was breathtaking. We all had our heads and cameras hanging out the window as we cruised through Tanzanian villages nestled at the base of huge lush mountains. Kids lined the streets waving at the mzungus flying by. I immediately felt a special connection to this place and the joy that was so present among all of the people.
On the second day we arrived at the first Hadzabe village. The Hadza are one of the remaining hunter gatherer ethnic groups in East Africa. Within the first two days we met many of the Hadza. Through Simon, Kisana, and Hope we were able to ask them questions regarding their way of life spanning from education to childbirth to their smoking habits. We visited their houses that were beautifully made by the Hadza women with sticks and grass. We quickly found that gathering food with the women is very hard work. They took off with us trailing behind to observe and assist them foraging and digging for tubers which are a key part of their diet. We learned how to find them, extract them from the ground, build a fire without matches or a lighter, and how to cook them. We also got honey from the trees and ate berries from the bushes. Altogether we learned that it’s not easy depending entirely on the land for food, but it’s possible.
After a twelve mile walk through the Yaeda Valley we arrived at the second Hadzabe village where we focused more on the hunting side of their lifestyle. This was personally my favorite part of the component. We got to make our own arrows (with lots of assistance), and use the Hadza’s bows to practice shooting (also with lots of assistance). It was much harder than the Hadza make it look. Considering they have been using bows and arrows to hunt since they were seven years old, they make it look so effortless. Meanwhile we could barely pull the bow back and when we could the arrow would more often than not, shoot straight into the ground three feet in front of us. Either way, shooting with the Hadza was certainly a highlight of our trip. We even got to go out hunting with them at the crack of dawn. I was fortunate enough to experience a successful killing of a dik-dik. Again, I was simply in awe of how skilled they were. With complete ease they skinned I thoroughly enjoyed shadowing them and getting a small glimpse of what their day to day life looks like.
Every moment spent in Hadza land was a learning opportunity. Whether it was following them on their hunting adventures or asking them questions one on one. We were all struck and inspired by the Hadza lifestyle. They take their life one day at a time and don’t put much thought or worry into the future. They live so simply and happily, it certainly led me to reflect on the complexities that exist in our lives. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we now have a special appreciation and yearning to preserve their culture through the modernizing world around them.
Hey Gang! My name’s Aidan Cunningham and I am a current Junior at SLU studying History, Government, and Philosophy. Our experience over the previous six weeks has been not only enjoyable, but providing of cultural experiences necessary to gain a more complete world view. Our trip to last week was no different.
Our 7 hour journey began early Saturday morning, and despite the undeniably hectic nature of our rush to pack the bus the mood soon calmed as the majority of us slept until our stop at the border. We were in East Africa for about a month, Tanzania added another layer to our understanding of the region. Our first drive with the Safari guides clearly illuminated the differences between Kenya and this nation; our highway cut through arid land pastoralists led their livestock through and we got more than a few waves from children strolling alongside.
Upon our arrival at Camp 1 the Haadza who greeted us began answering our barrage of questions regarding their way of life. While the Haadza are an incredibly individualistic culture they are for the most part semi nomadic hunter-gatherers who rely on natural bounty of the area for sustenance. Furthermore, they were incredibly proud to tell us how their way of life was sustainable, consistently pointing to the fact that the last Famine in Tanzania wiped out many of their non-Hadzaa neighbors but they were left unscathed.
The following morning we embarked on a hike to their village just a few kilometers away. The climate of this area was incredibly arid -almost Grand Canyon like- but the early timing of this journey helped us beat the heavy afternoon heat. Several dozen haadza greeted us in the village with the men quietly observing from a nearby slope and the others leading us to separate dwellings for more Q and A’s. The woman in my house explained how the house was constructed primarily of dry grass and sticks, but was only utilized for sleep if it was raining. Primarily the Haadza sleep outside. She found it laughable when our conversation turned to the topic of dating and relationships, and told us the nature of these intercations were equitable in power and normally moved to matrimony quite quickly. Before the sun’s heat was at its most oppressive we hiked back to our camp.
Day two’s primary task was arrow making, and while many of us attempted to follow the directions of the hunters, the sturdiest of our arrows came from those who were assisted most heavily by our hosts. The day finished with music and an energetic dance with our hosts. The following morning we packed up camp and hiked about twenty kilometers across the valley. The walk in the desert heat was somewhat taxing, however we arrived on the other side of the valley in one piece before night fell. The following activity was undoubtedly my favorite segment of the trip as the Haadza were brave enough to let twenty dehydrated mzungus practiced archery with their own bows. The bows varied in resistance; some had only fifty pounds of draw weight while others surpassed eighty. Most of our shots ended up in the dirt in front of our target, and some barely even made it out of the bow, however nothing on this trip was more satisfying than putting a handcrafted arrow through the target twenty meters away. We were unfortunately unable to utilize our newly developed skills in the field as the Haadza probably understood none of us would eat if they left the hunting up to us.
Our time with the Haadza was perhaps the most enjoyable week of our already amazing trip, and the perceived simplicity of the Haadza lifestyle most definitely struck a chord with many of us. On the final night they explained to us how they don’t worry about the future, and simply do what they believe is right to make the most out of every moment. It’s quite easy for one to create an emotional response that glorifies or idealizes their way of life, but in the words of the owner of Dorobo “it’s important not to idealize their way of life but instead simply appreciate it.” While some may have disagreed with his words, I found his assertion to be incredibly accurate when applied to our trip as a whole. We can’t go through every cultural interaction on this making immediate decisions on the validity of a specific way of life. Instead we must find the inherent value in each and make sure we do our best to undertand why it is worth preserving.
See you all in December!
Kenya Program Alumni Trip
“Engaging Africa: The SLU-Kenya Program Past and Present”
Travel Experience June 29 – July 9, 2019
This summer, you are invited to join Dr. Matt Carotenuto, KSP directors Abdelwahab Sinnary, Lina Karingi and Michael Wairungu for “Engaging Africa: The SLU Kenya Program Past and Present” Laurentian Travel Experience! Dr. Carotentuo will co-lead this trip with Kenya program directors and Njau Kibochi in an exploration of the transformational roots of the SLU-Kenya connection.
For more than four decades, St. Lawrence has built a unique connection with East Africa. In January 1972 we embarked on a study abroad experiment. Fifteen students and one faculty member spent three weeks in Kenya as part of the University’s effort to expand off-campus programs and explore opportunities in the developing world. By 2019, more than two-thousand students from over thirty different universities having spent a semester or summer term in East Africa via the Kenya Program or (KSP). Our 2019 trip offers alumni an exclusive chance to experience some of this rich history. Led by renowned Kenya program faculty and staff, participants will explore the program themes of culture, environment and development through an interactive and invigorating experience based on the traditions of the KSP’s past and present.
- Explore Kenya’s diverse cultures and environments, and visit world-class sites of wildlife conservation.
- Stay on the St. Lawrence Nairobi Campus and meet Kenyan based alumni and program partners.
- Engage with rural homestay families and view student internship sites.
- Experience how unique the SLU-Kenya connection is!
- Click here for a full Trip Itinerary
Semi-private dorm style facilities in Nairobi, and 4-star safari accommodations during field components. Some single occupancy travelers may be asked to share a room in Nairobi only.
Trip Cost: $4,750 per person based on single or double occupancy. (Maximum-16 participants. Children ages 16 an up are welcome to accompany a parent or guardian). The trip is inclusive of the following.
- Online introduction to Kenya and orientation for the trip run by Dr. Matt Carotenuto in Spring 2019
- Full board accommodations (all meals), park fees and airport transfers from June 29th-July 9th
- Semi private dorm style facilities in Nairobi, and 4 star safari accommodations during field components. Some single occupancy travelers may be asked to share a room in Nairobi only.
- Transportation outside of Nairobi in extended cab Toyota Landcruiser Safari vehicles with professional drivers and field guides.
- Local medical insurance and Flying Doctors medical evacuation coverage throughout the trip for each participant.
- Five KSP staff and faculty will accompany the group outside of Nairobi and serve as guides.
Airfare and travel to Kenya is not included. We recommend exploring Kenya Airways new direct flight from JFK or many other popular options with layovers in Europe. Program staff would be happy to recommend additional ways to extend your trip and see other parts of East Africa. For questions please email or call Matt Carotenuto at firstname.lastname@example.org (315-229-5456).
Full Trip Itinerary
Register Now to Secure Your Spot
Rural Homestay Fall 2018
Nyeri Rural Homestay Blog, Fall 2018 – Sylvia Gilbert & Nick Matys
We’ve just begun the fourth week (!) here in Kenya, and can’t believe how time is flying. Though the first few days are a blur of jet lag and getting yelled “Mzungu!” at, we are starting to feel acclimated at our comfortable compound in Karen. Though it felt sudden to depart for our rural homestay experience, we decided to embrace “being comfortable with being uncomfortable”. What started out as nerves transformed to excitement as we packed out bags and loaded the bus.
We departed Friday morning beginning our second week and had no idea what we were in for. Heading to Nyeri, we passed rolling green hills and farms that expanded for miles and contribute to much of the country’s produce. Nyeri is largely populated by the Kikuyu people. Before we were introduced to our families we had a lecture by world-renowned Professor Godfrey Muriuki, who gave us a brief understanding of these people who make up 30% of Kenya’s population. We then headed to spend the night at Sandai Farns, where we fell asleep to candlelight and took a morning nature walk to spot birds we’d never seen before. We spent part of the day at the Green Belt Movement, planting trees, touring the farm of our hosts, Julius and Lydia, and showing off some hidden hula-hoop skills. By the afternoon, we were ready to meet our host families in Tetu East and West.
Sylvia – The Harvest
I take pride in being from Vermont. My parents have beautiful, bountiful gardens and livestock graze the fields behind my house. I’ve grown up planting, weeding, picking, and canning, always well versed in what’s growing and what I can do with it. I thought that coming to Nyeri would be a piece of cake, a walk in the park,– just another week on the farm.
After getting dropped off in Tetu East and being greeted with giant hugs from my host mother, sisters, and brother, and shown to my room, the work began. I was immediately granted my own pair of black mud boots and was handed the lubricant to go soften up the udders of one of the four zero-graze cows awaiting me in the stable. Though I consider myself a “farm girl,” I’ll admit it had been a few years since milking anything, but I didn’t want to display a sense of unknowing, so I sat right down and got to work. Despite the smothered giggles that my siblings shared at my lack of technique, my tired hands, and the dung-soaked tail of the cow that was repeatedly swished in my face, I made it through all four of the udders in about 20 minutes. A bucket of milk sat before me that was intended to feed the new-born calf as well as supply the family for a constant supply of chai. All at once, a sudden shift by the cow knocked the bucket over. You can imagine it took all I had to tell myself not to cry over the spilled milk that covered me all the way up my legs while the family burst out laughing all together.
Besides the rocky start on the shamba (farm) that I endured that first Friday, I progressively got more comfortable with my family, joking, cooking, and story-telling with my host-siblings. The part of the homestay that I bonded over the most with my family was the maize harvest. Every day we did a little more, and I was intrigued by the lengthy process that gave me sore biceps, blisters on my thumbs, and a big smile on my face.
Though I have grown up harvesting plants all summer and fall with my mom, I never experienced anything like this maize. Maize is a staple food in Nyeri and it is eaten almost every day in many forms: roasted by the fire, ground into ugali, or boiled in githeri. Whatever it may be, the next meal will usually have maize. This is why it was so significant that most of the shamba that my family owned was covered in maize and why it took so long to finish harvesting! We started by reaching way up the 8 foot-tall stalk and stripping it of any ears we could find. We filled up burlap sacks, with each of us siblings making about 30 trips from the shamba back to where we off-loaded the haul.
Looking at the heaping pile, I could have said “aw shucks” and gone inside for lunch, but that would have just put off the job even longer. So we began to shuck. (I know that sentence was corny…) Shucking the ears, leaving just a few husks with which to tie them up took about a whole afternoon and a morning. Tying them to a string and hanging them up to dry took just as long. Contrary to the rest of the harvest, the drying process was impressively uneventful and takes several months, which means I won’t be there when all of the maize is taken down, thrown in a bag, and hit with a stick to remove the dry kernels. However, a member of our KSP staff was hoping to buy some of the maize from my host-mother, so it became my responsibility to dislodge each kernel from the cobs that were fresh. Though this seemed like an easy, mindless task at first. It took me several hours each night and yielded sore and blistered thumbs.
Amboseli Spring 2018
AMBOSELI (Austin Schessl & Jenna Sencabaugh)
Karibuni! In order to complete our core course we have a variety of field components throughout the semester here in Kenya. Most recently, we travelled to the Amboseli region!
Interviews with Farmers (Austin)
On our first full day in the area we left our camp to interview farmers in the area. We had split up into five groups each with the assistance of a translator. Each group was tasked with interviewing three-four different farmers asking questions as to what they grew, their time in the area, struggles with land and water availability as well as conflicts with wildlife (many of these farms are extremely close to the national park). After completing our interviews we all gathered to discuss our findings. To our surprise nearly every farmer was growing tomatoes and several were growing bell peppers as well. The farmers also agreed that the three animal species that cause the greatest nuisance are elephants, elands, and monkeys. If a single elephant comes into a farmer’s field it is likely that they will lose the entire crop for that season. Many of the farms are not fenced because the farmers are leasing or crop sharing and are unwilling to invest such a large sum of money to protect land that they may not be farming the following year. However, with Amboseli National Park being unfenced and the elephant population increasing uncontrollably it is becoming even more of a nuisance for farmers in the region.
Cultural Maasai Manyatta (Austin)
Later that afternoon, we were able to visit a Cultural Maasai Manyatta in order to see the way that the Maasai once lived. These manyattas consisted of several small cow dung houses arranged in a circle around their pen for cattle. In order to ensure the safety of the manyatta the entire compound was surrounded by a fence made from acacia branches. The acacia tree is one of the most abundant in Eastern Africa with multiple species, but all having severely sharp thorns covering every branch. Here we were able to learn more about the Maasai culture and daily activities. It is the men’s job to protect the homestead and herd the cattle while women are in charge of the cooking, gathering of firewood and water, as well as repairing the houses as it is the woman in the Maasai culture who actually owns the house. We also met with the manyatta’s medicine man and learned of the various barks, roots, and branches used by the Maasai to do everything from brush teeth to treat a heart attack. According to the individuals at the Cultural Manyatta much of the Maasai community still lives the traditional lifestyle such as this.
Nature Safari in Amboseli National Park (Austin)
The following day the 14 of us piled into two safari land rovers and drove to Amboseli National Park, which was just down the road from our camp. We spent several hours in the park that morning and were given the opportunity to go on another nature safari that afternoon if we chose to. While on the safaris we saw small herds of cape buffalo, hyenas, wildebeests, hippos, warthogs, herds of Grant’s gazelle and Thomson’s gazelle, a small pride of lions which had four cubs, ostriches, crested cranes as well as various other bird species, and multiple herds of elephants many of which had young calves and some herds that may have numbered near 100.
Prior to entering the park we had also spotted several small herds of giraffes and zebra, but we quickly came to realize that these species struggle to survive within the park due to the elephant populations. Amboseli National Park having around 151 square miles can sustain 400 elephants, but currently due to Kenya’s no culling policy, is now home to over 1,600 elephants. This causes a very clear destruction within the park to the trees and shrubs that these two species as well as others depend on. It also gave us a better understanding of the struggles with wildlife that the farmers had been expressing the day before. Regardless of this fact the nature safaris were the highlights for many of us during our Amboseli field component.
Homestay with Maasai families (Jenna)
At the end of the week and our time in Amboseli, we all spent a night with Maasai families in different manyattas. We traveled in pairs with a translator ready to learn more about the Maasai culture. After our experience at the cultural manyatta we were eager to experience life in with a Maasai family outside of a tourist setting. We were surprised to find many differences between the cultural manyatta and our homestays. We felt that the cultural manyatta did not fully show the development and current lifestyle of the Maasai. I was grateful along with the other members of the group to experience a day with a typical Maasai family. Along with the other females in the group, I participated in the women’s activities with my host mother. We fetched firewood and water, milked cows and goats, and prepared meals. We slept in cowhide beds in dung houses along with the family and some animals. We were also given beads to make bracelets with our host mothers. We all felt very welcome into their homes and had positive experiences.
With the help of the translator, we were able to learn from our host family and they were grateful to be able to learn from us as well. The homestay allowed us to experience their culture through conversations, participating in activities, and observations. Overall, we learned that they still follow some traditions of the Maasai but are developing in other ways. They are still pastoralists but are also using some agricultural practices due to the lack of ability to sustain a strictly pastoralist way of life. The traditional gender roles are still in place where women collect firewood, fetch water, and prepare meals while the men herd the cattle. Overall, the homestay was a positive learning experience that gave us a better idea of what life is like for the Maasai in Amboseli.
Interviews with Maasai Community Groups (Jenna)
Lastly, we got the opportunity to speak with different types of Maasai community members in groups. We met with groups of traditional women, educated women, pastoralist men, and elder male leaders. We asked them questions regarding tourism, farming, irrigation, group ranches, and modernization but also questions on their specific lives and experiences. The community members discussed ways that the culture has changed over time and their opinions on these changes. For example, they discussed women having more educational opportunities, the effect of climate change on farming practices, and how the presence of tourists is influencing their culture. These interviews were a great way to tie up everything we had done throughout the week and we were able to ask all of our remaining questions. After the interviews, we used the information we collected from the week to give presentations and discuss as a group some of the issues facing the Maasai. These discussions allowed us to reflect on the week and everything we experienced before moving on to the next component.
After a great week in Amboseli we went straight to our next destination. Check out our next post on our week in Mombasa!
Urban Homestay Spring 2018
By Shania Muncil, Sonja Jensen, and Corey Rost
Our group started off our homestays in Nairobi nervous and excited to meet our new families. We waited for everyone to arrive at our compound in Karen, and one by one families came looking for their student. We had delicious snacks prepared by Isaiah, and even two birthday cakes to celebrate Sarah and Gretchen’s 21st birthdays! We chatted with our families, getting to know one another, before we all headed off to our new homes. We were spread across the city, from the CBD to Runda, Westlands, and even Karen. We spent our three weeks taking classes at the United Kenya Club, visiting local malls, trying traditional Kenyan restaurants, and most importantly becoming close with our host families. Some of us were even lucky enough to attend traditional weddings! Part of our urban program also included “urban activities” that we participated in on Fridays. For our first weekend, we split up into three groups to learn more about Kazuri Beads, Lea Toto, and Ocean Sole.
Kazuri is a bead and ceramics factory located in Karen. It began in 1975 as a tiny workshop, with an idea to experiment and try new bead and jewelry designs. The founder of Kazuri started by hiring two single mothers, but quickly realized that there were many more disadvantaged women struggling to get by in Kenya that could contribute to the business. This initial premise led Kazuri to grow exponentially in the last few decades, with a workforce of now over 340 women. This increase in employment is important, as Kazuri’s customer base has grown widely as well. Not only popular at home in Kenya, Kazuri ships orders to nations all over the world. The meaning of Kazuri in Swahili, “small and beautiful” is easy to understand once you walk into their little shop and see all of the jewelry, ceramics and trinkets waiting on the shelves.
We started off our morning with Kazuri by meeting some of the staff and getting the tour of the factory. We walked through the bead-making process, from rolling clay and shaping it, to firing it through the kiln, hand-painting and glazing, all done right there at the Kazuri factory. Kazuri also makes pottery, such as mugs, plates, bowls, and small animals. After our comprehensive tour, we were allowed to choose any part of the bead-making process to observe and participate in. Because there is no place better to start than the beginning, we sat down to roll and shape beads.
The women at Kazuri were extremely welcoming, and are clearly experts at their work. They showed us how to take portions of clay and shape them into spheres or squares of different sizes, depending on which beads needed to be made. It’s safe to say it isn’t as easy as it looks, although some of us were better at it than others. As they worked, the women chatted and compared beads and materials, all while producing perfect spheres and cubes to be made into dazzling jewelry. Next, we moved to the painting room. Here women take beads that have been put through the kiln, and paint them with various colors, depending on what each order calls for. This takes a steady hand and a watchful eye, as each bead needs to be fully coated without any cracks.
While working with the women of Kazuri, it was inspiring to see how many disadvantaged women are now employed because of this business. Additionally, many of them have been with Kazuri for years, some for decades! These women are experts at their craft, and produce some of the most beautiful art we have seen so far in Kenya. We ended our day at Kazuri with a trip to the gift shop, and a plan to return again before the semester ends! (to learn more visit their website: http://kazuri.com)
Lea Toto is an outreach program started by Nyumbani, a Catholic organization founded by American Jesuit Priest, Father Angelo D’Agastino, in 1992. Nyumbani’s goals are straight forward – to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates and improve the quality of life for affected children and families. To accomplish these goals, they currently work to provide assistance to children with HIV/AIDS through diagnostic services, medical care, holistic family and community building, preventative care, education and preventative care, environmental and sustainability education, and promoting self reliance. Many of their programs target children in low income areas. They currently serve over 4,000 HIV/AIDS survivors every year taking small but important steps towards improving the lives of the over 200,000 Kenyan children under the age of 14 with HIV/AIDS and the approximately 1.1 million children orphaned due to AIDS (http://www.nyumbani.org)
Nyumbani is unique in that their approach focuses on a “whole-child model” meaning they view each child as an individual with specific wants and needs. Lea Toto is a fantastic example of this model in work. Swahili for “to raise the child,” Lea Toto works within Kenya’s slums to provide home-based care to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Home-based care is important because it means less time and money is spent during hospital visits. In other words, it helps ensure that familial comfort does not have to be sacrificed simply because of a disease; “families can live better within their own homes.” Since its creation in 1998, Lea Toto has served between 2,100 and 3,100 HIV positive children and 15,000 family members each year.
We spend the morning visiting Kenya’s Kangemi slum, home to one of Lea Toto’s 8 outreach sites. We began our visit with a meeting with some of the staff at the branch. We discussed some of the programs and care they provide and what challenges they face. They told us that one of the biggest challenges of working within low income areas is ensuring basic medical, nutritional, and housing needs are met in addition to providing HIV related care.
With this in mind, and armed with the gift of a heavy box full of non-perishable food we broke up into two groups and, accompanied by some of Lea Toto’s dedicated social workers, went on home visits. Each group met with an individual or family that is involved with Lea Toto. We were welcomed into our hosts homes and we had the opportunity to get to know each other and to ask all sorts of questions ranging from what kind of assistance they receive from Lea Toto, the benefits and challenges of receiving aid before they became involved with Lea Toto and now with Lea Toto. One group visited a young man receiving in home treatment and assistance while another group met with the mother of two children that are doing very well with a self administered treatment program and are going to boarding school with the help of Lea Toto!
After our respective visits, we regrouped at the main offices and got to discuss our experiences and ask any more questions we had. Our visits were vert different, but that’s the beauty of Lea Toto. They embrace each individual and family as the unique people they are and strive to provide individualized care. Whether that be in the form of caregiver training, nutrition and food counseling, spiritual guidance, community building training, or so much more. Medical treatment of the disease does not necessarily equate to an improved life because diseases affect so much more than just an individual’s health; this is what sets Lea Toto and Nyumbani apart from the rest (to learn more about the work Lea Toto and Nyumbani do check out their websites! http://www.nyumbani.org/nyumbani-lea-toto-community-outreach/ and http://www.nyumbani.org)
Ocean Sole works to turn flip flop pollution in the oceans into art and functional products as a means to promote conservation of the oceans. In 1998 in Kiwayu, Kenya tons of flip flop pollution was washing up on the beaches creating an environmental disaster to the marine ecosystem and local communities. A year later, founder Julie Church, encouraged local women to collect, wash and cut these flip flops into the colorful products we see today. By 2000, these products were being sold commercially in Nairobi and in 2005 the company was officially established. Since then these colorful art pieces and functional products have gone global, raising awareness on flip flop pollution while improving upon local poverty through employment. Since the establishment of the company, Ocean Sole has cleaned up over 1,000 tons of flip flops from the Ocean and waterways of Kenya, provided steady income to over 150 Kenyans in the company and contributed over 10% of its revenue to marine conservation programs (to learn more about this incredible organization go to their website: http://oceansole.co.ke/).
Students started off their trip with a tour of the facilities. Our tour guide walked us through various stations that turned ordinary flip flops into pieces of art. Before anything could be done with the flip flops, they had to be scrubbed clean. Then they were sent to various work stations. Some workers pressed the shoes together to make templates and others used the flip flops to cover larger pieces. For these big pieces recycled house insulation is used to create the shape of the piece and it is then covered up with the flip flops. It is incredible how resourceful they are! We got to see them working on a life sized camel, one of their biggest projects yet.
After our tour we got to experience, we got our hands dirty and helped out in the process for the remainder of our trip. We all started scrubbing the flip flops and engaged with the employees. One of the women we were working with had only been working there for 2 weeks. After a while, we all split up and helped at the individual stations. Some helped tediously glue the manes onto the lions, while others started from the beginning and helped construct hippos. There isn’t anything quite as valuable as experiencing something first hand. We all gained a new appreciation for the art pieces and the work that goes behind them while increasing our awareness of the issues the marine environment faces. Our day ended in the gift shop, a perfect place to get souvenirs for friends and family!
Our second friday in Nairobi was spent at Karura Forest, a beautiful expanse of trees and small wildlife. Found in the northern part of Nairobi city, the forest is managed by the Kenya Forest Service, and is approximately 1,041 hectares in size, making it one of the largest protected forests in the world. However, the forest wasn’t always so revered by all of Kenya. While the forest was officially gazetted decades ago, there was a significant struggle, especially during the 90’s, to develop housing projects that would have decimated a large portion of Karura. Fortunately, through prolonged and passionate environmental activism, Wangari Maathai and others were able to save the forest. Since then, Karura is a shining example of resisting land-grabbing by corrupt politicians, as well as a gorgeous sanctuary that poor and wealthy alike can enjoy.
Students started their visit to Karura with an educational video on the history of the forest, featuring one of their newly found idols, Wangari Maathai, whose book the students read earlier in the semester. They were then able to engage in a question and answer with Professor Karanja Njoroge, a board member of Friends of Karura Forest and was a colleague of the late Maathai. Soon after they left for a guided walk around the forest. They admired the tall towering trees and saw various animals frockling through the forest as they made their way to the historical caves of the forest that were used as Mau Mau hideouts during the fight for independence from the colonial British government. Further down the students passed a waterfall cascading down into a river before returning to the trailhead.
We would also like to thank a fellow Saint, Jay Ireland ‘77, President and CEO of GE Africa, for hosting us at the GE offices after our day at the forest and teaching us about his work. SLU connections are everywhere!