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.

Trip Highlights:

  • 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

Housing Information:
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.

Additional Information:

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 mcarotenuto@stlawu.edu (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.

Helping with the Maize harvest

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 Beads

The women of Kazuri using clay from the base of Mt. Kenya to roll and shape beads  

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.

Shania’s handmade 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


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

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/).

An Ocean Sole employee works on the
final touches of a larger giraffe piece

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.

Students pose in front of the life-sized camel.
One of the 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!

Karura Forest 

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.

The tall towering trees of Karura Forest 

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.

Students admiring and learning about
the caves used as a Mau Mau hideouts during the anti-colonial rebellion of the 1950s 

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!


Tanzania Spring 2018

Over the course of our semester in Kenya we do various field components that give us a look into different cultures within eastern Africa.  We spent this past week shadowing and learning from the Hadzabe people in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania. The Hadzabe people are one of the last hunter-gatherer communities in the world. The Hadzabe live by a few set pillars that allow them to maintain their culture and lifestyle.

The first pillar of the Hadzabe community is a minimalist lifestyle. The Hadzabe do not have many personal possessions besides the clothes on their bodies, their shoes, the bow and arrows each man carries, knives and very rarely a cellphone. This allows them to move their communities at any point if there is a lack of water or food. The Hadzabe do not store food for future occasions and they do not grow any crops. When they get hungry the men will go out and hunt and the women will go out and collect various roots, fruits and vegetables from the surrounding bush.

The second pillar of the Hadzabe community is that they live by an egalitarian system. The third pillar of the Hadzabe community is that they always share within the community. Over our few days with the Hadzabe we learned that everything is shared amongst the community whether it be fruits and roots collected by the women or animals brought back by the men from the most recent hunt. This breeds a community that always supports one another.



One could argue that the Kenya Semester Program is defined by the various field components that make up the core course “Culture, Environment and Development in East Africa,” and this week in Tanzania was definitely a defining experience for all of the students. Before each field component us students wonder what we will be learning for each of these central themes. In this instance, we wondered how these themes intersect in Tanzania, specifically with the Hadzabe.

Come Saturday morning we woke up at 5:30, some grabbed breakfast, and the rest of us boarded the bus in a somewhat catatonic manner, ready for a bus ride of a few hours. Many of us fell asleep on the bus ride, maybe dreaming about the mountains of Kilimanjaro, the Great Rift Valley, Mango Juice Boxes or even a Lion candy bar. After passing through the border, we hopped back aboard our trusty bus and rumbled on towards “Arusha Town,” home of Dorobo Safaris. As we lumbered off the bus, a little stiff from the journey, we traded excited glances- our experience in Tanzania was about to begin!

We met our Tanazanian guides, Kisana and Mama Maggie, and readied ourselves for the Tanzanian adventures that would soon begin. During this week we would be traveling to the Yaeda Valley to see where the Hadzabe lived, hunted, gathered, sang and dance. Would we see first-hand a Hadza shoot a dik-dik? Would we be taught the words of a traditional Hadzabe song to be sung around the fire? Would we see how 1,000+ people survive off of land that seems as dry as a bone at first glance? We would soon find out.


Night Classes:

Although to us, it did not seem like a typical week of school, we learned an immense amount through the experiences that we had with the Hadza, and more importantly our nightly discussions. These discussions were a good time to debrief on the activities that we had done the day before, and truly conceptualize all that we were learning.


Through previous readings, we had a basic knowledge of the Hadzabe tribe, and what they stood for. However, without actual exposure the reading would have been irrelevant. Many issues were expanded on by our local Tanzanian guide, Mama Maggie, who explained to us not only the history of the Hadza, but of Tanzania as a whole. This helped us understand where the Hadza fell in the long and complicated Tanzanian history, and why it was so unfair that their land was being taken from them.

Night Classes

This lead to the discussion of Dorobo Safaris, which as stated before, helps the Hadza with the Dorobo fund and exposing different cultures to one another. All of these discussion raised questions that we were then able to ask the Hadza, personally, which was a truly valuable learning experience. Not only where we learning about one of the last hunter and gatherer tribes, but we were able to live with them and experience life the way that they do.


The week of nightly discussion wrapped up with a larger group question and answer with the Hadzabe and St. Lawrence Students. We were able to ask final clarification questions that would help us in our group presentations, and they were able to ask us questions as well. It ended with a lot of laughter and a new understanding of each other’s cultures.

This made the final presentation a breeze, and as we sat in a circle at the Dorobo headquarters, the discussion was hard to stop. Throughout the week we had been able to learn so much through experience and discussion which was applied to the 4 group presentation topics of land loss, tourism, education, and the future of the Hadza. In such a short time, it is hard to connect deeply with others, but the Hadzabe made it particularly easy. They are a loving and generous people who accepted us into their community and allowed us to get a valuable and authentic education. Although we cannot possibly know every problem they are facing, we were able to formulate feasible solutions to share with them.


A Day in the Life of the Students:

Tuesday (The Journey Across the Rift)


Now we want to take you through a regular day that we had with the Hadza, step by step. Tuesday morning, we all woke up anxious and excited to walk across the Rift Valley. Where we were staying the night before was on the ridge just North of where we would be after our long journey. Many of the students were tired from the previous night of dancing, arrow making and even some improv, but we were excited to meet a new group of Hadza, although we knew we would miss the first group! Our day began with a great breakfast, cooked by the most incredible chef Peter. We then took down the tents, packed out lunches, loaded the car, and set off on what ended up being an 8 hour walk across the Rift Valley. I dont think a lot of people can say that they did that! 

Lunch time hunt

We started the hike at around 8:45 and were led by our fearless Dorobo Safari Guide, Mama Maggie, as well as two Hadza men by the names of Moshi and Gudo. We were told to be very quiet for the duration of the walk, because the whole time Moshi and Gudo where hunting. We did end up catching something, but it was nothing that any of us expected. 

Emma with the tortoise

After taking multiple breaks to drink plenty of water and to despike our shoes, we just so happened to stumble upon a cute tortoise. To all of our surprise, the men picked up the little guy with a large grin on their face, and were preparing to cook it for lunch. As translated by Mama Maggie, Moshi was even chanting, “I love eggs, I love eggs, I am so excited to eat these eggs.” A few minutes after we picked up our new friend, we stopped under the shade of a Baobab tree where Moshi was also able to extract water from its trunk. Unclear as to how they were planning on eating it, before we knew it they had tossed our tortoise friend on the fire, alive.


As you can imagine the students were shocked. As Moshi and Gudo continued to pile on the branches on top of the turtle, we stood there aghast as the little guy started squirming in his shell. The rest… as you can imagine, was nothing less than brutal. Like one of the students said, “it was like watching a really really slow car accident!” When the shell was completely charred we didn’t know how they were planning on eating it, but they quickly showed us when they started bashing the shell on the ground, cracking it. Once it finally opened up the students all gasped when they saw what was inside. Some screamed, some even walked away, but all the while the Hadza were grinning from ear to ear and snickering. They must have been pretty excited for their lunch! When the process was over, some students ate the eggs, other the liver, and people even ate some intestine. To most of us, however, our smushed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had never looked to good.


After the Hadza lunch break we continued on our way, passing through pastoralist lands and herds of cattle, which we knew from our reading were stolen from the Hadza. About 2 hours later we stopped for another long break, where Moshi climbed into the Acacia tree to retrieve 7 eggs from the nests, offering all of the students a sample. One of the most important thing we learned about the Hadza was the importance they put on sharing. There would be no food found that was not shared with everyone around.


The final stretch of the hike was about 2 hours, up the ridge adjacent to the one we had stayed the night before. Before we began our climb, we stopped at the Hadza camp where we were warmly greeting, and shared the remains of our tortoise friend. The views were incredible, and you could see across the entire Rift Valley. When we arrived at camp it was already starting to get dark. Some students climbed a top the large rock near our campsite and watched the most beautiful sunset, while others chatted around the fire. Dinner was a delicious serving of Mac and Cheese with a banana bread dessert and that certainly put us all to sleep. After all, we had a big day of hunting ahead of us!

Connecting over a beautiful TZ sunset

Wednesday, Hunting in the Bush

The alarms from our small wrist watches beeped at a barely audible volume, but nevertheless, come 5:45 am we rolled over in our sleeping bags, yawned, and sat up-anxious for our day of hunting. The sun was not yet up, so with headlamps on our heads, and an extra flannel or fleece on for breakfast, we laced up our sneakers and headed out to the fire pit. As breakfast was laid out several students grabbed the chunky black kettle that sat nearly in the flames, put a strainer over their camping mugs, and poured out cups of rich black coffee. Breakfast was a spread of eggs, french toast sticks, mini sausages, fruit and granola- Peter, the chef, knew we needed sustenance for the day that was to come!


By 7 am we had settled into groups of three students each, and were paired with a Hadza man, or two, to be our hunting and walking guides in the bush. One group of three girls, Dana, Lindsay and Sarah (myself), were paired off with Bgayo and Bokin, and off we went into the bush at dusk. As we had learned the day before, this was not to be a chatty trip- at a moment’s notice our Hadza guides could see or hear an animal, and it was best to be silent for this to happen. In this specific hunting group, Bgayo took the lead while Bokin would venture out in front, returning to the group after a bit of time, searching the surrounding bush. Us three fell in line behind Bgayo, and tried to keep our eyes and ears sharp for surrounding life. 

No one knows their environment better than our Hadzabe teachers

After about twenty minutes Bgayo motioned to a large boulder in front of us, and to our surprise, he spoke in English “We will head to the top of this rock to get a better view and see what is around us.” We were shocked! In our silent walking no one had realized how fluent in English our Hadza guide was. At the top of the rock Bgayo scanned the land, while we enjoyed the view- both appreciating what we saw. Bgayo and Bokin whistled to each other from separate rocks, until Bokin found his way to us, settled upon the rock, and sat to roll a cigarette for the two Hadza men. 

For the next five hours this sequence repeated itself, we followed behind Bgayo, silently walking through the bush as Bokin would go off on his own to hunt, and then rejoin us. Many times Bgayo would stop in his tracks, draw out an arrow and shoot at whatever small animal he had keenly picked up on, although nothing was shot. “Hunting is a gamble” Bgayo said to us, not seeming upset that he had not caught something for the day. One of the pillars of the Hadzabe people is their sharing spirit, if you do not catch something one day it is okay because someone else will have. A highlight of our morning was when our two Hadza guides smoked some bees out of their hive and drew out honeycomb for us to try. This honey was the sweetest, best honey any of us had ever tried! 

Mama Maggi

Our food was excellent all week, and dinner this day was no exception. All of us students found a spread that included a massive pot of bacon mac n cheese, coleslaw, and banana bread. Although we were all stuffed with mac n cheese, we found ourselves around the fire again that night for one last dance with the Hadzabe. Us students gave a bad rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the popular, “Stacy’s Mom.” The Hadzabe then shared with us the infamous “Frog Dance.” The Frog Dance starts out as the Hadza women sing a song with a relatively slow beat, all while two people crouch across from each other, each extending opposite legs to the beat. Once a rhythm is established, the song picks up, the beat becomes very fast, and the two dancers quickly stick out both legs, draw them back in, and pop up. The best visual I can paint for this would be a cross between the Rasputin dance, and a frog hopping up on its hind legs. The Frog Dance certainly tired everyone out, and we ended the night by falling asleep stargazing in our sleeping bags, atop what is certainly the best rock in Tanzania. Lala salama Yaeda Valley! 



Rural Homestay Spring 2018- Nyeri Finale

Tea fields of Nyeri bordering Aberdares National Park

Moriega! Welcome to our inaugural blog post from Kenya Semester Program, Spring 2018! We have just finished our third week and are settled in our lovely new home in Karen. While we love our beautiful compound and the bustling city of Nairobi right next door, we are reflecting and missing our new friends and family from rural Nyeri, North of the city. During our second week in Kenya we traveled North to live with families in East and West Tetu, on either side of the gorgeous Nyeri Hill. We spent the week learning about and experiencing agricultural life and now three of us (Molly Dower, Dana Tindall, and Lindsay McCarthy) are here to tell you all about it!

On our way to Nyeri we stayed a night at Sandai farm, just below Mount Kenya and took a morning walk on which many of the students saw their first giraffe! We then traveled to Tumutumu and visited a farm to learn about the Green Belt Movement and saw a tree planted by the movement’s founder, Wangari Maathai. Following a delicious, lunch at Julius and Lydia’s impressive, resourceful farm the students were welcomed by their families in Tetu West and East and began their homestay weeks.

Molly:  Coffee         

I love coffee. To me, coffee conjures images of early mornings before class and late nights in the library. I think of black coffee in a tin cup on a camping trip and sugary drinks in seasonal paper cups. To my rural homestay family, coffee is work done by hand. Coffee is sustenance, not via caffeine, but via income. Coffee is grown and picked. It is sorted and carried and weighed. Though coffee is the prominent cash crop in East Tetu, there is no culture of drinking it, as many families can not afford the final product of their hard work.

Every Wednesday my host family harvests coffee and carries the beans down the road to the factory near their farm in East Tetu. On this particular Wednesday, I got to help them and see first hand how coffee starts its long journey from the plant to the product that’s ubiquitous in my daily life back home.

After our breakfast of chai, yam, and toast my host mom and I walked down to the garden, or shamba, to start picking coffee. Peak coffee season ended in early December, so this would be the last harvest day until after the long rains of Spring. While we harvested, my host mom and I shared songs and she showed me how to choose the perfect beans to pick. We filled our buckets with beans and carried them up to the house, where the contents were poured onto a rug and sorted. As we sorted, we sipped uji, a traditional Kikuyu porridge of millet flour- my favorite new snack! The ripe beans, distinguishable by their deep red color, were put into a sack to be taken to the factory down the road. The green, unripened beans were set aside along with the overly dried, black beans called bone.

Because it was so late in the harvest season, the coffee we picked had already started fermenting on the plant. This coffee is termed grade B, and is still good for selling to the factory! My host mother, brother, and I walked to the factory through their beautiful village. Though they are used to the brilliant green landscape that surrounds East Tetu, it never fails to take my breath away.

When I envision factories, I think of smoke and metal, of dark places with many workers in closed up spaces. The coffee factory we arrived at defied every expectation. It was wide open, operated by just a few people and minimal machinery, overlooking a lush expanse of Nyeri hillside.

When we arrived, the beans were poured out onto another rug to be checked by the clerk. Once the quality and grade of the beans were confirmed it was time for them to be weighed. The clerk recorded the weight and gave us a receipt. Coffee farmer’s compensation is delayed until the end of processing, something I was surprised to learn. Our beans were poured down the designated Grade B chute, where they would be further processed. Pulped, fermented, dried, and dried again. Eventually, the beans would be picked up and roasted, then shipped off to be enjoyed far, far away.

Figure 1. Coffee picked from Molly’s host family’s shamba

After our time at the factory, we walked home to take afternoon chai and sat outside as the sun went down. My host sister milked the cows and I helped my host mother prepare a traditional supper of ugali and sukama wiki. As I reflect on the day, I think about the difference between farming the coffee and the coffee I buy at home- a way to conceptualize the difference between my life experience from my host family’s. A vast process of pulping, fermenting, drying, shipping, and roasting separates us, but I will forever be thankful for the opportunity to understandt hat the same process connects us, too.

Figure 2. A coffee factory in Tetu East

Wednesday, January 24th with Lindsay:

Every morning, when the sun rose, so would my new home in Tetu East, Nyeri. I opened my eyes to the sounds of my new family shuffling throughout the house, the doors creaking, and the animals outside my window chatting amongst themselves. I put on a long skirt and a t shirt and made my way outside to the kitchen, which was a separate room detached from the house. I helped my host mom hand-wash dishes from dinner the night before, and by the time I made it to the kitchen in the morning, my host mom had already milked the cow. On top of the open fire, a large pan sat, filled with water and fresh milk for Chai (tea) and when it began to over boil my host mom would grab the searing hot pot with her bare hands and place it away from the fire.

Figure 3: Lindsay’s host parents and host aunt walking through their farm.

As I began the day, three themes that seemed to emerge from my perspective were the importance of family, farming, and food which intertwined throughout the daily lives of my homestay family. This morning, I was assigned to make pancakes for breakfast which I thought wasn’t a foreign concept to me, but proved to be slightly different from what I was used to. The pancakes were like crepes (meaning they were flatter and thinner than the traditional American pancake) and we ate them without toppings, folded up, and with our hands while we sipped on a piping hot cup of Chai.

After breakfast, I followed my host brother down to the farm (which in Kikuyu is called ‘Shamba’), where we had to walk down a long steep hill to reach the fields where we gathered rabbit feed and planted spinach. When we finished, I asked to see where the water from the watering system came from so we walked along the connecting plots of land and followed a small stream to the main ‘waterhole’. Despite the fact that I tripped and almost fell into the stream, the walk along the farm was unbelievably beautiful. Each plot of land we passed was owned by one of his family members, and I always had to make sure to say hello in Kikuyu to my “Aunt” or  “Uncle” (most of the time I would get laughed at when I spoke in Kikuyu because of my poor pronunciation). As we walked along the stream, I saw corn, coffee, potatoes, beans, and spinach growing in each plot of land that stretched throughout the valley.

Figure 4: These are some sweet potatoes that Lindsay’s host mom dug out of the ground

After trudging up the steep hill back to the house, my host brother and I were assigned to make lunch. Most of the meals I cooked with my host mom, but since she was on the school board for her youngest daughters primary school, it became me and my host brothers job. We made Githeri which is a dish that consists of beans and corn (which my host mom and I gathered from the Shamba the day prior).

Figure 5: This is the githeri that Lindsay and her host brother made together

Post lunch, I prepared to accompany my host mom to her Wednesday church group. We drove into town where we were taking care of errands when my host mom introduced me to one of her friend’s children who was about two years old. This being my fifth day in Nyeri, I was used to children gawking, pointing, and trying to touch me. However, when this child saw me, she burst into tears and seemed terrified of me. This was the first time I had received a reaction like this in Nyeri and my host mom said she had never seen a child do that before. Everyone thought it was hilarious. To this day, I can’t help but chuckle a little when I think back to how that little girl reacted to me.

We then drove to the church group, held at someone’s house, and we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. The church group consisted of readings from the Bible and singing. When the sky started turning dark, and it looked as though it was going to rain outside, my host mom and I walked over to visit her mother (Shosho is Grandmother in Kikuyu) who welcomed me with open arms and made me feel apart of the family.

Figure 6: Here is some corn on Lindsay’s host family’s Shamba

The day ended with my mom and I cooking a delicious dinner that we ate with my host dad and brother. The themes that surfaced during my time in Nyeri, family, farming, and food, showed up in my daily life repeatedly throughout the week. Within the week, I had met most of the extended family and would see many of these family members on a regular basis. Additionally, farming was very important because it provided food for my family to sell as well as food that they would eat every night. Food proved to be such an essential aspect of my rural homestay. My host mom and I would farm for the food and then cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. Looking back at my experience at a rural homestay, I know I am lucky to have been placed with such an amazing family whom I will remember for the rest of my life.

Thursday, January 25th with Dana.

This morning I woke up to vibrant blue skies and a cup of hot chai, just as I did every other morning on my family’s welcoming, colorful shamba in Tetu West.  I ate farm fresh eggs and the milk in my chai was fresh from my family’s sweet, brown-eyed cows.  My mom and I washed the dishes from the dinner the night before of chapati and chicken stew and then worked at their roadside general store for the morning while my father was cutting napier grass to feed the cows.  When he returned home, he took our place at the store and my mom and I departed on a 20 minute walk across a valley of tea and corn fields and up a beautiful gravel road to visit my 11 year-old sister at her school.  She is in standard 6 and I got to sit in on her science class.  The classes are taught in English since the students have been learning English since their first year of education. This day they were having a health education class where they learned about the vaccines infants receive and the diseases which the vaccines prevent. I was impressed with both the content of the class and their extensive knowledge of English.  Most of the residents of Nyeri speak Kikuyu at home, but have been taught English and Swahili in school.

After science class was over, my mom and I said goodbye and thank you to my sister’s class and teacher for welcoming me. As we exited the classroom,  a group of primary school kids were running and giggling as they left class for recess. The weather was still beautiful and sunny with low humidity.  My mom and I continued our walk up the road from the school, still heading away from our home and towards the top of the hill on which they live. At the top we had an incredible view of expansive fields of tea plants, the region and my family’s main cash crop, along with coffee. We visited a building where the local farmers bring their tea for the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to weigh and pick-up their harvests for processing at a factory.

We continued on our way to visit my grandmother who lives in the same house in which my mom grew up. I helped her feed her three cows and in return she made me a lunch of ugali and soured milk, which tastes far better than it sounds, I promise.

Figure 8. Dana with her host Mom and one of the family’s cows.

After I thanked my grandmother for the meal, we meandered down the hill, towards home as some storm clouds loomed in the distance. Just as we walked through the front gate to the house, some rain started to fall.  We went inside and watched the news while we waited for the afternoon thunderstorm to pass so we could milk the cows before dinner. My last dinner with my Nyeri family was a heaping portion of rice, githeri (a mixture of beans, corn, and spices), and a stew with potatoes and cabbage.  My mom, sister, and I ate and watched soap operas and then the evening news until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I went to bed thinking about the past week at my homestay in Nyeri. It was a wonderful experience and I was so thankful to be invited into the home of my warm-hearted and hardworking family.


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


Urban Homestay: Nairobi Fall 2017

After spending an exciting week in Tanzania with the Hadzabe we were off on a new adventure: urban homestays! Each of us had the pleasure of becoming part of a family for three weeks in neighborhoods all over Nairobi. We all had a great time with our families and exploring the city while also attending classes as a group. Some of the places that we visited with our  families included: the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, the Giraffe Center, Ngong Hills, a traditional Kenyan wedding, and church. One homestay family even invited the entire group over for an afternoon barbeque. In addition to the outings with our families, we also had the fabulous opportunity to choose one of three organizations to visit: Kazuri Beads, Ocean Sole, and Lea Toto.

Meeting families and embarking on the three week homestay throughout the city


Kazuri, meaning “small and beautiful” in Swahili, is an organization that provides employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenya, mainly women. It began as a small workshop in 1975 experimenting with homemade beads and has expanded into a full fledged bead-making operation. Their mission statement really resonated with me especially this segment, “In the developing world of today’s Africa, the greatest contribution we can make is to create employment, especially for the disadvantaged and this remains our guiding philosophy. The result is reflected in the strength of the Kazuri Family and the beauty of our products.” We found beauty in the empowerment of women, as well as the actual product- each bead was made out of love!

(The​ ​employees​ ​helped​ ​teach​ ​the​ ​students​ ​how​ ​to
make​ ​beads from clay)

While we were visiting we had the opportunity to sit with some of the women and construct some of our own beads. Employees spend their days rolling and shaping a variety of shapes and sizes of beads and in the few hours we spent there we realized how skilled these women are. In the time we were there we had a great time chatting with the employees and trying to perfect rolling the clay into spheres. We stayed primarily in the first phase of bead construction which involved making clay into the variety of shapes in sizes that the beads come in. After this they are put into the kiln and then glazed in a beautiful array of colors and then put back in the kiln for a final firing. Finally, the now finished beads are strung together into the final product and sold all over the world. It was wonderful getting to talk to the women as we worked and we were truly able to feel the sense of community especially during our chai break where everyone shared snacks they had brought from home.

Ocean Sole

On the first weekend a small group of us went to Ocean Sole, a small organization that turns old flip flops into artwork. As we walked around a guide told us “flip flops are the poor man’s shoe…everyone has a pair”. As a result, many of these flipflops are discarded and many of them are winding up in the ocean. Ocean Sole started collecting flip flops and recycling them into artwork of all different shapes and sizes. This organization took off after the United Nations ordered a few hundred key chains, which provided the money to build the organization headquarters in Nairobi, and to fund both the flip flop collectors and artists.

Ocean Sole Art

I was immediately struck by all of the colors. I stood next to an elephant statue that was bigger than I was and it was sporting electric greens, pinks, blues, and yellows of the flip flops that once wandered about Kenya. We were given a brief tour and then we were put to work. First we started by washing flip flops. Scrubbing off all the dirt and mysterious gunk that was caked on them. Once the flipflops are washed, they are cut, glued together into block like shapes, and then carved into the desired statue. After washing some of us went to the glueing station and others started to carve. I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I spent at Ocean Sole. I love the idea of recycling something- something gross and dirty like the remnants of an old flip flop, into something beautiful.

Lea Toto

Another component to the urban home stay, was small group participation in different local organizations close to Karen. One organization that we visited was called Lea Toto which means “To Raise a Small Child”. Lea Toto is a community based outreach program that helps to extend care to HIV+ children through medical services, nutrition, and counseling. Lea Toto works towards improving the quality of life that children and young adults have in poor informal settlements through community home based care. Through the use of community home based care the organization provides care directly to the child at home. While the children can still receive services at the center, members from Lea Toto come on site to the child’s home. Lea Toto provides services that the children might not be able to receive without this organization.  This allows for privacy, and for the organization to provide services to many more children compared to if they were caring for children directly at the center. Through Lea Toto we had the unique experience to talk to a few children who benefited from the services offered in the program. They welcomed us into their homes and we had a very interesting discussion about the stigmas associated with being HIV+.  We also discussed how Lea Toto has helped them both physically by providing medication but also mentally with counseling as well as providing a safe place and open community for discussion about the disease. The work that this organization does is extremely important and allows people living in poor informal settlements to seek the medical attention that they need while also getting educated and informed about HIV.

Karura Forest Urban Field Trip

I love to walk in the forest. “When you walk into the forest- you will not leave without a smile” Joyce, Emily’s host mother said to me as we walked into the gate of Karura Forest. What a special place. Karura Forest is a 2,570 acre woodland that was first established in 1932 and later protected by Wangari Maathai. Originally the forest was not exactly a place you wanted to be because it was dangerous. The forest was later threatened by development in the 1990s, but because of Wangari Maathai’s efforts- the forests stands today. In addition to this, the forest is a now a nice, safe, green space for the people in Nairobi.

Reflection with Amber:

Over the course of the Urban Homestay I spent a lot of time in this forest. I went walking with so many important people in my life here, my host family, my actual mother, and my friends. We even took a field trip the forest as a group.  There were so many interesting nooks, crannies, and little wonderlands in the forest. There were pine trees dripping with old man’s beard moss that reminded me of home, there were dense pockets of greenery and vines tangled over a stream that was inhabited by frogs and little fish, and then there were the trees. The lovely, beautiful, incredible trees. Some of them were ancient, some were in their first year of life, but all of them were working hard to bring fresh clean air to the city of Nairobi. That is such a gift. My family lived close to the forest and every afternoon I when I returned home from school I would sit outside and take in the fresh forest air, no burning trash, no car fumes- just the good stuff.

I really valued the time that I spent with my host family, especially at this time. Because of the re-elections the political climate has been interesting to say the least. It was so interesting to watch the news, to get into debates with my family over dinner, and to feel like I was pretty in the know with what was going on. I also felt very humbled by the kindness of my family- they welcomed me into their home with open arms and I quickly felt right at home. I found that relationship to be a two way street and I am thankful that I was able to spend a lot of time with my family and I look forward to staying in touch with them for a long time.

Reflection with Ella:

I am so incredibly grateful for my experience with my urban host family- I wish it was longer than three weeks! I was able to get very close with my two host brothers and two host sisters. I didn’t realize how alike we are, we all loved similar music and movie genres, as well as being outdoors and spending time with our families. I was also able to understand Swahili a lot more while at my time there. Although my family spoke fluent English as well, they would speak easy Swahili to me so I can learn and speak back to them. I appreciated our conversations regarding Kenyan politics, education, and society; I was able to really feel what it is like living in urban Kenya. This is such a great component of the Kenya Semester Program, and I am so happy to have a Kenyan family I can keep in contact with and hopefully see in the near future!